When it comes to instrumental post-metal, there’s Pelican and then there’s everybody else. Originally conceived of as a side project among the members of an avant-grind band called Tusk, the Evanston, Illinois-based quartet have been at the forefront of the genre ever since the release of their untitled 2001 EP, and they forever defined it with their 2005 masterpiece The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw.
Courtesy of our friends at Dahlia Presents, Pelican makes their return to Indy on October 12, where they’ll be at White Rabbit Cabaret along with tour mates Jaye Jayle and local openers Pillars and Desert Planet. In anticipation of the gig, guitarist Trevor Shelley de Brauw was cool enough to answer a few questions.
Indy Metal Vault: So what’s new in the Pelican camp? You guys took most of last year off from touring to write a new record, correct? How’s work on that coming along? Is it safe to assume the songs you debuted at Psycho Las Vegas are from the album-in-progress?
Trevor Shelley de Brauw: Yes, we’ve been making slow progress on new music over the last couple of years, with a spike of activity happening this year. Beyond the three new songs we played at Psycho, there are a handful of other ones that are pretty close and many, many other fragments of songs and ideas to build on. With any luck we’ll be able to bust out one or two more on this current tour.
IMV: What’s your songwriting process like these days? With the exception of Dallas Thomas, the rest of the band has been playing together as Pelican since 2001 – I’m guessing at this point you could set up in a rehearsal space or studio and write an album’s worth of songs in the Pelican style in your sleep. Does it get more challenging with each record to keep moving forward in terms of your songwriting while still staying true to your sound?
TSdB: On the contrary, every time we write an album it feels like starting from scratch. For the last few albums, it really feels like we’ve redefined our approach to songwriting. In the past we used to work by hammering out a loose ideas for songs by ourselves or working as duos and then bringing more-or-less finished songs to practice to flesh out and edit as needed. With the newest batch of material, we’ve been making the most progress and getting the best results starting from bits and pieces and fleshing them out in a room together. Since we don’t all live in the same city and we have very limited time together, it’s made it a slow process, but we’re more interested in producing the best possible work than trying to nail some kind of deadline.
IMV: You’ve collaborated with vocalist Allen Epley twice now: on “Final Breath” from 2009’s What We All Come to Need and on one of the reworked versions of the “The Cliff” on 2015’s The Cliff EP. Are there any plans to work more with either him or any other vocalists in the future?
TSdB: We’ve never set out to write a song that needs vocals, both times we worked with Allen it was a case of having written a song where we felt like vocals would bring something more out of the song in question. We’d definitely leave the door open for future collaborations if another song comes along that feels like it would benefit from that approach.
IMV: Pelican have been the standard-bearers in the post/instru-metal scene at least since 2005’s The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw, which for me will probably always be the definitive record of the style. And because of that, it seems to me that your guitar sound and playing style in particular have become thoroughly ingrained in the genre’s DNA that it’s rare to listen to other (especially younger) post-metal guitarist and not hear your influence. Do you ever stop to think about things like your role in the genre’s development or the scope of your influence? Or are those things you’re not all that interested in?
TSdB: It’s something that other bands have told us, which is really flattering, but it’s not something that’s ever on my mind when I’m listening to music. So I don’t think there’s ever been a case where I heard something that I thought we had any influence on.
IMV: Building off that last question, something occurred to me when I was reviewing Larry Herweg’s INTRCPTR record earlier this year. Of course, I invariably started to draw comparisons with your RLYR project, and not just because you both seem to have developed an aversion to vowels in your band names. Because your playing style is so synonymous with that style, do you find it difficult to make music that exists outside of Pelican’s shadow? Or frustrated by the constant comparisons? Even the reviews for your recent solo album, which is a complete departure from your usual style, seemed to focus largely on how little it sounded like Pelican. And as a side question: what do you and Larry have against vowels?
TSdB: I think no matter what kind of music we make our musical personalities will come across, which means comparisons are inevitable. I think all my projects - from Pelican to RLYR to Chord to the solo stuff and beyond - are really quite different and bring very different approaches out of my guitar playing, but I also recognize that all of them are just different expressions of my overall aesthetic and have some sort of musical DNA footprint on them. It’s not unlike how actors take different roles - though the characters can be very different and might bring different things out of the actor, you can see the parallels between the approaches to their different roles. Not sure what the reasoning is behind INTRCPTR’s vowel-lessness, but our motivation was simply that Relayer was taken but we wanted that name. So far so good on our end.
IMV: I was going to ask a question about Chicago musicians and side projects, but then I saw that the Chicago Tribune beat me to it. So I’ll ask you this instead: are there any musicians—in Chicago or otherwise—that you’d like to collaborate with but haven’t had the chance to yet?
TSdB: If I start entertaining questions like this I’ll end up with another side project, and I’m already spread too thin as it is. Haha.
IMV: You’re bringing Jaye Jayle out with you for some dates on this tour. I’m not super familiar with their music aside from the split with Emma Ruth Rundle from earlier this year, but it seems like an interesting contrast in styles. How did that pairing come about?
TSdB: Jaye Jayle’s frontperson, Evan Patterson, is an old, old friend and we’re huge fans of all his projects. We spent time touring with a couple of his other projects, Breather Resist and Young Widows, and Jaye Jayle has been on a shortlist of bands we wanted to tour with ever since they got going. The recordings they’ve done are great, but they’re even better live. So stoked to be doing shows with them.
IMV: What’s the status of Teith these days? I loved Humboldt Park – is there a chance of a follow-up any time…well…ever?
TSdB: Very kind of you to say. Teith morphed into another band called Let’s Pet that was a bit more vocal-driven, sort of gothic noisy pop or something. We recorded an album years ago, but nothing’s come of it yet, and since recording the band has been more or less defunct. I haven’t mentally or emotionally closed the door on that chapter, so it’s possible that some combination of the people involved will make more music down the road.
IMV: Thanks again for your time and willingness to answer a few questions. I’ll leave the last word to you - anything else you want to add?
TSdB: Much gratitude for the interview and to the folks who help support us in our pursuit of sound, we’re ever grateful that people take an interest in the music that we make.