Pelican | Interview | “As the band has progressed, everything’s been a lot more open”

Uncategorized December 13, 2023

Pelican | Interview | “As the band has progressed, everything’s been a lot more open”

Post-Metal/Post-Everything Instrumental Masters, Pelican, from Chicago, Illinois, are just wrapping up a US tour and have recently remastered and reissued a large part of their discography from the last 20 years.


We recently caught up with Trevor de Brauw and Laurent Schroeder-Lebec before their set at Empire Garage as part of the Levitation Festival in Austin, Texas.

Pelican | Illustration by Justin Jackley

“As the band has progressed, everything’s been a lot more open”

Thanks a lot, guys! To start off, tell me a little bit about this current tour. How are things going so far?

Trevor de Brauw: Yeah, it’s been great. We’re touring and we recently reissued the first three albums from our discography on Thrill Jockey Records and they’re sort of like expanded remastered editions of the early stuff. So, we’ve just been kind of digging back into the back catalog and relearning old songs, which has never been the mode of our band. We’ve always been a forward-facing band. So, kind of doing this retrospective thing has been really interesting and rewarding for us.

Yeah, I saw you guys had some remixes on there as well. Is that right?

Laurent Schroeder-Lebec: One particular record got remixed, ‘The Fire in Our Throats will Beckon the Thaw,’ that was fully remixed. The others were just remasters. But we chose to remix that one because we felt like there was a record in there that we wanted to capture at the time and we felt like there had been enough distance from it where we could tweak some things and really kind of give life to the record that we had envisioned. You know, we were very happy with it at the time. But there was always a “what if this could have sounded this way or that way.” So, we entered into a conversation with the same engineer who also happens to be a friend, Greg Norman, and worked with him to essentially do the same mixing process, same engineering, same record, but with 20 years of separation.

Trevor: Yeah, it was kind of like we had a new skill set that we were able to bring to realizing this even though it was the same recording. There was a new skill set at play so that we could realize the vision a little bit better in the mixing stage.

That’s great. I’ll have to grab a copy of that while they are still available. Where are you guys heading after this stop off in Austin?

Trevor: We just have two more shows of this retrospective run in Milwaukee and Indianapolis in November and then we’re going back into writing mode.

Awesome. So maybe a new album next year or maybe later, hopefully?

Trevor: Yeah, hope to.

Laurent: Yeah, that’s the loose plan so far.

I just heard your cover of ‘Gasoline’ by Karate and Unwound’s ‘For Your Entertainment’. Those were both pretty cool! I mean, it’s interesting just to hear vocals on your tracks. I hadn’t heard that before. How did that collaboration come about?

Trevor: We’re all old friends with Ken Shipley from Numero Group and he got in touch with us and said that they were doing a series of cover songs from their back catalog for their 20th anniversary and asked if we would be interested. And we were kind of given the option of choosing any song that Numero had released and we had a little bit of back and forth about what we thought was most interesting and we arrived on those two songs, which are obviously both vocal driven songs. So, we tapped our friend Chris Hansen, from Pinebender, just because it seemed like the timbre of his voice seemed to match and suit the material really well.

It went along with it really well.

Laurent: Yeah. You know, it’s always one of those things where when you’re an instrumental band for a long time, there’s a cadence of people being like, “What about vocals? What about vocals?” And then that sort of petered out, you know, and it was like we were doing an instrumental thing and then there were just a lot of instrumental bands. But it was never like a corner that we turned and never looked back to not have vocals. It just sort of happened that way and then the momentum for finding a singer just sort of petered out as we started to do shows and we kind of gelled as an instrumental band and felt like there was creative juice there. There was no hard sort of statement of intention like “we are a vocal-less band. Its instrumental and vocals are the death of music.” You know, whatever, nothing like that. So, along the way, we’ve dabbled in vocals before. We did a couple of songs prior with Allen Epley from the band Shiner and The Life and Times. So, on the record, ‘What We All Come to Need,’ he sings on the last song.

Trevor: Yeah, and he did a song on ‘The Cliff’ EP.

Pelican | Illustration by Justin Jackley

Ah, yes. I have that one with me, actually. I was going to see if you guys would sign it for me. Anyway, when you guys work/write, is it a pretty collaborative process? Do you write your own parts and then fit them together?

Trevor: I think it varies from song to song. Some of them might just happen in the space when we’re all playing together. Other ones will start with the germ of an idea from somebody. Maybe like a riff or a series of riffs and then we just start hashing out arrangements and see kind of where the song seems it wants to go on its own.

