‘Tis a “Waking Season” Indeed; a conversation with post-rock band Caspian
On June 19th, post-rock band Caspian stopped by Barcelona to rock some face on their way around Europe. In light of their arrival, I decided to get in touch and was able to snag an interview with the epic musicians, conducted at the Apolo club and music hall whilst American/Austrian band Lehnen thundered through their opening set. Guitarist Erin Burke-Moran opened up about the origins of the band, experiences on the road and in the studio, and commented on the state of post-rock in the present industry.
Caspian is a post-rock outfit from Beverly, Massachusetts, consisting of Philip Jamieson, Calvin Joss, Jonny Ashburn, Joe Vickers, and Burke-Moran. Their most recent release is the EP Hymn For The Greatest Generation (2013), followed by the 2012 full album, Waking Season, an incendiary, ever-growing cascade of ambient, dreamy post-rock fury. According to Burke-Moran, following rumblings about it on the net, the band is set to record a new album after the European tour, and already has some songs mapped out.
Post-interview, Caspian played an immensely passionate, spirited show for a dedicated Barcelona crowd. It was a roaring cornucopia of delay pedals, walls of sound, and gorgeous build-ups with minimal but well-placed crowd interaction and the fervent goal of connecting with the audience (achievement very much unlocked). If you have a chance, watch for their shows and attend the next possible one you can.
Below is the interview with Burke-Moran, edited for your reading pleasure.
How did Caspian get together and how did you arrive at the music you guys now play?
It was 2003 or 2004, I can’t remember when we started practicing, yeah; it was just some friends getting together to do some jamming. I wasn’t actually in the band in the beginning. It was just a bunch of buddies – we all went to college together – who wanted to get something together. We originally wanted to get a singer, it wasn’t necessarily supposed to be a post-rock thing, it just kinda culminated like that and it ended up being an instrumental band. They practiced for a year before they even played a show, and once they started playing shows in the Boston area they started getting a following there, did some touring across the U.S. and somehow we’re here today.
Back in 2007, I came on as a fill-in for the tour, and everything meshed really well and we became a five-piece. It’s been a pretty interesting journey; we’re trying to figure out how to make it all continue.
What’s it like being in the post-rock genre, personally and as a band?
I mean, I think you kinda need to be put it into a label for people, and it was the category we fit into the easiest, just because we use delay pedals and we sound spacey and ambient. We don’t really care. Post-rock is one of those genres in which all the bands in it kinda don’t want to be.
Why do you think that is?
When it comes down to genre and how we actually feel about our music, you know, we’re post-rock, but really we write classical music for a rock band. That’s more or less our vision. When you say like, oh yeah, what’s your band like, what do you guys do, and you’re like post-rock and nobody knows what that means. So it’s a little easier to just say we’re instrumental but we basically write classical music.
Where’s your favorite place to play in Europe?
It’s a loaded question, because every tour changes that. Right now, Spain is just a wonderful place. The people that you meet here, everybody just wants to have a good time, they’re really friendly. At shows, people are pretty emphatic. There’s a good spirit here. I mean, Germany is where we do a lot of shows, it’s where our record label is, and German hospitality is just superb.
And the most interesting?
The most interesting place we’ve played, I mean, if I can get out of Europe then it’d have to be China, for sure. We just did a six-day tour over there a couple months ago, and that was so different.
Why is that? Is it a cultural thing? What kind of people do you get at the shows?
I think it’s a cultural thing. For instance, jazz is just getting popular there, so it’s such an open market right now, so it’s the perfect place for us. New Noise, that’s the name of the production company, they’ve been getting bands to come over there. They’re super people and they do such good promotion. It was one of those experiences that’s just so different. I mean, coming to Europe, it’s awesome, but there’s a little bit more of a connection here, it’s not that far removed culturally, whereas somewhere like that is a different world. I like that about being in this band and traveling, you’re able to get outside your own head a little bit.
What kind of crowd do you look for as a perfect crowd for the music?
I think the nights where we have the most fun is when we get a crowd that’s in it just as much as we are. Obviously, it doesn’t have to be that way. Playing in all these different places, you come across different kinds of audiences, but for us the best shows are when we feel good about it and everyone is there with us. If the crowd is full of energy and feeding back into us, that’s when it works the best. That’s when it feels the best. The crowds here in Spain have tons of energy, and in Germany they have a lot of energy too, but they’ll be taking it in, which makes for a different experience… and Poland’s wild.
Speaking more about recording and creating music, what’s your general writing process?
