Some of the songs are pretty wildly idiosyncratic, even by our standards, so it was hard to guess what folks would think of them. The positive reaction it’s been met with has felt incredibly gratifying and humbling.
Pelican have just released their stunning new album Nighttime Stories, the follow up to 2013s Forever Becoming and it is definitely a highlight in Pelicans formidable musical career. We had a chat with guitarist Trevor de Brauw to talk all about the album and its inspiration, recording and artwork as well as discussing topics such as the effect fatherhood has had in the bands music, their latest tour, memories of their first ever gig and having their own collaboration beer and a burger named after them.
E&D: Your new album Nighttime Stories has just been released. How did the creation and recording of the album go?
Trevor: It went really well. We spent such a long time writing this batch of songs and had recorded demos of all of them, so going into the studio we had a pretty clear concept as to how best to execute finished versions. It felt like a great balance between fully structured pieces and sonic experiments to help augment the arrangements. As is almost always the case I came away wishing we’d had just a couple more days because I always have more ideas the day after we leave the studio, but it’s also good to have that deadline just so that you can break away and call something finished.
E&D: What has the reaction to the album been like so far?
Trevor: Beyond our expectations. We’ve been working on this stuff so long I’d kind of lost perspective a little and couldn’t tell whether it was good or just good to us. Some of the songs are pretty wildly idiosyncratic, even by our standards, so it was hard to guess what folks would think of them. The positive reaction it’s been met with has felt incredibly gratifying and humbling.
E&D: What inspired the songs on the album?
Trevor: We spent much of the last six years working on these songs; as such they were inspired by a wide range of experiences. Among the most impactful would be unanticipated deaths of friends and family, the birth of children in our immediate circle, the ever increasing environmental crisis, and our antipathy toward the global rise of white nationalism.
E&D: Several members of the band became fathers before the album was made. Did that have a big effect on the music?
Trevor: Dallas and Larry became first time fathers over the last few years, I had my second child shortly after the album was recorded. Definitely having children forces you to slow down and approach things at a bit more measured pace. I can’t speak for the others, but having children has certainly made me more emotional. Everything seems to carry this gravity with it and each moment takes on this really precious quality. It enriches life to a great degree, but it can be harrowing too.
E&D: What got the ball rolling with the band reconvening to make this album?
Trevor: We never really unconvened. I think the first riffs for this record started surfacing in 2014, not long after we’d done the initial touring for the previous album Forever Becoming. It was simply a slower, more disjointed process. Things happened in trickles between tours rather than a focused burst of activity, which is more or less how things happened with the band prior. We eventually gave ourselves a deadline last year by working backwards – figured out when we could make an extended recording session work, then figured out when we’d need the songs done by, and then set up some lengthy writing sessions. Since Larry and Bryan live in LA and Dallas and I live in Chicago it’s a bit tricky getting all the schedules lined up and all the people in the right place to make writing happen.
E&D: Do you feel that Nighttime Stories is your heaviest album to date?
Trevor: I’m not really sure! It’s probably got fewer mellow moments than our other albums, so could certainly seem heavier for that reason.
E&D: This is your first album since 2013, why has there been such a long gap between albums?
Trevor: There were a few factors – for one, this is the first album we’ve written with Dallas as a fully contributing member of the band. I think there was a bit of figuring out what this iteration of the band sounds like and how best to manifest that with new material. We found our footing playing live, so it was crucial to try and tap into the energy that we’ve developed as a live unit. But to do that meant getting all four of us in the room together for writing, rather than writing songs at home and then bringing them to the full band (which has generally been our method in the past). The best stuff on this album started with a handful of parts which we then fleshed out as a full unit, jamming on ideas until they took shape. There were lots and stops and starts because we’re not all in the same city – we’d get started on an idea when we were all together, but then when we returned to our respective cities and we’d continue to try and work on stuff in smaller units there was just slow or no progress. At any rate, I think the time we ended up putting in paid off with a pretty distinctive set of tunes, though there were a lot of times where the end of the road seemed out of reach.
