Pelican interview

Mon 3rd April 2006


You should know Pelican by now. After all, they scooped 6th best album of 2005 for 'The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw,' as voted for by you lot, and their previous Sheffield gig late last year was pleasantly rammed. Another band I started listening to thanks to a recommendation from Pete here at 9Hz, they make very epic, instrumental songs that tend to be more uplifting than a lot of heavier bands. And that's all the introduction you really need. If it sounds like you'd enjoy it, you probably will. Now they're back in Sheffield again, not with anything new to shamelessly pimp but as part of the last leg of their tour with Cave In. Straight after my interview with Cave In, the Pelican boys draw straws to see which one will conduct the interview, with drummer Larry Herweg winning, or losing depending on how you look at it. He seats himself opposite me after a brief introduction where I shake his hand and call him Laurent. Oops.

He's a well built guy who looks a bit like he should be chopping down trees in Alaska and having fist-fights with bears. And possibly winning. Despite this, he's very quietly spoken. Which is fine, except it made the dictaphone skip because someone left it on voice activated mode and both he and I were frequently too quiet to make it trigger. Thus large swathes of conversation were lost and I had to fill in many blanks from memory. Several days later. After being drunk the night of the interview. I wouldn't call it fun exactly.

9Hz: How's the tour going?

Larry: The tour's been the best tour we've ever been on.

9Hz: Really?

L: Yeah, it's just been the funnest and everything's been the best so far. All the shows have been really good, turn outs, the people have been awesome. We get along with Cave In super well, I think the bands have a lot in common and it's just made for a great package. We were a little worried before we started as this is the longest tour we've ever gone on at 5 weeks, but it's been great.

9Hz: You've moved up to the big room, you were in here last time. (We're sat on stage in the smaller of Corporation's two live rooms.)

L: Yeah, back in December. Just from the soundcheck alone, it's sounding a lot better. It was a great show, bizarre as the stage was. (The stage is deeper than it is wide and is quite high.)

9Hz: Do you remember the first instrument you ever played?

L: I played guitar but it just didn't make sense to me so I tried drums. I think it's because my parents had guitars and stuff around the house when we were kids. I think growing up, my parents pushed a lot of art on us. My dad was an artist, he went to art school and worked at an advertising company drawing stuff for adverts and ever since we were kids I can remember them playing music and showing us how to paint and that kind of stuff. I think years of being around that and... you know like when we were kids, after dinner rather than go and watch tv we'd go and sit down and listen to music. I played sports for a long while but it got to the point where it wasn't fun anymore so I needed some other way to occupy my mind. My brother's in the band too, he (Bryan Herweg) plays bass but he's actually a guitar player.. (pause)

9Hz: I think everyone starts off on guitar.

L: Yeah we used to jam, our bedrooms were connected... (conversation lost)

9Hz: Do you think having parents who were into art has had any effect on the artwork you use in the band? The artwork for the last 2 releases has been very cool, like the mini-LP package for Australasia.

L: I don't know how that would really tie in to my family. I guess maybe it helps our opinions on what we're going to approve.. (someone belches very, very loudly in the background, possibly another member of Pelican, possibly that naughty Stephen Brodsky,) ..for the final outcome of the record. Maybe we look for something a bit more involved. I've always been a fan or Aarons' artwork and he's done all our layouts.

9Hz: Aaron Turner from Isis?

L: Yeah, so I'm pretty easy when it comes to him, he whips something up and everything he's done so far we've been totally impressed with.

9Hz: How are you finding the food in Europe?

L: It's good, it varies from country to country but in general it's a lot better. I mean in America, there's so much dead space between cities, you usually end up eating pretty bad on the road, gas station food and fast food. A lot of us are vegetarians too so it's hard to find anything reasonable to eat on the road. Even though Burger King do a veggie burger now it's still shit, so in Europe in general everything, the bread and the cheese, seems to be a higher quality. Even the venues have a lot of good food for us, which isn't something we get in the States a lot so it's nice to get fresh fruit and vegetables and different sorts of bread and cheeses and things.

