INTERVIEW | Caracal
There are certain bands that come out of nowhere that hit you like a shit ton of bricks. One of those bands was a post hardcore act out of Singapore called Caracal who second full length entitled Welcome The Ironists floored us when we first heard it back in 2014. Before even actually owning a copy of that album – which we proudly hold to this day – it was the title track, courtesy of a spectacular music video streaming below, that made us scream “Who the fuck are Caracal?!”. Who was this band who masterfully melded the sounds of rock, emo, indie, hardcore, punk all into these crisp little yet pummeling songs!? As we continued to dive into that full length, we sat back gobsmacked that an act this intense musically and lyrically wasn’t the biggest band on the planet.
Music video for the title track of their second full length Welcome the Ironists released in 2014.
Upon releasing that excellent piece of music, and hitting the road hard to promote it, the band got embroiled in some internal turmoil which in turn, saw the band halt all activities dead in their tracks in order to clean shop, if you will.
Two years later – the band has come roaring back fully energized with a new lineup and a batch of solid tracks collected as an aptly entitled EP Take It Apart And Put It Back Together. The band graciously offered us some time to speak to us about their journey and their epic return.
Finally, all we can say is:
WELCOME BACK CARACAL!
Wow! Now THAT’S how a band comes back after a long hiatus! This track, and certainly this lineup, most definitely shows the band is back firing on all cylinders, but it would be hard to get into the current state of the band without revisiting what took place 2 years ago. Take us through what transpired the last few months of the band’s initial hiatus a couple years ago that led to vocalist KC’s departure.
I think a lot happened in those last few months prior to KC’s departure, that I really don’t want to go into detail and dredge up the past.
KC had personal struggles and pressures outside of the band and we all felt that the relentless performing and touring as Caracal was getting in his way, holding him back from being who he wanted/needed to be. When his frustrations presented negatively during performances, it became apparent that our expectations of him as a member of the band differed from his expectations and we (the remaining members) all came to the decision to part ways with him.
As most of us who have endured the departure of key members of a band can understand, I’m sure trudging onwards with anything Caracal related was as far away from your radar as possible, what was the moment you decided it was time to get this back together? What was the catalyst?
After the departure of KC, the remaining members of Caracal all felt that we needed a break from performing music for a while. However you really can’t stop that creative itch and I think we were back (sans a vocalist) to jamming or writing in the 3-4 months after. Caracal is our sacred place to be ourselves, to break away from our everyday routine and society to just write/jam/vent. We express ourselves best through our music, and this was our way of facing our own demons.
Are any of the tracks on this record from those months after KC’s departure? The track you’re premiering has quite a lot of aggression in it which would make sense as it would be a vehicle to help get through a pretty dark period.
We kind of took a breather from the band after KC’s departure. But after a month or so, we couldn’t help but scratch the itch of wanting to write/jam.
Some tracks were old ideas lying around before the departure. So it’s not like we started with a completely blank canvas. All the tracks were written in the months after the breakup. In fact, we wrote about ten songs (without vocals) in the period between 2016 and 2017, and we picked the 5 most challenging songs to front this EP. We usually come together in the studio with rough sketches; a drum groove or a guitar line; and we work out the structure and theme of the song from there. At one point, we even considered to put out an all-instrumental album – post-rock style – but we felt something was still missing, and that might have been the “easy-way-out”. And Caracal’s music is lyrically and melodically driven; that extra layer of musicality; so the search for the right vocalist was on.
Lyrics to Hook, Line and Stinker
Tell us about the vocal search. Was there some sort of process you used? How did you find Rachel?
There was no process that we undertook to find our vocalist. Initially, Trent agreed to step in on bass duties and vocals, but his singing style is very different from the music we had in our heads. We finally heard about Rachel through some mutual connections. Their tip to us was:”You have to check her out. She kicks ass singing Nirvana”. It just so happens that she’s a vocal instructor at the music school that Martin teaches at, although they never really knew each other then. We invited her to our jam sessions just to see if she fit, and true enough, her vocal range is amazing. It took a couple more sessions with her before we could finally convince her to join us.
For the tracks that made it to this EP, you mentioned that you picked the most challenging – what did you mean by that? Was there any particular vision you had for this release for which these 5 tracks were ideal? What were the other tracks like?
