Interview by Parisa Eshrati
I got the chance to sit down with Trevor de Brauw before Pelican's set for Southwest Terror Fest on October 16th. We discussed their latest live album, effects of globalization, ideas of life and death, what's next for the band, and much more.
You guys will be playing Southwest Terror Fest tonight and we are so stoked to have you guys here. Have you played Tucson before?
We have! We do this every time we go places now because we don’t tour as much as we used to, but we try to remember every show that we’ve done in the area. I know we’ve been in Tucson at least twice at Plush. Once in 2006 and I think since that time too, but it’s at least been five years or more.
I find that harsher climates are the perfect atmosphere for heavier music, so perhaps people might have a better understanding for it. Do you see any differences when you’re playing in a harsher, perhaps desert areas, rather than in condensed cities?
Yeah, I suppose there is a different energy to every show. The more arid climate seems to have more of an intensity to a show like that. I remember the first time we played in Phoenix, we played in this tiny DIY gallery and it was blazingly hot. I think there was a really cool energy to that show. People have their own attitude in every city, their own vibes or whatever, so it’s cool to travel around and get a feel for that.
Definitely. Plus you guys just played Australia for the second time. It seems like you guys are very well received out there.
Yes, it was a very cool trip! It went by very quickly.
Just a few months ago you guys released the live album Arktika. Any reason you chose Russia as the place to record?
Actually, no. In fact our sound guy, Matt, when he comes out with us he brings a portable, digital recorder. He records many of the shows but doesn’t tell us when he’s recording. He doesn’t like to tell us so we’re not aware of it when we’re on stage. On the tour he recorded ten or twelve shows. At the end of it Dallas [Thomas] borrowed all of the recording and his conception was that he was going to make a compilation of the live songs and maybe we could figure something to do with them. Dallas went home and listened to all the sets and just said the Russia one was perfect. It was odd because in Russia we weren’t playing on the same equipment as the rest of the European tour. We flew in specifically to Russia just for the show. And it was probably the worst equipment we had used all tour! Plus I was sick with food poisoning, yet somehow that show was the one! [laughs]
The 2007 album City of Echoes revealed your observations you had while touring of the effects of globalization. I have to ask ‘cause that has struck a personal note lately with Tucson as the city is being gentrified…do you find that on tours since then that it’s been getting even more drastic, or you’ve had any other observations on that since ‘07?
The meaning of City of Echoes was more two-fold. There was the globalization angle, and to get on that track, things are getting increasingly worse. Culture, especially in the states, is one of branding. Everyone is concerned with their personal brand and building up a brand and the whole advertising game is less about selling you something and more about establishing a name for a product and company.
On one hand that’s nice because, well…I don’t want to give any companies lip service, but there are some corporations like drink companies that will do free shows and then the bands get paid well and it’s not like overtly advertising. At the same time, that’s all part of this culture that’s about creating these giant brands and everything has to have a corporate name attached to it. In the old days, you would drive through middle-America and you see the same big-box stores everywhere and then when you get to the cities they retain more of a personal culture. But even in Chicago, left and right you see different independent businesses closing for fast-food restaurants and big-box stores are filling up the landscapes. So yeah, that side ofCity of Echoes is getting worse.
The other side of the observations of our travels is that people are different everywhere you go but there is a common language of music. That is something that ties people together and there is a commonality between people, so that’s the other side of City of Echoes. It’s kind of like these two different ideas harping on the same kind of concept in a way.
Just speaking of tours, what would you guys say are some of your most Spinal Tap moments?
Yeah, I don’t know [laughs]. Nothing jumps to memory, but when you’re touring you are so deprived of sleep and any capacity for rational thought so everything is a Spinal Tap moment, really. Everyone turns into a moron on tour.
The 2013 release, Forever Becoming, had a theme of “coming to terms with mortality” and the cycle of life of death, which was inspired by a lot of personal changes from each of you. Did you already have a definite personal idea of the cycle of life and death before writing the music, or did your understanding of death result from the creating the music together?
