Pelican are an instrumental post-metal powerhouse that deserves to be heard! Their last album, What We All Come To Need, was one of the best albums of 2009. I recently got a hold of drummer Larry Herweg to answer a few questions regarding the album as well as Pelican’s future plans and their past work.
Hi! How are you doing?
I’m doing well. Thanks for asking!
Your 2009 album, What We All Come To Need, is phenomenal! Would you mind telling me a little about that album? The writing process, recording process, etc.
Thanks! Glad you like it! I think it’s probably our best record if I had to choose. Let’s see, we finished “City of Echoes” in 2006 and released it in 2007. So we toured a ton on that record and probably started working on some of “WWACTN” in late 2007/ early 2008. Laurent had a bunch of guitar demos for that record and it was the first LP we wrote after Bryan and I moved out to LA. We moved to LA in summer of 2006 after writing most of “City of Echoes”. I believe the songs, “Glimmer”, The Creeper”, “Ephemeral”, “WWACTN” were the 1st ones we completed. I have some rehearsal demos of Laurent and I working out these songs in LA after we shot the video for “Lost in the Headlights” in 2008. “Strung Up From the Sky” came later and evolved around a killer bass line Bryan wrote. “An Inch Above Sand” was a song Bryan wrote on guitar, that had an early version called “Inch Above Sand” that was shorter and slower. “Final Breath” we finished in the studio. Laurent and Bryan pretty much rewrote the ending on the spot. We did the record up in Seattle with Chris Common. We did drums at Robert Lang and then guitars at Red Room and finally mixed at Electric Kitty. We had some guests come in and play on the record too. Ben from Helms Alee and Harkonen played 2nd bass on “Glimmer”s outro. Greg Anderson flew up when we were mixing and we had him record the intro to “The Creeper”. Aaron Turner did some extra guitar stuff for “WWACTN”‘s outro. And finally Allen Epley did the vocals for “Final Breath”. We didn’t get to hear them till we mixed the vocals in at the very end. I remember us all being excited to hear what Al did for the song. All our eyes lit up as we heard them drop in. It was a very memorable experience for all of us.
What We All Come To Need is the first Pelican album to feature vocals. Allen Epley of Shiner and The Life and Times contributed vocals to the track, “Final Breath”. What influenced the decision to have vocals this time around and why was Allen chosen? Also, what was it like to work with him?
It came out perfect! I mean we were all blown away listening back to them in the studio. We originally planned on that song being the hidden/secret track on the record but when we heard it completed we made it the album’s single with a video. We choose Al because we had spent a lot of time together on the road touring together in 2006. We also had played with them numerous times in Chicago. We loved his bands and thought he’d be a perfect fit. We all wanted to do something different for this album. We had been instrumental for so many years and albums, it seemed like the right time to try it. We tracked the song in Seattle and sent the roughs to Chicago. Al spent a couple days on it and recorded s few vocal tracks and mailed them back to us in Seattle just in time for mixing. We eventually debuted the song live last year in Chicago for Pelican’s 10 year anniversary, with The Life and Times and Swan King. Here’s some clips of it live: http://youtu.be/onkH_cG49Z0 and http://youtu.be/MOrg0kJy4Xw
Would you recruit another guest vocalist again?
Yep! We never swore to being instrumental forever. It just worked out that way. We had intentions of getting a singer back in the day. We just didn’t because we were lazy about it and a year had passed and we had 5 songs written and just decided to start playing shows as is. Steve from These Arms Are Snakes kind of broke in the vocals when we did the “Pink Mammoth” collaboration split release on HH.
Speaking of vocalists, you guys are a pure instrumental band. Have you been approached by fans that offer to do vocals for you guys? If so, do you have any humorous stories to tell?
I feel like we were approached a few years ago but I can’t remember exactly. I believe a guy in Texas offered and maybe a guy in Utah? But honestly I don’t remember.
What We All Come To Need was the first full length Pelican album released on Southern Lord records. Previously, you guys had been a part of Hydra Head records. What was the reason for switching labels?
It was just time for a change. We had done 3 EPs and 3 LPs with HH. I had previously worked with Greg and SL when I was in Lair of the Minotaur. So we were already in a business relationship. Greg expressed interest in us and he eventually gave us an offer. We had no contracts with HH so we could leave if we wanted to.
On City of Echoes, Pelican started writing shorter songs as opposed to the ten to twelve minute songs that were on the albums that were released before it. Why did Pelican choose this route?
