Pelican: Left to right, Bryan Herweg, Laurent Schroeder-Lebec,Trevor de Brauw and Larry Herweg. Photo by Marty Watson.
From its start in 2001, the hard-hitting Chicago quartet Pelican has never fit neatly into any pigeonhole: It's too metal to really be part of the Wicker Park post-rock scene, and too methodical to be part of the raw metal underground.
"I think it's really just drawing a few people from every niche," says Trevor de Brauw, who formed the band with fellow guitarist Laurent Schroeder-Lebec and the sibling rhythm section of bassist Bryan and drummer Larry Herweg. "We never worried about that, because we were never careerists when we got into it. Pelican was just a side project from another hardcore band we were doing, and it just sort of picked up momentum.
"Initially, the goal was just to be loud--not the only goal, but that was the defining characteristic we wanted. Over the years, it's developed from something that's not just feeling loud but seeming loud. It's not so much about the actual volume; in many cases, we're quieter with our stage volume than the bands that we tour with--they'll have three or four guitar amps and all this extra stuff, and Laurent and I are just playing out of [Marshall] half stacks. It doesn't need to be super-loud to convey that feeling of a physical property of sound."
In the end, then, rather than any specific genre description, "loud as a state of mind rather than a decibel reading" is as good a way to characterize Pelican as any other.
Following three critically acclaimed albums--"Australasia" (2003), "The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw" (2005) and "City of Echoes" (2007)--the group jumped from the Hydra Head label to the larger indie Southern Lord for the new "What We All Come to Need," released last October.
"This time, we were lucky to have a little bit better of a recording budget than we've had in the past," de Brauw says. "Pretty much every other recording session we've done has been a little bit short on time, and we've ended up accepting takes that were perhaps flawed in one way or another. This time out, we really wanted to try and relax and take our time and really hit things until we felt good about the results.
"We're definitely our own harshest critics. I've had a tendency to bum out fans: People will and say, 'Hey man, that was a great show,' and I'll start listing what was wrong with it! Of course, nobody wants to hear that. But I think for our own sake, we wanted to have an idea of a record and bring it to fruition the way that we imagined it. We had a particular way that we wanted each song to sound, and we had the time and the means at our disposal to perfect not just the performances, but the sound of each instrument and how they compliment each other."
This of course is even more important when a band doesn't have a singer to provide an obvious focal point on album or onstage.
"When you don't have vocals filling in the space or attracting the attention, it's not just about every note you play, but the overall sound of everything. From the start, we've been very interested in having a very physical presence to our music in a live context. Over the years, we've developed a lot of techniques for how we try to make the band sound live, and I think that we really hit it in terms of creating a sound that almost characterizes the band--the sound has its own personality. When you're making a record, you definitely want to capture that when there aren't words or some other thing attracting the attention of the listener."
Pelican certainly has attracted attention--"It's been such an amazing trip: People appreciate what we're doing, and it's brought us all over the world," de Brauw says--but after four albums and almost a decade on the road, the group is at a turning point.
"We've reached a point where we're not making enough money touring to keep it up at the rate that we've been doing it. For the past five years, we've spent half of the year on the road, and that was our main method of subsistence. We're all really tired of touring and we'd like to develop home lives, but also the money is not there to sustain ourselves anymore. We all have to get jobs when we come home, but it's impossible to find jobs that will keep you when you're leaving to go on tour all the time.
"It's kind of a crossroads for the band: We're trying to reach as many people as we can, but I personally don't see touring as a great way to achieve that anymore. I think we're going to enter into a phase with the band where writing is more important than touring."
In other words, while Pelican won't abandon live performances entirely, its shows will become more of a special event--which means fans shouldn't miss any opportunity to love the loud live.
Pelican, Black Cobra, Disappearer
10 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11
The Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western
$12 in advance; $14 at the door
(773) 276-3600; www.emptybottle.com