E&D: How does it feel for the band to be back?
Trevor: We never went anywhere! We’ve been touring as much as we can – roughly 2-4 weeks a year – since the last album came out and we’ll continue to do so. We don’t take breaks, we just have a limited capacity in terms of our activity due to careers, families, etc.
E&D: Who did the cover artwork for the album?
Trevor: It’s by our old friend Aaron Turner, who ran Hydrahead Records and did all the album covers for our albums there. He utilized photographs by our buddy Andrew Weiss, who provided photography for our last few albums, as the basis.
E&D: You have just been on tour in America in support of the album. How has the tour been going and what have some of the highlights been?
Trevor: We’ve actually just finished a run of dates. We only did fourteen shows because we can’t be away from home for long because of work and family obligations. The shows were really well received, which was quite encouraging. Some highlights included playing Toronto and Montreal for the first time in 10 years and the record release show in Chicago at Metro, which is a stage we hadn’t played in well over 10 years.
E&D: You’ve been playing the dates with Cloakroom, how is it touring with those guys?
Trevor: Nothing beats the experience of being on tour with a band you are also friends with, it is a relationship enriching experience. I feel really fortunate to have befriended one of my favorite bands and get to tour with them.
E&D: Have you been playing a lot of new material on these dates and how has it been received?
Trevor: We’ve been playing most of the new album, as well as ‘Darkness on the Stairs’ from the 7” we released in April. Furthermore, we didn’t play any songs prior to Forever Becoming on the most recent tour – an experiment to see how it felt just playing songs that came from this iteration of the lineup and how it would go over with fans. The response has been fantastic, it’s obvious there are many people who took the time to check out the album and miraculously we’ve received no complaints about the lack of older songs.
E&D: What is your favourite Pelican song to play live?
Trevor: Presently the songs ‘Full Moon, Black Water’ and ‘Arteries of Blacktop’ are scratching a particular itch. They both have moments of visceral intensity and moments where I need to cool down and figure out how to pull off riffs that are challenging for me. I love that balance.
E&D: Are you looking forward to the European and UK dates later in the year?
Trevor: Most certainly, we’re hitting some places we haven’t been in quite some time and we always really enjoy playing in Europe and traveling.
E&D: Who have Pelican enjoyed touring with the most and what made it so memorable?
Trevor: I think one of our most enjoyable and pivotal tours was doing Europe with Cave In in 2006. We were just starting to become well known and they were in a weird place with their career having returned to Hydrahead after their dalliance with major label world. Even though they’re roughly the same age as us, they really became mentors to us in a sense – we were really hung up on details and trying to perfect our musical performances, then they would get up there and just play and have the time of their lives. It was really instructive to embrace the simple joy that we get to do this and to enjoy the experience, regardless of when things go wrong or go off the rails. In their minds, at the time, they saw themselves as being past the peak of their career and encouraged us to recognize that a music career can be a fleeting thing, to enjoy the moment you’re in and embrace it to the fullest. We carry that to this day.
E&D: Who would you love to tour with in the future?
Trevor: We are available the moment Iron Maiden request us.
E&D: What is the best gig that Pelican have ever played and what made it so special?
Trevor: I don’t know how to single out any one show as our best, there have been so many memorable ones and they’re all special in one way or another. One highlight that comes to mind are the two 10 year anniversary shows we did in 2010. There was just such a celebratory mood around them and we were able to get friends to collaborate with us on a few tunes.
E&D: Can you still remember the first Pelican gig and how it went?
