October 5, 2015
By Michelle Geslani
When one thinks about the post-rock genre, bands that may immediately come to mind are Explosions in the Sky and Sigur Rós. But there’s another act that warrants similar attention and accolade: Caspian.
The Beverly, Massachusetts-based outfit has been steadily putting out music for more than a decade now, each album more devastating and beautiful than the last. Though instrumental for the most part, they often speak louder than even the most poignant of lyrics. They’re rife with heady arrangements that tangle, twist, build up with tension, and then burst like firecrackers in the night sky, red-hot flames of cathartic energy, relief.
Caspian, who has its very own designated day in Beverly (Oct. 18 — mark it down), is returning this month with a new full-length entitled Dust and Disquiet. The band’s follow-up to 2012’s well-received Waking Season is the first LP without founding bassist Chris Friedrich, who died unexpectedly in 2013.
Echoes of that tragedy can be heard throughout the record, with melancholy, fury, and frustration as noticeable themes. The rich, orchestral weaves of “Separation No. 2” eventually give way to a somber ebb and flow; “Rioseco” swells to an almost metallic rage before exhaling gracefully; and the title track marries noise and bliss to tell a story of destruction and rebirth.
Additionally, the band members draw great inspiration from their tours. Each new place they visit serves as yet another piece of their musical puzzle. Their first trek to Australia and Asia in 2014 made for a particularly eye-opening experience, and one that ended up pushing them out of their comfort zones on Dust & Disquiet. Ten-plus years on and they’re still finding ways to reinvent themselves.
Just a few days before the album’s release (out via Triple Crown Records), I spoke with one of the band’s other founding members, Philip Jamieson, who just returned from a trip to Serbia. We discussed Caspian’s creative approach for Dust and Disquiet and the longstanding power of post-rock (it’s certainly not dead!); we especially talked at length about travel and the ways in which it has the ability to change a person’s perspective on just about everything, whether it’s life, love, or art. Jamieson was kind enough to provide photos from Caspian’s tour through Asia and the Outback for added context.
Caspian has a new album out called Dust and Disquiet, but I’m wondering if you’re already thinking about future releases. For example: Your recent trip to Serbia — Will that traveling experience somehow later on make its way onto your next record?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I think we’re all kind of consciously sort of stockpiling up all our life experiences that we have. Good, bad, boring [laughs]… whatever they might be, they all find their way into what we create and what we do together. It comes naturally to us and it is our form of self expression. Whatever is rolling around inside of us always makes it way into our music.
The trip I just got back from was exhilarating. It was one of those kinds of new, fresh, virginal experiences — a place that was really different. It’s not a Third World country, but it’s certainly emerging from some really tough times. If (you) walk around downtown Belgrade, there’s a new H&M and just down the street is a blown-out building that hasn’t been fixed and has burnt mattresses inside of it. Or, you’ll go to a really nice dinner, but then down the street near the bus station there’s just thousands and thousands of refugees trying to make their way to Western Europe. It was definitely a collusion of a lot of different kinds of worlds.
Yeah, I was actually thinking of going to Croatia next year. It’s fascinating what you pointed out — the duality of certain parts of the world. It’s something of a jarring experience when you can encounter two very different environments or neighborhoods, despite them being just a few feet apart from one another.
It creates an amazing sense of character. The culture then is just imbued with so much personality. Croatia is beautiful; the coastline is spectacular.
Every band makes it a point to tour and see the world, but it seems these travels mean so much more; they become almost the tapestry of your music. What trips, if any, had an impact on Dust & Disquiet?
In March 2014, we did our first trek to Asia and Australia. We’d been touring across Europe and the U.S. a bunch since 2006, but it took us awhile to set up something worth doing over there. Chinese culture is something else… it’s like you’re on Earth, but in another universe, Earth 2.0, or some different solar system, you know? A new experience like that, even in its own tangential way, subconsciously got us to do new things with this record, things we hadn’t done before, I think.
