By Rob Mair
Photo: Emily Dubin
It’s cliché to say that you rarely get a second chance to make a first impression, but it holds water when you’re embedded in a music scene as vibrant as the one in Philadelphia. It’s damn near watertight if you have an active recording career behind you and your previous act happens to share your name.
Occasionally, however, someone successfully pulls off the trick of a successful second first impression. Step forward William Lindsay (of the appropriately named W.C. Lindsay), a man determined to defy convention – and have fun while doing it – and his new act Caracara. In fact, so startling is this reintroduction, even those with a clear handle on what they expected from Caracara were in for a shock when the album dropped in September:
“We did three singles leading up to this record, and none of them had horns,” considers Lindsay. “When I woke up on the morning of album release day, the thing I was most excited about was thinking ‘Holy shit, it’s finally time for people to hear the horns,’” he laughs.
Like the twisting Summer Megalith itself, this anecdote shows the unconventional nature of Caracara. Sure, there’s a familiarity to the group’s sound as it toys with indie and post-rock tropes, yet it commits to neither. At times heavy and intense, at others calm and soothing, Summer Megalith is an album of opposites born out of different styles and a willingness – desire even – to step outside of the comfort zone and try something new.
In fact, Lindsay talks of the ‘comfort zone’ a lot during our hour-long chat. A Philadelphia stalwart, Lindsay’s previous act lived through the Philadelphia boom, watching friends in Modern Baseball and Hop Along pay their dues before finding success. During this time W.C. Lindsay released one album, an EP, and “spent a lot of time waiting around for no reason”. Needing a change – and guided by heart-to-hearts with his pal Jacob Ewald (Slaughter Beach, Dog, Modern Baseball, and producer of Summer Megalith) – he decided to switch things up.
Roping in former bandmate George Legatos, and Carlos Pacheco Perez and Sean Gill from Square Peg Round Hole (who had recently relocated to Philadelphia), an idea was born. In their first proper session they’d go on to write the stunning ‘Apotheosis’ – one of the outstanding songs on Summer Megalith – and it would be the proof of concept that Lindsay needed:
“We’ve all been at it for so many years, you need to upset yourself sometimes; make yourself uncomfortable, you know?” says Lindsay. “But right from the start, the whole thing felt natural. It wasn’t like we were going to start a band, it was more like, ‘let’s just play some songs together’. And then, that first time we played together, we wrote a song that I couldn’t stop listening to. I just wanted to write lyrics to it and to work on it immediately.”
Summer Megalith works so well because of the chemistry of Caracara; the emotional drive of Lindsay and Legatos, born out of a love of writing music that ‘feels right’, and Perez and Gill’s desire to make music that ‘sounds right’, perfectly played and precisely structured. “They really challenged us,” says Lindsay. “They pushed us to think about what we’re doing in different ways because they are so textbook in what they do.
“When I do a chord change, I think about what feels good. When they do a chord change, they think about what’s going to make sense. When you fire it all together, you accomplish some pretty interesting stuff.”
Time and again, Summer Megalith gets this balance right – indeed “interesting stuff” does the sonic soundscapes a massive disservice. Few albums in 2017 sound as rich or as varied, even though it hangs together perfectly. Remember those horns Lindsay spoke about? They come in nearly half way through the album – and when they do they sound revelatory; like the missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle. It’s a masterstroke of delayed gratification and a genuine release of tension from the taut indie-rock of ‘Evil’ and ‘Glacier’.
It works too because of the lyrics. Again, there’s a peculiar battle going on, this time between ‘setting’ – where you find yourself in the world at any one moment – and ‘place’ – and more precisely that feeling of being ‘out of place’. This contradiction is best summed up by a lyric from the punchy ‘Crystalline’. “I am always loneliest when I’m alone with you,” ponders Lindsay, and for all the world it feels like an emotional sucker-punch.
Indeed, the lyrics reflect the last few years of Lindsay’s life; time spent on the road with W.C. Lindsay and side-project Vicky Speedboat (with Modern Baseball’s Sean Huber) and the challenges of maintaining a long-distance relationship with a girlfriend on another continent. Sometimes this is clear – the idea behind the swooning ‘Prenzlaurberg’ was formed while on holiday with his girlfriend in Berlin. Elsewhere, ‘Pontchartrain’ refers to a lake outside of New Orleans. While these are physical, named places, others on the record remain oblique, even if Lindsay has a fixed location in mind for each story.
“I like the idea of being uncomfortable in a new place,” he considers. “Those two songs [‘Prenzlaurberg’ and ‘Pontchartrain’] are very much about being out of your element or your comfort zone and trying to make sense of it. Prenzlaurberg in particular. In fact, a lot of the record is about the idea of separation. I was in a long distance relationship at the time – and I still am in that relationship – but it’s just not long distance.
“But Berlin, there’s so much electricity in that city, it’s an inspiring place. Pontchartrain as well. So those songs are about me feeling sort of in harmony and also being at odds with this new place that I’m in.
“A lot of the songs that don’t even directly address travelling… but every song has a location in mind, whether I specifically address it or not,” he adds.
Tellingly, Summer Megalith also feels like a journey. It’s not an album to dip into, even though it has its outstanding moments, but instead works best as an entire piece that gets more progressive and challenging as it develops. It ends with the sparse – almost incidental – ‘Vulpecula’, where the orchestration is ramped up, even though structurally it feels like a house of cards.
“Making an album is weird,” Lindsay says. “You fall in love with all the songs you’ve made and you have different reasons for your infatuation with different songs – but you want different types of people to hear different songs on the record. For me, a big song that I feel is representative of us pushing ourselves the furthest outside of our comfort zone is the last song.
“The thing is, you’re never sure how many people are gonna make it to the last song,” he laughs.
Regardless, Carcara has revitalised Lindsay’s passion for making music. “The cool thing about this record – and this band in general,” says Lindsay, “is that, even after we were done making the record, we never really stopped writing. We finished the record and just wrote more. We’re working constantly, and we’re still at it. This band is us now.”
Like the most arduous of journeys, it’s taken Lindsay false-starts and challenges to get this far. Summer Megalith is a reflection of these barriers, holding a mirror up to Lindsay’s quiet contemplations and fettered frustrations. It’s a relatable and honest and, just like the most rewarding of journeys, rewards the investment.