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Feb 25

One of the standard-bearers of post rock, Caspian, return to Hong Kong. Douglas Parkes discovers what motivates them and how they compose their complex creations

In certain circles, post rock was considered dead even before Caspian first slammed a delay pedal back in 2005. After the trailblazing efforts of Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor in the late 90s, work carried on by Explosions in the Sky early in the new century, the genre appeared mired in a creative rut. There was credence amongst critics that the genre was little more than a morass of repetitive songs building to the same crescendo.

It’s an opinion, cliché as it is, that’s only gained more currency with time – which makes Caspian stand out all the more. When the band debuted Dust and Disquiet last year it wound up on The New York Times’ Press Play page, and the tastemakers at Pitchfork declared, “For reference of what it really means to be a relevant post rock band in 2015, look no further than Caspian’s latest LP.”

Supported by local acts Thud and Smoke in Half Note, Caspian prepare to visit Hidden Agenda for the third time in their career. Time Out talks to guitarist Philip Jamieson about the band’s beginning, the great vinyl versus digital debate and returning to Hong Kong.

For the uninitiated, how would you describe your music?
Modern classical music interpreted by a rock band with rock instrumentation, such as guitars, bass, percussion and synthesizers. 

A lot of bands find it difficult to discover their sound when they start out, how did you get through this process?
We’ve always done whatever feels natural and comes easiest to us. For some reason it’s never been difficult for us to express ourselves honestly and with authenticity. 

When you initially started you wanted a vocalist. What made you decide to do without?
Our first performance ended up being instrumental and something about the experience just felt right to all of us. We’d found a way of communicating exactly how we felt inside that resonated with the instrumental music we were playing. 

You’ve performed in Hong Kong before, is there anything different about HK audiences that results in a different resonance?
We’ve played twice at Hidden Agenda and found the crowd to be excited and receptive. We’ve always appreciated their enthusiasm and always look forward to coming back. Since Hong Kong was the first show we ever performed in Asia, back in 2010, it’ll always mean a lot to us.

How much of your music comes from improvisation and jamming, rather than penned composition?
All of the foundations for the songs now come from penned composition, though we expand upon those foundations with improvisations, from time to time. Back in the day, it all came from improvising and then picking the best part. The process is always evolving, basically.

Certain tracks on Waking Season, and even more so on Dust and Disquiet, are extremely complex. Are there any difficulties when performing these live?
Admittedly, we rely on some backing tracks and triggered sounds to achieve some of the finer details, but we never allow those things to be front and centre. We always maintain that the guitars should be in the forefront of our live show, and a lot of the sonic nuances and subtleties we focus on come down to guitar tone and interplay between different members of the band.
It’s definitely a challenge, but a welcome one.

What was the mindset as you started to write Dust and Disquiet? Waking Season had been an award-winner and you tragically lost founding bassist Chris Friedrich…
It was daunting at first, but we were really motivated, as we always are, to try and advance our sound and do something truly different for our band.

Do you try to link the progression of songs on your albums, as if there’s a narrative?
Yes, absolutely 100 percent. That’s central to the way we structure everything, from the song flow to the way the songs are written and recorded. That will always be the focus of our studio albums – to tell a story much like a good novel would.

Music is said to be in its most raw form when listened to on vinyl. Where does Caspian stand – CDs and downloads, or vinyl?
There’s a certain character to listening to music on vinyl that we really appreciate. It’s mostly in the process of experiencing that bigger canvas for the artwork and the physical act of placing it on a turntable and all of that. In terms of sound quality, most people would be hard pressed to tell a huge difference. It’s much more the ritual involved that we find exciting.

With 2016 still pretty fresh, what was your favourite record from 2015 we may have missed?  
Father John Misty’s I Love You Honeybear was a masterpiece. That album will be around in peoples minds for awhile and I loved it a lot.

What are the band’s plans after Hong Kong?
We have lots of touring still to do and many places to visit for the new album, including around Asia, which we’re especially excited about. But it’s important for all of us involved to take everything one day at a time and to look at just what is in front of us, otherwise we couldn’t stay afloat. 


Caspian Thu Feb 25, Hidden Agenda, Ngau Tau Kok. Tickets: $260 (adv), $300 (door);


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