I think for us we always just start writing the music and then when we are half-way through writing we start to understand the thread that is binding the music together. There is always a theme to our writing that is maybe unspoken or unrealized when we first get going on it.
For instance, we started writing new stuff now but who knows what the theme is. We’ll probably figure it out when it’s glaring us in the face. I think for Forever Becoming, when we had a set of material that started shaping into an album, we started reflecting back on the changes and it transpired in our lives. It made sense that that what was pushing the direction of our music. These cycles coming to an end and new things taking their place.
What is the process like of everyone individually internalizing these big life questions into one coherent song?
I think with music a lot of the communication is very nonverbal and more intuitive. We don’t spend a lot of time philosophizing about concepts and how to musically express them. It’s just part of the language of what we do, it’s how we communicate with each other. The rest of the time it’s just fart jokes.
I know that this theme was not inspired by any theological literature, so would you say that creating music is your vessel for spirituality?
Certainly. I mean, the music for us comes from within but when we’re writing, at least from my perspective, it’s not like something mental. It’s almost something coming from outside and we’re just there to receive it. I don’t know if I would say outside, but we are tapping into something that is not part of our conscious life. If you want to ascribe spirituality to that, that is a term that loosely corresponds to that sort of concept. We’re just not that cognitive when we are writing, it is something that’s emotional so I could see that idea working.
Pelican has been together for 13 years now. When looking back on your older albums, do you feel that you can connect with them as well as when they first came out? What is it like being able to be outside of that process and look back on an album a decade later?
It’s weird. It’s sort of like…I remember it, but when those early albums were happening we were so inside of it and everything was happening so fast that it all was a big blur. With all the touring we used to do, there was really no time for reflection. When I think back on those times it’s just this weird, hazy “did that really happen?” sort of thing. It almost feels like a different life in a way. When I do get inside of it though, it is a very warm, familiar feeling. A lot of the time though it feels very hazy. Not because of drugs, kids! We were not on drugs.
Just from checking out your twitter it seems like you’re going through an awesome early 80s Cure and Morrisey phase.
Oh yeah [laughs], that’s sort of ongoing for my entire life.
Just going off of that - what are some other artists you’ve been really stoked on lately, new or older?
I really like the Joyce Manor album. I listened to it like twenty times in a row when my friend got me into it. I really like the new Weezer album, even though I really didn’t want to like it but it grew on me [laughs]. I appreciate that there’s something really disingenuous about the new Weezer album because it’s Rivers Cuomo apologizing for making pop music. I think that’s like a boldface lie! I don’t think he was making pop music to win fans. I think that was something he was genuinely interested in doing and it didn’t work out so now he’s doing something really disingenuous. So, I really wanted to not like the new album but I really actually do. There’s that track about “going back to the shack and rocking like it’s 1994”, which is ridiculously cheesy but it scratches the right cheese bone.
You guys have done several splits LPs in the past. Are there any upcoming splits or bands you hope to collaborate with?
We have a new EP that’s coming out early next year. One of the songs on Forever Becoming our friend, Allen Epley, did vocals for. He did vocals on “What We All Come to Need” as well. We are completely enamored with the vocals but thematically it didn’t make sense on the album. We decided to go with the instrumental version on the album, but we couldn’t not put out the vocal version because it’s so good. So we’re doing an EP that features that and one song that we didn’t finish writing in time for the last album that was meant to be on there. There are also two remixes. One from Justin Broderick and one from the guys from Palms, Aaron and Cliff, who both also used to be in Isis. That’s going to come out in February and that will be the next thing we have coming.
Anything else can we look forward from the band for the rest of the year?
We’re playing New Years Eve in Chicago and I think that’s it! Larry [Herweg] will be in town for a little bit so I think we’re gonna write some new stuff and see what happens with that. And maybe in another three years we’ll do another album [laughs].
For more information on Pelican: