Artist Spotlight: Caracara

    Caracara made their first album, 2017’s Summer Megalith, before they had even played a single show. But what’s most impressive about the Philadelphia band is how they’ve been leveling up and pushing their sound forward ever since, not only after seeing what audiences resonated with but also as the four members – vocalist/guitarist Will Lindsay, keyboardist Carlos Pacheco-Perez, bassist George Legatos, and drummer Sean Gill – became more familiar with each other’s influences. Working around the parameters of what they’ve aptly described as “distorted emotional music,” 2019’s Better EP saw them collaborating with Grammy-nominated producer Will Yip, who also produced the band’s long-awaited sophomore LP, New Preoccupations, released last Friday via his Memory Music label.

    If the Better EP proved that Caracara could make a dynamic, narratively engaging record with just three songs, their new album delivers the same amount of excitement and drama on a much bigger scale, as unabashed in its reverence for ‘90s alt-rock as it is in integrating more unusual – for bands making “distorted emotional music,” at least – electronic influences. With its varied palette, the record brings to light Lindsay’s relationship with alcohol, reflecting his sobriety in gratifying ways as much as it evokes rapturous experiences from the past. While New Preoccupations embraces a more mellow, at times hazier sound, it also creates an opportunity for catharsis with a post-hardcore outro where Lindsay screams, “I’m finally free to let go!” Whichever way you choose to look at it – and Lindsay insists the moment is no more about him than it is about everyone else – there’s no doubt it feels like a gift.

    We caught up with Caracara’s Will Lindsay for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about the influences behind New Preoccupations, the narrative of the album, and more.

    What’s it been like seeing how people are responding to the new material live?

    We’re so happy that people finally have the record to listen to, and we’ve been waiting to do these songs for years at this point. The big standout for us has been the songs with some more of the electronic components. We’ve always tried to embrace blending genres and doing different palettes live, but the first record is much more guitar-centric, much more distorted. That’s sort of been our live aesthetic for the entirety of us being a band, and we were interested to see how these songs would translate specifically. Ones that we’re doing in the set now, ‘Colorglut’ and ‘Nocturnalia’, we weren’t sure how those were going to land on audiences that were used to us doing more guitar-centric stuff. And people have been responding super well to that. That’s been awesome because it’s totally new territory for us.

    From a lyrical standpoint, given how vulnerable and personal the record is, was it a challenge for you to bring it forward in terms of performance, or not any more than with previous records?

    It’s interesting to put my personal story out there for people to read about and think about and listen to, but I really do feel incredibly lucky and grateful and privileged to have this platform, however small and limited. Without music to express these ideas, I have no idea how I would have processed them for myself. Always with my lyrics, I try to be as honest and straightforward as possible. I think I can definitely get cryptic sometimes, but it’s never felt scary or anything like that. Authenticity is super important and I don’t want to convey anything other than my experience. It’s been really rewarding to be able to put that out there.

    When I spoke to David Beck of String Machine, who you just toured with, he was talking about making active efforts as a group to get to a place of vulnerability collectively, through things like group meditation sessions. Is that a goal that you also share, or something that was important going into this record? Do you have things that have helped you be more open and communicate better outside of a musical context?

    Yeah, that’s interesting that you talked to David about that. A big component of the making of this record was the fact that we did it in super deep, super intense quarantine. The record was tracked in May of 2020. The band got together in an Airbnb so we could separate from our loved ones, we quarantined for 14 days before making the record, and we went into the studio with Will Yip and just did a month in the studio under super intense lockdown. And during that time, particularly the time with the band in the Airbnb, I think that we got onto that sort of deeper level. We didn’t do anything as specific as like a group meditation, but we all definitely shared a lot about our influences much beyond just music.

    One thing that definitely stirred us up a lot is, Carlos is a massive David Lynch fan, and the rest of us had never really dug into too much David Lynch. And Carlos basically put us through David Lynch boot camp. We watched essentially all the films, we dug into Twin Peaks. We listened to Catching the Big Fish, David Lynch’s book on creativity, every day on the drive to the studio. And we just started talking a lot more about the bigger picture of what it is that is giving us creative juice. Going into our first record, we were just getting to know each other as people and as artists and we were just basically talking about a lot of the bands we listened to together. But now that we’ve gone so much deeper, we’re bringing in elements of design, we talk about photography, we talk about visual art. We talk about literature a lot. During COVID, the band had a book club on Zoom, and we were just basically reading stuff together and reading through it, doing fiction, doing nonfiction. Just trying to open it up and zoom out as wide as we can on our influences, figure out what are the bones of what we want to build, what is putting gas in our tanks, figuratively.

