Philip Jamieson of CASPIAN Talks New Album and More

Photo by Marc Lemoine

For more than eleven years Massachusetts-based band Caspian has been one of the defining proponents of the post-rock genre, with three albums and several EPs to their name. After two years of touring in support of their previous album ‘Waking Season’, they returned to their base in Massachusetts to record their fourth album. And they came back to us last month with ‘Dust and Disquiet’, a record that acknowledges their healing process after the loss of their founding bassist Chris Friedrich and shows  experimentation with their sound and identity. This marks a new beginning for the band.

We got in touch with Caspian’s guitarist Philip Jamieson a couple of days after they started an extensive world tour, to chat about the story of the new album, the obstacles that led to its release and the long tour that awaits them.

Three years have passed since the release of Waking Season and your new album “Dust and Disquiet” is out now. A rather dusky name which seems to hold more restlessness and struggle than the earlier records. Can you tell us a little bit about the inspirations and the ideas you built the album upon?

The record was created during a period of “anxious assertiveness” for us, for lack of a better term. We finished an Asian tour in March 2014 that marked the close of the touring cycle for Waking Season and then transitioned into album writing mode. It seems like every time we put out a record we pick up a few more fans and we’ve been on this trajectory for 11 years. Now that the time had come to try and top the last record and find fresh ideas and keep ourselves interested in music, we really felt that initial pressure to deliver – to both our fans and to us as musicians with skin in the game. That’s always a tall order and it created a sense of anxiety that made a lot of the writing process very, very demanding for us psychologically. We are perfectionists and felt we had dug pretty deep into our bag of tricks for the last record and weren’t quite sure how it would all come together for this, but we were committed and emboldened to make it happen which is why I consider it an assertive moment for us as well. Of course, this was the first record we wrote without our brother Chris who passed away in 2013 and that was also an unavoidable presence during the inception of these songs. Combine those things with the standard 30-something-life-crisis issues that we all deal with under the rules of the human condition and it was a strange mixture of emotions for us. We tried to use this album as antidote to fight those feelings of loneliness, sadness, anxiety, loss, and grief.

interview - caspian4Although Dust and Disquiet still has your renowned musical touches, it owns a rather more individual identity than the preceding albums. Especially with the more melodic and sharp parts in some of the tracks that surprised me in “Arcs of Command”, or the harsh vocals in “Echo and Abyss”. How did you reach these textures and was this lean towards heavier tones intended?

We did go into this process under the banner of wanting to make a record a bit more on the heavier side than the last one. We just aren’t in a soft place so to speak with our lives right now and a lot of the emotions we were encountering were running somewhat hotter than normal. Certain decisions such as the harsh vocals you mentioned for example happened completely on the spot and were not premeditated. We had a mic set up during recording, someone got the idea and we executed it and didn’t think twice. But the desire to make a bleaker, grittier record in spots definitely felt unavoidable and appropriate for where we were at.

I am, as many of your fans are, curious about your composing and recording process. Can you walk us through your regular routine and its development through the years and was there something special this time with “Dust and Disquiet”?

Back in the day we’d get together and jam for hours and pick parts out of improvisations and assemble songs that way. These days it’s a bit more on the composing end of the spectrum, where things are much more laid out and spot-structured before we start messing around with the song as a band. There’s more of a template in place now that helps us get started. Sometimes I write that template or someone else does. It’s important to keep in mind that every song is different, though. The title track we wrote in eight hours and we didn’t over analyze it or pick it apart to kingdom come. We just quietly put it together and did whatever we wanted, not caring if it sounded generic or whatever and let it be. Arcs of Command, conversely, I demoed every day for a month prior to showing the guys and then we started chipping away at it together, constantly adding or removing things and discussing it and recording hundreds of versions, etc. It ended up taking nine months to have the final version of that song and it almost killed us; that song was an absolute monster to write.

I’m sure it’s still hard to talk about but this is your first album without Chris being on the bass and composing the lines with you. How did you get through these new circumstances and how difficult was it capturing your chemistry again?

The answer to that is too long for me to get into I’m afraid, as I feel like it would require something like 10 pages to fully get across which I simply can’t do right now. The short version is that Jani worked very hard on his bass parts and brought great dedication to the process, and that all 6 of us were hell bent on making something that us and Chris would be proud of.

One of the things that always grabs my attention first towards any record is its artwork and “Dust and Disquiet” comes with a rather simple but unique cover regarding its colors and implementation. Can you tell us more about the concept and development of this piece?

The interpretation of the album cover is something we’d rather leave to the imagination of the listener. We’ve heard a bunch of theories from people and they’re all beautiful and well considered responses. We feel it’s our job to enable as much introspection as possible with our fans and to encourage whatever feelings and responses come their way without trying to shove a message or specific concepts down their throats. We wanted the cover to possess a myriad of potential meanings and I think it succeeds at that.

This year has been actually one of the best years music-wise –at least for me – especially for the post-rock genre, with a lot of remarkable records leading to your album. Did you have the chance to listen to any new releases and did anything particularly grab your attention?

In terms of post-rock records, I really enjoyed Godspeed’s release from earlier this year. They’ve never put out a bad record, and it’s always so different to what we (and everyone else) are doing that I don’t find it contaminating to our writing process, whereas other records out there more along our lines tend to throw me off and make me over analyze everything we create. I can’t objectively listen to them so I keep a distance.

interview - caspian3

You have quite a big tour ahead of you for the next two months across almost the whole northern hemisphere. How have you been preparing for it so far and is there any specific city or venue you are particularly excited about?

We rehearsed hard for 8 days before we left and here on day 5 we are all feeling pretty good. The set will remain very similar throughout all of the shows and requires some difficult tuning changes between songs. Other than that it’s all about weaving a story every night that tells the story of our band and maybe another story with the movement of everything together that people can relate to and be genuinely moved by.

With such an extensive discography as yours I imagine it gets harder every tour to choose tracks from the older albums to play. I wonder which is the most enjoyable track for you to play live so far, one that you can never exclude from your play-list?

For me, I always love performing Gone In Bloom and Bough. It was inspired by some difficult personal events in my life that I resurrect with each performance of it and I’m able to take those events and fold them into the present moment which brings a kind of catharsis.

You always have had some unique taste in the bands you choose to tour with, mostly non post-rock bands, and for the next tour I’ve got to say Jo Quail is an interesting choice. How did you come to arrange this tour together, and what do you think the reaction of your fans will be to this mix?

We love juxtaposing styles and giving people as much of a diverse evening as we can, but strive to keep some common denominators at the same time. With Jo I think there’s a shared sense of musicality and mood we both touch on just expressed through a different presentation. We want everyone to leave our shows feeling pleasantly surprised with how they spent their evening instead of being pummeled by the same thing over and over again. I hope it feels like a rich, varied experience for everyone that comes out.

With a new album out and a long tour planned ahead, what else does Caspian have planned for the future? Any new musical collaborations or tours in the making?

Nothing specific at the moment beyond lots of touring. I have a very broad, abstract and unformed idea of collaborating with an orchestra and/or choir but want to find a way to make it fresh and feel exciting again since those collaborations have been done a bunch in this genre. We shall see.

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