We’ve got a song with vocals on the album — we’ve never done anything even remotely like that. We’ve got some real quiet improvisational things. Usually when we go into the studio to record, we know what we want to accomplish; we spend a lot of time planning the album beforehand. By the time we hit the studio, it’s basically just the execution phase. This time around, though, I think we went into the process feeling a bit like we were more open, more vulnerable to new experiences.
That feeling reminded me of being in those new, foreign places. And how the only way to really embrace those areas and to enjoy them is to just go with the flow. If you’re over-planning the whole thing and expecting this, that, and the other thing, you’ll probably be disappointed. We learned pretty quickly that we should just show up and roll with it. We brought that same kind of energy to this record, I think. We went into it prepared, but we also wanted to keep open the possibility of exploring new ideas. When we listened back to it, I remember we were surprised by some of the things. So, in conclusion, yeah that trek did actually make its way into Dust and Disquiet. It’s kind of a really cool connection.
Traveling really does change your perspective on things — on life, on the art that you create, everything, really. I went to Iceland back in 2012 and I feel as though I came back slightly different. Have you ever been?
We’ve been at the airport a billion times just passing through, but that’s another country on the bucket list for sure. We’ve got to get there. Fingers crossed that we’ll be able to play Iceland Airwaves festival sometime soon.
It’s almost like an alien landscape over there. It would be cool if Caspian went to a certain country or city for the first time and just made an album based on the sounds of that particular place.
Oh yeah, that’s dream talk, you know. We’d love to do that. We’ve pulled some much inspiration from our own natural environment. We’re out here about 30 minutes north of Boston. We’re outside of the city in a small town called Beverly. Population 25,000. It’s not off the grid or a tiny village with a couple cows and stuff, but it’s slower going up here. The ocean is just billowing water sounds into my window. There’s lots of woods and forests and places to get quickly lost in. That’s always had an immense influence on what we do. If we had two-three months in Iceland and just kicked and got to get down to work and draw from that landscape/environment/culture… yeah, I would kill to do that.
Your last full-length was 2012’s Waking Season. What would you say is the biggest difference between that record and Dust & Disquiet?
We wanted to make a heavier-sounding record, sort of strip the sound of the high-fi gloss from everything and give it this feeling of being more worn in. It’s got little bits of everything that we’ve listened to over the years. I think the last record was very bright and open. This time around we wanted to make something a bit more like an artifact, like something that (was) recorded a long time ago, that someone dug up and was like, “Whoa, where did this come from?” Structurally, not a lot has changed; we’re not a singles band. We don’t front-load our stuff, we don’t put what is most approachable or accessible early on in the album. We’re really committed to telling a story and making it a diverse experience.
When you say “story” — are you thinking of that literally as in actual narrative, or…?
There’s kind of a literal narrative in mind, but it’s never anything that I would about just because. One of the things that attracted me to the post-rock genre (though I’m not a huge fan of that term) is that it gives you just enough context to sort of get you started, get the gears turning. But then the rest is left up to you and it is a subjective experience. You can’t really bring anything wrong to the table. You can’t really have a false interpretation of what it is. We’re trying to be as unspecific as possible. We don’t write an artistic statement or anything in terms of what we’re going for. We assume that our audience will go along for the ride and that they’re intelligent people. We never want to underestimate their intelligence or ability to make this their own creative piece.
You can’t divulge the specific stories of each song, but can you name some favorites on the album and maybe why?
If I’m feeling really intense and frantic and the blaze of lights is becoming relentless and I get that sort of boil to my blood, I like “Arcs of Command.” That song took close to nine months to write. It was a huge challenge for us to complete that song but the fact that we got it done and we can listen to it and be pleased with how it sounds is a triumph just for us as musicians. But I like it for that reason.
I really like “Run Dry,” it’s sort of the beating heart or the thesis of the whole record. It’s right there in the middle, and it’s flanked on both sides by these more traditional Caspian songs. It’s like you want to protect it or something. For the title track, narrative- and story-wise we were trying to go for some kind of decay and rebirth. There are two parts to the song, and they are both different, unified by the fact that they’re in the same key. The first half is about destruction or an extinction event. The second is the re-emergence of something new, but has commonalities to what came before it. It could sum up what we want to accomplish and what we want our music to present…rebirth and hope.