    And simple stuff, too. When you quarantine with people, when you’re together 24 hours a day – you do get that on tour, but when you’re on tour you’re working together towards a common goal every day. It’s not just like, you’re alone in a house. You’re not just stuck together. And that really was impactful. I’m not exactly sure how, but I think that the David Lynch influence and just that time spent together manifested itself in the record in a really interesting way.

    You mentioned nonfiction, and the press bio mentions Yuval Noah Harari as an inspiration. Personally, I see a correlation in the way he talks about big narratives without necessarily ascribing to any one belief. Can you talk about how he entered the picture with this album?

    Absolutely. You’ve hit the nail on the head with that. Yuval Noah Harari is a fascinating individual to begin with – I believe he does between three to five months every year in silent meditation retreat. With his writings, I think that there’s such a powerful spirituality to all of it, and it’s totally devoid of any religious or moral context. I really related to his zoomed-out worldview and picking apart our species. Through Sapiens, it’s a really incredible walk through who we are as a species, how we got here, and why we do the sort of beautiful and terrible, animalistic things we do as a society. The read that I really plugged into for this record was Homo Deus because I am pretty obsessed with the future. I think we’re all really interested in futurism as a band, in all our mediums. What we wanted to do is tell kind of a small story about a very specific set of life experiences, a specific relationship with a specific substance. But we also wanted to zoom out and almost take that to, like, cosmic levels. And we wanted to do all that without moralizing anything. We’re not religious people, we’re not particularly spiritual people. While I think that there is a moral imperative in everything you do, it is a really interesting thing to look back on your own life experiences and to not apply these sweeping narratives at all times.

    One of the most important points that Yuval Noah Harari makes in his book is that he sets up a dichotomy of the experiential self and the narrative self, which is the self that lays awake in bed at night trying to write your life story, contextualize your existence within the greater picture. And I think that there’s a lot of anxiety in our society based off people’s missed understanding of the correlation between those two selves. By sort of falling into the algorithmic habits that are thrust upon us, people can really get locked into a cycle of just seeking dopamine wherever they find it. Sometimes I think of myself as almost being lucky to have a drinking problem because it forced me to take a really critical eye at one very specific behaviour and address it in a meaningful way and actively change my life. I was on a path where I was like, “If I don’t get a hold of this, this is going to eat alive.” And I almost think of myself as lucky to have faced that crux, because I think that we are all just hopelessly addicted to dopamine and on this cycle that you don’t necessarily realize. By having to face up to my own failings and shortcomings and my inability to stave off the encroaching, insidious alcoholism, I got to zoom out or reevaluate. And I think it gives me a level of clarity that I feel incredibly lucky to have. Yuval Noah Harari doesn’t really talk about addiction much, to my knowledge, but I think that his work is rife with good information for people who have gone through that.

    When the story you wanted to tell was starting to form in your mind, how did you go about structuring the record around it musically? Maybe this is a reductive way to look at it, but I was wondering if the electronic cuts and the more guitar-based tracks represent that dichotomy between something that looks to the future and something that’s more grounded in reality.

    Yeah, that’s really interesting. I don’t think that’s reductive at all, I think that that’s a great point. I wouldn’t say that what we did deliberately, but I do like that take. I think with the electronic elements and bringing those in, that’s more grounded in just our influences, the music that we actually listen to. We love a lot of bands in our scene and in our world, but in reality, the stuff we’re putting on in the van is a lot more widespread. With the incorporation of the electronic elements, that was chosen more on an individual song-to-song basis. The record does have an arching narrative, a story we’re trying to tell, but those elements speak more to the stories of the individual songs than the record at large.

