"The Bird Is Dead, Long Live The Bird"

By Lord Randall

For the past 12 years, Chicago’s PELICAN has been blurring the lines between reality and rumble, between pummeling and hypnotic. With a fortified lineup and a new outlook on the band’s future, founding guitarist Trevor deBrauw looks at "Forever Becoming" as the first step on a new journey. Lord Randall sets the controls for the heart of the sun…

Wormwood Chronicles: Was there anything you knew going into the writing/recording sessions for "Forever Becoming" that you knew you wanted to stay away from or try? Maybe something that didn’t work before that you wanted to leave behind, or something you wanted to experiment with that you hadn’t before?

Trevor de Brauw: When we had rough structures nailed down Larry would record his drum parts and send them to us; we'd then overdub our parts on my home recording rig. It helped give us perspective on what was working and what wasn't. We've demo'd in the past, but I think having more time and control over the process gave us a lot more insight into the construction of the songs and their arrangements.

WC: At this point, is whatever comes from your writing going to end up sounding like PELICAN, or would you say the band even has what one would call a definable “sound”?

TdB: Ultimately I think we got what we were looking for - it's distinctively Pelican, but feels like the first page of a new chapter as well.

WC: Back when the band first started, what were your goals? Not speaking so much in a sense of who influenced you, but in what you wanted to achieve? Have you attained those goals, or is every new album, every show a stride forwards?

TdB: When we started we didn't have worldly ambitions - we were just friends that enjoyed sharing a creative outlet. Like many bands we just wanted to play shows and maybe make a record. The most ambitious thing we did early on was self-releasing our first EP - we made almost 700 of them with screen-printed covers. Looking back it was a fairly big undertaking, but it just seemed like the only means to document those songs and have something to sell at shows. We sent it to about 30 labels and everyone turned us down except Hydrahead, which ended up being a tremendous fortune for us. They put a lot of faith in our music and really pushed us, which exposed us to an international audience and created a career out of this thing that was essentially a hobby.

To this day everything that has followed has been something of a fortuitous surprise. There was a period where the cart got ahead of the horse and we tried to turn the band into a career, but nowadays the primary goal is to continue to raise the bar for ourselves creatively and make the best music we can. We'd love to play anywhere this band can take us, but we have no illusions that every tour and every show is a gift that can't be taken for granted.

WC: Again, not in the way of musical sound, but as far as production/mixing, were there/are there certain albums you’d love to be able to capture the feeling of?

TdB: "Where You Been" by DINOSAUR JR. It's simply the best sounding heavy rock album; the guitars sound burly, but crystal clear, there's firm, heavy low end, and the drums punch hard.

WC: Strangely, I’ve always seen more than a little QUICKSAND/HELMET vibe in the sound of PELICAN, especially within the last 2 albums. What bands do influence you that maybe one wouldn’t initially assume?

TdB: Nice that you picked that up. All of us are voracious music listeners and have a very wide taste palette, so I'm sure you'd get a different answer from each of us. For me the two big guitar influences are the Kadane brothers (of BEDHEAD, THE NEW YEAR and OVERSEAS) and Blake Schwarzenbach (of JAWBREAKER, JETS TO BRAZIL and FORGETTERS) - none of those bands have a sound that would seem to figure alongside PELICAN, but their guitar playing is a bottomless well of inspiration. Blake Schwarzenbach has always had a singular approach to blending melody and discordance, as well as channeling punk energy into broader musical forms. The Kadane brothers are masters of harmony, arrangement, texture, and controlled dynamics - so much restraint so perfectly applied; I hear something new and inspiring no matter how many times I spin their records.

As far as group consensus goes, I think there's a common thread in a number of bands, particularly fellow Midwesterners, that brought heaviness to melodic rock: SHINER, HUM, CHAVEZ, SMASHING PUMPKINS and so on.

WC: Stepping back a bit to the last song on "What We All Came To Need", what (aside from the Robert Burns poem) made you decide the song needed lyrics, and what is it about ‘My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose’ that speaks to you?

TdB: We didn't actually have any input over the lyric process. The choice was entirely Allen Epley's, who provided the song with vocals. ‘Final Breath’ was one of Bryan's compositions; in its earliest incarnations it struck all of us that it was a song that would benefit from a vocal contribution. Fortunately we were all in immediate agreement that Al was the candidate for the job. We sent him a rough mix of the song as early as we could during the album recording process and he tracked his parts in his home studio. We had no idea what to expect until his tracks arrived in the midst of mixdown. We were fucking floored - he far exceeded our expectations. But to get back to your question it feels like Al intuitively picked lyrics that touched on the album's central theme; that the importance of love and friendship increases in direct proportion to the world's intensifying chaos and darkness.

WC: It’s taken 4 years to follow up "What We All Came To Need". Did the departure of Laurent [Schroeder-Lebec] give a cause for reflection and/or pause, though the split was amicable on all fronts from what I hear? Also, what has Dallas Thomas brought to the band? How seamless was the transition?

TdB: Sort of the contrary. We'd been reflecting and pausing for a long while before Laurent left. We were on a mutually agreed upon hiatus for the duration of 2010 as we'd burned ourselves out on continuous touring and writing. There was a point where the three of us were ready to get the wheels spinning, albeit at a slower rate than before, but Laurent wasn't down. At his suggestion we did some shows in 2011 with Dallas filling in and it felt fun and good. Things took their course after the "Ataraxia/Taraxis" EP recording. That record was made up of two holdover songs from the last album and two new compositions that Bryan and I had worked up. It really stoked the creative fires for us and we came to Laurent asking if, regardless of whether he ever played live with us again, he was ready to get back to writing. He did some soul searching and let us know that he just didn't feel the fire anymore and that if we wanted to keep going without him that we could. It was definitely heavy, but the recent shows and EP felt very inspiring and we just kept moving.

WC: The finale of ‘The Tundra’ is possibly the most pummeling I’ve ever heard from you guys. What inspired its inclusion, or was it born out of jamming? How much of PELICAN’s work is?

TdB: I can't remember specifically how that part came in - that's actually a song that we were having writer's block on until Dallas came on board, so it might be something that he and Bryan hammered out. There was just something about bringing that part from the opening of the song back, but halving it so it lacks the resolve that it it has earlier previously. It lends a lurching feel that we're all very keen on. We don't do a lot of "jamming" per se, we tend to reason our way through compositions, if that makes sense.

WC: What’s going on the rest of the year in the world of PELICAN as far as tours, videos, etc.?

TdB: We're working on getting videos together, but so far no sense of when the schedule will lock in. As far as tours go we'll do stuff here and there, but we're limited in terms of what we're able to do. There are careers and families in the mix now and we're not really capable of hitting the road the way we once did, but we'll play whenever and wherever we can.