Pelican’s Trevor Shelley de Brauw on the Genesis of New Track “It Stared at Me”

photo: Marfa Capodanno

Only print is real… but it does have its limitations! As much as we’d love to share every killer anecdote from our interviews with your favorite extreme artists, bound printed matter offers only so much space. Hence, we bring you Cutting Room Floor, to give you that extra dollop of heavy you crave. Today, Pelican guitarist Trevor Shelley de Brauw explains “It Stared at Me,” the peculiar, surprisingly not-terrifying “palate cleanser” that forms the spine of otherwise crushing new record Nighttime Stories.

We all went through Jody [Minnoch, recently deceased Tusk vocalist]’s notes and pulled out a bunch of song titles that we wanted to use, or ideas for song titles from little snippets of sentences. [“It Stared at Me”] was one thing that was floating around, and we applied it to a song—that song went through a very strange trajectory to end up where it was on the album. When we wrote it, basically Dallas [Thomas, guitarist] wrote the main riff at a soundcheck or a rehearsal. We jammed on it for a while, and then, as we do with many things, somebody was like, “Hey, we’ve got to remember that. That’s something that’s really good, it’s really special.” Dallas said, “No problem,” and he recorded it on his phone right away.

According to his recollection, the next time we got together, he was like, “Okay, you guys wanna work on that thing?” And nobody knew what he was talking about. [Laughs] He showed us the riff. We were like, “Yeah, what the hell is that?” This is part of why the album took six years, by the way. We tried to jam on it, and he was completely frustrated because nobody could remember what they were doing and nothing anybody was coming up with was very good. So, I was just like, “Send me your recording of the riff and I’ll figure something out.”

I listened to it a few times, and then he came over to my house and we worked out an entire arrangement. We have a recording of a drum loop that Larry [Herweg, drummer] had made at one point, and we built this entire demo where Dallas’s main riff—which is basically an AC/DC tribute, but… in my head, I heard, like, John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness soundtrack. So, I had this pulsing synth underneath it. And then we had this up-tempo drumbeat, all these synths going all over the place. It was crazy! And we added all these guitar leads on top of it… and it sounds nothing like how it sounds on the album. Because we sent it to the Herwegs [Larry’s brother Bryan plays bass] and they said, “What the fuck is this?” And I said [faux-condescending], “It’s the palate cleanser! It goes in the middle of the record, after all the heavy stuff. Yes, it sounds like a synth disco party with fucking heavy metal guitars over it, but it’s good!” And nobody believed me.

But Dallas agreed with my vision that it belonged on the record, so we went into the recording sessions and we were like, “How are we gonna get this song on the record?” And Larry said, “I don’t wanna play on it.” We were like, “What do you want?” And he says, “I want it to be laid-back.” And I was like, “It can’t be laid-back! It’s gonna have this fuckin’ 160 beats per minute, like, four-on-the-floor beat!” I think I had to walk out of the room while they figured out a drum beat [laughs] to Dallas’s guitar part, and they kinda built it from there.

Once we had that slow, swaying groove to it, Bryan threw his bass line on and I was like, “Okay, now I see the vision for the song.” And I added the slide guitar and the electric piano. It was called “It Stared at Me” back when it sounded like In the Mouth of Madness. [Laughs] It’s gone through some permutations. Ultimately, I think that’s my favorite song on the record, so I appreciate that Larry fought me on it.

Pelican’s first new album in six years, Nighttime Stories, is out via Southern Lord this Friday.