In their 10+ year history, Beverly, Massachusetts-based band Caspian have slowly but surely carved out a corner of the post-rock world with their uplifting and, at times, sinister creations. What began as a creative outlet for its four founding members, has since become a full-time project that’s seen the band embark on countless tours and release four-full length albums. Although their creative approach has more or less stayed the same, their sound has matured like a fine wine. Having tweaked and fine-tuned certain aspects along the way, the group seem to have finally found what they were looking for: intricately-layered walls of sound that tell stories of hope and loss.
On Dust & Disquiet, their latest body of work, the band deploy all of their emotionally-charged energy into a lengthy (even by post-rock standards), 57-minute package. While still maintaining the polished feel of their previous record, Waking Season, they have created an expansive sonic landscape full of lush atmospherics and punishingly loud instrumentation that completely commands your attention. Each track is different, but they all seem to capture a moment and feeling of intensity that closely mirrors the band’s own personal struggles. Sadly, it’s these very struggles that helped shape the album.
As many diehard Caspian fans will know, Dust & Disquiet comes after the sudden and unexpected death of their longtime bassist, Chris Friedrich. Having played an integral role in the band and the lives of its surviving members, Friedrich will be remembered not only for his musical abilities, but for the camaraderie he brought to the band. It’s no surprise, then, that from speaking with the band, they felt an obligation to write the best record possible—if only to honour of their longtime friend. And, as far as I can tell, they seem to have done that.
During their recent trip to Toronto, we sat down with the band discuss the creation of their listening parties, the evolution of their sound and the time they almost scored a movie. Cool stuff. Read below.
Indie Current: Leading up to the release of your new album, you held listening parties throughout the world. How did this idea arise and did you get what you wanted from it?
Philip Jamieson: Our manager pitched us the idea because one of the band’s that he worked with had done something kind of similar—it was just on a much bigger level. We love any opportunity to get face time and humanize the experience with our fans, and that felt like the perfect way. We dumped a lot of work into that record, and I think… did you see the documentary video we put out for it? I’ll rehash everything I said there: You’ve got a sweet spot after you’re done recording where you have a sense of ownership over the album and it’s yours. Then you sort of pivot into the industry element of it, where the record starts going out to press and shit like that. So we wanted to sort of by-pass that and immediately get it to our fans as quickly as possible. I mean, it was everything and so much more. That experience exceeded any expectation I had before it—and I didn’t go into it with a lot of expectations. We had never done it before and it was such an original and fresh sort of thing. But that definitely left a mark on me as a human being. It was absolutely, hands-down, one of the best experiences of my entire life.
IC: Since it was such an incredible experience, do you think this is something you’d like to do again?
PJ: We will absolutely do it again! I don’t know if it will be the exact same thing. Hopefully we will try to expand it a bit, incorporating more people some how. Just like we do with our records, we will try to find a fresh approach to it that keeps it moving forward.
IC: Over the years, your sound has evolved quite substantially. Was this a natural progression or something you decided to do from the beginning?
PJ: We’ve said before that we never try to repeat ourselves, but it’s also a natural evolution, for sure. I mean, we discover new gear or sounds that we like and just try to insert them in places that work. I think just the search for new sounds is the driving force that makes everything new and fresh.
IC: On your latest record, Dust & Disquiet, and “Hymn for the Greatest Generation,” there’s a greater presence of strings. Was this something that you had always intended to do?
Joe Vickers: We’ve always wanted to do that and we had them loud and proud on ‘Hymn!
PJ: In “Hymn for the Greatest Generation,” the strings played a foundational element to the actual structure of the song. With this record, we didn’t want them quite as in-your-face; we just wanted to sort of weave them into the tapestry so it sounds a little more present. But we didn’t build structures around them. In all, we’ve got strings on two songs on the record: “Ríoseco” and the title-track.
IC: How do you go about channeling that sound into a live setting?
JV: We would eventually like to have strings on stage [laughs].
Jonny Ashburn: It’s difficult because with “Hymn for the Greatest Generation,” we played that once live because it really needed to have strings in there. So we recorded that one for the 10th anniversary, but we really didn’t pull that one off. It was a good thing for us to actually play that out.
IC: Up to this point, you haven’t incorporated vocals in your songs, with the exception of “Gone in Bloom and Bough.” Even then, it was heavily modulated and you couldn’t really make out what was being said, unless you listened really closely. At what point did you guys decide to incorporate clear vocal tracks?
