There’s a reason for Caspian being considered one of the greatest bands of the entire post-rock and instrumental rock scene. They’ve constantly created high quality music over their ten plus years of existence. We’ve talked with guitarist Philip Jameson about their brand new album Dust & Disquiet. What it represents, the importance of the visual aspect creating and appreciating Caspian’s music, and more.
The cover has seven feathers putted together in a circle. Are the feathers a representation of every member on the band right now plus Chris Friedrich (who passed away in 2013)?
Yeah, that’s correct. I think it has deep personal meaning for all of us in the band and I think as an image, alone and apart by itself, is ambiguous enough to not be direct. I think that some people will get the meaning. People that are close to us or people who have been following the band for a while will understand it but I think if you’re not familiar with the band then it is just a pleasant aesthetically looking thing. We’re always trying to run that middle ground between things that are really accessible and approachable, and things that leave something to the imagination, whether is song titles, the way we write music, or whatever.
Was it easy to write new music after what happened to Chris? Was it easy to keep going?
I don’t think there was ever a moment in time where we considered not playing anymore. We needed to use our music to cope with the situation and sort of help us move forward. Music has always been something that helped us navigate through difficult things in life, and of course that was beyond difficult. We really needed our music to step up to the plate and help us make sense of the situation, so it was there for that reason. I think we needed more than ever after that.
Does the title of the album, Dust & Disquiet, describes the final result that we can hear with the album or the process of creating it?
I think disquiet is just a word that seemed to sum up the last two or three years. Just kind of a bit of an anxiety and an uncertainty as to what our band means to people. Taking a step back, especially after doing it for ten years. We had a little break and an opportunity to reflect how the last decade has gone and decide to move forward and always wondering where we fit into the musical landscape and how people are receiving the band… [pause] and what we wanted to sort of establish moving forward, I think. That kind of deep reflection can sometimes create a sense of urgency and a little bit of anxiety. And I think that’s reflected in the disquiet of it.
You’ve said, talking about Walking Season, “With this record we became a little less self-conscious about what we’re doing. I think the letting go of egos was a real turnaround for us.” Did you find yourself in that same state of mind while creating and recording this new album?
Yes, definitely! In fact I think we went even deeper down that rabbit hole, which was a good thing. It was the process of at least attempting to sort of shed that self-consciousness began with the last record and I think we further kept building upon it, with this one, and tried to explore that even more. We always want to make a really great record but we want to do it as purely as possible and from a position of sincerity, every time. For us the best way to do it is to try to find ways to let go our self-consciousness and any of those insecurities. It’s a battle every time but I think we’re making progress and this album, to me, feels like a good step forward in terms of that.
What’s the importance and role of the visual aspect in Caspian’s music? I mean, in terms of associating certain visual aspects and certain images with certain sounds, when you are listening to music or thinking about it.
That’s absolutely central to this whole thing, in terms of sort of trying to help cultivate a sense of imagination… Yeah, that’s massive! I think without that imagination or sort of contributing with a piece of yourself to this experience the music doesn’t really succeed. If you listen to it on a really clinical, close, simply just on the level of music it is exciting and I think we do some really nice musical things but I think you really have to invest a lot of that visual side of your mind to this stuff to really take holds. Yeah man, I couldn’t agree more. That’s really huge to us. When we compose I think there’s always something like that swimming around in our minds that we lash onto and that really help us finishing a song… or sometimes it helps in the seminal moment of creation when you’re putting something together. It’s deeply enmeshed in the whole process.
How does the composition and improvisation coexist in the creative process of Caspian?
That’s a good question. I think most of the time we definitely need a firm, fixed, small concrete idea to get us started. Ten years ago when we were writing music we wouldn’t have one of those. We would just sort of get together in a room and then just start immediately improvising and then that would create that base moment. Now I think we need to start with something a little more foundational, whether is just one small melody, or a drumbeat, or a texture, or a mood, or whatever. Take it from there and then unpack it with that. So, the improvisation comes after the… I guess after that firm moment and then it sorts of metamorphosis back, all the way at the end, to something a little bit more concrete. Live we do very little improvising, just because the structures have to be so set and I think during the creative processes it’s a little bit of both. When we’re writing music we’re certainly not scared to try whatever works and throw something against the wall and see what sticks.
“When we’re writing music we’re certainly not scared to try whatever works and throw something against the wall and see what sticks.”
I’m curious to know where it started with the song “Arcs of Command”.