    Specifically with ‘Colorglut’, we really listen to an enormous amount of music coming out of the UK, particularly from the late ‘90s, early 2000s – UK garage, grime, 2-step, drum n’ bass. For me, going through the narrative of the record and the lens of not realizing my drinking and having these flagship experiences over the years, these nights I do really cherish, and despite the fact that I have quit drinking, I don’t want to let go of those nights and those powerful moments. ‘Cologlut’, for example, that is sort of an impressionistic take on a night at a garage night in a UK club in Brixton. Also, a lot of the shoegaze superstars that we look up – I’m thinking about the ways that My Bloody Valentine incorporated themselves into the ‘90s rave drug scene. I think that there is more of a relationship between electronic production and distorted guitars than maybe a lot of modern music listeners are aware of, and we just wanted to reference those classics. You know, we wanted to put people in a headspace where they could see the correlation between Craig David and Slowdive. We see the correlation, we believe it’s there, and we just love all that stuff so much that we wanted to bring it to light.

    And you do directly bring that out with the references on the track. There’s obviously the Dirty Projectors reference, but as you’ve pointed out, some might miss the Murkage Dave mention that’s there as well. Both references seem to me more direct than, say, the Pianos Become the Teeth reference on Summer Megalith. How intentional and self-aware were you in picking these artists out? Or was it more just an attempt to capture those memories?

    Referencing those artists was very intentional, but it wasn’t something lyrically we overthought at all. The Dirty Projectors moment is a very literal mention of a very real thing that happened. That’s a memory that stands out for me of just being in my friend Ben’s Volvo in high school, listening to Dirty Projects and doing a lot of partying, and one night driving by a car on fire on the side of I-270 outside of Columbus, Ohio. It stands in my brain as this flagship memory, and we were listening to Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca at the time.

    And then bringing in Murkage Dave, that’s just speaking to the experience of that night in Brixton. I was at a club night called Tonga and Murkage Dave was DJing. I’m a big fan of his records as well, Murkage Dave Changed My Life is a massive record for me, and it’s a massive record for all of us. I mean, he’s an incredibly vulnerable lyricist. For that scene especially, the lack of braggadocio and grandstanding and his willingness to be vulnerable and honest is really inspiring to me. We listen to a lot of rap music and we’re also massive fans of the Replacements – and hip-hop artists in general, and then the Replacements, they’re not shy about telling you what they love. They’re not shy about revealing their influences and just shouting out what’s important to them. We love this shit, man. We love these artists, and we gotta let you know, we gotta tell you what we’re listening to.

    When it came to the themes of the record – this idea of depicting the euphoric highs and the darkest lows of addiction without necessarily moralizing anything – were you all more or less on the same page? Did you struggle with how you wanted to portray the experience or was it clear from the beginning how you wanted it to come across?

    I would say somewhere in the middle of these two promises. To be honest, this record just came together really naturally. We write a lot of music, we brought maybe 20 songs to this record. And Will Yip is an absolutely crucial ingredient in our mix because of the degree to which he has an unbelievable editorial ear. He’s really good at listening to a massive batch of songs and figuring out, like, “Let me sit down with you, let me hear about what it is we’re trying to do here, and let me as a semi-outside perspective help you cut this down to its core elements.”

    We were on the same page as to what we wanted to do with the narrative, and the push-and-pull dynamically, it definitely supports this narrative in particular, but that is also part of what we have always set out to do as a band. We wanted to do that on Summer Megalith, we wanted to do that on the Better EP, even only with three songs. We want to take you on a dynamic ride when you listen to our stuff. We want there to be whispering, we want there to be screaming, we want you to experience all of it with us. I’m not saying that all music or art needs to be dynamic in that way, but I do think that those types of dynamics really mirror life on Earth in the modern era. And I think we all sort of feel that in different ways in our own lives. I’m the one writing lyrics, I’m the one who was struggling with the particular substance issue at the time, but everybody in the band has gone through shit. We’ve all gone through a lot of shit together. And the amount of time we’ve spent together, we’ve shared all our stories with each other. The record does get specifically into some of my stuff, but it really is all of our story in different ways.

    I think it is a very dynamic record, but something that stood out to me compared to your debut is that there is a certain amount of restraint as well. For example, tracks like ‘My Thousand Eyes’ and ‘Peeling Open Eyelids’ seem content to hang in that mellow space instead of being drawn out. Did you have to learn to find the beauty in that approach or did that also come naturally?

    I think we did have to learn to a degree. On Summer Megalith, we wrote and recorded that entire album before we had ever played a show. We love that record, we loved making it, it was an absolutely wonderful time in our lives. When we took all those songs on the road and played them live over and over again and then we did the Better EP, I think we realized that we do have a little bit of a formula. And although we’ve always tried to use different sonic palettes and different genre influences to offset our formula and make it more interesting, we did realize over time that there is a Caracara form, if you will. And with those songs you mentioned, that’s kind of us trying to upset that, and realizing that it almost makes the cathartic moments more cathartic when they come if you don’t have a big cathartic release in every song.

