Interview: Pelican

Bearded caught up with our favourite instrumental rockers Pelican on the cusp of their return to the European touring scene, and along with a new EP in tow, things are looking very exciting indeed.

Posted on Mar 28th, 2012 in Features and Interviews, Pelican, Southern Lord / By Peter Clark
Interview: Pelican With the superb new EP Ataraxia/Taraxis imminently upon us and a much anticipated tour hitting the UK shores next month, Bearded thought that now was as good a time as any to get a hold of Trevor de Brauw, guitarist with instrumental rockers Pelican to discuss the recording process for the new EP, and to find out just what they've been up to in the last few years.

It has been 3 years since Pelican’s last full length. What have you guys been up to in that time?
Not a whole lot. By the end of 2009 we had reached our capacity for touring, on a mental and emotional level, so we made a conscious decision to step back and have a break and figure out what we wanted to do next. All of us were working odd jobs when we were touring but all of us went into full-time work, and we started approaching the band from a more laid back perspective. We would meet occasionally for shows, send song ideas back and forth, but the process went a bit more slowly than it had in the past.

How did you all decide to get together to release a new EP?
We had these songs kicking around and we felt like it had been a while, and I think it was time to figure out how we were going to do a new full-length. We had these song fragments, some of these songs are holdovers from the last album (What We All Come To Need), and a couple of them were ideas of how we wanted to move forward as a band, so we made the decision to record this stuff and use it as a template to move forward. It seems to have paid off as ideas are now flowing in a quicker way I think, and the songs are beginning to come together for the next record.

Is there a single collective idea behind the new EP?
Like I said, some of the songs existed in shell form from the structure that existed when we did the last album, as far as the new stuff going forward, we started experimenting with recording stuff at home. At the time we were writing, none of us were living in the same city, so it was a matter of recording stuff at home, sending across the files and someone would add their parts somewhere else, and we cobbled together a coherent piece of music out of all of that, and that was kind of an interesting working method.
When you say you recorded and worked on pieces separately, was that something with which the band needed to challenge itself?
It was something that we needed to do, not necessarily in order to start a different creative direction, we had to do it out of necessity because when we were touring all the time we would constantly be around each other, so it was easy to write songs and work on new material. Ever since the band moved to California in 2006 there’s been a great deal of working on stuff at home, then sending files around, but when it came time to work on songs it was always done in the practice room. We were finding a way for ourselves to do that and not lose our identity as a rock band who play in a room together, and I think it has paid off in terms of the songs that are on the EP, and it is definitely something we want to experiment with going forward. Last month I was in LA and Larry (Herweg - drums) and I got together in a practice space and we hammered out a new song there, so I like to think that we’re going to continue to attack it in both ways.

Is this part of Pelican embracing the technological world as previously you’ve always identified yourself with nature?
I was an analogue enthusiast, I really believe that everything should be recorded on tape, and that was a real struggle going into the modern era where tape is not as current as a tool anymore. But now, everything we’ve done since our last release, I’ve really come to accept and enjoy technology as a creative tool. There is one song on the EP where it is literally, Bryan (Herweg - Bass) and I recorded some acoustic guitar tracks in my house and sent them to Laurent (Schroeder-Lebec - Guitar) and then Larry (Herweg - Drums) recorded a drum beat and then we rearranged our parts and re-edited it and it turned into an actual song with all of us playing in a room together; we had never played that song together at all as a band, and I think that’s really exciting as it offers avenues into creativity that we previously wouldn’t have had access to. We couldn’t have written that song all sitting in a room together because the ideas that we came up with wouldn’t have happened in that environment.
Your new EP has a lot more ambient sounds and acoustic layers. Are you moving away from the “metal” tag you were given or is it a natural progression for you?
It’s just what we happened upon for this. We never think too much about what direction we’re going in, we kind of just write the songs that come to us and pay homage to whatever muse is driving our creative process. It’s never about genre or direction, it’s just about what sounds right to us at the time.

You used to play in the grind-core band Tusk. Is the music direction you’re going with Pelican the polar opposite?
That’s hard to say I guess. I don’t really think of Pelican as the opposite of Tusk, but different manifestations of our creativity I guess.