9Hz: I was in the States in 2004 and I remember thinking there'd be loads of CD stores and a lot of cool shops, but it was just fast food chains every couple of doors.

L: It's terrible. As I get older and as I travel more it seems to be getting worse. Like every city and every town is becoming more uniform.

9Hz: Starbucks, Subway....

L: Yeah, it's like there's nothing different about it anymore. It's one of the main things about touring Europe, you go to all these old cities and there's so much history and culture and cafes and things. There's a whole lot more personality I think.

9Hz: Any particular part you like touring more than the rest?

L: I'd have to say the southern part, just because it's warmer. I mean, I like all of it personally, everywhere we went is really cool. But touring in the winter can be kind of brutal. I've had a cold for two weeks of the five we've been on tour and I'm still trying to get better (he's drinking a glass of orange juice throughout the interview). I just remember when we hit Italy and then we hit Spain the temperature went up like 20 degrees and the mood lifted instantly, everyone was excited.

9Hz: Where are you guys from?

L: We're from Chicago, which is really cold in the winter.

9Hz: All the wind blows in from across Lake Michigan. (Weather talk again.)

L: Yeah. Actually, touring Europe's a little warmer. I was actually a little excited to leave Chicago during the worst month of the year. It's a little warmer here.

9Hz: A tiny, tiny bit....

L: It's a little milder yeah.

9Hz: Do you listen to a lot prog rock by any chance?

L: Yeah, sure. I think a lot of it stems from Laurent. He's a big 70's music fan and a fan of rock history in general, and he's introduced us to a lot of new things. I mean there's the basics, a lot of things you'd expect, Yes.....

9Hz: ...Pink Floyd

L: Pink Floyd yeah, all that kind of stuff. Early Journey, the first couple of Journey records. Early Journey was very prog. We're all big music nerds I guess, as far as what we like. We definitely like prog.

9Hz: Yay, someone else. A lot of your songs are in major keys and have an upbeat feel to them. Is this a conscious decision to set yourselves apart from a lot of other heavy bands?

L: I think when we first started, me and Laurent, we started the band and we were doing another band at the time, Tusk. Laurent was playing bass in that band and he was getting tired of it and he wanted to start guitar again so weekends before Tusk practised, me and him would meet and just mess around try and write other slower, heavier songs because we were listening to a lot of slower, doomier, heavier... you know the minor key stuff. I can remember him trying to tune his guitar to the first Goatsnake record. I think a lot of the earlier stuff we were writing was in a minor key and then as Trevor got involved and Brian got involved we all started shaping the sound a little bit more, that's when we started with the more major key stuff.

9Hz: Stuff like Mammoth?

L: That's in a minor key.. (shouts to across the room) ..Laurent, Mammoth is in minor key right?

Laurent: Yep.

L: But that was like the first song we ever wrote. Like I'm saying, the mood at that time.. the whole tone was very minor key but once everyone got more involved in the songwriting process.. I think it had a lot to do with Trevor (De Brauw, guitar), Trevor brought in a lot of the leads, more major key stuff.

9Hz: Was the decision to use acoustic guitars more frequently on the album a result of that?

L: Actually there were a lot on Australasia, just more.... (make dial-twiddling motion)

9Hz: Further down in the mix?

L: Subdued, yeah. Like when we went into the studio for Australasia that was something we wanted to do, every song had acoustic guitars on it to kind of bring out the notes a little bit more and just because when we did that album we were tuned really heavy and the volume was blaringly loud. Over time we've tried to tone that down a little bit since we realised we don't need to be that dense and that loud any more. But when you record it like that, it's like a lot of the chords and the notes are getting buried in the sound in general.

9Hz: There's a lot going on in there. It kind of helps separate it out.

L: Yeah, the acoustics kind of brighten it up and help the parts shine a little bit more. But yeah, we made it even more of a plan on the new record.... more apparent on the final mix.

