Thrash Hits

March 16th, 2012

Interview: Larry Herweg from Pelican on humankind’s parasitic relationship with planet Earth, and other great conversation starters.

When Pelican announced they’d be doing their first UK shows in four years this April, the first thing Hugh Platt did was cry for joy. The second thing he did was call up their drummer, Larry Herweg, to chat about it.

Pelican 2012 promo photos Thrash Hits

Whatever ludicrous post-metal tag you like to slap on Pelican, the power and presence the quartet’s wield in heavy music’s instrumental sphere is undeniable. Now that the band is gearing up for their first UK shows in nearly half a decade (spearheaded by the release of their new Ataraxia/Taraxis EP, to which we awarded a praiseworthy 5.5 out of 6 when we reviewed it a couple of weeks back), we gave the band’s drummer, Larry Herweg a call. In between reminding us how much better the whether is over in Los Angeles right now, Larry was more than happy to give us an insight into just why Pelican have been shied from our shores since 2008, and what inspired the release that’s brought them back here after so long away.

Touring the UK for the first time in literally years – why has it taken you so long to come back to the UK?
We were getting kind of really burnt out on touring in 2009. It was right around the time that What We All Come To Need came out. The band was just hitting a wall (being on the road), and at the same time, there were some family issues that came up. Trevor [de Brauw, guitarist]’s mother was terminally ill, and he didn’t want to be on tour anymore as he wanted to be at home with his mom. For the next year and half he was dealing with his mom being really ill, and then in the meantime, Laurent [Schroeder-Lebec, guitar] had a kid with his wife. There’s been a lot of stuff going on with the band other than music over the last couple of years.

Was that the reason why Ataraxia/Taraxis was recorded all over the place?
Me and Bryan [Larry’s brother, and bassist in the band] moved to Los Angeles in 2006. Bryan actually moved back to Chicago earlier this year, so now I’m the only one who’s out here in L.A. We didn’t have enough material ready for a full-length, but we had enough for a pretty decent EP, which is something to get us out and back on the road – kind of to get the wheels turning again. Because its only an EP, there wasn’t a huge budget or significant amount of time that we could commit to – for the last album, and even the EP we did before that, Ephemeral, we all went up to Seattle and spent time there together recording and mixing and whatnot. But this time around, there wasn’t really the time or the money, so there was some filesharing, and I stayed in L.A. and did my drums here, then sent them back to those guys who just played over the drums. We made it work, but it was definitely a different recording experience to those that we’ve had in the past.

Is it one you think you’ll use again in future?
For stuff like [Ataraxia/Taraxis], I think it’s fine. I personally think that when we do a full-length, I don’t want to do it this way. I’d like for everybody to be there, even for the mixing. The mixing for [Ataraxia/Taraxis] took place in Chicago and I wasn’t there for it, so there was a lot of back-and-forthing and remixing going on, as I was unsatisfied as to how the drums were coming out during the mix. It’s kind of tricky. And then the mastering took place in Chicago, and I would’ve liked to have been present for that too….I just think that for a full-length, I’d like to go back to having all of us in the same studio at the same time. Which will probably involve me going back to Chicago, which is fine. It’s where I’m from, I’ve got family there and whatnot.

Where does an instrumental band get their thematic inspirations from? Coming at it from a music fan’s perspective, it’s easier to grasp the intent when there are lyrics to hang expectations from.
The band has always tried to have somewhat of a theme when a record comes out, or a deeper meaning to the songs, just to tying it all back in to the record. Two of the songs from the EP were…well, not leftovers, but songs that we had started but didn’t finish when we were doing What We All Come To Need – in this case the second and third tracks [from the EP], ’Lathe Biosas’ and ‘Parasite Colony’.

‘Lathe Biosas’ comes from an idea of Epicurean philosophy – and I’m trying to explain this in the simplest way – with regards to living life in a manner that minimise impact on the world around you, or more literally “live in obscurity”. In its application as Laurent intended it, I think it was in reference to environmental concerns – to suggest living a life that minimizes the footprint of human kind’s negative impact on the earth that fosters it. ‘Parasite Colony’ acts as an opposite, implying the human race as a parasite sustaining itself by sucking the life out of its host.

I thought this dichotomy would make a great theme for the EP, and that it would be cool to title the intro and Bryan’s acoustic songs in line with it, making the A-side of the record the Epicurean side, and the B-side the parasite side. For the intro, there is ‘Ataraxia’, which means peace and freedom from fear (and is also one of the primary goals of the Epicurean philosophy). Then we then had a single word implying it’s reverse (you can thank my Ancient Greek professor brother for help suggesting this), [‘Taraxis’] for the acoustic jam.

Pelican Ataraxia/Taraxis EP cover artwork packshot 400px Thrash Hits

Where did the idea to ask fans to make the official video for ‘Lathe Biosas’ come from?
That was one of Trevor’s ideas. He’s now a publicist in Chicago, and he’d seen other bands do similar things and it was successful. Given that Ataraxia/Taraxis was an EP and the budget wasn’t as great as a full-length’s would be, we couldn’t really justify getting a good amount of money from the label to do a video, so we tried to figure out a way to make a video work on our own. We already have fans that have make videos [for our songs] without our permission anyways…which is fine, but we thought this time we’d make it a little bit more legitimate, and we can see what everyone’s creating, and we can pick what we think is the best one. I don’t think any of us have seen the final turnout yet, but I think it’ll be pretty cool. I have faith. Trevor knows what he’s doing.

With regards to the new album, do you have any immediate plans on the horizon for your next full-length yet?
We’re already writing for the next record. Trevor was out here in LA about two weeks ago, covering press for a couple of bands he works with, and we actually started writing more songs. Bryan has some files of stuff that he’s going to send me as I need to start working on them, so the next record is already in motion. Getting on tour will just speed up the process, as it means we’ll be spending more time together. We’ll spend some time playing around with new ideas and new material. We’ll see how it goes – I think that a few years ago we were on a cycle of putting out a record every couple of years and touring non-stop – that cycle is not happening anymore, obviously. We’re definitely picking up momentum again, and I think this is the first step in the right direction.

Watch a playlist of some of Pelican’s finest moments:

Do you think that breaking the cycle has injected a different perspective on making music into the band?
As I mentioned earlier, I think with Pelican, we hit a wall with touring and people were getting burnt out. I don’t know about everybody else [in Pelican], but I actually started to take it for granted….

I think having a little bit of a break and everybody having some time to themselves was a good thing, and now that we’re not spending so much time together, when we do spend time together, I think we appreciate each other’s company a lot more than we were. In 2009 we were constantly around each other, and everyone was getting sick of each other. The last few times we’ve all been together it’s been good. It’s going to be better. The future’s looking good for the band.

Pelican are returning to the UK next month for their fist shows over here since 2008. When we realised it’d been four bleeding years since we saw them play, we shed a single, solitary tear for our long-lost youth.

Pelican April European tour dates:
06 Zottegem Dunk! Festival
07 London Highbury Garage
08 Birmingham Vudu Club
09 Leesds Brudenell Social Club
10 Glasgow Stereo
11 Manchester Ruby Lounge
12 Brighton Haunt
13 Bristol Cooler
14 Tilburg Roadburn Festival
15 Paris La Maronquinerie
16 Karlsruhe Jubez
17 Dudingen Bad Bonn
18 Milan Magnolia
19 Munich Feierwerk
20 BerlinCassiopeia
21 Helsinki Nosturi

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