You’ve said before that Pelican inspires hope in your music. Do you think that the world needs Pelican/hope more than ever?
I think that our last full length was something that was definitely tapping into that. The last song was the unifying theme in that it was about hope in the face of incredible desperation, and I think on the new EP, a little bit of that hope has faded and it’s a little bit more bleak and dark themeatically. I definitely still think that hope is needed more than ever, but, I think at this stage in our lives, the four of us are on this wave of cynicism so sometimes it’s hard to tap into that. Perhaps it’s time for some other bands to come up with some hopeful music and we can just come up with some beats and stuff.
You’ve been a band for almost 14 years now. How have you grown, not just as a band, but as an individual? What advice would you go back and give yourself in 1998?
That’s a tough question. I think when you’re in a band and you’re an individual, it’s kind of easy to get lost in the present, especially when you’re busy and stay very focused on your work, then you in a sense become different from the person you used to be. One thing that changed drastically in the early days of when the band started playing, we didn’t have any aspirations for playing to anyone outside of the circle of our close friends, but like an incredible miraculous accident, we’ve been putting out records and touring throughout the world, so really I don’t see how I could possibly advise my younger self through everything that has happened these past 14 years, it’s been awesome, and it’s happened almost totally by accident. As for my personal life, I feel like i’ve had a very fortunate life, I’ve learned to be more gracious and have more gratitude. Like I said, it’s easy to fall back on cynicism, and i think a part of what the new EP is about is about that overwhelming sense of cynicism, trying to maintain some strength in the face of it

You’re not a band who’s driven by money or success, so what keeps you going? Is it pure enjoyment?
Yeah, purely out of the enjoyment of creating music. In a lot of ways, our commercial appeal, I hesitate to say commercial appeal, I think we were most successful in around 2005/2006, and it really tapered off after that, and the reason we continue to do this isn’t because we’re holding on to some little hope of desperation that the success is going to come back, it’s because we’re really passionate about music and we’re really passionate about creativity, and we haven’t lost anything of what put the band together which is that we’re friends with one another and we like getting together to make music, and the joy of that is the drive for the entire project.

You’re going to be touring Europe in April, it’s your first tour in four years over here. How do you find touring? Is it an enjoyable or exhausting process?
It’s something that has changed a lot over time. When we first started doing it it was incredibly exciting and by 2009, as I was referencing earlier, it’s become exhausting because, musically it was like returning to a job and it was very regimented and routine, and although we really enjoyed playing a lot and seeing different cities, it lost some of the magic as it wasn’t as precious of an experience anymore. Now that we tour so little, we’re doing a total of 3 or 4 weeks playing this year for instance, touring is again this precious and exciting experience, we’re really looking forward to getting out there and playing our music live, getting to connect with fans, we’re incredibly excited about it.

You guys seem to be big fans of vinyl. Outside of music, are visuals and artwork just as important to you? Do you feel that it is something that generations are perhaps losing?
I appreciate that artwork, but what really brings us to vinyl is that there’s really more of a physical connection with the music you’re listening to when you listening to a vinyl record rather than a CD or an Mp3, you can feel the weight of the record in your hand, you have to get up and flip the record, there’s a sense of chapters on the album, and the overall sound of vinyl feels a lot warmer to me. I’m really fucking addicted to records.
Atraxia/Taraxis is released via Southern Lord on April 9th.
The band will be touring throughout Europ next month:
4/06/2012 Dunk! Festival - Zottegem, BE
4/07/2012 The Garage - London, UK w/ Chelsea Wolfe
4/08/2012 Vudu Club - Birmingham, UK w/ Chelsea Wolfe
4/09/2012 Brudenell Social Club - Leeds, UK
4/10/2012 Stereo - Glasgow, UK
4/11/2012 The Ruby Lounge - Manchester, UK
4/12/2012 The Haunt - Brighton, UK
4/13/2012 The Cooler - Bristol, UK

4/14/2012 Roadburn Festival - Tilburg, Netherlands
4/15/2012 La Maronquinerie - Paris, France
4/16/2012 Jubez - Karlsruhe, Germany w/ Tombs
4/17/2012 Bad Bonn - Dudingen, Switzerland
4/18/2012 Magnolia - Milan, Italy
4/19/2012 Feierwerk - Munich, Germany w/ Tombs
4/20/2012 Cassiopeia - Berlin, Germany w/ Tombs
4/21/2012 Nosturi - Helsinki, Finland