Trevor: Our first show was opening for High on Fire at the Fireside Bowl on their first national tour. We’d been doing the band for almost a year at that point and were in the process of casting off the first several songs we wrote, in fact. Our promoter friend Brian Peterson was hard pressed to figure out what bands to pair High on Fir with since there was not much of a Chicago metal scene at the time. He’d booked our grind band Tusk quite a bit and had heard we were working on a “stoner metal side project” as he called it, so we got the invite to open. We weren’t even sure if we were an instrumental band at that point – we thought we might still find a singer. At any rate, that was our impetus to give it a go with no vocals. We were fairly bad, but it went over better than expected and we started getting more show offers shortly thereafter.
E&D: What Music are you currently listening to on the road?
Trevor: Last night we were listening to a Grand Funk Railroad live album from their 69-71 tour. It was rippin’.
E&D: How did Pelican start as a band?
Trevor: Larry, Laurent, and I were already playing together in an art-grind band called Tusk. I was the primary guitarist in that band and Laurent, who is a guitarist by trade, was the bassist. He started feeling limited by his role on bass and started churning out a bunch of guitar riffs. He and Larry worked some of the stuff out and deemed that it just wasn’t a fit for Tusk and decided to just carve out a different band for it. We were practicing weekly on Saturdays and it just turned into a marathon where we’d do Tusk for a couple hours and then our singer would leave and we’d start Pelican practice.
E&D: You’ve released a number of splits in the past with the likes of Mono, Scissorfight, These Arms Are Snakes and Young Widows. Who would you like to do a split with in the future?
Trevor: I don’t know! We don’t have that much extra recorded material these days, so it’s kind of hard to even imagine having a song to spare for a release of that kind.
E&D: You’ve released a beer with the Metropolitan brewery called Cold Hope to tie in with the new album. What is the beer like?
Trevor: That one was a long time in the making. Dallas first spoke to them about a collaboration beer in 2014 or so, but we agreed it would be better to tie it in with a release or something of that nature and we just put it on hold until we started recording the album. It was a very collaborative process: Dallas and I went to the brewery on several occasions just to brainstorm with the team there about the themes of the record and our taste in beer and how we might be able to realize some combination of those things, and then for tasting test batches and refining the recipe. We were then fortunate enough to attend the brew day, helped mill grain and just watch the process. It was a really rad opportunity to manifest a different creative component of the band and we couldn’t have asked for better collaborators.
E&D: Are the band big drinkers and what are your favourite beers?
Trevor: These days just Dallas and I drink. I’m sort of all over the map- lagers, pales, stouts. I’m particular, but I like a lot of different stuff. Dallas tends to be more of a lager guy. Definitely looking forward to the European tour because there’s so many great regional breweries over there.
E&D: If you could go for a drink with anyone, who would you choose and why?
Trevor: Werner Herzog, because why not.
E&D: There’s also a Pelican burger at Kumas Corner in Chicago. Can you tell us all about that and how it came about?
Trevor: They did a burger for us many years ago as well. They’re a well known restaurant in town renowned for their metal-oriented menu: each burger is named for and inspired by a different band. They have a burger of the month series and reached out to us when they heard we had an album coming out to offer to collaborate. That was another fun one- it worked out great because they’re a beer-centric spot and often have Metropolitan on tap, so we were able to sort it out that they had our beer on tap at the same time.
E&D: What was the first album you ever bought and what effect did it have on you?
Trevor: I’m the youngest of three, so most of my earliest memories with music is hearing stuff my brothers introduced me to. I think the first CD I bought was Tom Petty Damn the Torpedoes. I distinctly remember being disappointed that it didn’t feel as developed and modern as Full Moon Fever, which I knew and loved. I’ve realized the error of my ways! ‘Even The Losers’ is an all time fucking jam.
E&D: Who or what has inspired you most as a musician?
Trevor: By far the most formative influence for me was just being a participant in the punk scene; it’s affected and informed every aspect of my life, and definitely laid a roadmap for how to approach music in a way that is honest, direct, ethical, and intimate. I feel so fortunate that that music found me.
E&D: What have been some of the highlights of your career so far?
Trevor: Too many to list! Definitely being able to play all over the world and have people come out to share the experience is always, always a highlight.