Interview: Caracara

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Caracara Announce New Album 'New Preoccupations'

It’s been five years since Caracara released their debut LP Summer Megalith. In the time since, the Philadelphia indie rockers – vocalist/guitarist Will Lindsay, keyboardist Carlos Pacheco-Perez, bassist George Legatos, and drummer Sean Gill – have dropped an EP and a one-off single, each stretching their sound in different ways, but now the band is about to release New Preoccupations, their most adventurous collection yet. It veers away from the spacious emo that colored previous material into dance-tinged indie rock (“Colorglut”), solemn balladry (“Song for Montana Wildhack”), electronic alt-rock (“Useful Machine”), and serpentine post-hardcore (“Monoculture”), all the while retaining the heart, and the cohesion, of Caracara’s earlier releases. The Alternative jumped on a call with the group during the tour with String Machine in mid-March to discuss the new record. Read the wide-ranging interview below.


You guys are on tour with String Machine right now. How’s that been so far?

Will: Tour’s been awesome. We’re big fans of their first record, and when we found out they were looking for another band to do some gigs with, we were super into it. We’ve gotten along great. We love them, they’re an absolutely incredible band, and it’s a pleasure to watch them every night. Tonight’ll be number seven in a row, and we’ve got one more in Chicago, and their set does not get old. Been a blast. Shows have been great. People have been excited. I think people have been happy to be back at shows. We’ve seen so much enthusiasm from people, just to be out, to be at an event, and it’s been great.

I know you guys have been playing some new stuff on this show. How have those been received?

Carlos: We’re starting the set right now with two new songs, “Hyacinth” and then “Strange Interactions,” the two singles we’ve done so far. It feels great to play them. They’re actually pretty different vocally for us, and that’s been fun. I think everyone’s enjoyed it. The only other one we’re playing right now is ” Nocturnalia,” and that one, Will’s going no guitar. He’s just frontmannin’ it. So that’s been exciting, and that one I feel like people have really enjoyed. It’s been fun.

How long were you writing New Preoccupations? It’s been, what, five years since Summer Megalith came out, and I know some of these songs have been around for a while.

Will: Writing for us has always gone roughly the same way. Usually we start in a room together – a lot of our songs begin as voice memos, maybe one part someone came up with, and then just sent out a voice memo to everyone, and then we slowly put stuff together. We work relatively slowly – I think, for the modern moment, we’re a relatively slow band. I will say that this record was pretty much ready to go right at the beginning of the pandemic. The last two years of those five were us thinking, like, “What’s it mean for us to put out this record during COVID?” We’re not a TikTok band, we’re not a Twitter band. We don’t have a lot of interest in putting out a record that we can’t tour. I think priority number one for us has always been playing shows. It didn’t feel right to put it out when we couldn’t do that. We appreciate that people are excited that it’s coming. The last two years we’ve been as antsy as everybody else.

Carlos: Just to put a timestamp on things, I was digging through the demo folders we have, and “Strange Interactions,” when we put that single out, I think the date that file was created was May 2018. We put out Summer Megalith n 2017, so we’ve been working on these a long time. It feels nice to get the masters in, have the physicals coming soon. We’ve been waiting for it.

I imagine a lot of bands have similar stories, but that’s frustrating.

Will: Without touring, it’s hard to stay on people’s minds. I feel like the lifespan of a record was so dramatically shortened by COVID because you don’t have people commuting or going to shows. We didn’t want it to pop up and then disappear. We wanted to make sure we got it out to as many people as we could.

So there’s the line in “Nocturnalia” about social distancing – you’re telling me you wrote that before the pandemic?

Will: No, so some of the songs were started as far back as 2018. “Nocturnalia” was a 2020 write. There is a good amount that we wrote fairly recently. We are the type of band who shows up to do an LP with maybe double the amount of songs that’ll end up on it. Working with Will Yip, one of the crucial things he adds to our crew is he’s got an incredible editorial ear. He goes through what we do, finds the gems for us. We’re so close to it, we can’t really differentiate in the early stages. He helps us sift through that big pile of songs – we wrote almost 20 for this record. So there’s some recent stuff as well. I didn’t predict the future.

