For ten years, Caspian has been crafting an ever-expanding universe of post-rock from the North Shore. Their decade as a band has been marked by naive zeal, ebullient intensity, and forced adaptation. The story of Caspian has unfolded on the streets of Beverly, Massachusetts and it is here they are throwing an anniversary show with songs placed in chronological order. Touring the places that have shaped Caspian, their three guitarists Philip Jamieson, Erin Burke-Moran, and Jonny Ashburn offered tempered nostalgia and how it inspires them to aim for another decade together.
You Are The Conductor (2005)
Caspian started, as most bands do, without a name. Four friends, Cal, Joe, Chris, and Phil were pounding out songs, and figuring what music meant to them. Somehow, they booked a show at the Pickled Onion, a Rantoul Street bar that hosts music on weekends. The bar was a grounding space for the band.
“We would rehearse, then head over. It was a place to go when you needed to circle the wagons,” Phil says as we enter the Pickled Onion. “It’s a trip going back there now.”
It is a short trip. Erin raises the manager’s ire for eating a sandwich he unassumingly unwrapped on the walk over. The passive aggressive awkwardness puts us outside after a quick drink, surprised with the cold reception and the unending amount of flat screen TVs that highlight how much the place has changed since their first show.
Back then, Phil says, “The money didn’t mean shit. Shows were an opportunity to wear a new shirt, or impress a girl, and try some weird music.”
The Four Trees (2007)
There’s an elaborate pigeon coop at the end of Pond St. (imagine what Terry Malloy might build if he had won a few fights), and we stop to listen to their coos. Erin notes that Caspian’s drummer [Joe Vickers] would love this. “He’s got a parakeet.”
We head up towards Cabot St., while Jonny grabs cigarettes at the Hess station across the way. Phil mentions that Erin was originally slated to sing, and play guitar. But as shows went well without any lyrics, the band strove ahead with just instrumentation.
“It’s funny,” Erin says, “how much of the music in the classical era was instrumental. Now, it gets weird if a song doesn’t have words.”
Jonny finds us sheltered under a doorway as it has started to rain, and I ask him about joining the band. He was from DC, and had been touring with Caspian for four years before “moving to Beverly a year ago. Of course, not commuting makes things easier, and it’s nice to have the band be an everyday thing.”
Even after spending months touring, crammed into vans, I ask. Jonny nods. “We’ll get back, and I’ll want to see Erin and play foosball for an hour. Even after being together for every minute of every day, we’ll call each other up.”
The Cabot Street Cinema has closed, and there’s some new place opening at Kitty O’Sheas. Phil describes how the bar “went downhill. You know, a great local spot, and then it got too popular, incrusted with people who didn’t have respect for the place, now shut down. Kinda like a band.”
I wonder how Caspian has been handling the flood of memories as the band prepares for their show at Larcom Theatre. “Reflection,” Phil says, “inspires me. I’m no spring chicken with retreating to memories.”
Yet, the show is not an exercise of self-congratulation. Phil explains, “We wanted to mark the occasion somehow, while not getting so preoccupied with the idea. We are always looking to the next ten years. If you get too enmeshed in looking back, it becomes overly nostalgic. And you can lose steam. A band like us, we’re one of 1000 bands between obscurity and greatness. We’re not allowed to get complacent.”
Jonny interrupts, “People forget easily; that’s why God made EPs.”
Waking Season (2012)
Our final stop is Fabulous Music, the store where Erin has been giving lessons for eleven years, and where the band has a rehearsal space downstairs. Unlocking the door, punching in the security code, Erin admits there’s tension with the beauty salon that shares the building. Not because of noise, but because he’s stopped going there for haircuts. “She sees me, and knows.”
The basement, drop ceiling and Hendrix poster, fits the image of a practice room. Three neatly arranged trays contain the myriad pedals required of a band that boasts three guitars. Mics are set up for recording, as Erin compiles their sessions for quick critique.
For a band that has played 212 shows in support of the acclaimed Waking Season, Caspian seems hunkered down. A new album is planned, and Jonny admits that it’s “going at a good clip, so part of me is feeling we need to keep on working” rather than break for the anniversary show.
Because the salon is closed on Mondays, the band has a chance to start the week with a daylight practice session. “That day practice is the best,” Jonny says. “You get up and drink 10 cups of coffee, smoke some cigarettes. Then play. It’s a special get up and go to work feeling. It’s going off to work, in the best possible way.”
Phil adds, “That’s what we want to achieve. Our goal is to do this Monday through Thursday, and that keeps us hungry. Ten years on, we don’t make anything close to a living from this. But it hasn’t put us off path with making music. We’re exploring what it’s like to chase down a dream with a group of friends.”
Hymn For the Greatest Generation (2013)
On a whiteboard, the setlist for the Larcom Theatre show is arranged; different colors define each album and EP. Phil draws a line between two songs, since they’re “going to have an intermission and give people a chance to stretch.”
For a moment, I forget the chronological theme of the set, and wonder why “Sycamore” is placed in the middle. It’s usually their closing song, with a theatrical climax as the band gathers around a drum kit for six-part percussion. Their frenetic rendition at the inaugural Boston Calling seemed to push back dark clouds that foreboded rain.
“That song,” Phil explains, “because we always play it last, the expectations are huge. But it’s just another piece of the puzzle. Last night it felt like the culmination of all the songs and albums that had come before; it does mark the end of an era.”
The summer of 2013 was an era shifting time for Caspian. They had played their largest U.S. stage at Boston Calling, and headlined a victorious Beverly block party show. Jonny laughs, “It came together so haphazardly, and that was part of the charm. I built the stage in like 15 minutes. Cabot Street closed at 4, and bands needed to be on at 4:30.”
Four weeks later, bassist Chris Friedrich died, leaving his family, and his band, with a great emptiness.
Caspian will bring his bass on stage, and Phil struggles to describe how, “He’s always there, we feel his presence and we want to move forward valiantly. Obviously the band wouldn’t have 10 years without Chris, and I think a silent reflection together will be what we need.”
“You don’t want the scales too much in any direction,” Phil continues. “We need to find that fine balance and hit that everyday. This set encapsulates that really well, and I’m proud of that.”
I ask how the sorrow informs their sense of nostalgia, even while digging through boxes of demos and tour merch. Phil offers, “We don’t have the luxury of sitting back. It’s a constantly evolving thing, yet without forgetting what has come before. Every moment is of importance; it is paramount.”
New Album (expected 2015)
Taking some photos in the alley adjacent to the music store, we see a dog walker pause. The four pooches, mostly golden retriever types, also pause. The man yells across, “Doing a photo shoot, or something?” I say these guys are from Caspian and they have a 10-year anniversary show, but the man doesn’t indicate any recognition.
Phil smiles, and offers, “We’re a local band.”