PJ: We’ve certainly never been dogmatically opposed to vocals. I mean the majority of the music we listen to has vocals, so they’ve never been off limits from day one. Like, [we’ve never said] we can’t touch them because we’re not allowed to. We play by our own rules, that’s all we care about. I think for this record it was a combination of it sounded good and it was also an issue of necessity. We’ve had things on our minds that, for so long, we’ve been communicating successfully with instrumental songs. And that’s how we’ve been able to express ourselves in a way that we’re comfortable with. For “Run Dry,” Cal presented that song and it clarified the way we were feeling; it was something music alone without words couldn’t do. So, it just seemed like an obvious choice. It’s also reflective of music we enjoy; we try to incorporate stuff that we’re fans of to keep it fresh.
IC: Looking back, are there any other tracks on your album that you wish you had incorporated vocals?
PJ: You know, I’ve never been asked that. That’s a fucking great question!
JV: What, on other albums? Oh man, no. We’ve just gotta leave it big [laughs].
PJ: Have you seen the video of the dude ruining post-rock songs with vocals?
PJ: You’ve gotta watch those. It’s a joke, but it’s just some dude singing over instrumental, post-rock songs. Like the one I think I saw was “Quiet” by This Will Destroy You. And was just some dude doing Chad Kroeger shit. Apparently it went viral and blew up. It was the funniest fucking thing I’ve ever seen! I think our songs would sort of run the risk of doing that; I mean, they were built to be instrumental songs.
IC: You’ve often said that you are emotional people and that you’re music reflects your life experiences—whether good or bad. Do any of your songs carry more emotional weight than others, and if so, does that make it difficult to perform live?
Jani Zubkovs: For me personally, “Dust and Disquiet” was the hardest one to record. When I was writing the bass parts for it, I was really trying to channel Chris (the previous bassist), and it was very difficult and kind of emotional for me to record. It also took me the longest; I actually split it over two days, while everything else took a couple of takes. So, yeah, that was probably the hardest song I’ve ever recorded.
IC: Do you have a message or feeling in mind before you write a song, or do you write a song and create a title that best represents your feelings at the time of recording?
PJ: I think 10 or 15% of the way through writing a song it sort of becomes clear and then you start chasing that. I don’t think we set out to write a moody, heavy song; a seminal idea is planted and we take it from there. And I think pretty quickly you can ascertain what you’re going for emotionally. But, yeah, we never start out saying we need another metal song or chill song.
To answer your previous question, “Gone in Bloom and Bough” has probably the most emotional resonance for me because there was some really crazy stuff going on in my life when I was writing it. Every time I perform that song and sing the parts, I sort of keep the lyrics to myself. But we perform it every night and I find it very cathartic; I’m immediately brought back to the experience that helped inspire that song. I like to welcome it, though, because there’s always some new human experience I can bring to that. It’s not like digging off a dead body and trying to exhume it. It’s cathartic, you know? I’m certainly not afraid to play any song on our catalogue live because of what it will conjure up.
JV: It would be why we play it. I mean to feel alive, right? That’s the whole point of music.
PJ: It reminds me of a time when I was probably a little more emotionally fragile than I am now. I miss that part of myself and am also glad that it’s gone because it’s a burden. It’s good to be reminded of things that were really massive once in your life, and that song, to me, represents one of them.
IC: That actually kind of leads me to my next question: Has your approach to writing music changed or do you feel the same as you did while writing You Are The Conductor and The Four Trees?
PJ: I mean for the old— for the early stuff we had no process so we’d just get together in a room and smoke a bunch of weed and jam. We started that way and sort of refashioned the jams into songs. So we’d take pieces of a jam and assemble it here and there. And, like, that was cool for a while, but you can’t do that for eleven years; improvising constantly, that is. You want to be a little more intentional and structured about it and you want to compose more. Maybe it’s a part of getting older or something.
JV: We’ve always pushed ourselves, so whatever songwriting techniques we pick up along the way we just kind of mash it all together. We’re still doing stuff now from ‘The Conductor and ‘Four Trees, but now it’s enhanced and augmented—I suppose by all these new things we’ve picked up over the years. I mean, I’m still writing from the same perspective, it’s just whatever I do comes out.
