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Interview: Trevor de Brauw of Pelican

Pelican
Photograph: Mark Dawursk Pelican

Chicago is full of bands making heavy, loud music, but Pelican stands out as one of the city’s most beloved purveyors of sludgy riffs. To put things in perspective: The group boasts not one, but two Three Floyds beers named after its songs—that’s like the metal equivalent of winning a Grammy. Though Pelican quit touring full-time in 2009, the group has played regular shows in Chicago and released a new EP, The Cliff, earlier this year. Guitarist Trevor de Brauw sat down to chat about Pelican’s current status, its upcoming gig at the Empty Bottle and the possibility of a new full-length record.

Pelican is no longer a full-time touring band. Could you explain how you made that decision?
After five years of living in a van and trying to write albums in the brief breaks between tours we started to feel burned out. We decided that the best way to keep the band going and continue feeling passionate about it was to hit the brakes and figure out how to integrate the band into our lives in a way that was healthier for ourselves mentally and creatively. Since that time a couple of us have started families and careers, so there’s limitations to how much we can do with the band, but it occupies a very important place in our lives and we wouldn’t trade it for anything.

How did the December tour come about?
We were offered a headlining slot at the Scorched Tundra Festival in Sweden. Since [drummer] Larry [Herweg] has to fly in to Chicago for rehearsals, it seemed like we ought to play a Chicago show while he was here. Then, Greg Anderson from Goatsnake hit us up to say he was looking to bring his band in around that same time, so we added them to the Chicago show and booked a few more dates around it to fill out the schedule.

What do you enjoy about the more relaxed touring schedule?
Every time we get together the vibe is overwhelmingly positive and we’re so stoked to play together. Near the end of our run as a full-time touring band there were points where we took the band for granted or began to lose sight of how special and fortunate we are to get to play music together and share that experience with an audience. Now every show feels like a really potent, special experience.

Are there things you miss about touring full time?
Yeah, of course. I wish it was feasible to do more because I simply love playing music in front of people—there’s an energy that’s exchanged between a band and an audience that can’t be replicated in the rehearsal room. I also miss traveling to far-flung places, which we have fewer opportunities to do with the prohibitive schedule we’re on. That said, I don’t know that we’d ever go back to the psychic turmoil of trying to do this for a living.

Do you have any surprises planned for the Chicago show?
None that we’ve discussed so far. Right now we’re focused on relearning some older material, which takes precedence this time. Part of our arrangement with the Scorched Tundra Festival is that we’ll play a “career-spanning” set, so we’ll definitely be dusting off some older songs. Ever since the last album dropped we’ve been keeping the focus squarely on post-2007 songs, so we have our work cut out for us.

Is a new Pelican album in the cards?
We’re slowly getting the wheels spinning on writing a new album. We’ve got a couple of songs that are very close and then tons of bits and pieces. It’s tricky since we don’t have all that much time that all four of us are in a room, but it’s coming.

Pelican plays with Goatsnake, Cloakroom and Canadian Rifle at the Empty Bottle on December 15.

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