9Hz: There's only one part where they're really pushed forward on Australasia, and that's on the untitled track, or '-' or whatever it's called.

L: It's untitled, it's just the company didn't want to put 'untitled' so they just put a dash.

9Hz: Either way, it's probably my favourite track off the album.

L: That's a song that definitely came out good. Trevor had a lot to do with the layering.

9Hz: There's a strange effect on there, the guitars sound slightly out of tune or something.

L: We had a saw, (Laurent informs me later it was a specialist musical saw) and we were bowing the saw and that's the kind of high pitched sound like a woman singing or something. I'm sure there's other weird.... Trevor always seems to bring in all these weird instruments to try out. Even more on the new one, we were just trying different things like when we did the acoustic song on the new record, there's two parts of that song, the first part's kind of jammy and it comes in with shaker percussion and then the song breaks and it comes back in again. For the second half I remember we took a bass drum, detuned it, hit it with like a mallet and recorded it and mixed it backwards at half speed so it sounds like this vacuum sound. If you listen to the end of the song, it's just kind of *makes sucking noise*. As time goes on and we get more of a budget and more time in the studio, it leaves us more time to mess around. Like Australasia was just, everything was so fast, we had to be done in like three days and I had to do my drums in a day. It was like "OK, that'll work, lets do the next song." When I go back and listen to it now there's parts on there where I'm like "It sounds like shit". It's so sloppy you know? I remember when the weekend went, we had no time. For the next record, we got more money and more time and I think the performance is much tighter and there's more instruments involved because we had more time to experiment.

9Hz: That's the problem with being in a smaller band and having to pay for recordings out of your own pocket.

L: For our first one, I remember we did it on a Saturday and mixed it on a Sunday. (Laughs)

9Hz: Which recording is that?

L: That's the four song EP, the untitled EP. I think we paid 400 bucks or something for it.

9Hz: Do you think instrumental music can ever get across a specific message rather than a mood? The band been quoted as saying 'The Fire..' was inspired partially by the political situation in America at the moment.

L: I think it's what you were talking about earlier about how it sounds, there's a more hopeful kind of sound to it than the minor key which is kind of depressing. I think with the new record, we wanted to try and.. (excessive background noise) ..there were parts of Australasia that had kind of a triumphant kind of part.

9Hz: Like the end part of the last song, where the guitar's going up the neck and hitting the open string?

L: Yeah, and we really liked that about that record so we were like, for the new record we should do that even more. So I think just having a positive sound was the goal, and I think we achieved it. Things in America and in the world are pretty bad right now, the situation with the war is bad, Bush is bad etc, you know like and even in our personal lives, everyone's got problems and rather than dwell on the negative, 'life sucks'.... just to make a record with a triumphant sound to it, and I guess we're hoping the instruments can deliver that message. The feedback we've gotten from critics and fans and stuff.. (conversation lost)

9Hz: Would you ever consider doing a collaboration, maybe with a guest singer?

L: We're going to do a collaboration with Jesu.

9Hz: Justin Broadericks new band?

L: Yeah. I don't know if he's going to do vocals or not, he hasn't really been specific but we're going to lay down the basic foundation of a song, send it to him and let him mess with it. And it's whether or not he puts vocals on it or doesn't, we'll see. But as time goes on, I think we're getting open to trying out more things. I don't know if it'll end up being on the next record or anything like that but maybe a little one-off like a split 7 inch or comp track or something. I think we're all willing to try stuff like that, but I think in the long run we want to keep our records primarily instrumental.

9Hz: First ever live gig?

L: I'd seen some basement shows, but I remember seeing Helmet so I guess that'd be my first concert. I was 15 but I remember it being awesome. It was in between the 'Meantime' record (1992) and the 'Betty' record (1994) so they were still doing some of the older stuff. I like pretty much all their records, but the early stuff... They did a tour in the States recently, but I don't think it did too well. I think it's just the singer now.

9Hz: When, as a band, did you first realise you were on to something good?

