For those who haven’t heard of them, Pelicrane are an eclectic, high-energy math-rock trio based in Austin, and are comprised of guitarist Carlos Betancourt, bassist Jose Osegueda, and drummer Mario Alvarado. I reached out to Pelicrane to ask them about their upcoming album, goin2church, their mystifying array of guitar pedals, and their visual tribute to the noble art of Lucha Libre, among other topics. The following is a transcript of our correspondence via Facebook from August 9th through October 2nd of 2016.
Daniel: How did Pelicrane come together? Have you three known each other for a long time?
Carlos: It all started when I moved to Austin. I used to be very active in playing bands before I moved here (from the Rio Grande Valley). I used to be in a band called Through the Grapevine, and we would play at least 1 show a week. When I moved here, I went straight to work and the live show life was no more. About a year and a half later I really started to get the itch to play again. I found that Jose and Mario were in Austin. I messaged Mario first and we got together to do a jam session and things went really well with just making random noise. Then we contacted Jose afterwards, and I presented them an old song I had written with an old band I had called Amy Stice (I wrote it during a time were I was really starting to get into math rock and experimental bands). We all learned it, it sounded great and Pelicrane was born shortly after. I’ve known these guys for at least 8 or 9 years, but we never really hung out other than a couple of times.
D: Can you tell us more about the creative processes for subsequent songs? Has there been a shift to more collaboration between each member?
C: Well, for the most part the songs start off with a couple of riffs I make. It’s difficult for me to make myself write, so I usually wait until a cool groove or part comes into my head. Usually when I’m driving in the car or whatever. Once I get that idea, I hum it in my head or record it on my phone and apply it to guitar afterward. Once I get that first part I build on it using guitar, and then show it to the guys via email or at our next practice. We seem to work best this way. Sometimes we’ll do an improv jam all together and we sometimes get good parts out of it, but the other method just seems to work best to get more structured and focused parts for our songs. At least as structured as they can be, haha. We’ll go into these free time parts where we’ll just make noises live which is always fun. We also tend to dive into different feels and genres all in one song, which is something I love to implement.
D: Speaking of different genres and feels, are there any artists you’d name as important influences?
C: Lots, really. Growing up in middle school/high school I listened to a lot of metal type bands like System of a Down, Metallica, Korn. Then it slowly went into more prog/heavier type of metal like Between the Buried and Me. When I first heard of Horse the Band my mind was blown. l’d never heard crazy keyboard going on with heavy guitar parts. They were my favorite band for a while. I then started getting into the weirder stuff like The Fall of Troy and Tera Melos. Once I found that world of music, I was hooked. Nuito, TTNG, and Battles are more recent listening of mine, and then jazz musicians. If I have to listen to some random free Sirius radio in my car, it always switches between either Liquid Metal or Real Jazz. I feel like Pelicrane is a giant mixture of all these different artists and music I’ve grown up listening to. The thing about me is that I literally can’t listen to just one thing. I will get bored of it. My mind is always racing, having the feeling to listen to different things. That reflects in our music too. Jose showed me John Zorn’s Naked City the other day and I thought, “man, how wild!” I love that type of writing and composing style. Jose was a big metal dude growing up and Mario was into weird stuff early during high school when I met him, which is why I always thought, “man, I gotta jam with that guy someday.”
D: Is there a story behind the name Pelicrane, aside from the obvious portmanteu of two birds? On a similar note, how do your song titles relate to the music itself? That’s something I often wonder about when it comes to instrumental bands.
C: Not really a giant story behind the band name. We wanted something unique enough to where you can easily find us when searched on the Internet. I do remember having a group chat and us coming up with the most wild names for 2 weeks straight.