Laurent: Yeah, I would say that as the band has progressed, everything’s been a lot more open. I don’t think there was any rigidity to it in the beginning but there’s more comfort bringing partial ideas or, you know, sort of like an intention for a song, especially. That’s the one thing that’s nice about say we’re starting a song around a riff from Bryan [Herweg] on bass. Bryan doesn’t bring complete structures as much. He’ll bring a couple of things that go together and that lets Trevor and I pretty much not have to anchor it in a guitar riff because the bass is just holding it down. It’s sequencing the song so we get to be a bit more exploratory. Whereas, when we tend to write on guitar, I tend to envision things as like “Here’s part A, then we will go to part B, and then we’ll do part C” and then the guys really help me unpack it and then Trevor comes up with a part that goes to my part. I might be like “I had no idea you were going to do that. That’s taken me to a new space. There was another riff that came after that, but I don’t want to do that riff anymore.” You know? So, there’s the tie that binds and it’s always very open and casual. There’s no total ego-death, you know, but there doesn’t seem to be much ego. It’s like we’re pretty free form and generous but not with criticism, but just being like, “I think we should do it this way or it might make more sense to do it that way and we just explore it together and kind of see where it goes.”

That sounds awesome and very insightful! I also noticed you guys had a lot of live albums on your Bandcamp as well. Do y’all feel like that kind of captures a more spontaneous sound? How do you feel about live albums versus studio?

Trevor: Well, a lot of that coincided with the era that Laurent wasn’t around and I think we kind of stumbled into it a little bit because we had a sound engineer, Matt Hannigan, who had started bringing a portable recording rig on tour with him just to record stuff so he could practice mixing it and our guitar player at that time, our second guitar player, Dallas [Thomas], had gone to school for recording. So, he was just like, “hey, can I get those tracks? I want to practice mixing because I’m out of practice,” and we ended up with one live record –‘Arktica’. That was really great and we ended up issuing it initially just as a bonus CD with the album that came out around that time, ‘Forever Becoming’, and then later we played Dunk!Fest and we caught wind of this live stream. Then we realized that it was a really amazing video document of a pretty important show but that the audio wasn’t that great and Dallas said, “hey, what if I get in touch with them and get the tracks and maybe I can remix it?” and it just sort of spiraled into more and more live albums over time.

Where’s Dunk!Fest?

Trevor: That’s in Belgium. It kind of varies locations. We’ve done three of them and they have all been in different cities.

And you guys have done the Roadburn Festival in the Netherlands?

Laurent: Yeah, early on in our career.

Trevor: Yeah, it’s been quite a while now.

Laurent: Super enjoyable festival, for sure.

Do you guys have a favorite festival, venue, or city that you like to play?

Laurent: Am I allowed to say Metro Chicago? Big venue, really great space. Even if it wasn’t at home, I think I’d look forward to it but there’s others sprinkled in other places. Europe is always enjoyable because of all the stuff you get to see and just the ability to go from culture to culture overnight. What’s that place we played in Switzerland on that last run?

Trevor: Bad Bonn.

Laurent: Bad Bonn. Yeah. It’s a very surprisingly cool venue that kind of pops up out of nowhere. You are like “is there a venue here?” It’s very rural…

Trevor: It’s literally in the middle of a field away from the road.

Laurent: And it looks like a little cafe, you know, where locals hang out and then you go in and it’s a really great sounding room and you’re just surrounded by nature and the beer is flowing and you’re just like, “I think I’ve arrived.”

Do you guys have any weird/crazy tour stories?

Laurent: You are talking to the wrong guys.

Trevor: I think I ate a piece of bad tofu one time and my stomach hurt.

Oh, man!

Laurent: Yeah, I mean, we hang out. We talk.

Stay out of trouble?

Laurent: Yeah, there’s not much trouble for this band. I think the only trouble we get into is playing a little too loud sometimes.

Trevor: That is true.

The sound ordinance! It’s weird but in Austin, we are supposed to be such a music town and yet these dummies will move into an apartment right across from a music venue and then bitch about the music and they make them stop playing earlier and earlier at night.

Trevor: That shit happens in Chicago all the time.

Pelican

I guess people are very self-centered and don’t even think about where they’re moving to. All right. So, yeah. You guys are working on new stuff and we will keep an ear out for new music next year. Do you have any final words for readers of It’s Psychedelic Baby Magazine?

Trevor: Um. Stay chill.

Laurent: Stay chill Psychedelic Babies. Please wait to do your psychedelics until you are slightly older.

Thanks!

Interview and Illustrations by Justin Jackley


Pelican Facebook / Instagram / Bandcamp / YouTube

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *