“When you’re present and in the moment, it’s easy to be expressive,” Calvin Joss explains. “I think you’ve got to be vulnerable, and that allows you to be genuine. Photo by Ian Doreian
What was your trial-and-error process with effects—learning to use them as musical instruments?
Jamieson: When I started playing, it was a Tube Screamer, an amp, and a guitar. In 2002, I was in a band with three other guys. We were kind of doing an alt-rock indie thing—singer, choruses, bridges. Then there was a stretch in that band when the bass player and the singer didn’t show up for practice. The drummer and I would be hanging out, and I got my hands on a second Line 6 DL4, so I had two of those going. That’s when I learned how to loop things. The drummer and I would be in a basement for seven or eight hours with a couple of cases of beer, a couple Line 6 DL4s, and we had a blast looping up all of these sounds and creating this wall of sound. That’s when I learned you could stack sounds on top of each other.
Joss: Phil has always pushed the soundscape envelope for us. When we started out, we had some overlapping musical influences, but he’d always show me a bunch of soundscapey stuff that I hadn’t heard before, and I was like, “Wow, that’s really crazy.” He would set up all the intros for the songs, and then the whole band would play over the top of it. He’s refined that process.
Because you have so many guitarists and you don’t fit the traditional paradigm of rhythm guitarist/lead guitarist, is it ever like herding cats? How do you avoid this big guitar pile-on?
Jamieson: We’re very lucky. None of us overplays, and all of us have distinct approaches to tone, sound, and melodies. It just works together. We’re unified by our desire to sound massive. When we’re writing or demoing stuff, a lot of it’s really unspoken. We don’t communicate a ton, we just get in and do it.
Joss: Phil and I have always had a natural chemistry. Like you said, it’s not really a rhythm or a lead thing, it’s very much guitar interplay
between the two. I used to talk about it as “I originally build the walls, and he paints them.”
When Aaron joined the band around 2007 or so, it took him a while to find his voice, to feel comfortable, and to build on what we were doing. It’s a big thing, learning how we all move, what we all do, and figuring out how to inhabit our space. Also, like for Phil and I, it was about learning to do less, which is really hard.
Cal, you stopped actively performing with the band some years ago, although you do make live appearances from time to time.
Joss: Yeah, after I got married, I bought a house, had two kids … a lot changed. I had a mortgage and different responsibilities. And there was a period when I didn’t know how to interact personally with the band. We had to figure out how to make things work. Thank goodness Erin and Jonny joined. Things started getting easier and, I have to say, my bandmates have been really helpful. I’m so grateful to them—they’ve kept me involved in the writing process. I try to get out and do shows with them when I can, but it’s just not always possible. As my kids get older, hopefully, I can do a lot more shows.
Your fans might be very surprised to hear an acoustic vocal song on Dust and Disquiet. Was “Run Dry” written as such?
Joss: It definitely was something I wanted to try. Once we had three-quarters of the album written, and we essentially knew the progression of songs and where the holes were, we started thinking of how to fill those spaces. We had “Echo and Abyss,” which is pretty intense, and then we had this idea for a really simple acoustic song that would go after it—a juxtaposition. I demoed a version of the song with some vocals, and I sent it to the guys to talk about.
At the same time, Erin and I were talking about vocals for “Echo and Abyss.” They’re on there. I feel like the vocals that I did on “Run Dry” influenced the idea of putting vocals out there. We pushed each other in that direction.
Jamieson: We’ve always wanted to have something like that on a Caspian album, but it never seemed to work out. We thought we might burn some bridges with some people—“You guys need to be an instrumental post-rock band”—but everyone’s received it with open arms. I think people are growing with us, and they want to keep moving forward. We have every intention of following that thread, I think, with future stuff. It keeps us excited.
In “Rioseco,” you have the big walls of sound, but you also have quiet walls of sound. What goes into forming the latter approach?
Jamieson: The layers are really important with that stuff, because, just to get nerdy, I think longer delay trails and a high mix level on your delay pedal will obscure a bit of the intimacy of a song. So it’s sort of rolling back that stuff in songs like “Rioseco” and not putting it as blatantly as “Here’s a delay pedal.”
For that song, there was definitely a compartmentalization. On this record I used a lot of the “warble box”—that’s our slang for the Strymon El Capistan—for that fractured, analog tape-sounding simulator thing. That really helped spread a lot of the parts. It fills a frequency range that allows Cal’s more sparkly stuff to stick out.