The early aughts were an improbably fallow time for the metal underground: While The New York Times (and some academics) expounded at length on the intellectual virtues of doom metal, Chicago-based Pelican -- an instrumental metal quartet whose songs filled whole LP sides -- packed theaters around the world, playing to audiences newly enthralled by so-called "thinking man's metal." It was highly unlikely for a band of this ilk to find a niche, let alone thrive in it. But somehow, four young men who were just trying to play the kind of music they wanted to hear (a kind of turned-up Mogwai with shades of emo's melodic palette and Neurosis' grandeur thrown in) stumbled upon a successful half-decade as a full-time band.
Eight years later, after a major equipment theft in Europe, the departure of founding member and writer Laurent Lebec, and at least one hyperbolic takedown by a taste-making music site with a numbered rating system, Pelican is a much different beast. Owing to much of the above, 2013's Forever Becoming is a rather bleak and intensely funereal offering for a band that once declared itself "fucking triumphant" on its MySpace page. Although change made Pelican's music scarier, abandoning the pursuit of music as a career left its members happier and healthier, by all accounts. Ahead of the band's show this Sunday, June, 15, at Slim's, Guitarist Trevor de Brauw, now a full-time music publicist, walked us through the new era of Pelican.
How did you end up as a music publicist?
In roughly 2006, it became apparent that there were difficulties in sustaining music full-time, so I began looking into other music-related work. I started interning at Biz3 -- that was Pelican's publicity company -- and transitioned into some freelance work with them. Then in 2009, I started working full-time.
What were the difficulties of sustaining Pelican full-time?
To make a living off of touring, you have to be touring consistently and constantly; you have to be on the road at least half the year. If you have the right psychology for that, it can be great, but I think all of us deal well with lives that are a little more structured. It became really untenable to do that year in and year out. You sacrifice a lot of your home life.
You guys strike me as unusually stable for metal musicians.
[Laughs] When I got off tour and got a nine-to-five job I can't remember a time in my life when I was happier. Which isn't to say I didn't love and still love touring and [traveling], but there's something about a regimented daily structure that sits well with me.
How have you guys adapted to losing Laurent [Lebec]?
It played out so gradually that the transition ended up really smooth as a result. We went from doing these long tours to five months of touring total in 2009 to only four shows in 2010, which is obviously a huge change for us. At that time all of us got back into our home lives and I think with Laurent -- who had a kid and got a new job [as a bar manager] -- it stuck to the point where he got the fulfillment he was getting out of music through that lifestyle while the rest of us were still figuring out the music/home life balance.
What did you learn as a publicist that you wish you could have applied to Pelican when you guys were coming up?
I don't think I'd change a thing. We've always listened to our muse and trusted our hearts. The only thing I regret is that around the time of our second album [2005's The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw] there was a kind of moment when there was a serious increase of attention paid to our band on a press level and I didn't recognize the significance of it at the time. Now that I've been on the other side and seen that happen to clients and how exciting that can be, I wish I'd cared more. Like getting a two-page feature in Alternative Press -- at the time I was like, "Oh, that's cool a magazine's interested in us." Now I think, "How did that even happen?!"
Now that some time has passed, what are your feelings about that massive takedown piece by Pitchfork [its hugely negative review of City of Echoes]?
[Laughs] No comment about that particular review, but the most laughs per minute were definitely from that Stewart Voegtlin's Village Voice piece on false metal.
Did those reviews hurt at the time or did they roll off your back?
I mean [pauses] It was annoying. I think it was mean-spirited and fundamentally nonsensical. They were definitely [pieces] written in a hyperbolic tone to get noticed.
As a vegan, where are you looking forward to eating in SF?
I always love Herbivore but what I'm really looking forward to is that place across from Aquarius Records. What's that place called?
Yeah, that stuff's the fucking jam. I always get into it with my bandmates because they always want to go to Blue Bottle, but for my money, Ritual is one of the best coffees in the country. That's fucking great espresso.
Who is the most criminally underrated band that you're repping?
[Laughs] Well there's this huge emo revival going on and bands like United Nations and even that recent Deafheaven record are great examples of it. But this Japanese band called Envy should totally be getting mad props as a result. They've been around since the '90s and have progressed the form, incorporating all these post-rock elements, yet they're still eluding critical attention. It's really time for people to pay attention to that band again.