A couple of months ago, I had the chance to meet with some of the core members of the post-rock band Caspian on the occasion of their 10 year anniversary. This was the perfect time to take a stroll through the first 10 years of their history—one that also ended up being an actual stroll as we casually walked down Montreal’s main street in search of the perfect vegan restaurant. Here is the result of this casual chat, presented with as few edits as possible. Huge thanks to Jani Zubkovs (bass guitar), Joe Vickers (drums), and Jonny Ashburn (guitars) for their time.
LISTEN: CASPIAN | LOFT (Taken from 2005 EP, You Are the Conductor)
2015 marked the 10th anniversary of the release of your first EP, You Are the Conductor. When you started back in 2005, did you ever think the band would last that long and become what it is today?
Joe Vickers (Drums): I think the idea was to take this as far as we can go from the beginning. If we were to do this, we should really do it 110%. Now we even play a sample during the show that says : ‘’if you’re going to do it, go all the way.” The force behind this band is that we really wanna do it and we rely on each other. You just book the show and I’ll show up and I’m gonna play, man! We’ve been doing that for 11 years. I always knew that I wanted this. (Joe, addressing to Jani) You’ve been doing this for a while too.
Jani Zubkovs (bass guitar): I’ve been on tour with a bunch of different bands. I’ve been in Caspian for two and a half years.
Jonny Ashburn (guitars): Wow! Time’s flying.
Jani: Yeah, it really is flying. Yeah, I’ve been touring since 18.
Joe: And we’ve picked up Jonny along the way. How long has it been?
Jonny: 6 years.
Joe: 6 years now? Oh, my god! We picked him up in DC; he was just on the street, and we liked the way he played the guitar. All the these guys are really into it. That’s why we all get along and we’ve all got the same shared goals.
How do you feel your band has changed or evolved during these years?
Joe: I think we’ve always just played what we’ve liked. I can speak for myself; recently I’ve been way more serious about my instrument. We went on tour with a really professional band, and their drum tech took me under their wing and showed me a lot of different stuff that I didn’t know before. I feel like I’ve started to take myself more seriously.
Jonny: There’s a constant search for new sounds, at least guitar-wise. I bought—I think—8 pedals for this new record since the start of it. That’s something that’s always been developing; a search for different sounds through pedals, or through a technique, or through throwing a bunch of ice into a Starbucks cup and using it as a shaker (which I did on this last record). It’s keeping everything fresh in the form of new sounds. That’s one of the things that’s gonna keep us going and keep us excited for 10 more years, hopefully.
Today, if someone is looking for post-rock music, there is a good chance that your name is going to come out quite fast. How do you feel about often being associated so closely with a precise style of music, even if you didn’t ask for it?
Joe: I think Phil says it best when he says you have to compartmentalize stuff into genres for people to really understand it. If the music we make together gets grouped under post-rock music, it’s fine with me as long as they’re listening and they like it.
Jonny: If our name comes up quickly like that, I don’t care what kind of music it gets grouped under. It’s a good thing!
Do you follow the post-rock scene?
Jonny: A little bit.
Joe: We’re friends with a lot of post-rock bands because we end up playing to the same festivals and shows. We listen to their music when it comes up. I don’t think any of us are avid post-rockers, sitting in the dark and listening to a record with a hoodie on. I don’t know, I mean. I like all kinds of music.
What do you listen to today?
Joe: I always liked 70s prog rock. I always keep going back to that. I started listening to the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack, and that’s a good one. I’m gonna put that on the Spotify playlist!
Johnny: Do it!
Let’s talk about the new album, Dust and Disquiet. When did you start the creative process surrounding it?
Jonny: It was like a year and a half ago, maybe.
Jani: I think we really buckled down at the beginning of May of 2014.
Jonny: It was a pretty constant thing, down in the space on a schedule of three or four days a week, every week, for a long, long, time. We recorded it ourselves at our practice place, and then we demoed it with Will at Radar Recordings in Connecticut, and then we went into the studio. So we had two recordings of the album before we even started it.
