Interview: Caravels

Near the start of a lengthy fall tour, the members of Caravels found themselves in a discouraging predicament when their van suddenly broke down in New Mexico. They chose to persevere, however, following the subsequent outpouring of support. Anxious fans sent e-mails and offered donations, so the band decided to press on. It is this spirited sense of enthusiasm that probably best characterizes Caravels’ approach to life on tour. On November 6th, they played two house shows within the span of twelve hours, both of which featured an entirely unique set of dynamic post-hardcore. I spoke to singer Michael Roeslein in Willimantic, Connecticut shortly after the band played to a small number of people in a cold, musty basement.

This was the second of two shows you played in Connecticut today. How did these shows come about?

MICHAEL: A very kind fellow named Greg, who plays guitar in a band called The World is a Beautiful Place, he’s been a friend of ours for a while from some of his previous bands, and I just said, “Hey Greg, we’re coming through Connecticut on these days. Do you think you can help us out?” And I guess he runs a booking agency as well, so he kinda knows what he’s doing, so we’re very grateful for him for doing that for us. So that’s how those came about.

You recently returned from The Fest. Though you weren’t a part of the official lineup, you played some house shows. Do you have any memorable experiences from your time in Gainesville?

MICHAEL: On Saturday night, all day we had been hearing rumors about a generator show at the end of the night that we would be playing, but nobody had ever contacted us, and I thought that was strange. It was just like, “We want to play this. We want to do this. Somebody who’s doing it, please let us know so that we can have some sort of authenticity towards it,” because prior to that, we didn’t know. We’d just been hearing rumors about it. Finally, the guys from You Blew It!, who are some friends from Orlando that we’d just met on this tour, they were nice enough to bring a generator, and they set the show up around 2 AM outside of a warehouse. It was freezing cold, but some of our best friends played in a band called Weatherbox, as well as You Blew It! and Dikembe and Loma Prieta, and it was a shitton of fun. I think the count was maybe 150 kids came out at 2 AM, 2:30 in the morning, so that’s remarkable. It was just a testament to the power of The Fest and I guess Twitter and all that, so that was super fun. That was one of my favorite shows we’ve ever played, that generator show at 2 in the morning.

You’re recent additions to the Topshelf Records lineup. How did the signing come about?

MICHAEL: Basically, we had, through our hometown Las Vegas, a lot of Topshelf bands had come through, and so over the last year or two, we’ve set up shows for these bands and played with them and got to know them, and after seeing four or five of these Topshelf bands who we’re meeting and really hitting it off with, eventually we approached Kevin and Seth who are in charge of Topshelf, and said, “Hey, we have this EP that we self-released, and we have a whole bunch of extra copies. We were wondering if you’d be willing to put it in your distro and sell it online for us.” And they said, “Absolutely.” They were extremely nice to us and we just clicked really well right off the bat. We talked about maybe working something out, and eventually we did, and the rest is history. So yeah, a lot of mutual friends put in good words for us and all that jazz.

Topshelf reissued Floorboards this year, merging it with The Earthling Sessions. Whose idea was it to put the two together?

MICHAEL: That was their idea. Earthling Sessions was some of the first three songs we recorded as a band and we had never thought that they would see the light of day on vinyl. Originally they brought the idea of pressing Floorboards onto vinyl, and we said, “Oh, absolutely! We’d love to do that.” And they said, “Well, how about we throw on Earthling Sessions too as kind of a nice little addition,” and we said, “Wow, okay, I like that idea!” That gives it a little bit more length, and it’s kind of cool that we can put a little bit of our older material on there as well, so yeah, that was Topshelf’s idea.

On Floorboards, “Iceland” and “Greenland” are sequenced one after another. Do the two songs share a thematic relationship?

MICHAEL: The names for those songs came about more so I guess sonically, and then the lyrics followed. We had those songs named before the lyrics really came about. I guess those are some of the first two songs that we wrote for that EP, and we always thought “Iceland” was this kind of dreamy, longer, more windy song, whereas “Greenland” was more of a faster, to-the-point, abrasive song, so I just thought that they paired up nicely, showed both aspects of our sound. I think we were talking about The Mighty Ducks — maybe it was the Mighty Ducks? — but there was some movie where they talk about how Greenland is really icy and Iceland is really green and something like that, and so we just thought that that was a name just to pair those songs up. Not too much I guess other than that we wrote them together and thought that they both contrasted, and we liked how much they contrasted.

“Sixty Acres” contains an audio clip from Charles Bukowski’s 70 Minutes in Hell. Is there some lyrical connection between that and the song?