IC: A lot of post-rock bands (ie. Balmorhea and Explosions in the Sky), have taken their music to the big screen. I was wondering whether you’ve already been approached about this or if this is something you were thinking about doing in the future?
PJ: We were actually approached once in 2008 by the Duplass brothers. Do you know them? Mark Duplass just had an HBO show. Phenomenal director, great, amazing talent. Around 2007 they were sort of tracking this film to The Four Trees—using it for their beats and stuff—and they approached us about scoring a film called True Adolescence. We realized something that never went to anything. We were really agreeing to the whole thing. Like, we didn’t know how it worked, so our communication skills were very marginal at best. Nothing ever came of it and the film never got wide distribution anyways, so it sort of stayed on the shelf. But yeah, that’s a major bucket list goal for me.
IC: Do you think that your artistic integrity would be taken away?
PJ: Oh, no no no.
JV: Sometimes we’ll watch trailers on mute with our music in the background [laughs]. Like, trailers from 300 with “The Raven.” It’s unbelievable!
IC: Would you be worried about them taking control over how you write a song?
JV: I think we would just sell them what we had [laughs].
PJ: I think the more you do this, the more you become open to collaboration and that’s important. When you’re sort of wide-eyed and young, you feel like you got the world by the balls. Like, it’s your way or the highway. But the more you do this, the more you realize that there are a lot of people out there who are sharper and have their own visions. Sort of meshing those together and compromising to find a middle ground is really important—and I think we’re sort of gravitating towards that. We’re looking for people to collaborate with because it keeps everyone on their toes.
IC: Is it more challenging for you to write a song according to someone else’s parameters than your own?
PJ: I think it’s easier for us, actually. If they say, “write a heavy, ballsy song”—and that’s what they want—we can do that. And if they want something more mellow or atmospheric, that just eliminates one step of the process.
JV: Again, it’s easier because you don’t have to come up with it yourself.
2/26 Shenzen, China @ B10
2/27 Guangzhou, China @ FEI Livehouse
2/28 Wuhan, China @ Vox
3/1 Chongqing, China @ Nuts
3/2 Chengdu, China @ Little Bar Space
3/3 Hangzhou, China @ 9 Live
3/4 Shanghai, China @ Mao Livehouse
3/5 Beijing, China @ Yugong Yishan
3/6 Tokyo, Japan @ Shimokitizawa Era
3/7 Tokyo, Japan @ Shibuya Tsutaya O-Nest
3/21 Houston, TX @ Warehouse Live *
3/22 Tulsa, OK @ Cain’s Ballroom *
3/23 San Antonio, TX @ The Aztec Theater *
3/25 Phoenix, AZ @ The Marquee *
3/26 Las Vegas, NV @ Brooklyn Bowl *
3/28 San Francisco, CA @ The Regency Ballroom *
3/30 Seattle, WA @ Showbox SODO SOLD OUT *
3/31 Portland, OR @ Crystal Ballroom *
4/1 Boise, ID @ Knitting Factory *
4/2 Salt Lake City, UT @ The Complex *
4/3 Denver, CO @ Ogden Theatre SOLD OUT *
4/4 Kansas City, MO @ Arvest Bank Theatre *
4/6 Minneapolis, MN @ Skyway Theatre
4/7 Chicago, IL @ Riviera Theatre SOLD OUT
4/8 Royal Oak, MI @ Royal Oak Music Theatre *
4/9 Grand Rapids, MI @ Orbit Room *
4/10 St. Louis, MO @ The Pageant *
4/11 Nashville, TN @ Rocketown SOLD OUT *
4/13 Cleveland, OH @ Agora Theatre SOLD OUT *
4/14 New York, NY @ Best Buy Theater SOLD OUT *
4/15 Sayreville, NJ @ Starland Ballroom SOLD OUT *
4/16 Philadelphia, PA @ Electric Factory SOLD OUT *
4/17 Boston, MA @ House of Blues SOLD OUT *
4/19 Toronto, ON @ The Phoenix SOLD OUT *
4/20 Silver Spring, MD @ The Fillmore *
4/21 Norfolk, VA @ The NorVA *
4/22 Charlotte, NC @ Amos Southend SOLD OUT *
4/23 Atlanta, GA @ Tabernacle SOLD OUT *
4/24 Orlando, FL @ Hard Rock Live *
^ with O’brother
# with Defeater, O’brother
* with Underoath