L: Well my girlfriend would always say stuff like that to me when she heard us practising. I don't think it really clicked until later though. I can remember being in the studio doing the demo and not really thinking much of it.

9Hz: Like you'd be lucky of you sold a few hundred copies?

L: Yeah, like let's go in, do this quick and see how it comes out. We put it out ourselves, you know we silk screened a cover and did a CDR. Then we just practised for like a year and wrote songs. Our first show was with High on Fire and we played and it went really well, and I think that was kind of like "let's keep going with this." Our second show was with Knut and Isis and that show went even better.

9Hz: (Incredulous and slightly jealous) Your second show was with Isis?

L: Yep. (laughs)

9Hz: I love Isis....

L: So do we. And it's funny as Tusk, our other band, was doing a week of shows on the road, and we got the offer to do the Pelican/Isis show and we took it, so we drove from somewhere like Detroit or Minneapolis or somewhere in another state and drove home, played this show and went back out again. It was totally worth it. I think what really did it was seeing Isis there, and they were all in the front row while we were playing. And they just stood there for the whole set.

9Hz: Did they know you then?

L: No, they had no idea who we were. And when we were done playing, they came up to us and they were like "That was great," you know like "Who are you guys?" And that's when I knew, maybe we were onto something. I'm sure they see a shitload of local bands they probably don't think much of. Like even with the High on Fire show, I don't think they were in the room when we played.

9Hz: When was that show?

L: It'd have to be.... 2001 I think. 2001 to 2002.

9Hz: Around the time of 'Celestial' then.

L: Yeah they were still touring that record. They weren't doing 'Oceanic' yet. I remember we played with them and our demo was finished at that point and they were selling it on the Hydra Head table with a little sign saying "Soon to be released on Hydra Head records," so we were all like really excited. It was like Isis and Oxes.

9Hz: I'm sure I've heard of Oxes.

L: They're from Pittsburgh or Philly or something. A three-piece. Kind of like Jam kind of stuff. We've played a couple of shows with them recently. Good guys.

9Hz: Last one; recommend a band or album to ninehertz readers that they might not have listened to otherwise.

L: Me, Laurent and Bryan have been really into this band called 'The Life and Times,' the album's called 'Suburban Hymns.' The main guy in it used to be in Shiner. They kind of do Jawbox, Dischord kind of sound. But they're a new band and the album's out on Desoto, which is the girl from Jawboxs' label. It's really kind of atmospheric rock.. (long pause). I really don't know how to describe it. There's parts of all different kinds of things, like there's parts which really remind me of Failure, parts that remind me of Hum, parts that remind of Interpol. It's just a really solid record, there's no filler, all the songs have a really good personality. It's heavy but not too heavy, it's really melodic. He's got a really unique way of playing guitar, through one of those big Line 6 Pedals....

9Hz: The delay pedal? The big green one? (The DL4 if you're interested.)

L: Yeah, so he's got this whole atmosphere to his vocals. It's a really cool record.

9Hz: I'll give them a listen. (I do and they're good.) Hopefully see you guys back in the UK at some point soon.

L: We're talking about in September, trying to come back. We've got some stuff in the States lined up, then we might want to take a little break.

And that was all the tape caught that was actually coherent. We chatted for a little longer about the bands plans for the next record, but these are lost I'm afraid. There was mention of a re-working of Mammoth in a major key for release on a compilation or a one-off release which sounds interesting (you read it here first. Probably.)

I'm pretty much on a high when I leave the bands to meet some friends in town, and I was looking forward to getting back outside to the sunshine I'd left 3 hours previously. It was a bit of a shock to open the door and be confronted with what could charitably be described as a blizzard. Bollocks. Happily, the fire in my throat managed to beckon several pints of beer from a barmaid, which though not quite managing to thaw anything, numbed the cold a bit. The same fire also beckoned some take away food and a taxi later on, albeit in a slightly more incoherent manner. Score.

(Apologies to Ben for not having the nerve to ask his question; "Your band is called Pelican. How many fish can you fit in your mouth?"



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