Carlos: There’s actually a pretty interesting story with that line in particular because I remember hearing “social distancing” for the first week of COVID, and I was like, “Will, you gotta use this.” It’s funny saying “social distancing,” like the social aspect is the weird part. If you’re social distancing, you’re not hanging, all that stuff. We definitely didn’t think it was gonna be two years later and still be a term. We thought it’d be like two weeks and then it’d be a little tidbit, like, “Remember that?” That whole verse now is very pandemic-centric, but not on purpose.

Will: We thought it’d be an Easter egg, not an addition to the vernacular.

You mentioned that some of these songs were more recent. Would those be the more electronic cuts like “Colorglut,” “Useful Machine,” “Harsh Light”?

Will: “Colorglut” and “Useful Machine” are some of the ones we’ve been working on for quite some time.

Of course.

Will: I don’t think there’s actually any relationship between the songs we wrote in quarantine and the way they sound. I think the later additions were “Nocturnalia,” “Harsh Light,” and “Monoculture.”

George: I remember you, Carlos, brought out your OP-1 on our 2019 tour and were working on “Nocturnalia” before we knew what it was.

Carlos: Yeah. And “Colorglut” was a beat that Will made a long time ago.

Will: Quite some time ago.

Carlos: Before you moved to California.

Will: Yeah, with “Colorglut,” I’ve had this idea for a long time. I’ve always enjoyed a lot of two-step grime and UK garage music, and I love  the swung drum beat aesthetic from late ’90s, early 2000s, Craig David, Sweet Female Attitude. That’s always been my jam. I also always loved the way some of the shoegaze heavyweights incorporate electronic drums and stay true to the dance sound. I think sometimes when rock bands incorporate electronic beats, it can get a little too industrial for my taste. I wonder if they actually listen to electronic music or if they just know it’s an interesting way to expand a song’s sonic pallet. From listening to that kind of two-step and getting really into My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive over the years, I had this idea there’d be a cool way to make a poppy dance foundation to a fuzzy guitar song that pays homage to both genres without cheapening either of them. The beat and guitar for that have existed forever and at loads of different tempos and variations. Once we started adding the live drums it took on a new life. That’s something we’ve been trying to do on a lot of the tracks, combine the programming and the live drums to make it bigger and more interesting.

 

That’s something I wanted to mention. Parts of this record, especially “Harsh Light” and “Peeling Open My Eyelids,” are fairly beat-heavy and electronic but then bring in strings and classical orchestral sounds.

Will: That’s probably the closest continuity point from record to record. We love playing with talented players who can add some color. Sean actually wrote all the charts for those parts, so we keep it in-house as much as we can, but we don’t really have the skillset to play a lot of those instruments. We knew we needed to add some extra color, and strings or horns are always our first choice. There was a lot of horn on the first record so we were like, “Let’s keep it a little more restrained, more mellow.”

Speaking of the first record, I noticed that, structurally, this record mirrors Summer Megalith in the way it rises and falls. The middle portion here roughly corresponds to “Prenzlauerberg,” “Interlude,” “Oh, Brother,” that stretch of “Ohio” to “Peeling Open My Eyelids” to “Song for Montana Wildhack.” Even the first two songs together have a similar sonic arc to “Evil.” Was that intentional on your part?

Will: You’re spot on. All of us are very obsessed with – beyond with just writing good songs – obsessed with albums as cohesive units. I think for all of us, some of our biggest influences are top-to-bottom albums that convey something not as just a cohesive story narratively but also aesthetically and energy-wise how it flows. All of us are obsessed with that to that point that we’re always talking about tracklisting before stepping in the studio, before we know what songs we’re gonna use. We’d write a song and be like, “That could be an opener.” As much as, sonically, our choices, in terms of being a song, may change, but what hasn’t changed is our concept of how to assemble a cohesive album that says something.

I know you all like post-rock, and I feel like Summer Megalith had more post-rock influence in terms of sound, but this one might have more post-rock influence in terms of structure and arc, if that makes sense.

