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Filling the gap: Las Vegas’ Caravels have (finally) gone full-length

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Caravels played to a packed house—literally—in Green Valley on January 18.
Photo: Bill Hughes

There are things good bands are expected to do. Release an album, for example. Caravels, one of the best bands in Las Vegas, haven’t. Not quite. But this isn’t a story about a struggling band. Caravels have accomplished plenty, album or no.

(From left) Shines, Roeslein, Foskaris, Frantom and Van Cleef unwind during their January 17, Weekly photo shoot.

When they started out, in 2007, they were skinny kids in high school. Today they’re men, with beards and jobs. And they’ve stayed together, all five of them, in a town full of bands that once were, minus members who moved away.

Caravels have steadily grown in stature to become the Faded Grey or Curl Up and Die of their day, the biggest band on a small but dedicated local hardcore scene. They’ve toured, across the country twice and around the West Coast a few times, playing DIY venues and crashing on floors. And they’ve recorded—two EPs, a seven-inch and a split 12-inch. They just haven’t gotten around to putting together a full-length album. Until now.

November 28, 2012 | The Palms

“Let’s take a break.” Dillon Shines says it just before midnight, and moments later the band is at the bar. The red-haired guitarist could be considered Caravels’ spiritual leader, in that many of their riffy songs originate with a spark in his brain. He appears calm sipping his pilsner, even if he shouldn’t. The band has taken a major gamble and will soon know if it pays off.

To his left sits Matt Frantom, whose guitar interplay with Shines helps define the Caravels characteristic. And a bit farther down is the rhythm section—bassist Cory Van Cleef, the rock at the band’s core, and drummer George Foskaris, the wild man leading its charge.

Put those four together in a room with some gear and some beer and they can kick up a pretty good ruckus. But it’s not until the man who’s just walked into the casino picks up a mic that the full Caravels experience really begins.

Mike Roeslein’s vocal style (his “progressive shout,” to revisit Foskaris’ description from the Weekly’s first Caravels article, in 2008) is raw and menacing, a sound that can put off fans of traditional rock “singing”—and inspire their kids to form bands of their own.

Roeslein’s arrival is met with hugs and handshakes, and then the time for wasting time is over. “You guys ready?” asks engineer Rob Katz, leading the band back to the elevator that ascends to the Studio, where the big task awaits.

Most modern music is made in parts—drums, bass, guitars and vocals recorded separately, then joined together. Caravels aren’t doing it that way tonight. They’re going old-school, recording all instruments, minus the vocals, live. Which means Shines, Frantom, Van Cleef and Foskaris are playing a song on one side of a glass partition while Katz and Roeslein listen to it on the other.

It’s Track 1 for Caravels’ first album, and after the band completes a clean take it will move on to Track 2 and then Track 3, until 10 songs are finished. And they all need to be done by 5 a.m.

January 18, 2013 | A house in Green Valley

“Our lives entwine, but I won’t contribute to your fear.” As Roeslein repeats the closing words to the oldest song in tonight’s set, 2009’s “Snake Plissken,” crowd members surround him, chanting into his mic. There’s no line between friend and fan here, and why would there be, in a house with mattresses pushed against walls to ward off nosy neighbors and cops.

SNAKE PLISSKEN, 2009 - from YouTube.com

Tonight, Caravels are performing to showcase Raein, a veteran Italian screamo outfit that plays to a thick crowd and sells stacks of vinyl afterward. Then Caravels begin, drawing mostly from now-finished album Lacuna, due out March 26 on the band’s Boston-based label, Topshelf Records.

As they dig into songs like “Tangled” (Track 2) and “Hundred Years” (Track 5), there’s a palpable joy in their playing, obvious relief at being back in their natural environment. Because memorable as their Studio at the Palms experience might have been, pressure, not fun, hung heavy in the air that night.

That night actually turned into two, when Caravels concluded that forcing out a full-length by morning might not be so wise after all. So when Katz, a friend from Shines’ Coronado High days, offered to keep mics and amps in place for another day, the band headed home just after 5, caught a few hours of sleep and returned to the studio famous for having hosted Michael Jackson, Madonna, Guns N’ Roses and many more. And then, true to their promise, Caravels laid down all 10 tracks, live, in a single night.

“We made it a point to do that to ourselves, knowing we work better under pressure,” Shines explains. “We wanted to push ourselves into making decisions on the spot, and we think we got some good stuff doing it that way—some happy accidents.”

After Roeslein added vocals in the days that followed, Caravels and Katz mixed the 34-minute Lacuna, then sent it off to Chicago’s Carl Saff for mastering. All costs, a small art overrun aside, were picked up by Topshelf.

Caravels hope to have LPs and CDs in hand for a trip to South by Southwest, with digital copies up soon after on iTunes and Amazon. And then, officially, Caravels will have an album on their résumé.

How does it feel? “Legit,” Van Cleef says at a January photo shoot. “Like getting your associate’s degree at age 50,” Frantom fires back, setting off laughter from all five members.

BONE VOYAGE, 2012 - from YouTube.com

Lacuna—the name refers to a gap or missing section—sounds undeniably Caravels, but it also plays like a significant evolutionary step. Where previous efforts reached from the speakers to claw at your face, this one bubbles at the surface, its hypnotic layers begging for focused headphones sessions. True to the band’s live sound, Roeslein’s vocals are mixed relatively low, sounding more like a fifth instrument than a set of discernible words. Put another way, it’s as if the band has been spinning Mogwai as much as Converge lately.

“Some of us still listen to heavy music, but there are weeks when I won’t listen to anything that’s screamy,” Van Cleef says. “We’ve chilled out quite a bit.”

But then, Caravels have always existed in some odd sonic space, a bit too intense for the typical indie listener, a bit too hypnotic for the average hardcore fan. “We joke that we’re always either the heaviest band on the bill or the softest band on the bill,” Roeslein says.

We’ll soon find out whether Lacuna can broaden Caravels’ audience, but the five men who made it don’t seem overly concerned with its impending reception. Mostly, they just sound relieved to have it out of their hands.

“There was a lot of stress in the studio, but I’m really proud of the writing.” Frantom says. “I feel like it’s our best material to date.”

And now that they’ll no longer face questions about making an album, Caravels are ready to get back to the business of just being Caravels again. Or, as Foskaris puts it, “seeing what we can do now that that barrier’s finally down.”

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Spencer Patterson

Spencer Patterson is Las Vegas Weekly's Managing Editor, having previously served as Arts & Entertainment Editor, Music Editor and a ...

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