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Pelican is a Chicago-based quartet that plays instrumental heavy metal. But Pelican’s definition of that term has shifted throughout its career. The band’s self-titled 2001 EP built an unlikely bridge between the stoner-doom sludge of Sleep and the delicate post-rock of bands like Tortoise, while on their more recent full-length breakthrough, 2005’s The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw, they experimented with more concise prog-influenced textures. Guitarist Laurent Schroeder-Lebec recently spoke with City Paper on where they’ve gone with new record, City of Echoes.
Pelican performs with Earth and Priestbird Saturday, July 28, at the Black Cat.
City Paper: Why the move towards shorter, more concise songs?
Laurent Schroeder-Lebec: Any time we get around to writing a new record it always sounds different than the last one. The more you play with people the more your music has to evolve—bands can’t help but change over time. This one is a reflection on the past two years of touring. The songs are shorter it seems, but just as dense. To me the elements that are unique to our band are maybe still here.
I think we wanted to work with a producer [Andrew Schneider] that brought out our rhythm section. We wanted a recording that showed the interaction between musicians.
CP: How do you feel about being on tour with Earth—a band that has obviously had a lot of influence on Pelican?
LSL: It’s awesome, the evolution of that band and our band too. It seems like they hardly ever repeated themselves—they stayed true to their inspiration. Their new approach is very different than what they used to do on the first two Earth records. The first three are of a particular influence to me as a guitar player. Very droney and ambient but still had room for melody and hooks.
They aren’t the only band we’re on tour with. Clouds is doing a big chunk. Priestbird, Earth, Gargantula, 400 Blows, Fatal Flying Guilloteens. They’re just bands that we wanted to tour with.
CP: So you feel some career parallels with Earth?
LSL: Our band has evolved a tremendous amount with each record. We’re not stagnating. The cult around Earth was sort of built around people liking their huge monolithic heaviness—now they’re doing something that presents a different picture.
CP: During the tours for the last album you guys put yourself on a few package tours that exposed you to a younger crowd, right? How do you feel about playing in front of a younger audience?
LSL: I guess you’re talking about the “Taste of Chaos Tour” [a corporate “post-hardcore” package tour assembled by the creators of the Warped tour]. For us it was one of those things that presented internal opposition to the corporate and mainstream. I mean, the idea that Warped Tour [is] not being mainstream is a joke. One of the things that sold us on it was that we really liked the Deftones—the fact that them and Thrice really wanted us on the tour. There was a connection between them and us so we figured we would give it a try.
There are obviously certain things we would never do, like an army of one tour. But when we were all kids, we weren’t into the most uber-hip underground bands. Our drummer went to one of the first Warped tours and it kinda blew his mind.
CP: Do you feel like you’re beginning to get older than the majority of your audience?
LSL: I’m 29, our drummer [Larry Herweg] is 29, and [bassist] Bryan [Herweg} is 26. I feel like the majority of our audience is 21 and up. I guess it depends on the tour. Nobody is really feeling the strain of getting older—we’re pretty approachable band. We don’t just go backstage after the show.
CP: But are you nervous about putting your future in the hands of finicky teenagers?
LSL: I think the possibility of being in a touring band and making a living out of it came into our lives when we were older, so we’ve always had a modesty about it. Let’s not take this for granted, lets enjoy it while it lasts and if it doesn’t last we’ll just move on and do something else. In my 40’s I won’t have to look back and say I wasn’t gusty enough to do something I really wanted to do.
CP: How do you differentiate yourselves from the glut of instrumental bands that are making music these days?
LSL: There’s such a saturation of instrumental bands, they seem to be everywhere. In 2000 there really wasn’t very much at all. We didn’t even think about the oddness of being an instrumental band. We don’t actively try to differentiate ourselves. Maybe by association? We choose not to tour with instrumental bands very often.
I think there’s not that much of an effort to differentiate ourselves. The effort goes into just writing the music that you know is yours and hoping that that’s enough of a differentiation.