One four year hiatus and new guitarist later, Pelican is stronger than ever with their new album Forever Becoming receiving rave reviews, selling out shows and an upcoming tour just days away. mxdwn had the privilege to speak to the band’s co-founder, Trevor de Brauw, about the mortality of the band, its new beginnings and everlasting “groove.”
mxdwn: Forever Becoming, out on Southern Lord Records, was highly ranked on our Albums of the Year list and has received great reviews across the boards. How would you describe your experience writing and recording with the group again?
It was a mixed experience for us. We had taken a long time in between records and kind of let the wheels spin down on the band and had come to somewhat of a halt, so there was the matter of learning how to be a band again. And I think that’s part of why this record sounds, to us, reenergized. I think part of that is that there was a literal experience of feeling reenergized. We did learn how to get the band moving again and how to regain momentum and I think that because we took that break and we took a step back and thought about what the band was and what it meant to us, everything had unusual energy to it.
When it came down to writing, there was a lot of nervousness and apprehension and fiddling and trying to get the songs to work right. But when it came down to recording, honestly, I think it was the most comfortable recording experience we’ve ever had. We finished a day ahead of schedule and we were able to, in a way we had never done before, we were able to sit with the final mixes of the songs and really fine tune minute details in a way we hadn’t really been able to do before. We were just really comfortable in the studio and able to get through it in a very efficient manner.
How has the dynamic of the band changed since Laurent Schroeder-Lebec’s departure from the band in 2012 and the addition of Dallas Thomas from The Swan King?
Well, that was part of the apprehension, I think. Obviously Bryan (Herweg), Larry (Herweg) and I have been playing together for a very long time and writing together. But in terms of writing a whole album, Laurent was a very active writing contributor to the band, so, the writing dynamic shifted considerably with the bulk of that falling on Bryan’s and my shoulders. Both of us had written a lot for the band in the past, but, it was the first time that any of us really collaborated on writing a full album together. But, I think that that helped us tap into a degree of energy that we hadn’t really previously had a fix on before.
In terms of Dallas, we started touring with Dallas as a fill in for Laurent in 2011 and by the time we asked him to join the band, we had been touring with him for almost two years. So we were really very comfortable with his playing and especially really comfortable with his personality and how he fits. It just seemed like we were a few months out from the studio and the songs were written. We felt like it would be nice to have someone like Dallas with a very detailed mind to go over all the songs with a very fine toothed comb because there were some missing parts, so we benefitted a lot from having a last minute outsider’s perspective, former outsider’s perspective. It’s been cool! All the shows that we’ve done since the record came out feel really good to play with Dallas with songs that are partially his, instead of just playing old stuff where he’s just playing somebody else’s parts.
With four years between What We’ve All Come to Need and Forever Becoming, what made the band decide they were ready to drop a new album?
Larry was really the one who kept carrying the torch. He kept coming up with newer ideas and he’d do stuff here and there. Obviously it became increasingly difficult to get Laurent to come out with us, but Larry really spearheaded all the touring stuff and then in late 2011. He had this idea to record this EP and there were two songs that were hold-overs from the last album and we had messed around with them in practices before the album had come out and Larry thought we should really record these and make an EP. He was adamant about it, but we were like, “Okay, whatever” because we were all kind of caught up in our own stuff. Then he went into a studio and recorded his drum parts and then was like “okay guys, help me do this.” He really lit the fire under our asses and Bryan and I started getting together working on home recording parts over the drum parts, so that we would be ready for the studio and make sure the arrangements worked.
In the course of Bryan and I meeting up to work on stuff, we started writing new stuff and it ended up coming to a 4 song EP. Bryan and I were working on stuff and we ended up flushing it out and would send the songs back to Larry and he would add the drums and then we’d finally move ahead to the studio to finish everything. Once we felt that creative energy again, once we had the two of us bouncing ideas off of each other again, we were like, “This is fun! We should get back into this. It’s time!” It felt fun to just sit in a room, play guitar and come up with new stuff and then when you go into the studio and you hear these great ideas in a finished form, there’s no feeling like it!
