Pelican: Movement for Change

With the weight of the future bearing down on them, can <strong>Pelican</strong> change gears and run with the big boys of post-metal?

Feature by Jason Morton | 20 Oct 2009
  • Pelican

For any band involved in a progressive genre, the need to keep moving is an occupational necessity. But at the same time, shaking up the formula can make or break. So far, 2009 has seen a steady juggernaut of releases from heavier bands in that postition, such as Mastodon (Crack the Skye) and Isis (Wavering Radiant), both of which saw these stalwarts moving in new directions, to immense critical praise.

Throwing their hat in the ring with What We All Come to Need are Pelican, a kindred spirit known for producing alternatingly crushing and atmospheric albums; but as bassist Bryan Herweg suggests, the new album marks an intended change in trajectory for the Chicagoan quartet. “We wanted to try something different, just to simplify everything.”

Those familiar with the band’s back catalogue can only agree that Pelican's fourth full length marks a definite change in gear. Early days of tracks extending to ten minutes and beyond have been left behind for a shorter, more groove based predilection, with songwriting structures becoming “a lot easier” according to Herweg. “We wanted [last album] City of Echoes to be a departure, more straightforward than we'd been in the past, but it came out a little more complicated than we hoped. This one is exactly how we thought it was going to come out. Everything just got toned down a little bit and I think that's what needed to happen.” The suggestion lingers momentarily before he adds: “We’ll see how everyone else takes it.”

Augmenting Pelican's newfound structural clarity on the album is the pristine production – via Chris Common (Minus the Bear, These Arms Are Snakes) – focusing more on uplifting guitar tones rather than the sludgy breakdowns of the band’s past repertoire. The bassist cites the record as their best work to date, giving ample credit to Common: “It's good production for one,” he says. “I feel like it's more accessible. It's my favorite recording that we've done. [Common] was good to work with – a great engineer.”

It was this producer who lured the members from their respective homes of Chicago and Los Angeles – a long commute for band practice if ever there was one – to the Pacific Northwest for the recording of both What We All Come to Need and the Ephemeral EP. With the latter release pulling in the assistance of Dylan Carlson of genre forerunners Earth, Pelican also netted a number of guests for the LP, including Seattle local Greg Anderson of SunnO))) and Hydrahead Records boss/Isis lynchpin Aaron Turner. Herweg says the collaborative process went smoothly: “We've known all these guys for a while. We left it completely open for them to do what they wanted. We just called people up and they were into it – hopefully no-one was too reluctant!”

Another notable guest on the album is Ben Verellen of disbanded post-hardcore outfit Harkonen, but perhaps the most important addition is Allen Epley – guitarist and vocalist of The Life and Times – contributing the first vocals to be used on a Pelican track to album closer Final Breath. “It was an honour to have him do that,” says Herweg, happy that Epley's inclusion kept in line with their current ethos. “We thought we needed to switch it up a little bit – shoot for vocals – and we've been talking about it for a little while now. The bone of contention has been who we'd actually have do it, because none of us sing well."

Of course, the band never intended for the entire album to feature vocals, but the idea of including Final Breath as a hidden track was quickly jettisoned. “It came out so good that we thought we'd leave it right there, it's the perfect closer.’” Herweg says the vocals were recorded in a separate session and sent to the band in much the same way their usual songwriting process is conducted nowadays, what with the band living on opposite sides of the continent.

Despite this distance, Pelican trudges on; Herweg regards geography as only a minor inconvenience. “I think that was the only big hurdle: recording the record – and it went really smoothly – sending ideas back and forth over the internet, practising when we got together for rehearsal for tour… it’s a little tricky, but so far it hasn’t been bad.”

Having paid their dues on the road with numerous treks around the US and Europe over the last half of the decade, Pelican have assured their growing cult status. But current plans call for a cutback. “We're trying to scale back on the touring for this record," reveals Herweg. "We've played so much over the past four years that we're all pretty burned out, we just want to try and get some home-life situations settled.”

When asked if this is the end of Pelican as a touring band, Herweg quickly rebuffs the idea. “We'll definitely still be playing, just trying to cut it down. We're not calling it quits.” It’s reassuring, then, that while Pelican may be making less physical movement in the immediate future, they’ll still be among those pushing guitar music forward.

What We All Come to Need is released on 26 Oct via Southern Lord.