In the early days we wrote all those long songs because we weren’t a touring band. We just played locally once a month and occasionally out of town. Once the band started touring for “The Fire In Our…” we realized the old songs were becoming boring to play live, nightly for months. Plus we were touring with high energy bands like Cave In, Torche, etc. so we all decided to “trim the fat” off our songs for the next record. I also remember Laurent wanting me to play more aggressively like I was in Lair of the Minotaur, so I threw in some of that style in songs like “Bliss in Concrete”.
On the Ephemeral EP, you guys covered the Earth song, “Geometry of Murder”. Earth’s guitarist, Dylan Carlson also contributed guitar to that track. What was it like working with Mr. Carlson?
Awesome! We all loved Earth from the beginning. Earth was one of Pelican’s original influences. When we decided to do a cover song for the “Ephemeral” EP, Earth seemed more than appropriate. We did some shows with Earth on the East Coast and got to meet Dylan then. We all became friends. So we were recording “Ephemeral”s tracks up in Seattle, we mentioned to Greg Anderson we were doing an Earth cover. He was like, “let me call Dylan and see if he wants to come record with you guys.” So he called him and Dylan was down. He came in and we showed him how we had slightly reworked the song. It was a bit faster with some subtle changes. So Dylan did the intro for it and then did some leads throughout the song. It was really fun to do and came out pretty sweet.
So what’s next for Pelican? Any upcoming releases or tour dates?
We just finished the West Coast tour for “Power of the Riff”. It was our first tour of 2011. We are doing a Festival in Lexington, KY. on Sept 24th with Swans and Horseback. Then we do the Empty Bottle in Chicago on Oct 2nd for the Wire Festival. We are going to track a new EP in Oct/Nov that we hope to have out by spring 2012 on Southern Lord. More shows to come…
Do you enjoy touring? Do you have a favorite place to tour?
Yes I do enjoy it, but I can’t speak for the whole band. Australia and Japan are probably my favorite places to tour! They’re a pain in the ass to get to with the brutally long flights but the payoff when you get there is worth it. I wish Japan all the best in their recovery from the earthquake earlier this year!
Any humorous touring stories?
Umm yeah, where do I start?! Too many to tell. I remember one time we were driving on the Sky way from Indiana to Chicago and Laurent stopped for a quick slice of pizza from a gas station Pizza Hut. Keep in mind, Laurent is basically Lactose intolerant. We got back on the highway and within 15 minutes Laurent had turned pale and sweaty. He began to shuffle around in his seat saying he didn’t feel so good. Now there are no exits for miles and when there eventually were exits, you don’t want to get off because its Gary, In. and it’s not the safest place to make a pit stop. As the minutes passed he began to tell us we had to pull over immediately or he’d shit the van, offering to duke on the side of the busy freeway. We all were laughing and harassing him. Finally we hit Hammond and pulled off at a KFC where Laurent tore out of the van “to deliver the goods.”
You are also in the band, ÆGES. Could you tell me a little bit about the band?
ÆGES is a 4 piece from LA, that plays heavy riff rock with melodic vocals. Something like a mix of Quicksand and Queens of the Stone Age. It started when Pelican began to talk about slowing down at the end of 2008. I returned to LA that Fall and met Kim Kinakin (Sparkmarker) and Mark Holcomb (Shift, Undertow) later that week. We started San Angelus and we actually recorded a record right after Pelican finished “WWACTN” in Seattle, also with Chris Common. That year, Kim had to move back to Vancouver. So San Angelus went on hiatus. Mark and I kept writing songs that were getting heavier than the stuff we were doing in San Angelus. In early 2010, I started jamming with Kemble Walters (The Rise) and we wrote a couple songs. I felt like the songs I was doing with both guys could work together style wise. So I introduced those two and they hit it off. We spent the rest of 2010 writing songs and eventually getting Tony Baumeister (16) on bass in Fall. We did our 1st show in April 2011 for our 1st 2 song EP on Hawthorne Street Records. We did a few more shows in LA, and then hit the road opening for Pelican on the West Coast and playing the Power of the Riff dates. We hoping to drop a full length next and keep touring. Check us out at www.facebook.com/aegesband
Are you or any of the other members of Pelican in any other side projects? I know Trevor is a part of Chord. Are there any others?
Trevor also did a short lived band called Bee Control that was like kinda old DC Hardcore. He also does Let’s Pet with his wife. Laurent was doing a band called Needle Age but I think it’s on hiatus. Bryan just moved back to Chicago and I know he’s got some ideas for starting something soon.
One last question: Why the name Pelican? I have always wondered why that name was chosen.
No reason really, we just liked how it sounded and it continued the animal theme we had going with our previous band Tusk.