You’ve described the theme of this album as “coming to terms with mortality.” How did that come about?
The obvious connection is that the band kind of came to an end and then the new phase the band is experiencing is beginning. There were echoes of that similar experience in each of our personal lives in this new album, where we would have a phase in our lives that ended and a new one beginning. And it seemed too common, too shared of an experience to ignore. It really echoes the theory of the cycle of life where all things that die are just on their way to becoming something else. Even in terms as simple as a life falls off a tree and decomposes and turns into the soil, from which something else grows.
It’s a very common theme in art, but it seems to be related so deeply to each of our personal experiences and the experiences of the band, as well, that it really informed the writing. The songs seemed to also speak to that theme, so that was definitely what we felt was the underlying theme of the record.
In the thirteen years of being a part of Pelican, would you say that you notice any differences in how the band views music and technique?
We’re discovering ways of writing music that feels comfortable to play that has more space and more groove to it. There was a point when we were pushing ourselves to keep playing faster and more intricate and, while that type of thing still interests us, I think that when we are doing something more intricate and complex we kind of find ways to still feel smooth and (for lack of a better term) groovy. I think that it’s very important to always be able to sink into the music and just feel it, but when you’re hung up on technical intricacies, it’s harder to reach that place so I think that is something that has come more to the surface in our writing.
It makes complete sense, because you all have had so much experience throughout the years that, it’s one of those things that you learn with experience.
Yeah, I think we’ve done this so much that we have a sense of what works and what doesn’t and we’re more interested in pursuing what does work and expanding as fully upon it as possible and burrowing deep into what works, rather than working on stuff that isn’t going to bear fruit.
And I was just thinking that at an early stage of my life, music would be my main focus, but as you guys have families, other jobs and other side projects, music becomes more of a release rather than a career.
Yeah, definitely! I’d hate to call it a hobby, but it definitely occupies kind of a similar space. It’s sort of like this cherished thing that we don’t have access to all the time, but when we do, it’s incredibly important to us- it’s one of the most important things in our lives. There’s something about the sparseness of our access to it that makes it something that we really want to make the most of every moment.
Throughout the years, you have also played with Tusk, Bee Control, Teith, Let’s Pet, Chord and on top of all of that, you’ve played live shows under your own name. Has all that experience affected your performance on tour?
Oh, I don’t know. I just really love music and I do everything I can to fill every moment of my life playing as much as I possibly can. All those things that you mentioned, obviously are really different and have different genres and different modes of playing, but I don’t know. I’m sure that all of it comes together at some point, but it’s tough for me to figure out what the overlap is.
With a few domestic shows out of the way and a summer tour about to begin, do you have a most memorable moment or show?
We played three shows in May with the band Nothing, who are really awesome. I think the more memorable show for us was the third show in Minneapolis at the Triple Rock Club, which is a venue that we’ve been playing since 2004. We probably played there six or seven or eight or nine times at this point and we’d just keep going back, but we hadn’t played Minneapolis in a few years and much to our surprise, it was the first time we’ve ever sold out the Triple Rock! I’m not trying to brag, but it was really amazing that we’re at this stage in our career where it’s incongruous that the show would have sold out because we’re doing this part time and we’re old and not a new band. We’re not gunning for it anymore like young bands do and we’re not trying to sell out shows, so when it does happen, it’s really amazing to us and it’s all very humbly and very thrilling. It was a fun show!
Upcoming Pelican Tour Dates
June 12 – San Diego, CA – The Casbah
June 13 – Los Angeles, CA – El Rey
June 15 – San Francisco, CA – Slim’s
June 16 – Sacramento, CA – Midtown Barfly
June 17 – Portland, OR – Branx
June 18 – Vancouver, BC – Rickshaw Theater
June 19 – Seattle, WA – Neumo’s
July 24 – Brisbane, AU – The Zoo
July 25 – Melbourne, AU – Hi Fi
July 26 – Sydney, AU – Manning Bar
July 27 – Perth, AU – Rosemount Hotel
August 23 – Tampa, FL – Southern Darkness Festival
October 17 – Tucson, AZ – SW Terror Fest III