Russian Circles vs Pelican
Pelican and Russian Circles not only share a talent for creating densely atmospheric and crushingly heavy instrumental records, but both bands also hail from the mecca of experimental rock that is the Windy City. To capitalise on their respective excursions to Stereo this month, we got them in a room to shoot the proverbial over a range of questions plucked from a hat.
Belying the moody ambience of their records, the resulting ‘interview’ consists mainly of cheap jokes and mass laughter, with the occasional broken glass and at least one audible fart. Occasionally, though, they break away from the madness to talk about the city's rich musical heritage, being in a band without a singer, and voice support for Howard Stern's fictitious presidential campaign. Disclaimer: Shit gets silly...
Q. What do you think about adding ‘post’ in front of a genre – does that make it cooler?
Mike Sullivan (Guitar, Russian Circles): Maybe it’s more confusing. I mean, nobody starts out saying ‘I wanna be in a post-punk band’, what the fuck does that even mean?
Trevor De Brauw (Guitar, Pelican): When music critics started using the term ‘Post’ and prefixing it to musical genres it specifically meant that the music was a response to the genre that it’s ‘post-ing’.
Brian Cook (Bass, Russian Circles): I think it just means you ran out of ideas...
Trevor: Really? What about all the fuckin’ post-punk bands? They‘re arguably more creative than the first wave of punk.
Brian C: I’m not saying that ‘post’ bands are less creative; I think it implies that everything has reached a dead end musically and it’s just like regurgitating ideas. It’s not a whole new movement.
Q. On that note, what are your thoughts on labels such as ‘post-rock’, ‘post-metal’ and curiously, ‘post-instrumental’ that are often associated with your own music? Fair enough or a little restricting?
Trevor: Well, I think that when you’re in a band, that type of stuff is totally unimportant, whereas for somebody who is listening to music and trying to categorise it and make sense of different bands and how they relate to one another... there can be harm in it.
Mike: It used to be that five years ago you’d hear the word ‘post-rock’ and one of the first bands you'd think of would be Tortoise or múm. And that was cool because it was more jazz influenced and more ambient, but now post-rock has adopted washes of delay and that Explosions in the Sky tempo. Those bands are fine, but each year post-rock becomes more and more whittled down to traditional rock instruments played with delay pedals. It’s no longer post-rock, it’s becoming less and less experimental. It’s more and more like, ‘boring rock’. ‘Post-boring rock’
Trevor: So if I understand what you’re saying, what we’re doing to post-rock, our bands with our delay pedals is essentially what happened to emo? People came in, watered it down and ruined it.
Dave Turncrantz (Drums, Russian Circles): So are we like the Bright Eyes of fuckin’ instrumental music?
Trevor: I was thinking more like Good Charlotte...
Dave: ...I’d say we’re more like the punk ska of post-rock.
Q. What’s the greatest pay-off from being in a rock band without a vocalist?
Mike: More blow to go around. That’s the first one.
Trevor: You don’t have to worry about the monitor mix feeding back as much.
Mike: Yeah, you can play louder!
Brian Herweg (Bass, Pelican): There’s not some guy running about on stage, bumping into you.
Mike: Yeah, no one can step on your pedals by accident.
Trevor: You probably don’t have to compete with the vocals in the mix, like your riffs will be heard. I’m sure you care about that.
Mike: Yeah, riffs gotta be heard.
Brian C: That’s definitely a frustrating thing, I feel like every sound guy is trained to lift the vocals. Like any kind of loud music, you definitely don’t want the vocals in the forefront. I’ve heard so many fuckin’ awful mixes where it’s some guy yelling and that’s all you can hear coming from the PA.
Dave: We also don’t have to worry about somebody losing their voice.
Mike: ...better chance of getting a blow job, falls in line with the coke thing.
Q. What do you think about the near-constant stream of heritage act reunions in recent times – At the Drive-in, fIREHOSE, Refused and Afghan Whigs are all on the road this summer – have any of them got you excited?
Mike: At the Drive-In? I love how they came out and said it’s pretty much for the money. ‘Don’t kid yourselves motherfuckers, there’s no record. We’re here to play and take some money.’
Dave: How much do you think they’re getting?
Mike: Over a thousand, probably.
Mike: Easily twelve hundred, but including rider shit.
Dave: Are Refused back together, or are they just playing reunion shows?
Trevor: Right now it's just reunion shows.
Mike: I saw the other day that they’re playing a DIY show. I fuckin' love Refused but I’m not gonna lie, I was super fucking disappointed when they announced they were reuniting only to play Bonnaroo and Coachella. I was like ‘dudes, there’s tasteful ways to do this.' I’m glad to see them doing the small club shows.
Q. Top five Chicago bands/artists of all time? It would be great if you could all contribute with this one.
Mike: Brian, you’re slackin'. So you pick ten.
Dave: Yeah, pick mine too. Why don’t we just go around and ask everyone for a Chicago band that they like...
Trevor: Screeching Weasel.
Brian C: Woman hater...
Dave: Yeah, he hits women. [Referring to vocalist Ben Weasel who punched a female audience member and club owner at a show following an altercation at SXSW last year]
Trevor: I haven’t hit anybody, I’m very pacifist.
Brian C: My number one answer is Chicago.
Trevor: The band? They’re ok.
Brian C: Yeah Peter Cetera-era only though.
Dave: I’m gonna say 90 Day Men.
Mike: 90 Day Men are good. Not the best, though...
Trevor: You’re on record, man. You really wanna say that?
Mike: I’d say Smashing Pumpkins but no one knows who they are. The singer from Ministry? Uh, I’ll take an obvious choice and say Shellac. And Tortoise.
Trevor: Speaking of reunions, what’s up with Ministry doing a reunion three years after they broke up? That’s the real question...
Q. If you could back anyone to run for president, who would it be and why? Dead or alive, actor or musician – you decide...
Mike: I’d say Howard Stern because I once heard he tried to run for office in New York and his goal was to make sure that construction on state roads only took place at night. Anyway, I thought Howard Stern was Brian May for a long time....
[The whole gang cracks up, again]
Brian C: Let’s talk about how Brian May built his own guitar.
Mike: Let’s all tell one neat factoid about Brian May.
Trevor: He bought the world’s first patented jet pack.
Trevor: I assume so.
Dave: He’s an astro-physicist, he has a PhD...
[This continues for some time amid ear-piercing laughter before the question is read out again and ‘decide’ is jokingly mispronounced as notorious anti-Christian death metal legends ‘Deicide’, infamous for vocalist Glen Benton’s inverted crucifix scar on his forehead]
Mike: Glenn Benton for president!