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By: Chris Clark
Long known for its desolate winters, coronary-clogging foods and, of course, Jordan and the Bulls, Chicago is seen as the archetypal Midwestern American city. Sure, there's the lackluster, post-industrial mess that is Detroit, the resurgent, Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame graced Cleveland and Hoosier-filled Indianapolis, but no city in our nation's midsection offers quite as much as the Windy City.
The Sea and Cake
Coupled with the city's massive, waterfront allure is a burgeoning, oft overlooked cultural scene. Within an array of blossoming art galleries and museums, diverse neighborhoods and venues like The Vic and House of Blues, gifted, left-of-center local bands have thrived. This city has birthed Tortoise, The Shipping News, 90 Day Men, Shrimp Boat, Jeff Tweedy and The Sea and Cake to name a few.
Formed 15 years ago, The Sea and Cake came together as a regional supergroup of sorts, bringing together members of Gastr del Sol, The Coctails, Shrimp Boat and Tortoise. The results are a band so collectively creative, forward thinking and artistic that their sound and style have always defied categorization. JamBase caught up with The Sea and Cake's songwriting frontman Sam Prekop to talk shop about Chicago, evolution, the band's new album Everybody (released May 8 on Thrill Jockey) and what it's like to create music people fall in love to.
JamBase: It's been quite a while since The Sea and Cake's last studio release (2003's One Bedroom). What have you guys been doing in the meantime? How has the band's vision and sound evolved since then, and moreover, since your formation in the mid-90s?
Sam Prekop: Yea, it's been a while. However, it never feels as long as it actually is. Pretty soon after touring for One Bedroom, I started writing my second solo album. Also, I got further involved with photography - built a darkroom, learned how to use it, etc. I did quite a bit of touring for Who's Your New Professor with the whole band, but also Archer [Prewitt] and I played quite a bit as duo, which was great. I also suspect I wasted quite a bit of time messing around with my home studio, not to much effect, but hopefully one day something will come of it. I also had a painting show in there.
In terms of the band's sound evolving, well, I don't know. I feel this latest record reflects back in a curious way to our earlier records. I think we were hoping to glean some qualities we thought were maybe missing from One Bedroom from some of our earlier approaches - more off the cuff, less careful in a way. I don't think there's any way we could have written these latest songs without having made all of the other records. So, the evolution of the band is the product of our long history playing together. I sense we're forever evolving but I'm afraid I'm too close to it to really describe in what way.
The Sea and Cake
JamBase: When you say the band is "forever evolving" where do you feel the next stage may take The Sea and Cake's sound? Is there that preemptive decision-making or is it just a natural process?
Sam Prekop: I mean, a little bit. For this latest record, we decided to try to make a more live feeling record, sort of to-the-point somehow. There's loose guidelines but they're not always adhered to. It's a process of paying close attention to what seems to be needed as we work on it.
Tell us a little bit about the songwriting and recording process for Everybody. Who was the principal writer, or was it a combined effort? I read that this was the most stripped down of the band's recordings, a "rock album," so to speak.
When we decide we're going to make a record I begin by playing the guitar a lot, just exploring. Out of this comes the beginning of what become the songs collected on the record. After I've got maybe half a dozen ideas, Eric [Claridge - bass], Archer [Prewitt - guitar] and I will get together and start to refine and develop these early sketches and in the process come up with more ideas. One thing leads to another. Then, we'll get together with John [McEntire, also of Tortoise] on the drums and start hashing out what potential there may be for actual songs, and more material will develop from there. For this record, I think we had about 15 potential keepers. After this studio time, I bring the basic tracks to my home studio and start to work out the vocal melodies and lyrics. Then back to the studio to then record the finished vocals. By this point, I've figured which ones are working and which ones aren't.
Basically with this record, the songs were ready to go when we recorded them, as compared to One Bedroom, which we left a lot of that material intentionally open-ended with the idea that they would evolve and develop in the studio. So, One Bedroom was more a collection of sketches that we fleshed out in the studio. On Everybody the songs were basically finished before recording them so it was in the spirit of merely documenting the band playing in a room, and hence, the more straight-forward qualities stem from there I think. Regarding the current state of The Sea and Cake, with each record we're hoping to accurately reflect what we're interested in musically at the time of making a record.