On-tour reckoning leads to sobriety and a new album from Caracara
Before an album release show at Woodlands Tavern on Friday, Columbus native Will Lindsay opens up about leaving alcohol behind and making the Philly band's excellent sophomore LP, 'New Preoccupations'
Near the close of 2019, singer/guitarist Will Lindsay and his three Caracara bandmates were at the tail end of back-to-back tours, playing to some of the largest crowds since the rising, emo-adjacent Philadelphia rock band formed in 2016. They were the type of gigs Lindsay, a Columbus native, had been working toward since his days playing in high school punk bands.
“I was on tour with my best friends, playing music that I really care about, in front of the biggest audiences we’ve ever had, in cities that I never thought there would be any reason for me to make it to,” Lindsay said. “And I was miserable. I was like, ‘I hate this. I don't want to be here. I don't care about music. I don't feel anything.’”
Those emotions didn’t make any sense to Lindsay. They didn’t correlate with what he knew about himself and what he wanted in his life. And yet, the feelings were real, and they served as a wake-up call: Lindsay had to quit drinking.
“I had thought a lot about my drinking for some time. I made the same excuses to myself that a lot of people do when they're in the final stages of a relationship with a substance,” said Lindsay, who finally ran out of excuses at the end of 2019, admitting to himself that “if I don't get ahold of this, I'm going to lose touring. I'm going to lose being able to play in a band with my best friends. And that was just unconscionable to me.”
Still, Lindsay didn’t commit to sobriety right away. Cutting ties with alcohol would have implications in every corner of his life. Touring with a band lent itself to drinking, but so did Lindsay’s various jobs in the service industry.
“Most people seem to have appropriate times and venues for when they drink, but it had permeated every aspect of my life. Everything I did involved drinking as a parallel activity,” he said. “Alcohol is such a cultural fixture. It’s become so deeply embedded in our lives. When you don't get the promotion, you have a drink to make yourself feel better. And when you do get the promotion, you have a drink to celebrate. … I'm also from a generation where the ability to party hard is almost like a status marker. Being able to ingest the most poison by the end of the night is a badge of honor, and while you can acknowledge intellectually how flawed that thinking is, it's still so easy to be emotionally wrapped up in it.”
But Lindsay’s tour-induced identity crisis proved to be the final straw. On Jan. 5, 2020, he stopped drinking for good. The decision came as Caracara was writing the follow-up to 2017 full-length Summer Megalith and 2019 EP Better. Lindsay and his bandmates — Carlos Pacheco-Perez (keys), George Legatos (bass) and Sean Gill (drums) — planned to record the new album, then hit the road again for most of 2020. But the pandemic forced Caracara to pause, which changed the direction of the band’s excellent forthcoming record, New Preoccupations (Memory Music), which releases on Friday, March 25, the same day Caracara will perform at Woodlands Tavern with Delta Sleep (coincidentally all Lindsay to celebrate a release show in his old hometown).
While a handful of songs on New Preoccupations existed prior to Lindsay’s sobriety, he began to see some of them, such as “Strange Interactions in the Night,” with new eyes. In the anthemic track, Lindsay describes walking “along the devil’s spine … between the comedown and the high.” He sings about trying to “drink the fire down” and “numb out the chaos.” And in perhaps the most telling line, Lindsay admits “there’s a version of me I don’t recognize.”
“I look back at that song like, wow, it's all here. … I was trying to tell myself to stop long before I did stop,” Lindsay said. “I approached the last handful of songs from that perspective and with that narrative in mind: This is the story that I've been telling unconsciously. How can I pull it all together? What are the ingredients we still need to make this a cohesive narrative work?”
While some of the lyrics on New Preoccupations are some of the darkest and most personally revealing Lindsay has written to date, the album is far from gloomy. For one, Caracara is the type of band that elicits sing-along choruses even when the fist-pumping lines read more like bloodlettings on paper. But also, Lindsay wanted to avoid recovery narrative clichés on the record. Sure, alcohol led to some dark times, but there were plenty of good times, too, and embracing that nuanced duality was key to making an emotionally honest work of art.
“I love alcohol. I love drinking. And I'm so grateful to alcohol for being a social crutch for me in a lot of environments where, through using it, I was able to access experiences, like a wild night in some far-flung locale. I was able to be a more exciting, adventurous person. Some of these experiences have been the most beautiful experiences of my life that I reflect on all the time. Even though it ended in a dark place and I needed to stop, there are still these beautiful, flagship moments,” Lindsay said. “I want to acknowledge people's well-earned love for alcohol. I want to say, yeah, it's awesome. I remember how awesome it is, and we are allowed to cherish those moments. They're not cheap just because they were tipsy. But that can be true, and you can also need to stop.”
Lindsay also acknowledged some strokes of luck in all of this. For one, his rock bottom could have been much worse. “Had the end of my relationship with alcohol come about in a different way, like with a trip to the hospital or an arrest, I might have a totally different perspective on it,” he said, adding that the timing of his sobriety unknowingly prepared him to weather the COVID era. “When the pandemic hit, I was in the honeymoon phase. I was feeling the massive return of dopamine to my system. I had taken all the weight off of the depressant side of the equation, and I was experiencing the physical benefits of when you get out of that withdrawal stage and your chemistry is figuring itself out.”
“I don't even like to entertain the idea of what it would have been like if I didn't get a hold of my drinking and then the world stopped,” Lindsay continued. “I'm certain I would have spiraled further and gone even deeper into narcissism and self-loathing. It would have been a very quick descent.”
The pandemic’s timing also allowed Caracara to slow down and write with purpose before entering the studio with Will Yip in Philadelphia in May of 2020. (The band quarantined together for two weeks before recording and then holed up in Yip’s studio for about a month.) The album is filled with specific references that give the songs a sense of place, from Charleston, South Carolina, to Belfast in Northern Ireland. In “Colorglut,” Lindsay listens to Dirty Projectors in a Volvo on a freeway (a reference to I-270), and in “Ohio,” Lindsay describes someone hanging out of a car window in the Lincoln Tunnel.
The Ohio reference, though, is tied more to the mood of the song than the words. The nearly six-minute track began with music only, the band creating a rich, dynamic instrumental palette for Lindsay’s future lyrics. “I wanted that song to start in a cold, blue, bright place and phase into a warmer, rose-hued, maybe overly nostalgic version of the past. And ultimately, when I want to get nostalgic, the first place I go is the front seat of my Honda CRV driving around Hocking Hills,” said Lindsay, who sings about “driving down broken roads, your peeling skin exposed.”
“It's a song about the complexity of moving away from where you grew up,” he said, “and having mixed feelings about where you landed, and having mixed feelings about where you came from and how it's changing over time. I mean, Ohio has grown in a lot of ways and retracted in other ways.”
New Preoccupations closes with “Monoculture,” a track that ends with huge guitars, pounding drums, a gorgeous string section and a cathartic scream. “I’m finally free to let go,” Lindsay sings, repeating the line until his voice begins to break with the grief of what was lost, the gratitude of what was gained and the joy of what’s to come.