That song took… I think nine months to write. The first two minutes of that song is just the band going crazy. I actually wrote that part by myself, over maybe the course of a month, and I spent a lot of time demoing the riffs in it and some of the main basic core ideas. Then when I brought it to the band that’s when we started adding more of the meter shifts and some of the time things and we made the decision of just keep it relentless for the entire song and to never really let up. But then the beginning, those first three minutes and that build-up, that was based on another small demo that I had. It was a very small idea but then the band really expanded upon that and everyone brought their own flair to it. We combined the two things in one song and… We second guessed a lot of that stuff. We almost beat it to the point where there was nothing left and we were going to abandon it all together but then we got to a spot that we were comfortable with and then we just played it over and over again. When there’s that repetition, when you’re playing something for so long, you end up getting comfortable with it and you end up adding things and kind of surprising yourself. That was definitely one of most ambitious, difficult to write, songs that we’ve ever done. It was an uphill battle for a long time and now when we all go back and listen to the record it’s probably collectively one of our favorite songs on the whole thing. It feels like a unified statement for all of us, I guess.
There’s clearly a balance in terms of longer and shorter songs on this new album. Did you approach it in that way, consciously?
Definitely. A song like “Sad Heart of Mine”, we had the melody and the main piano thing there and we decided to not turn it into a nine minutes post-rock song. We wanted to see what it would be like if kept it under four minutes. Because is that imposing limitation thing that I think… Sometimes is bad, you never want to be dogmatic and just stick to your guns just for the sake of it but just write the best music that you can possibly write, but other times it can be really healthy and it can sort of allow you to think in a different way about a piece of music. So much of this kind of music is really self-indulgent to the point where you can say that anything goes, it’s completely free, and you can just go where the spirit leaves or whatever. And a lot of the times you can get yourself into a corner that you can’t get out of. Some of the transitional pieces are obviously to be transitions and they’re meant to glue the disport parts of the record. The first song is melodically like a truncated version of the second song, and then the ninth song is the same thing, a melodically teaser/truncated version of the last. I don’t know if people are going to pick up on that but they definitely share the same chord changes and the same melodies. It’s just totally re-envisioned, almost like miniature, ensemble version of the full deal song that follows it. Those were definitely intentional like that.
Run Dry presents Caspian in a completely different set – to be honest it made me think about Mad Season. How was the experience of writing that specific song?
Thanks, that’s awesome! That song it was something that we wanted to do for a really, really long time because it sounds like a lot of the music we listen to and we really enjoy. Towards the middle of writing the record I said to the guys, “Look, I really want a song on this album that is very different, that has discernable vocals, that’s mellow, and that has something to say.” Calvin [Joss, guitarist and founding member of the band] came in with that, he had some lyrics we all thought it was really beautiful and further more… That was one of those songs that had words and lyrics that we felt like we couldn’t convey with just our music. We needed those words and lyrics to sort of articulate where we feel we are right now at this stage of our lives and career as a band.
Did it take long to agree on what’s now the final sequence of songs of Dust & Disquiet?
We always know, before we record, the sequence that we want. If we have a song like “Arcs of Command” then we say, “Alright, we have the very heavy, dramatic, and epic song done. We’re not going to another epic, dramatic song like that.” If we have as the final song on the album a big twelve minutes post-rock piece then once we finish that – which oddly enough it only took eight hours to write when “Arcs of Command” took nine months [laughs] – we know that we will not have another one of those. Basically we fill in the pieces over the time and when we enter the studio is just to execute that vision. Not a lot changes from the writing process to the final product. It is all very intentional when it comes to the tracks sequencing and stuff. That’s part of the story that we’re trying to tell, I guess.
Do you find yourself looking back and wanting to change what is done? I mean, in term of songs.
Yeah, I think that’s natural. I already listen to songs on the record and I’m like, “Damn, totally should have done that.” And there are small things that anyone… like I said, I think it’s natural for people to listen to their own stuff that way. There has to be a time – and this is sort of a moment of willpower, I guess – where you have to choose that’s “done”. A song is never truly finished, you have to choose when is finished or else it can drive you to madness. When we started doing this ten years ago I think we were under the false premise that you can actually go to a studio and completely accomplish the vision of a song, and I think the longer you do it the more you realize that it’s simply impossible and you have to moderate your expectations. I think now we judge songs by how close they are to the original vision we had and not if they completely fulfill that vision, because it’s not impossible.