Pelican aren’t ones for existing in stasis, however tight the typical boundaries of the genre they operate within, namely post-rock. The Chicago quartet are moving forwards, onwards and upwards; they’re leaving behind the slow-build design of material past for something a little more instant, something a little more in the face of the casual gig attendee. They’ve always arrived in town to pop your eardrums; now, though, they’re gonna make you bleed in seconds rather than hours.
The instrumental – but, please, not instrumetal – band got together in 2001, releasing their debut EP, a self-titled affair, the same year. The four-piece – Trevor de Brauw (guitar), Laurent Lebec (guitar), Bryan Herweg (bass) and Larry Herweg (drums) – released their first long-player two years later, the much-acclaimed and standard-setting Australasia. Album number two, The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon The Thaw, followed in 2005, and the band released a split with revered Japanese act Mono the same year. Now, in 2007, they’re primed to unleash LP three: the much-anticipated City Of Echoes.
Recorded back in December at the band’s home town’s Electrical Audio studios, City Of Echoes is expected to be released in May (or June) through Hydra Head. UK fans can hear a selection of new songs when the band play here next month; they’re touring, alongside the excellent These Arms Are Snakes, with support from both Rock Sound and this website. Click here to view dates (or scroll to the end of this interview).
DiS found ten minutes to talk to de Brauw about Pelican’s upcoming tour, the new LP and what 2007 holds for the band beyond April’s crowd-shredding series of dates.
You must be pretty made up to be coming to the UK with a band so brilliant live as These Arms Are Snakes…
I think These Arms are amazing. They’ve always been an incredible live band, and I think with their new record they’ve really come on in terms of song writing as well. It’s a lot of fun touring with a band that’s high energy, and that gets the crowd pumped up before you go on. It’s a co-headline tour, but I guess someone’s got to go on last.
Do you expect there to be any division in the crowd? Will there be people coming specifically for These Arms, who’ll leave before your set?
I’m sure there are some people that like These Arms that don’t like us, and vice versa, but it’s a combination worth trying. We’re both coming from a place where we’re trying something creative and new and energetic with music, and not with an ear for what people like. We’re neither trend setters nor trend followers – I think we’re both bands that exist outside the realm of what’s going on commercially. I feel like if people don’t know about the other band on the bill, I think they’ll find a kinship with them. And it’s probably advisable to bring earplugs.
Tell us about City Of Echoes, the band’s new album. Will the songs from it make up most of the live set in April?
The new record will be out in May, in the UK. I think the set will probably be made up of mostly new material. We always throw in a few old songs, but for us – and this is something that moulded the way the new songs were written – we were never a touring band before The Fire In Our Throats…. We just wrote songs that seemed natural to us, in our native environment of Chicago. And I think, once we started touring full-time, we realised that it’s hard to maintain an energy when you’re playing such drawn-out songs on stage, these sort of slow-building songs. As we wrote new material, the songs started becoming more direct and faster, and straight to the point, and I think that our new material is better suited to the live environment than our older stuff. I think, ultimately, we put on a better show when we’re keeping the energy up, both for us and the audience. I don’t think people will be disappointed at all – people will get a better show out of us playing new material rather than old material.
Are there any experiences at all that have informed City Of Echoes, or are there any particular themes running its course?
City Of Echoes is moulded by the experience of touring – the title sort of refers to the feeling you get that, although you go to a lot of different places, one of the effects of globalisation is that you see so many similarities from city to city. In places that were once divergent in their identities. That can extend from seeing chain stores to people becoming shadows of those people you saw the time before. There are positives, too – it’s nice to go to a new place but get a familiar feeling – but there’s also a sinister undertone. You come into a town and it’s like, “Have we been here before?” It’s much worse in the States than the UK.
Have the new songs gone down well back home?
We’ve played some of the new songs in Chicago, and some of our oldest fans have recognised that it’s a natural step in our progression. I think that the new album has the same amount of music in it as The Fire In Our Throats…, but we go through the changes faster and the tempos are faster. But it is similar, ultimately.
Just how difficult do people find categorising the music you make? On one hand it is influenced by metal, but it possesses amazing subtleties that most metal bands, and post-rock bands for that matter, simply can’t achieve. Just what do you make of the ‘instrumetal’ tag?
I think people use genres and tags to serve a purpose – it gives people a frame of reference to understand music by – but I don’t think any artist feels comfortable being tagged as anything. I have an affinity or metal, but I don’t think of Pelican as a metal band. So when people call us ‘instrumetal’, or post-metal, or metalcore or whatever, I can see why they say that, but it’s not something that I feel a close connection with. I feel we’re part of a community with some bands – Mono are good friends of ours, but I don’t feel that we’re that similar musically. Their music is more similar to classical music, whereas I feel ours has more in common with punk and hardcore. I feel like we’re part of a trajectory of Midwest bands that kind of blend aggression with a pop sensibility, so while it’s easy to classify us with instrumental bands, we’re not instrumental by design. We just didn’t know how to put vocals in our music and for it to sound right. When you start a band, you don’t have it in mind to be an instrumental band – these things are afterthoughts when your music’s out there.
Finally, what is the plan beyond this April tour? Will you be back in the UK again before the year’s out?
We’ll be over in the fall for a full European tour. We threw this (April) mini-tour together to play Roadburn in Holland – Neurosis are playing, it’s gonna be awesome – so this tour is just an excuse to come over. But we’ll be back once people have heard the songs a bit more.
14 Southampton Joiners
15 Birmingham Barfly (with Bee Stung Lips)
16 Glasgow ABC2
17 Manchester Satan’s Hollow
18 Leeds Cockpit
19 London Islington Academy (with An Emergency and DiS DJs)
20 Brighton Audio
Keep 'em peeled for ticket giveaways and another tour-related interview with These Arms Are Snakes; Pelican also play Primavera Sound, in Barcelona in May - click here for details. Photograph by Ryan Russell (website)