Will: Yeah, post-rock has always been a big influence right outta the gate. Caspian’s always been one of our number ones, and the way they can take you on a journey in one song – let alone a whole record – is something we really admire and try to emulate. I do think that as we’ve stayed together over the years – I always like to point out that Summer Megalith we wrote and recorded before we’d ever played a show. I think that we were all good friends, but through making that record, spending time together in studio and on tour, I think we got a lot closer. We started to understand everyone else’s tastes and sensibilities. When we started it was, “What are the influences we can all agree on?” but as we’ve spent time together it’s become more and more, “What are our influences as a group? What are the songs someone throws on in the van that everyone tunes in for?” There’s plenty of stuff we listen to as individuals that the rest of the band isn’t into. In the Venn diagram, though, there’s an enormous amount in the middle we couldn’t find by talking to each other.

That makes a lot of sense, especially knowing Summer Megalith was written before you’d ever played live, because there are songs on here that feel much more like they were meant to be performed live. Songs like “Hyacinth” and “Monoculture,” or even the bridge of “Colorglut,” they sound a lot closer to the band you are live.

Will: Those songs I think are the cumulative rock influence from all of us. As opposed to the first record, like, “We like post-rock! We listen to Caspian!” For example, I’ll throw Carlos under the bus – he’s probably the person in the band who listens to the least amount of guitar music, and we’ve been able to use that. On the first record, we approached the Rhodes and the guitar by figuring out how to find a balance. Now, after spending five years with Carlos, we have a much more explicit language, he and I, where the Rhodes and guitar compete for sonic space a lot. We have a more intuitive understanding of what the other’s gonna do, how they’re gonna do it, where they’re drawing influence from, and sort of honing that edge.

 

This does feel like a less guitar-based record. 

Will: For sure, for sure.

Something I appreciate about both your records is that they both explore a lot of different sounds but end up working together as full pieces. On this album, for example, I think of how “Harsh Light” leads right into “Monoculture.” How do you go about structuring your albums so that they still feel cohesive?

Carlos: We definitely start with 20+ songs and whittle it down, so it does end up being high contrast. There’s a lot of different things and that’s the struggle we have with tracklisting. Funny enough, Will Yip was like, “That’s the easy part.” We were like, “I’m not sure about that!” We worked some different combinations. There’s definitely some things we wanted to say narratively, so some songs couldn’t happen so early on the record. Something like “Harsh Light,” I think maybe the furthest not-in-guitar-world song on the record, we love that song. We knew wherever we put it, it’d be fine, people would gravitate towards it. We really focus on that narrative arc and then having a contrast between each song as you go but without getting whiplash.

George: I think also something we tried to plan for a while was getting to songs like “Harsh Light,” kinda teasing where we were heading sonically with stuff like “Dark Bells.” That was a big one, bringing in the synth, letting people know we wouldn’t stick to the same thing forever. We knew we’d have those anchors, though, so it’d work.

“Harsh Light” is probably my favorite song on the record.

Will: Fuck yeah.

What songs are you most excited for people to hear?

Carlos: We’re the same as you. We’re extremely excited for “Harsh Light.” A lot of our songs take quite a bit of time to write. We either jam for a long time and sit on it and then something comes out, but that one, I played that piano part with the beat and sent it to the guys and then Will wrote lyrics that day and it was done. It was exciting to have it happen so quickly and end up a well-structured song, a nice contrast to some of our other songs. That’s one we’re really stoked for people to hear.

Will: I definitely agree. I’m excited for people to get a taste of what George was saying, the maybe more adventurous production, using different color pallets to paint the songs, and still making sure we sound like ourselves. I’m hyped for people to hear the curveballs.

Sean: I want people to hear “Useful Machine” because it’s so weird. I don’t think it’ll be everybody’s favorite but I think a few people will really be into that song.

I feel like “Useful Machines” would’ve been such a good pop single.

Sean: We considered it.

Carlos: We did consider that one.

So you guys had a lot of input into what would be prerelease singles?

Will: Yeah, definitely. The Memory Music guys give us total freedom. They definitely give their two cents – and they’re seasoned pros, and we trust them – but we get to make the call. Before we’d set foot in the studio, I think, unanimously between the band, the management, the label, we were like, “People have gotta hear ‘Hyacinth.'”