I guess you could say we made it really hard for ourselves and chose the five songs that were the most difficult to play live. We wanted to push ourselves with this “reinvention” and see where we would go with that. We weren’t focused on a distinct vision for the whole album, however, we all knew there was a specific theme or concept for each song, what we wanted to express or emote. From then on, it was a process of addition and subtraction; taking the song apart, deconstructing and reconstructing. What was different for us was how everyone contributed to every song—all of us tried singing, figuring out verses, humming out guitar melodies. There were times when we’ve recorded parts, and the next day, we’d rerecord a different take, going through the tracks with a fine tooth comb. It was a refreshing collective effort, unlike the past few albums where Martin and Field would be the main composers, and everyone else jumps in with their parts only during recording.
From the track that’s being premiered we’d have to agree that her musical chops are more than suffice, has it been an easy transition for her and the rest of the band? I’m sure she was aware of what transpired a couple years ago – was there any hesitation on her part to take on lead vocals?
Rachel’s main hesitation was trying to live up to the energy and emotion that is synonymous with Caracal. We had to convince her to be herself, to sing with her real voice, rather than trying to emulate what was done before. It was difficult for her initially since she is a vocal instructor and her method of instruction is to follow how other singers pitch and vocalise. It took some time for her to unlearn what she is accustomed to and really sing naturally, but the process has been refreshing and surprising for all of us. The other challenge she faced, since she is new to everyone else in the band, was to actually get to know us inside and out—to pick apart our minds and get into our headspace—in order to understand the vision of each song. So she spent a considerable amount of time just observing, sitting and listening to the rest of the band, and learning the ticks and quirks of everyone.
Cover art for the EP
The two primary pillars of the punk and heavy communities are DIY and compassion. She gets shit done, and she’s kind, so she ticks both of those boxes. I think the community will welcome her with open arms.
Lyrically, which I’m very eager to get into, what are some of the topics you guys address? Do you feel Caracal is a socio-political act or more introspective? How did the lyric writing go with Rachel involved?
We all religiously met up every week at Martin’s house (away from our instruments) to write lyrics and melodies for the 5 songs. While it was tough being away from our instruments, it was tougher carving the lyrics and melodies around the songs that have already been recorded (sans vocals). Everyone in the band played a part in writing the lyrics and melodies, which was new territory for some of us who have never actually written words to music.
Besides Rachel, you also got a new bass player Trent. When you all put up that little teaser of him playing the bass – man you guys got an amazing reaction! How’d he come into the fold?
Trent and I (Martin) sessioned together for another Singapore band. Our previous bassist (2015 – 2016) —Jude (Shout out to our bro. Hey Jude!!)—also decided to leave the band to concentrate on his business and start a family, so it was fortunate that Trent was there at the right time and place.
Well Trent certainly is doing it right with that bass tone you captured on this recording! That aggression works well on this particular track. Once the EP is out what’s next for the band? I can only assume it’s hitting the road and bringing these songs and the band back out on stage.
Haha yeah he’s alright. His main instrument is actually guitar, but he’s a way better bassist than guitarist!
Yes, we hope to play as many shows as possible for the rest of year!
Will the band be performing old staples as well? In the practice room how are those songs sounding with Rachel’s touch?
Yes we’ve selected a few old songs to bring to the set. Naturally they sound different with Rachel on vocals. I think we prefer it that way anyway. We wouldn’t want her to emulate to how we sounded previously and we want her to feel comfortable singing in her own voice.
I often find Singapore has a very healthy underground, independent community of bands, promoters, distros, photographers, etc., and a healthy community of supporters/audience, but on the mainstream level the audience seems to still be more geared towards American acts. What are your thoughts on the current state of both the underground world of Singapore music and the mainstream?
Singapore is a country driven by commerce, so it’s no surprise that commercial music is likely what most Singaporeans will want to listen to. I think that could be said about most places in the world. That means that local bands need to work extra hard to be heard, especially if they don’t intend to fit the consumer mould and wish to create something unique.
Thankfully, there are tonnes of bands doing this in Singapore right now, as well as a growing audience that follows and supports their efforts. Perhaps what’s most interesting is that despite Singapore’s music ‘imports’ largely being mainstream Western pop acts, the music that we’re ‘exporting’ to the rest of the world couldn’t be further from the mainstream. The fact that one of Singapore’s most notable acts is a grindcore band (Wormrot) and black/death metal band (Impiety), and not a run-of-the-mill pop act, says a lot about the strengths of our local music scene.
New EP drops July 24 and will be available on all the digital media channels:
Caracal on Apple Music: https://apple.co/2N5YvOu
Caracal on Spotify: https://spoti.fi/2tMLdxz
Caracal on Deezer: https://bit.ly/2MIv5Vy