The song names, however, usually come from something we or I’ve randomly run into during day to day life. To this point of writing, we’ve really only released a couple of the song names out on YouTube videos, Instagram, etc. Like Dimethylpolysiloxane for example. That’s kind of like our slower reverby song. I got the name because that’s one of the ingredients in McDonalds fries in the US. Damn anti-foaming agent, for what? I wrote that song in around 2010 or so and only named it recently. Crocus Focus is another song name. The word Crocus came about because our buddy has a dog named Crixis, but his phone auto-corrected it to CROCUS during normal conversation and Jose thought it was the most hilarious thing ever. He’s always rhyming nasty words and I heard him say Crocus Focus once. It then became a song name (we later found out that Crocus was an actual type of flower).
D: Could you go into more detail about the pedal setup you’re using? I remember seeing your set at Swan Dive a while back and just losing track of the frequent effect changes you were triggering, so I’ve been curious ever since.
C: It’s really fun. At one point in time a few years back, I really started getting into keyboards and synthesis. I started getting into Moog and learning what parameters changed certain sounds in certain ways. Manipulating sounds in that way was just so much fun to me. So I started kind of getting into lots of pedals and manipulating my guitar in similar ways analog synthesis would. That’s kind of how I like to think of my pedalboards. Just kind of like this big modular board where I can feed one thing into another, then switch it around and get a completely different sound (which is essentially exactly what it is…).
At this moment in time there’s about 17 pedals on my board. They all range from modulation type pedals, to delays, 8-bit Nintendo sounding ones… it’s all fun. I have a phaser pedal where I’ll just crank all the knobs and see what they do. I’ll then feed that into an Ibanez DML10 on a fast to slow delay setting where the pitch goes lower and higher depending on how fast or slow its going. I’ll also do that with the Mantic Flex Pro. That pedal is just a crazy synthy sounding pedal where I can get either really heavy sounds or high pitched warbly synth sounds. I also have a Recovery Effects Cutting Room Floor. That thing can be a tame delay pedal, but I use it with the mod and intensity maxed out where I can get some awesome extreme pitch bend down sounds. At the end of my chain I have a standard Line 6 DL4 that I keep in loop sample mode. Those things break all the time and suck, though.
D: Are you incorporating additional instruments at all on the upcoming album? Keyboards, etc?
C: Oh, definitely. Keyboard sounds are being added by me and Mario. We also found areas of the music to add other instruments such as piano, wood blocks, trumpets, crazy weird software instrument noises from tracks I made long ago, 8-bit effects, and more. We’re really excited with the way the record is coming out and we’re pumped to finish it. We’re hoping to be done with recording and mixing by end of September for a release shortly after that. It will include 10 songs.
D: That new album is titled “going2church,” right? What has the actual recording process been like, both for the new album and for the previous release? I know you, Carlos, have a background in sound recording. Did you handle the recording or is this being recorded at one of the studios in the area?
C: Correct. I’ve handled recording our music. I have a schooling background in audio engineering and been recording things here and there since about 2009-2010.
The recording process this time around has been a lot different then the first demo Spooky that we did. Admittedly, the first demo was recorded, mixed, and mastered within a matter of a week or 2. It was insane. We kind of rushed it and it didn’t sound as good as it would’ve if we took our time with it. Now with this new record we’ve titled goin2church, we’ve had a new completely fresh approach in mind. We’ve taken our time, brainstormed a lot on asking ourselves, “will this work here?” We started recording back at the beginning of June at The Music Lab here in Austin. We took a good few hours there getting the sounds right for drums and ended up recording most of the drum parts that day. Everything came out great and we were both very happy with the sounds we were getting.
After that I slowly started doing guitars every other day after that. We’re lucky enough that Jose and myself rent a house out with a couple of roommates and we can be pretty loud there and arrange things however we want to, so we’ve been tracking guitars and bass at the house, along with other instruments. Being a band that records their own music can have some negative drawbacks, though. Sometimes I’ll tend to over-think and think that I need to add more to a certain part, so I’ll kind of have to take a day to sit on it and then revisit it the next day to be like, “well no, this sounds like crap, I’m ditching that idea altogether”. So maintaining that fresh mindset is key in my opinion.
