Interview: Pelican bringing intricate instrumentals to Louisville Nov. 18

Pelican, metal outside the lines

Pelican: Metal outside the lines (Photo by Mathieu Carriere)

Musically, Pelican straddles several worlds.

The Chicago instrumental band has been praised by the metal press. Decibel Magazine picked the band’s shimmering yet occasionally crushing “City of Echoes” as one of the best metal albums of 2007.

Meanwhile, the band was lauded in the New York Times in its 2005 article, “Heavy Metal Gets An M.F.A.” The Times labeled the band “Art Metal,” and seemed somewhat surprised to find a large crossover audience at the band’s shows. Also, the respectable Allmusic Guide (which consistently gives the band’s albums four-star ratings) doesn’t even consider Pelican metal at all: The Web site’s review of “City of Echoes” lists the band as “post rock” (whatever that is) or experimental pop/rock.

Drummer Larry Herweg says the band’s sound is steeped in metal, but has an appeal outside the strict metal world.

“I almost feel a lot of the straight metal fans are a minority at our shows,” Herweg said, during a phone interview as the band left NYC for its next stop on the “Champions of Sound” tour. “I think we’re just a popular in indie rock and hardcore circles.

“We all love metal and listen to our fair share, but we try to incorporate as many different genres, to make it interesting for us and the listeners.”

Musical labels are as common as weeds in metal, but they’re also confining and a drag. The best bands in metal are those that refuse to be boxed into one neat little package or another – and Pelican are definitely impossible to classify.

The metal influences are evident: Songs like “Drought,” “March To The Sea” and “Dead Between The Walls” are heavy as skyscrapers. But other tracks only hint at metal, while songs like “Sirius” or the drop-dead gorgeous “A Delicate Sense of Balance” avoid any trace of heaviness at all.

Perhaps Allmusic said it best in the site’s review of “City of Echoes”: “As a band they’ve refused to take the easy way out or paint themselves into a corner or play to expectations. They’ve moved forward without losing sight of what makes them unique, and by doing so, they’ve moved the entire instrumental heavy music genre forward as well.”

Herweg said musical influences range from Metallica and Slayer to 1990s-era “grunge” bands Quicksand, Hum and Failure. The band’s instrumental compositions, which often clock in at the 10 to 12 minute mark, are the product of continuous work, Herweg said.

“We usually (work on) songs for quite a while before we play them live,” Herweg said. “We definitely take our time with songs. Sometimes, we’re playing a song for a year before we play it live, making sure everyone is comfortable with their parts.”

Even after a song has been recorded and committed to disc, some songs undergo continued changes on the road, Herweg. When asked, Herweg – an admitted perfectionist – said he is unsure he ever considers a song truly finished.

“Any time I’ve ever thought that, especially when (we) tour on it, I always find something I want to change,” Herweg said. “… They get slower, they get faster and different parts end up turning into something else. ”

Even a song like “March To The Sea,” which has been part of the band’s regular set list for years, is constantly morphing and changing on-stage.

“We’ve changed that song numerous times,” he said. “It makes it interesting for us.”

The band has eschewed adding vocals – the video for “Dead Between The Walls” chronicles a vocalist trying to find the band in the desert, only to arrive at the moment the final chord fades out. But Herweg said the band never says never when it comes to the possibility of adding words to the music.

“I’m not opposed to it,” Herweg said. Recently, the band loaned the song “Mammoth” to These Arms Are Snakes, who layered vocals over the track. But if vocals are ever introduced to new Pelican compositions, it will be done by baby steps, Herweg said.

“If it was something we decided to do, it would be a slow process – doing one song,” Herweg said. “There are a lot of people who like that we don’t (have) the singer.”

Pelican will perform with Kayo Dot and Stephen Brodsky as part of the “Champions of Sound” tour, at 8 p.m. Tuesday Nov. 18 at Uncle Pleasant’s in Louisville. Tickets are $12, and are available at www.ticketweb.com

Check out Pelican at: www.myspace.com/pelican

And, just for fun, here’s a link to the band’s most recent vid, “Dead Between The Walls.”

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