Joe: We definitely prepared more for this album than we have for any other album. I think that definitely helped us write songs quickly when they needed to be written quickly and wrote parts that fit when they needed to fit right. Sometimes you smash your head against the wall for three or four days in a row.
Jonny: Over a 20 second ending!
Joe: We really put everything into the kitchen sink: every kind of music that we like all rolled into one album. This album is crazy diverse. I think that’s just the product of everybody plugging away all together.
Since you play mostly instrumental music, how do you come up with the album and songs names?
Joe: Phil and our buddy Lance have come up with the majority of the song titles. They hold loose meaning; they’re easily interpreted by everybody. You kinda just fit whatever you really wanna take from it. If the music makes you feel a certain way and you can associate it with the title, then that’s great. But if not, you’re just scratching your head, and that’s probably just because Phil and Lance were just thinking deep one night and came up with something that was just a really cool stream of words. It’s really poetic sometimes.
Jonny: The album title was pretty elusive for a while, but when the idea of Dust and Disquiet came up, right away, everybody knew that was it. We definitely spent a long time trying to figure out what it was gonna be, but when we got it, we knew.
For your last album you’ve worked with Matt Bayles again. What did he bring to you guys during the recording process?
Joe: Man! He’s got the best ears out of anyone. He calls it “playing traffic cops” when he’s saying what sounds should be predominant over others. We have so many sounds going on and his ears were so valuable to be able to pick out what was interesting at every moment of every song and put it in the forefront. That’s really why we love working with the guy. He can take a big wall of sound and make it sound super professional.
Jani: Making sense out of a lot of different tones and a lot of different sounds and being able to organize them is definitely one of his biggest strengths.
Joe: He helped us a little bit more with the production aspect this time around too, which was helpful, because he came up with some good ideas as far as new tones or percussions that I could use or different microphones so we’d get a different sound that we weren’t used to hearing before. He’s really great with my drums and we just love it; I like how he made my drums sound. I don’t know what other good things I can say about it.
Jonny: Yeah, that sums it up right there.
One thing that struck me when I saw you live was how much your music is more intense live. The melodies that are on the albums are still there, but there is an uncommon energy and power to these songs that gives them a totally new impact. How do you approach playing live versus in the studio?
Jonny: It might have to do with where our amps are turned to. I mean, we do try to recreate the sound that we have on the record, but we also like to turn our amps up. That, right there, will do it on itself. Just to give it a little bit more; it kinda hits you in the chest a little bit more when your amps are warm and turned up, and you get tones out of them that you might not otherwise. Also, because you’re not in the studio going person to person and track by track, there’s an energy that comes out that is really special, and that’s one of the reasons we love playing live.
Jani: Yeah, that’s good.
After more than 650 shows, are there any touring partners or venues that you remember particularly?
Joe: Phil just told me that it’s his 22nd tour!
Joe: There’s always one show I remember. They shut down a highway in France in a city called Metz. There was a festival called “La nuit blanche” and it was like one thousand people; the biggest crowd we had played for at that time. There was a giant projector on the overpass of the highway, and they were projecting onto one of the recently built buildings in the city. They set us up with lights under the highway, and we just played our show and people were nuts. It was just our most memorable show up until we did our 10 year anniversary show in our city in Beverly. It has always been a goal for us to play at this place called the Cabot Theatre,and we ended up playing in an even nicer old theater called the Larcom Theatre. It was unbelievable. We filmed it for the DVD. It was super meaningful.
Jani: That was mine.
Joe: I can’t imagine a show that would top that. Hopefully it’s coming.
Joe: (Looking at a venue across the street:) Oh, we’ve played there. Divan Orange.
Jonny: Those two are right up there as my favorites. We also played a show in Shanghai that I really, really enjoyed.
Joe: The entire Chinese shows.
Jonny: Yeah, the entire Chinese tour. We’re going there again next year, so hopefully it will be fun.
Are there any bands you would particularly like to tour with?
Johnny: I’d love a tour with Failure.
Joe: Radiohead. That would be nice.
Jani: Bruce Springsteen!