The instrumental rock of Pelican's Forever Becoming can greatly assist when you need to get some aggression out. It's got that float-out-into-the-sky-and-destroy-shit feel. Forever Becoming (out this past October on Southern Lord) is the Chicago-based foursome's first album in four years. They've got a new guitarist, Dallas Thomas, and they're sounding a bit more metal. Processions in the songs churn and plod with rabid, gamy weight, then riffs shift to cleaner channels and the load lifts off the ground. Earth and sky volley back and forth as quiet falls to noise. "Immutable Dusk" hauls mortar uphill, hooks it onto balloons, and then drops it into a dunk tank of black powder and strike-anywhere matches. Pelican guitarist Trevor Shelley de Brauw spoke from Los Angeles, where he was staring out a window at a gray sky. I had just listened to the album, and I read to him the following description: I'm a wrecking ball the size of a stadium, and I'm knocking over Walmarts and Starbucks and banks. It's total destruction, but the shape of the wreckage forms the image of a tranquil mountain lake. If you look at it from a distance, the piles of rubble and wreckage fall perfectly this way. There's a big elk in the image, and its antlers are fucking amazing. Nature wins out over the greed.
This seems fitting for Pelican's music. Within the destructive sounds are order and complex patterning. And large animals with antlers.
That's not a question. But, yeah.
What scenes do you see in your head when you play?
Honestly, I try to disconnect from visualization as much as possible. The goal is always to get subsumed by sound and to lose self-consciousness by inhabiting the music. That, and Vikings. And, should I put my foot up on the monitor during this next riff?
You're forgetting how often you think about elk. You think about elk the entire time when you play.
I probably will now.
How often do you see stage diving go wrong?
We played this massive package tour called the Taste of Chaos, mostly playing arenas—by far the biggest shows we ever played. There was one show, I think it was in Long Beach Arena, where this guy somehow got past security and attempted a stage dive. But the thing with arena shows is that there's a barricade and it's a large distance from the stage, so stage dives are almost impossible to clear [laughs]. The guy crashed into the barricade, stomach first. It looked really painful. I hope that dude is okay.
What did Pelican do in the four years off?
We played sporadic shows, underwent career changes, went to school. I started a family. Basic normal-people life stuff that we'd put off for a long time.
When and how and why did you know it was time to come back?
There were a couple of songs that Laurent [Schroeder-Lebec] had written for the last album, What We All Come to Need, that hadn't been finished in time to record. Larry [Herweg] kept getting on us that we should record them just to keep the band active to a degree. We were all caught up in our own life shit, so we kept putting it off. Then in late 2011, he took the initiative to record his drum parts and sent them to us and was basically like, "Let's fucking do this already." It lit a fire under our asses. Bryan [Herweg] and I started meeting up to relearn those songs and work out the kinks, and in the process of doing that, we started writing new material. The two-song recording turned into a four-song EP, Ataraxia/Taraxis, and from there Bryan and I started meeting up more regularly to write. The album came together over the following 12 months.
What's different for you all now?
We came close to letting this band drift away from us, and we were able to reel it back in. There's an underlying sense of gratitude and urgency to everything we do now, because we have less time to devote to the band. Every moment is especially sacred to us. I think it was this way before, but there was less overt awareness of how lucky we are to have this creative outlet in our lives.
What's not different?
Our farts still stink.
Chris Common is the man. How did he go about producing and dialing your sounds in? How did his magic work for your magic?
Chris is fun to record with because he knows our band well. We've toured together in the past when he was in These Arms Are Snakes, and he's incredibly adept at what he does. I can't speak for him, but I think he just approached the band from that perspective—knowing what our shows sound like and having a keen sense of what we're going for, and trying to capture it. We couldn't be happier.
How did "The Cliff" come together? What instrument did that one originate on? How does Pelican write?
That one started with a bass line that Bryan wrote and recorded. He basically had the entire song finished and structured on bass, but he didn't know it. He sent it to Larry and me, thinking it was a song fragment, and suggested that we try to work on it together the next time Larry was in town. Larry came up with parts on his own, and the next time he was in Chicago, the two of them locked in right away on the finished song's rhythm section; then it was just a matter of Dallas and me laying guitars on top.
Most of our songs start from guitar riffs. Writing the bass lines is a matter of figuring out the root notes, harmonic counterpoints, and things that'll make the rhythm lock in. "The Cliff" and "Strung Up from the Sky" are our two songs that germinated from bass parts first. I think it opens up a lot of space for melodic exploration in the guitars and gives me a chance to flex my Cure muscles [laughs]. This is also one of the songs that was finished after Dallas joined the band, so he's a little more active of a contributor on this one.
How does the album deal with the infinite cycle of life/death? And elk.
The band itself went through its own cycle of death and rebirth, and each of us had experiences in our personal lives between albums that played to that theme. It seemed so common to each of our lives, and to the band as a whole, that it couldn't be ignored. Everything we write is an expression of what's going on in our lives, so it felt like the music took a form that embodied this theme as well. And the herds of elk that I constantly think about now.
What's next for Pelican, going to Australia?
Yeah, Australia in July and a new EP in the fall. Hopefully we'll get the wheels spinning on writing some new songs in the not-too-distant future.