It’s interesting hearing you talk about your expectations for the record and hoping people hear you in a different way because the way you’re releasing the singles sorta eases people into the sound of the record. “Hyacinth” is probably one of the songs on here that sounds most like Summer Megalith, then “Strange Interactions” is a step a little further, and then “Colorglut” is super, super out there.

Will: For some extra context on “Strange Interactions,” too, I think it was important for all of us that that one be released as a single. I’ve always been fascinated by upbeat music that, when you dig into it, is much darker than you’d expect. That’s one we feel means something totally different in the context of the LP. As a single, maybe it feels a little lighthearted. Maybe you’ll pick up on lyrics and you’ll hear it’s a little dark, but I think in the context of the record, you’ll get a new understanding of that track and see what we’re trying to do with that. We wanted to put it into the world out of context almost to make people think they understood it, before they realize it’s actually part of the narrative – the most challenging, darkest part of the narrative.

I’m a big Vonnegut fan, and I’m getting ready to teach Slaughterhouse-Five with one of my classes, so I need to ask about “Song for Montana Wildhack.” Why that character, and why that song in that particular place in the scheme of the record?

Will: Absolutely. First, thank you for teaching Kurt Vonnegut to the children. For lyrics, I draw an enormous amount from literature and media, and I love a good turn of phrase. I think hearing a beautifully spun phrase is for me one of the most beautiful moments within a work – I think it’s hearing the language we share in such an elegant, humanizing way. Vonnegut, for me, he’s one of my top influences in having economical phrases, streamlined sentences, keeping things light, keeping things witty, but delivering the most devastating, brutal truths of the human condition – with a sly turn of phrase that’s almost a joke. Something I’ve always found compelling about Slaughterhouse-Five, and maybe it’s just me and it’s not something everybody feels, is I think there’s something so incredibly moving about the character Montana Wildhack. When they’re in the dome on Tralfamadore, she’s the only character who doesn’t pass judgement on Billy Pilgrim, who has a real down-to-earth understanding. Billy Pilgrim, whether he’s actually unstuck in time or he’s hallucinating or he’s existing in a space like a space I relate to where you get wrapped up in addiction to a substance and you lose time, hours of your life, and spin out and don’t know where you are – I can relate to a lot of the emotional connotations of coming unstuck in time in that way. Also, after COVID, I think we all can, to a degree. When it comes to those scenes with Montana, they make me incredibly emotional. He lives in a world where no one sees him or the struggle he’s undergoing, and Montana, a character who did things, at the time, that were unacceptable to society – she’s a sex worker so most of society views her unfavorably – I think there’s something beautiful shared between them on the dome. It’s obviously the most impactful relationship in his life. I’m lucky enough to have that person in my life who’s supportive and nonjudgemental in that way. Montana’s just a beautiful character and a beautiful literary tool to explore Billy Pilgrim.

Something I notice a lot in your music, and especially on New Preoccupations, is there’s a lot of melding of contemporary or urban scenes with classical and religious imagery. There’s the juxtaposition, in “Colorglut,” of the image of a funeral pyre and then a highway, for example. What’s the relationship there between those ideas for you?

Will: Coming at lyrics, I’m incredibly compelled by a lot of bigger ideas. I’m fascinated by mythology, in different belief systems, a lot of literature. That feels adjacent to me, since I’m not a religious person – it feels like literature to me to a degree. I think that what I’ve always wanted to say is that we are all – you can see us in any story. It’s part of the reason why, maybe, modern religion has such sharp teeth. We’re all part of these stories. The longform title of the record, New Preoccupations (As the Gods Descend), I don’t actively believe the gods are descending, but look around us. The hills are on fire, the Capitol’s getting stormed, Russia’s attempting to take over Ukraine – we’re in strange times, and I see the struggles of everyday people in the stories of the gods. There’s no differentiation for me. A song that I really loved that we don’t really play anymore is “Vulpecula,” because that’s the first time I really tried to do that. I was reading something about constellations and I found a piece on constellations that are dimming, losing traction in the astrological conversation. That idea was really compelling to me, like, “All these things humans have been looking at for thousands of years, that we’ve placed this meaning on, that we’ve invested stories into, dimming – and the stories always end up human, these stories of the supernatural.” I like the idea that we’re all in these things of massive importance while being tiny. The idea of “cigarette burns on the ceiling” – how’s that any different from the constellations we’re looking at? I think there’s a lot there.