It kind of changes song by song. Somebody will have an idea or parts and we just get together and run through things. Most of the time we’ll build a song bit by bit, maybe have an idea of somewhere to get to. We’ll just get in the practice space for three or four hours and go for it. Something that’s really helped lately these past couple years is we’ve been recording our practices, so when we have an idea, we’ll record it and listen to it and prepare for the next session. That’s pretty much been our process.
I’ve read online that you guys are planning on getting in the studio after the European tour. Your last album, Waking Season, is more of a coalesced, full-sounding dreamscape than previous releases; what are you looking for or to accomplish with this next album?
We’re still trying to discover it. We have a couple tracks that we’ve written so far; I guess we’re still in that period where we’re feeling out what we want to do. Some of us have been talking about adding in more electronic elements, but it’s not going to be overridden with that kinda stuff. I mean, the last record was pretty ambient and more contoured in terms of how it builds. I think we want this next record to be a little more direct. With the last record there was almost a formula for each song, like as we were writing it, it fell into place. As we go from record to record we don’t want to make the same one. Not that we want it to be straightforward or anything. Sometimes we’ll lay out a couple laws for writing songs.
What do you put into the live performance that’s different than what’s on the recorded tracks? How do you guys attack the live performance?
The thing for us is that we obviously really like to record and all of us really enjoy performing. A Caspian show is about energy. Not aggression or anything, but we put a lot into our performances. Even when we play 40 shows in a row, we try to make the 39th one just as passionate as any of the others.
How do you guys feel you fit into the industry now?
I mean, people say a couple things. They say post-rock is dead, but they also say post-rock is becoming more popular. I think because people are more into electronic music, instrumental music is getting more popular, there are more people out there listening to it. There is a place for that in the scene in general, it’s not a huge part of it or anything, but it’s allowed for us to be on tour and record. We’re not one of those bands that just went out and all of sudden blew up. We really just had to get out there and pay our dues, and this is my 17th or 18th tour, and at this point I think it’s nice that we even get to do this. It’s really wild that there are people all over the world that care enough about the music. Not to get into money, but the promoters don’t always make back what they put in, but there’s people out there who care about this stuff, and it keeps them going. Maybe there is a piece in this big music pie for us. People keep coming out to shows.
Have you ever felt that you’ve had to really think about what’s happening in music, not conform or anything, but there are people out there that think instrumentalism is dead and with software anyone can produce anything, how do you feel about this?
I think that’s ok to do, and I think people still really enjoy live performance. Some of our music is sampled, but we play a lot too. Sometimes when I go see a group and it’s a guy and a drummer and he’s doing seven different things it’s really cool, but sometimes I just want somebody to be playing it too. People still enjoy seeing bands rock and roll, they still do get into it, and I don’t think that’ll ever really be replaced, somebody actually up there playing those notes. I think as long as bands keep going out and touring, it’s not going to die.
Do you guys ever feel like you have a mission, or a responsibility to bring more live music to people or something like that?
Interesting question. I think at this point we have a responsibility to keep doing this. We obviously keep doing this because we want to, and at the end of the day that’s what it’s about. I talk to people after shows and they’re like, “don’t stop doing this!” People are still open to it and if someone gets into what you’re doing they want you to come through, you know?
Do you ever get weird reactions from people? I did an interview with Will Theis of Hadoken and EYES, and he said that he’s gotten reactions like, “Why don’t you have a singer?” or “What’s going on?” after playing shows.
For sure, there are people that have never experienced post-rock. We’ve done some supporting shows, like, we were opening up for HIM, which is love metal, and we were so different from them, and it was hilarious, because some nights, like, we’re loud, obviously, so there was always some guy in the front row clogging his ears because he was like, “what is happening!” Things like that, I guess. I think for us some people just won’t get it, and a lot of people haven’t quite heard anything like it, but people seem to be pretty open to it. But yeah, fingers in the ears was crazy.
What do you think is the best you’ve felt being part of this scene?
It’s what I was getting to before, about China, when you know you’re bringing something that’s very much new, but new because of where you come from, to people who may have never been to a rock show. Very emotional moments there. I was really moved a lot of the time throughout that whole tour, it was something I felt lucky to be a part of and thankful to be sharing. There’s an exchange there.
Any pre-show rituals?
We stretch. That’s probably the number one. We may hurt ourselves if we don’t. Every time before we play we do a little hands in high five thing. We say something different every tour, like, “go ninja” or whatever.
Last thing, is there anything overarching you really want to do with your music, like something you want people to take away from a Caspian show?
Definitely the most important thing is to get people to tag along, get into that zone with us. Just to get away from life for a minute, see the beauty in the world.
Caspian finished their tour in late June. Watch for further activity from the band on their Facebook page or their Twitter, as their new releases and future tours are bound to be uncompromisingly epic.