MICHAEL: Bukowski, I mean every single member of the band has read at least one novel or something from Bukowski. We’re all very much familiar with him, very much a fan of his and inspired. I think when we were composing Sixty Acres, it was actually the last thing we did for Floorboards, because we figured we’d need some sort of bridge to put these two together. We wrote that song and said, “Man, it would be really cool if we had some sort of brooding, I guess is a good word to describe that clip, so we thought that we needed something to tie it all together. George had some audio clips of Bukowski’s poetry that he had on his iPod the day that we were writing it, and he just hit play, and we played the song and thought, “Man, this is perfect.” That just came about where we needed something that tied that song together, and his voice coupled with the lyrics and the dread that he gives off when he speaks, we thought that was pretty fitting.

The reissue of Floorboards features alternate cover art, though it’s kind of a twist on the original artwork. Did the same artist do both covers?

MICHAEL: Good question. Nobody’s actually talked about that. The CD artwork was the blue one, and the vinyl is the yellowish one, and that was actually a picture that George, our drummer, had taken but overexposed. I remember we got the prints back and we looked at it and said, “Wow.” And the original one is actually the yellowish one, so we actually altered it to make it the blue one for the CD cover, and then once Topshelf asked us to do the vinyl repress, we thought, “Well, let’s do that same artwork, but maybe we can just do the original to give it a little twist,” and so that’s how that came about. It’s just an overexposed picture that our drummer George took and kind of manipulated a little bit.

You’ve been working on an upcoming split EP with Gifts From Enola. Can you talk about the progress with that release?

MICHAEL: It’s done, as far as I know. We recorded those songs probably about two months ago, and they just got mastered I think right before we left for tour. So we recorded them two, maybe three months ago and got them mastered about a month ago, so our songs are finished and mastered and ready to go, as well as Gifts’ songs, which are recorded and mastered. The artwork’s finished. I believe all the components of it are actually in the process of being printed and assembled right now. I think from when I talked to Kevin last, the pre-order should be going up in the next month or so, I think.

After the split, do you have any future recording plans?

MICHAEL: We’ve started work on our first full-length. We’ve been a band for a decent amount of time. We’ve been playing together for at least five or six years, but didn’t really start taking it serious until Earthling Sessions and all that. We haven’t put out a full-length yet, and we figured that’s probably about time. We wanted to get comfortable with ourselves as a band before we approach such a massive endeavor as a full-length, because we want that full-length to be something special, because not many bands make it to more than one full-length. So it’s the opportunity for us to be at that point as a band. We want to make sure that we do it right, so we’re taking our time with it. We’re a couple songs into it, and we’re aiming to have it released sometime next year, probably around this time, so maybe a year from now, expect that that will be out on Topshelf whenever it does get put out. We’re pretty slow writers, but yeah, that’s our next plan. Once we get back from this tour, we’re just holing up in our practice space in Las Vegas, fleshing that album out.

I heard about your van breaking down on tour, and how people raised donations.

MICHAEL: That never occurred to us. The van just shit on us. We said, “Okay, I don’t know what we’re going to do.” We were pretty down in the dumps at probably one of the lowest points of the band. As soon as we announced that on Facebook, we got overwhelmed with a flood of support, people saying the nicest things, e-mails and stuff. I got text messages from people who got my number from somebody else, saying, “Hey, please get your van fixed. We’re really looking forward to seeing you in Massachusetts” or something like that. I absolutely attribute our motivation to continue tour was because of that support that we got. We didn’t think of it, but people just said, “Hey, I want to give you money for this. Is there any way that I can do that?” Enough people said it, and we were like, “Okay, thanks.” We were kinda taken aback by it, very humbled. That was really cool.

That’s cool! I’m glad you guys made it up here.

MICHAEL: Absolutely. I’m very glad too. We could be hanging out here in Connecticut with some good friends and making some new ones, or I could be at home sitting on my butt at work, hating myself, so yeah, I think we made the right choice. I mean, we’ll see when we get back. We kind of just put it all on credit cards. The total bill was somewhere in the neighborhood of two grand or something, which we didn’t budget for at all, and that was kind of a bummer, but we’re not thinking about that at all. We’re keeping our heads up. We’re having fun on tour right now. [Michael observes a neon sign reading “spaghetti chicken” in the restaurant across the street]. Spaghetti chicken! What the hell is spaghetti chicken? How did you not say anything about that this entire time?

What is the origin of the name Caravels?

MICHAEL: It’s such a lame story. I was in a world history class, and they were talking about Christopher Columbus and the Portugese exploration in the fifteenth century, and they mentioned some of these ships that were used. There was a name for them, three-masted sailing ships called “caravels,” and I remember looking at that, and it was right when this band was forming, and we were kind of desperate for a name. I said, “Caravels, I heard that the other day, and it sounds cool.” And they told me it just meant “ships,” a fancy word for ships, cool, and that’s where it started. I wish it was something more badass and profound. Really, it’s just a vocab word, basically.

It encourages a lot of people to look up the meaning of it, probably.

MICHAEL: Yeah, I’ve definitely had a lot of people that said, “I never would have known what that word meant. I always thought it was just an ice cream before I ran into you guys.”