I mentioned “Peeling Open My Eyelids” earlier, so lyrically, what was behind the choice to revisit those verses from “Nocturnalia” in this new framework and to place it where you did on the record?

Will: The record itself, we were talking about the sonic arc, and I think trying to write lyrically, there’s a cyclical nature to it. I think anyone who’s ever struggled with a substance or an addiction will see the vicious cycle you get wrapped up in and we wanted to make the record feel like that. Now, this isn’t a prog-rock concept album, but to me it feels like a couple days in the throes of addiction. It feels like the mornings are here, the nights are here, the early mornings are here, and the late nights are here. “Nocturnalia” is, to me, a song that exists in two worlds, a late night song and an early morning song. It’s the deep joy and romanticism of a late night wandering and it’s the brutal payoff of the morning following. I also like very tactile, bodily experiential imagery. I like the idea of peeling open my eyelids as opposed to waking up. I like the idea of, “I can still smell that apartment.” I like to touch people’s senses, to hit people where they live, to make things tactile. I want you to almost feel like you’re in the room with the song. While I do love being a guitarist, being a lyricist is my number one ticket accessing people in that way.

George: What “Nocturnalia” is about, I think it makes sense to have it cycle back sonically in the way it does. You’re in this hazy-minded trip, and as the cycle wears on, sonically, I think “Eyelids” hits as a number, more faded out replaying of the same themes in a different way, at a different time. But I think the beat being kinda filtered down, the keys being muddier, but the guitar being really brazen – and still a tuneful melody – digs you deeper into that foggy, hazy “Nocturnalia” trip you’re on.

The last thing I wanted to touch on was that it seems, previously, the catharsis of the song would come from, Will, you getting very animated vocally, but what you just said about the riff on “Eyelids” reminded me that it seems like a lot of this album, the emotional release comes less from the vocals and more from the sort of feeling of the music. Especially, I think of “Harsh Light,” say, how Will you never really let loose but the release of the song comes from the strings at the end.

Will: One thing I can say to this is the more time we’ve spent playing, the more I think we can deliver emotion in more ways than just singing emotively. That was obviously in our toolbox early on, and probably the quickest ticket to expressing yourself passionately in the scene we grew up in, but in the addition of more synths and more production – Will, from an editorial perspective, helps us hone in – and we wanted to deliver emotion in all types of ways.

Carlos: I think you only scream one time on the record, at the end. That was very intentional. We generally – it’s not a quiet record – but we wanted to find just as much emotion in the quiet parts as we do in the loudest parts. That was a challenge, but it was a fun challenge to open up our palette in a different way. Honestly, coming off this record, we’re probably gonna stay in this zone. Once you open up those doors, you feel like there’s so many more to open. Just screaming in the big parts of songs, throwing  distortion on everything – it can get you far, but there’s so many more emotions you can show through the different ways you orchestrate a song, through the instrumentation you use. That’s something we’re excited to move forward with, to keep exploring.

George: I think any band, especially after writing a record, realizes what their trope is, and we’re very aware of that, especially after Summer Megalith and after playing that live and feeling the arc that works for us. Not that we don’t like that, but we don’t wanna be locked into the formula of how we write an expressive song. We always are trying to find new ways of delivering emotional weight through the structuring of a song. I think that’s creatively fun, but we can go back to that formula that we know works more sparingly, where we know we wanna use that deliberately to hit. I think that’s made writing and playing more fun.

If there’s anything else you guys want to say, feel free.

Will: We just, today actually, announced a tour with the band Delta Sleep, and we’re so incredibly privileged to get to play for people again. There were moments we weren’t sure if we were gonna get to do that again, and few things make us happier than being in rooms with people who love to support art. We love playing for people, meeting people – man, we just fuckin’ love people. We’ve been forced to stay away from each other for so long that, man, we’re just grateful to be here.

 

New Preoccupations is out tomorrow via Memory Music.


Zac Djamoos | @gr8whitebison


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