    ‘Peeling Open Eyelids’, although it’s a very short little piece, that is one of my favourite moments on the record. Because I think it’s just uncomfortable – what we would have done a few years back is we would have maybe started the song as it is, but we would have needed to give you some kind of distortion-drenched payoff at the end. And now, we’re more content to leave you in that unusual, sort of ethereal space, a more contemplative zone. And we don’t feel the need to smash it at the end of every track.

    It does make the cathartic moments stand out more, but I think it also raises the question of: Why can’t those contemplative moments be cathartic in their own way?

    Definitely, definitely. And a lot of those tracks that are more pulled-back, more restrained, I think we do offer catharsis, it’s just coming in different tones. In the first record, in moments where we might have just kicked on the fuzz pedal and blasted it for the last 90 seconds of the song, now we’re incorporating different elements of dissonance. Sean, the drummer, wrote all the charts for the string players, and he was very deliberate in adding texture, adding very pretty moments, but also some dissonance, some sort of discomfort. And we can get you to that cathartic space without necessarily having to do it at high volume.

    Which you then kind of do on ‘Monoculture’, this big cathartic moment at the end. I was curious if you were confident in that being the closer from the beginning.

    Sequencing the record is a huge process for us. We go back and forth for months, going over the tracklist and trying to figure out where songs fit. That was never the case for ‘Monoculture’. The moment that song was done, it was like, “Well, there’s our closer, so how do we get there?” I don’t think that we did this deliberately, we weren’t going into that song thinking how do we write the closer, but once it was written, once we did realize that it gave us sort of an ultimate release of tension at the end of the record, we liked the fact that it does stand in opposition to the way that we concluded our first record. The end of our first record, the song ‘Vulpecula’, it’s much more of a tender, quiet, folky moment, and that record, you might say it tapers off a bit more gracefully. Whereas for New Preoccupations, it is an apocalyptic record, it’s a record about a lot of deep personal struggles, but I am very lucky and grateful to say that I am in a good place with everything and we wanted to convey that as stridently and as aggressively as we could at the end.

    But also, the record is touching on much deeper societal and environmental and technological themes than just my problem with alcohol, and by screaming “Finally free to let go” at the end, we’re giving people permission to let go of it all, for better or for worse. It’s not necessarily just a rose-tinted view on “Just let it go.” It’s not that at all. For me, it means much more than just letting go of alcohol. To bring it back to Harari, it’s letting go of your experiential self in favour of your narrative self, it’s letting go of your narrative self in favour of your experiential self – whatever it is you need to sort of disassociate from to make life in the modern world livable. Everybody disassociates to a degree, everybody finds their outlets, everybody finds their catharsis, and we just wanted to use the distortion and the screams and the synths and everything, just every tool in our chest to close this narrative off as powerful a moment as we could. And I think we did that. I think that ‘Monoculture’ is a special song, and it’s been super fun to finally be able to play it live too.

    Aside from performing or listening to music, can you share something that gives you a feeling of excitement and freedom?

    For me personally – and again, I don’t mean to speak for the whole band, but we are so close, we spend so much time in this tiny metal box driving around together that I think to a degree I can speak for the band – we’re all incredibly lucky to have really strong friendships and we’re all in really inspiring, amazing relationships. Both George, the bassist, and myself are getting married this year to wonderful supportive, powerful human beings. We’re here for the relationships. We started this band because we were all mutual fans of each other’s bands, but it very quickly evolved into like: These guys are becoming my best friends overnight and I just want to get on the road with them, I want to spend time with them. But we’re lucky enough to have those relationships in a lot of places in our lives. Any positive outlook I have in this world comes from my fiancée, Rachel, my dog, Louis, and my friends. That’s what it’s all about at this point. And as things literally catch on fire around us and we’re on the brink of what hopefully doesn’t end in an apocalyptic war scenario and we’re on the brink of climate disaster and who knows if we’re out of the woods yet on this most unbelievable pandemic we will hopefully see in our lifetimes – the relationships are all you have, at the end of the day.

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    Caracara’s New Preoccupations is out now via Memory Music.

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