And there are a lot of bands that have “ship” in the name, anyway.

MICHAEL: That’s true. We didn’t want to be too obvious. So that’s it.

Can you talk about the latest 7” that you guys put out on Topshelf?

MICHAEL: That was the first thing we did with Topshelf after our relationship blossomed. We had had those songs, and so were just throwing around ideas of what we wanted to do. They were like, “Do you guys want to do something now?” And we said, “Okay,” and that’s pretty much how it happened. We recorded those at the same place we recorded everything in our entire recordings, which is a studio in San Diego that we really, really like. Vegas is not very good when it comes to recording studios. They all sound very polished, and they’re not meant for warm sounding recordings like we want, so we always have to drive out to that studio. We’ve done I think four releases there. We did Earthling,Floorboards, the 7”, and now these split songs, so yeah, four separate sessions there, and they just keep getting better. We really like the producer there, Mike Kamoo, who runs it. The split’s coming out hopefully next month. We’re really excited. We recorded three songs for that, and we played one of those tonight, and I think one earlier today too. I don’t know. I don’t know our sets. We kind of just wing it. We’re always really, not confused, but I guess jealous of the bands that can have one set that they can just hammer and play over and over again every night, because then they get really tight and really solid. I guess we’re just lazy, and like, “Man, we can’t play that set, we played that last night. Let’s play three new songs.” So I guess we like to mix it up. We may not be as tight as we could be because of that, but I guess it’s a little funner for us. And occasionally somebody will say, “I was wondering if you would play this song tonight,” and that way we can adapt to the show as well. It makes us a little more versatile.

Is there a conscious musical direction you’d like to pursue on the next full-length, anything different or similar?

MICHAEL: The new songs, so far, have definitely been different from what we’ve done. To say anything like we’re consciously choosing a direction would be lying, because there’s no way. We’ve never once in the entire band sat down and talked about what we wanted to sound like. It’s always just been a product of, this is how we sound. We just play a riff and kind of expand on it. We never deliberately chose to sound a way. I guess I can’t really tell you what we’re aiming for, becasue if we were aiming for something, that would kind of feel like we were betraying ourselves, I guess. We just want to write whatever comes natural and whatever feels good. If I had to tell you something, they’re a little weirder, maybe, which is kind of cool.

More experimental?

MICHAEL: Yeah, I guess more experimental. Since this is a full-length, we know that we’re going to have a larger time frame to mess around with. We had a 7”, which was just eight minutes prior to this, and the split’s three songs, so that’s about like twelve minutes, so we haven’t really had a full thirty-five minutes to explore everything that we can do or everything that we want to do, so yeah, we’re gonna try. I guess some people have mentioned that one time we did a stripped down set, just totally on a whim. One day we were supposed to play a show, and the night before, our drummer hurt his back coughing or something really weird. Apparently that’s a real thing, people cough and hurt their backs. So he did that and threw his back out and couldn’t play. We didn’t want to cancel the show, so we were like, “Well, let’s just not play with George, and just wing it.” It was still electric. We still had amps. We played out of, instead of half stacks and distortion, some nice Fender combo amps and just chilled back. It was a lot of fun. It was something we’d never done before. We had a lot of fun with that. From what people have told us, they enjoyed it, which was kind of cool. We didn’t know how it was going to be received. It was just on a whim for us. Some people talk about liking that, so we’re thinking maybe on this full-length, maybe we’ll try doing some more relaxed stuff once in a while. It hasn’t been written yet, so I couldn’t tell you what it’s like, but I’m excited for it.

What’s your favorite Caravels song?

MICHAEL: Since I write the lyrics, I tend to favor those. Lyrically, I really like one of the songs on the new split. It’s called “Beer Pressure,” and I think we’ve only played it once on tour. I don’t think anybody’s heard it yet. It’s probably my favorite in the sense that lyrically it was kind of cool for me. The song was about when I was a kid. There was a bible that was always placed in a nightstand next to my bed. My mom was always hounding me to check it out. For whatever reason, I just felt repelled by it. In the song, I make the bible into a character and have a conversation with it where he’s trying to plead with me to read it and to give in to it, but I take a step back, kinda confused. To answer your question, I like that, because lyrically I tried something new and I said what I wanted to say in a different way for me, so I guess that would be the answer.

Thank you to Michael for answering these questions and for his willingness to talk with me despite having to bear Connecticut’s frigid November air. Caravels will wrap up this current tour in December, making their way through the Midwest and West Coast. Keep on the lookout for the pre-order of the band’s upcoming split EP with Gifts From Enola on Topshelf Records.

About Anthony Glaser

Anthony Glaser is a writer, blogger, and journalism major from Long Island, New York. Formerly the interviews editor at National Underground, he contributes to Substream's web and print editions. He spends the average day working, writing, playing video games, listening to Converge, and watching The Sopranos. He likes cats. Follow him on Twitter. View all posts by Anthony Glaser

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