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Interview with Phillip of Caspian

May 27, 2010

When I email Caspian to ask for an interview before their Salt Lake City show, I got this response from Philip Jamieson, one of the guitarists:

James, feel free to hit me up at: [phone number] the night of the show and we can connect at the venue for the interview. If that doesn’t work, look for the tall drink of water (I resemble a giraffe) with spikey hair.

Indeed, when I caught up with Philip over a deli sandwich before the show, he was a tall skinny man who seemed nervous to hear his own voice, like a shy kid from school who has been forced to live in a body that is too big for him. But when we started to talk about Caspian, his eyes lit and a smile came across his face. He tried to devour his meal as we talked, but the his hunger was much less pressing than the prospect of talking about music, artistry, and his passion, Caspian. For the most part, his food sat in a cardboard takeout box as his hands moved across the table, punctuating his ideas with gesture.

How’s the tour going to so far?

It’s going well. We haven’t done a full US tour for something like 3 years. We wanted to get out here and see what it was like, see if we had picked up any new fans. And it’s been going really well. I think everyone’s really been enjoying it.

I’ve been in some bands, and I’ve found that whenever I got serious with a band, it would often take the fun out of it. And I’m sure the rigors of touring amplify that effect. Have you encountered that, and how do you combat it?

You definitely encounter that. I think you encounter that with anything, I mean, anything that you commit yourself to. It could be music, working at a department store, writing books, whatever. The degree to which you commit yourself to it, the more likely you are to burn out. But embracing that burnout—or that cycle—the repetition of it all, that’s when you start to learn things about yourself and the things that you’re passionate about. That’s when you get real. You get deep. It’s like a marriage. You start out, you fall in love, and you’re really happy and you think it’s going to be perfect. And then the honeymoon period ends and if you stick it out and stick with it I think the reward is much better that those initial feelings. On one side, you have those initial feelings like, “I love music it’s so fun, it’s amazing,” and in the middle you have “oh, man I do this every day, this is not that fun right now, I’m not enjoying this,” and then on the other side you have “I’m committed to something much bigger than myself” and being committed to that is incredibly rewarding and satisfying.

When you say you are committed to something bigger, what is that for you?

Well, music is a really personal thing, obviously, anyone who likes music, it touches them in a really personal place and we go out and we play music and it’s not like millions of people come to see us, but anyone that comes to a Caspian show and expresses the ways in which the music has touched them on a personal level that’s bigger than me, that’s bigger than Joe or Aaron or Chris or Johnny [the other band members].

Like those people are going through their own emotions, their own set of experiences, that has nothing to do with us, but the music we have created has touched them in a certain way, that’s definitely bigger than us because we’re limited to our own personal experiences. I have mine; you have yours; everyone has their own; and if our music is able to make sense of someone’s personal experience, then that’s definitely bigger than us.

I don’t know if I can speak for everyone in the band. But after a while you do ask yourself, “what’s the point here? Why am I doing this?” It’s not just to feel good because you don’t get that all the time. It’s not just to make money because obviously we don’t make any money doing this. Right now it seems like the absolute best aspect of all of this is making other people happy. If someone expresses satisfaction at a show of ours, that they really enjoyed it, that it really touched them, they were moved by it, whatever. That’s really what it’s all about, I think.

That’s a noble pursuit.

Well said, dude. I could have just said, “noble pursuit” and that’s it, et pontificus.

How does touring affect you guys artistically, creatively?

It’s difficult because when we get off tour it’s like we’re tired and wiped out and since we tour a lot it’s like we try and use the time in between tours to breathe and get back on our feet, financially, emotionally—all that stuff. So writing songs can be really difficult because writing songs is a really demanding process for us. That’s harder than touring. Just mentally exhausting—in a good way. But when you have two or three months between tours it’s tough to just go right back to work. So it’s hard, but we try and chip away at it.

I think Tertia, your latest release, is your best album to date. It seems to have a maturity about it that makes the dynamics more subtle and less “in your face.” What is your take on Tertia?

That was exactly the goal with that record. I think the older you get, you recognize the presence of subtleties in everything. Life is not just this black and white, good and bad thing. There’s color and shape and dimension. There are subtleties to everything. It’s relationships, friendships, music, art, film, everything, you name it. That’s what makes things truly beautiful, I think.

