“We wanted to let go a bit and see if we could work with someone who could sort of stoke the fire and the embers of what we’ve created and turn into a blaze.”
Post-rock is a strange but often intriguing musical style. It utilizes atmospheric and ambient tones and progressive structures with the volume usually being pretty high. The music is similar to shoegaze, but it’s not, and it’s also similar to psychedelic rock, but it’s not.
New England’s ambassador of this sonic artform is Beverly’s Caspian, which pulls this off in instrumental fashion while sometimes having a guest vocalist. At the Sinclair in Cambridge on September 30 and October 1, the band will take the stage for a double whammy of shows with local rock acts Junior Beef and Circus Trees opening on both nights.
Guitarist, keyboardist, and synth player Philip Jamieson and I recently spoke ahead of the shows about originally trying to find a full-time vocalist but never finding one, their latest album On Circles, playing a hometown show with an orchestra, and the back-to-back Sinclair gigs.
When Caspian started out in 2004 and before you guys even had the name, you were originally looking for a vocalist but you never found one. What made you guys give up the search for a singer and go the instrumental route?
When we played our first show, we intended to have a singer as you alluded to but we pulled through instrumental and it felt right for us and it felt right for the audience. It was kind of an unexpected eureka moment for us where we really didn’t know how it was going to land, but something naturally happened during the first, second, and third gigs of ours where we just rode it out instrumental. It felt like what we were doing was communicating what we wanted to communicate with our music and our band so we just stuck with it.
Last year in January right before COVID-19 changed everything, Caspian released their fifth album titled On Circles and it was also your first album in five years. With going back into the studio after such a long time, was making the record a different experience than before and if so how was it different?
It wasn’t like we flipped the script or totally reinvented our process but we came into the sessions really prepared with 75 minutes of music that we were really confident with. One of the big things that made the experience different was that we actively wanted to work in collaboration with a producer, not just in terms of the sounds we were trying to get but in terms of structurally approaching the songwriting. For all our records prior, the songwriting, the structure, and the sequence of the record was pretty ironclad. We needed a traffic cop basically in the studio to help us facilitate the process and make sure that we got the ideas out there in a timely fashion and in a good fashion. We really wanted to work in conjunction with someone else when it came to song structures, which we’ve been possessive of but this time we wanted to let go a bit and see if we could work with someone who could sort of stoke the fire and the embers of what we’ve created and turn into a blaze.
It was us trying to get over ourselves a little bit and just sort of let go of the things that we were possessive about in the past. We wanted to actually receive ideas and take onboard good ones even if they weren’t in conjunction with what we initially envisioned. We wanted to let go and loosen the grip a little bit and Will Yip was such a perfect guy for that, he’s amazing to work with and he brought a lot of ideas to the table; 80 or 90% of them we were fully on board with and we think that he helped improve the songwriting and he helped us assemble a record that we’re really, really proud of.
I like how it pushes a lot of artistic boundaries. A few months before the album’s release in November of 2019, Caspian performed a matinee and an evening show at the Cabot Theatre in Beverly with the Losander Chamber Orchestra which is made up of string, brass, and woodwind instruments. Who had the idea for this live collaboration and what was it like performing with an orchestra live on stage?
It was really wild. Basically when we’re writing without an orchestra and we’re amongst ourselves with our three or four guitars, bass, drums, and other instruments we have on hand, we view every instrument as a color for the painting we’re trying to create. I don’t mean to sound pretentious but when you bring on board an ensemble which we had for that, it just gives you more hues and more balance to work with. It’s something we wanted to do for a while but it didn’t really feel like the time was right. We’ve been at this for 17 years and it felt like it was a really good time to try and deploy something a little bit different for our fans so that they could maybe hear the songs being articulated in a different way with some of those added colors.
It was a blast, it was definitely a challenge. We certainly could have used another two or three weeks of rehearsals, we only had two in total. It wasn’t ramshackled by any stretch of the imagination, the players were incredible and we were really prepared with our scores and how we wanted it to go. Come showtime there was a lot of us kind of trying to build a plane that was already in the air with it. It was a challenge but it was really, really rewarding and we were thrilled with how it all came together, it was a really exciting new experience for us.
We really dug it and hats off to those players who just brought their A game. It was really special.
Was that the band’s first time doing a hometown show at The Cabot?
Yeah, it was the first time we played there. There’s another theater in Beverly down the street called the Larcom that we did our 10 Anniversary Show at and at the time when we did that show, the Cabot had sort of been through a lot of different iterations. While growing up it was the place to go see movies, magic shows, and it was really old timey, then it closed for a few years after the owners of the magic show sort of passed on and when it was in limbo no one was sure what was going to happen to the place. It’s a very similar theater to the Larcom, a bunch of people got together to resurrect the Cabot to make it into this completely world-class venue.
It was awesome to get in there and I’m sure that we’ll get there again. It’s really nice to have a place like that pretty much down the street in our neighborhood. They’re getting a lot of great acts to come through there and it’s been blowing up, it was really memorable to partake in that experience there. To me, it’s sort of like sacred ground.
What are your thoughts on these back-to-back shows at the Sinclair? This is going to be your first time playing there in a couple years.
There’s so many emotions, it’s really hard to whittle it down because not only do we miss playing live shows obviously like every other band. When we dropped that record in January last year, we were able to pull off some West Coast gigs but then everything shut down. We’re almost sort of on this revenge mission where we really want to perform these songs for people, especially in the Boston area because we have a really strong connection to our crowd here. To be able to spread it out over two nights, give people a full tour of our catalog and play some of the new stuff with some of our old stuff, I can safely say that we’ve never looked forward to two shows more in our entire career. We got some unfinished business here that we want to take care of and the Sinclair is such a pitch perfect venue, everyone who works there is amazing and the infrastructure is top notch.
There’s people coming in from all over the place for those shows and everyone who is under that roof is gonna get emotional. It already is for us every time we play a show because our music skews that way, but I feel like in my gut that this is going to be everything that we’ve kind of done but it’ll be amplified and kicked up a notch because of how long it’s taken for it to come together due to the last year and a half. Thrilled is an understatement.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Brooklyn Rail, The Providence Journal, The Newport Daily News, The Worcester Telegram & Gazette, New Noise Magazine, Flood Magazine and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.