At this time of writing, we only need a couple of songs left on bass, then bass effects, then tracking is complete for the most part (with the exception of a couple of minor tracking pieces).
D: Can you tell me about the approach you’re taking for guitar and bass? I noticed you mentioned “bass effects” separately. Are you handling a lot of effects post-tracking, or are the live pedal rigs factoring heavily into tracking?
C: We’re separating it out for a cleaner sound. What we’ve done is recorded the guitar and bass parts straight out of the amp for the cleanest tones. Once we finished with that, we would then go back through each song and “fill in the blanks” and record the effected guitar and bass parts. Anyone who has seen us live can say there was probably lot of weird noises going on. We’ve done a bit of that in the record as well. We even have an improv track on the album that we actually recorded several months ago. We really just like to have a fun time playing live and we wanted to try and capture that on the record as well.
D: Are there any plans for a tour after the album is released, or at least more shows in the area?
C: More shows around the Austin area for sure. We’re looking to play a few and do an album release show once it’s all set and done. A tour on the other hand would be great! We will have to see how the record does once it’s released.
D: Is a physical release planned for the new album?
C: Quite possibly! First, we’re shooting to have the album posted on Bandcamp, as well as various musical streaming/download sites like Spotify, Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, etc.
D: Are any members of the band full-time musicians? If not, how do you balance Pelicrane with your day jobs (I’m sure many aspiring musicians would appreciate advice on that matter).
C: No full-time musicians here. We all have day jobs and other lives outside of the band. It can be a challenge, cause sometimes I’ll have to travel for work or be out of town and we won’t be able to do anything. I’ve done things like be on a week trip out in Charlotte and the very first thing I’ll do upon getting off the plane is meet up with the guys to go straight to practice. Jose is a personal trainer and he’s buff. Mario’s got a full time job at Home Depot and has another band he jams with and tours with. It’s definitely a balance between all of us. Communication is key though. We have a group chat where we’ll talk about band stuff and schedule practices, etc.
D: Technology has been kind of a recurring theme here; bandmates communicating and coordinating electronically, digital distribution, extensive manipulation of an instrument’s sound. Any other thoughts you’d like to share regarding technology and its relation to music? Maybe that’s a little vague, but I wanted to keep the question open-ended.
C: Technology allows bands nowadays to push boundaries that weren’t even heard of several years ago. This is a good thing in some respects because this allows bands to work closer together even though they live far apart, distribute their music quickly and easily, and implement new sounds and techniques into music. It can also, in a sense, be dangerous. If bands rely on technology too heavily, especially when it comes to songwriting, it could lead to stale content, laziness, or even a song with way too much going on when it comes to your music creation. With all the tools available now, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Sometimes it’s good to take a giant step back, plug in your guitar straight into an amp, and let the ideas flow.
D: Thank you. Now I want to end this interview on a much lighter question. I think Jose already told me a little bit about this at a show once, but could you tell our readers if there’s any story behind the Luchador masks in your promo pictures? Will these masks be making appearances onstage in the future?
Jose: Hey there! Jose here, taking over for the final question.
I grew up being a huge fan of wrestling, and the lucha libre masks always looked so awesome to me. I started collecting them when I was a kid and have worn them in every band I have ever been in. There’s something about wearing a mask that lets you become someone else on stage. You immediately adopt a new persona and it becomes so easy to just go totally bonkers. They will absolutely be making a return in the future!
If you want to find out more about Pelicrane, you can follow them on Facebook and Instagram. Their new album, goin2church, was officially released on 11/22, and you can check it out (along with their debut Spooky) on Bandcamp here. As a final note, this interview is set to be my final piece for Progulator. It’s been fun getting to check out and spread the word about all this new music, so I want to thank the Progulator team for letting me be a part of it. I also want to thank our readers and encourage you to keep coming back to see what’s in store.