So, Tertia was tough because we started out in this very black and white, quiet, loud, quiet, loud, postrock, postrock, postrock mindset. And it’s not that we don’t like that kind of stuff anymore, we naturally think big picture, epic—that’s just how we think. But combining that with more subtle approach takes a little more effort. I think that process is really the most rewarding process, like actually listening to something with headphones on, picking out all the distinct layers and having every texture, every layer actually mean something. That’s what we were going for with Tertia.

Tertia is also a darker album than your earlier releases, was that intentional?

I don’t think it was intentional. We didn’t sit down and say, “let’s do a dark record, cause we need to do a dark record, all the other ones have been kind of dark, so let’s go darker—let’s go metal.”

Why did it happen? I don’t know. I have a few theories. I don’t think that we’re depressing, but even though it’s dark I feel like there’s still some urgency, there’s still some fight. You know what I mean? There’s some tension. It’s not like, “shit man, I’m done.” There’s some hope in there.

This band is our lives. This is all we do. We have some jobs at home to pay bills or whatever, but we’re putting it all on the line for this band. We did two records and we’re really happy with them. We toured like crazy. We tried to work as hard as we could, and we got some decent success. People recognize us a little bit, but we didn’t blow up into doing it full time. So, I think that that created this feeling like we’re giving everything we have, but we’re still kinda at this spot that we can’t get past. I think that emotion—call it frustration—I think that translates naturally into a darker sound, a darker mood. There’s this confrontation, there’s more like, “c’mon we’re really going for this here.” If we had just blown up and we were this huge postrock band that was selling out 5,000-6,000 seat places, maybe we’d get a little complacent and the music would sound airy and happy and freewheeling and stuff. But, no, we’re still in the trenches fighting for this, trying to make this band a reality and I think that that translates into a darker kind of sound.

When you guys sat down to form this band, what was your concept? Was it as simple as “we want to be a postrock band”?

No. It was not dogmatic like that at all. We were listening to a lot of music like that and admiring it and appreciating it. Definitely we didn’t want to emulate it, rip it off or anything like that, but it made it’s way into our musical lexicon I guess.

There was never a “we can’t have a singer!” absolutely not. We wanted one. It just didn’t work out.

The whole thing about this band from moment one is all about freedom. Being free to do whatever you want. If you don’t want to have a singer, then don’t have a singer. If you want to play a 15 minute song or a 30 second song, you can do that. Or, like our drummer, if you want to have no toms, just a kick and a snare, you can do it. It’s that freedom to explore things that you always wanted to. That’s what the band was about when it started, and that’s what it hopefully always will be about until it ends.

Some bands that fall within the”postrock” genre don’t feel comfortable with that label. How do you feel about that label, and what is your definition of postrock?

We don’t consider ourselves a postrock band. I guess I can see how people would classify us as that, and it doesn’t bum us out, not like, “oooh, don’t call us that.” We’re totally fine with people classifying us however they wish.

It’s definitely not just “instrumental”—that’s the immediate thing that comes to mind. Postrock music is bands using instrumentation to write songs differently.

Rock music is very structured, there’s a verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge. The listener expects a certain something from a rock song, and a rock song caters to their expectations.

Postrock is any kind of rock music—and I say rock music because most of the time they are using traditional instruments of rock and roll—that uses those instruments as a foundation and builds off of them with other strange instrumentation. Not writing songs with sense of structure in mind at all, but a song that follows a more symphonic structure. I think that’s postrock.

You could have a singer doing that, or no singer. It’s just anything that deviates from those normal expectations. When you turn on pop rock radio, you hear a song, you’re waiting for the chorus. In postrock you’re not waiting for anything. You’re waiting for whatever. It’s a very self-indulgent style of music. It’s definitely not for everybody, but It’s a fantastic style of music.

Postrock has always been about that freedom. It’s always been about people doing whatever they feel like doing and finding people that like it along the way. And if they like it, then they’re fans, and if not, they get into another band.

It’s tough. I think people are feeling more and more constrained, more and more stifled to sound a certain way as a postrock band.

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