Pelican 'echoes' across genres

Chicago band gets vocal on new album

Chicago instrumental icons Pelican often get filed under the post-metal genre, sharing the label with atmospheric forbearers like Isis and Neurosis. But 2007's "City of Echoes," the record the band stopped at the Black Cat in support of this past Wednesday, draws inspiration more from Midwestern shoegaze and the towering soundscapes of Mogwai than it does Metallica. Laurent Schroeder-Lebec, the band's guitarist, just calls it rock music.

Pelican's hybrid style, blending major-key melodies with crushing breakdowns, is best explained by the quartet's musical influences. Schroeder-Lebec is a self-described Godflesh fanatic, but when the band formed in 2001, bassist Bryan Erweg hadn't even heard of the English industrial act. When Schroeder-Lebec played him a Godflesh riff, Erweg mistook it for Hum, an Illinois space-rock act.

"If you look at any genre of music that just ballooned out of nowhere, people try to come up with sociological reasons for why it happened," Schroeder-Lebec said in an interview with The Eagle. "For us, it was four guys who liked things that seemed different, but we found out they were actually really similar."

Whatever the reason for the genre's explosion, the roster of bands stretching the definition of metal isn't lacking. Wednesday's show featured two other members of the post-metal pantheon - Kayo Dot and Cave In's Stephen Brodsky. Kayo Dot brings cello and violin into the metal fold and solo guitarist Brodsky is a headbanger's Daniel Johnston. Pelican's U.S. tour is impressive, having just finished a European jaunt with Florida metal heads Torche.

"Being away from home is challenge number one," Shroeder-Lebec said. "Some of the appeal of waking up in random hotels and having that nomadic lifestyle stops being surprising after a while."

The band said they'd like to get to the point where they could do a couple of long tours a year, and focus more on writing their next album. Their next release could feature a new element that the band has tended to shy away from vocals.

"I said a lot of stuff at the beginning about how I liked not having a vocalist," Schroeder-Lebec said. "Four albums later, I feel the opposite. It wouldn't be so bad to have a singer. We wouldn't have to raise the instrumental bar with every record."

The quartet didn't always intend to be an instrumental act, so it isn't surprising that they'd add a singer now. When they first started playing shows, they were still looking for a vocalist, Erweg said. The response for their instrumental sound made them abandon the search.

"It would be so silly to end this band and have never tried to have one song with some kind of vocal texture," Schroeder-Lebec added.

For now, the members of Pelican express their message through their instruments. Their sophomore release, 2005's "The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw," was inspired by a brutal Chicago winter and the 2004 election of President Bush, what Schroeder-Lebec called a "pretty dire prediction of where our country was headed."

"I don't think we've ever wanted to be a band whose songs didn't mean anything," he said. "It always had to let people think about something a little bigger than the music."

Whatever the concept for the next album, it's likely to continue to stretch definitions and cross genres. Judging by Wednesday's performance, Pelican's fan base is hungry for more, and their tours this year have reached new ears.

"I don't know of too many other bands that in the same year can go on tour with High on Fire, Torche, Kayo Dot, Stephen Brodsky, Thrice and Circa Survive," Schroeder-Lebec said. "That's a wide range of bands to experiment with."

You can reach this staff writer at thescene@theeagleonline.com.

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