The Post-Metal band Pelican plays an instrumental, atmospheric style of music, which has attracted hundreds of thousands of fans across North American, Asia, Australia, and Europe.
Founded in Des Plaines in 2001, Pelican’s members include: brothers Bryan Herweg (bass) and Larry Herweg (drums); Trevor de Brauw (guitar); and Dallas Thomas (guitar) who replaced Laurent Schroeder-Lebec in 2012.
Pelican was featured on the nationally-syndicated rock music talk show Sound Opinions in 2013. Music critics Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot praised the band for creating an “awesome noise” that will rumble your sternum.
Pelican recently toured northern Europe; the band is currently working on its sixth studio album.
Storied Chicago spoke to bassist Bryan Herweg about his artistic influences and touring the world as a musician with his brother:
Since I was 13, I was interested in punk rock, skateboarding, and art. I was never really an athlete. My parents kind of expected that out of me, but they weren’t getting it out of me.
A big influence on where I went musically was Fugazi. That was the first punk cassette I bought. I brought it to my guitar teacher and said “I want to learn how to play this song.” And he said “What the hell is this? I don’t even know the timing.” He was totally baffled by it. It was so different sounding that it was really inspiring.
I started to go to shows when I was 15 or 16, at Fireside Bowl. My brother kind of got out of sports around that time and started playing drums. He started going to shows also. So Larry and I started to really connect then. Before that he was the athlete, and I was the burnout, loser artist.
Laurent, Larry, and, Trevor were in a band called Tusk, which was a crazy Grindcore band that was practicing at my parents’ house, and I lived there at the time.
Eventually, Laurent started writing some slower, heavier kind of stuff. I was interested in that because I was interested in bands like Kyuss, which was the old band of Josh Homme, from Queens of the Stone Age. I worshiped that guy back in the day.
So I was there when they were practicing, and they’d do the Tusk practice and then turn it into whatever Laurent’s stuff was and then they said “well, we need another guitar player, bass or something.” So they asked me.
We just wanted to play at Fireside or wherever and be on stage having what looked like an awesome, cathartic experience.
We were trying to sound like an industrial band called Godflesh that we were really into at the time. There was a band called Goatsnake that was doing stoner rock. And we were trying to sound like that.
Chicago was a good place because nobody was really doing anything like that in town and there are always people coming through. I meet people all around the world who know The Fireside Bowl. It’s like the CBGB’s of Chicago.
Big in Japan:
The first big tour we did was with a Japanese band called Mono. There were many sold-out shows on that tour. It was an eye-opener to see that people were really enthusiastic about us.
It was hard to grasp it as reality. I mean I’m mostly self-taught by ear. I still don’t know how to read music. I was thinking: “All these people are here to see me, but am I really that good of a musician?”
You get anxious and excited to play. It usually takes place in your bowels. We call it the pre-show shit. It’s like “oh wow, we’re going on in a minute, I’ve got to take a shit!” And I’ve heard that from other musicians.
Japanese crowds are really intense. That band Mono invited us to play in Japan at their ten year anniversary. So they flew us out for one show and we played in a room of 700 or 800 people. It was packed solid.
The crowd was so respectful that when our songs were done they’d cheer for like a second, and then stop. So, all of the sudden 800 people were just silent. You could hear a pin drop in the room. It was like there was an applause sign above you and it shut off. They’re just being polite, waiting for you.
Brothers & Bandmates:
Larry and I almost killed each a few times. Now, we are best friends.
He’s very wound up compared to me, a very high-energy, high-anxiety sort of guy. He lets you know when he’s in a bad mood. I’m definitely more introverted.
I think it comes out in our music. He’s the drummer, which is definitely a more aggressive, athletic-type instrument. And I’m playing bass, which is kind of like this under current of the music that carries the music.
Bass is one of the most important parts of music, but people don’t always get it. Even my mom still doesn’t know exactly what I’m doing in the band. “I can’t hear what you’re doing,” she says. Then I say “well, wait ‘til I’m NOT playing and you’ll notice.” And, she hears it when it’s not there.
We do get more female fans for a heavier band because there are no vocals. We’ve heard that over the years from women. They’ll say: “Its heavy music I can listen to because it’s not just some dude screaming over it.” A singer sometimes adds this macho aggressive aspect to the music.
I feel like we get a lot of artistic fans, tattoo artists and screen printers. A lot of tattoo artists have said that it’s heavy music you can put on in the shop because there’s not an abrasive screaming person over it. I actually got my tattoo from Thomas Hooper who’s now a huge tattoo artist in Austin. He just wanted to trade for some merch.
Sometimes, people will say “Oh, what were you feeling when you did this?” And, I'll say “I don’t know. It sounded cool.” It’s not as serious as it sounds. We are having fun.
The Post-Metal Lifestyle:
There are only a handful of people who can be an Ozzie, and I think some of that is really just mystique. Some people are notorious party animals, but you can’t be doing that every night of the week.
We did it for a while. I got to a point where I was drinking too much. You go out for seven weeks and you’re drinking every night. That’s pretty bad. If you were at home doing that, you’d be an alcoholic. But, on the road, people don’t think of it that way. Still, it’s not sustainable. The next day you’re sitting in the van and you’re feeling miserable and it creates tension in the band.
As for groupies, that’s just a horrible thing that people think happens. I have never, ever in my life gone home with some random girl after a show. I’m too busy, and I’m not really into that.
I also don’t know what band has the opportunity to do that, especially if they’re couch-surfing or sharing a hotel room. Sometimes, I hear stories and I think: “Really? They were doing that while they’re all sleeping in one hotel room. That’s weird and gross.”
The physical toll of touring has definitely become an issue since I had my back injury. I’ve gone through bouts of thinking that I’m never going to be able to perform again, but I can.
Now, the other guys have kids; it’s grounded us all and made us really appreciate when we go out on tour. That’s what’s different now. When we do go out and play, we just have fun.