Catching Up With Sea Wolf

Music Features Sea Wolf
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Sea Wolf released its third album, Old World Romance, on Sept. 11 on Dangerbird Records. After recording 2009’s White Water, White Bloom in Omaha, Neb. with producer, engineer and multi-instrumentalist Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Man Man, First Aid Kit), Sea Wolf’s Alex Brown Church has returned to his home in California. Taking from what he’s learned, he brings the project back to himself, where he pushes in new directions while maintaining a sound reminiscent of what we’ve come to expect.

Below, Church explains a bit of what is behind the beautifully crafted songs of Old World Romance and what inspired his change in approach to writing and recording for this album.

Paste: You have said in some of the press for the new album that White Water, White Bloom was more of a group effort and recorded further from home. On Old World Romance, you wanted to bring it closer to home, record in your own studio and spend some time with the music on your own. What led you to decide to do that on this album?
Alex Brown Church: I moved back to California full time from being in Montreal for almost two years, and I think just being home made me realize how much I sort of had missed it. I was just excited to be back in my own space again and being around my studio the way that I once had been able to do with the first record. I think that’s the main thing.

I was super happy with White Water, White Bloom. I think that Mike Mogis did a great job. I was excited to try to take that experience and everything I learned from working with him and go back to my own studio to kind of experiment on my own and be able to do stuff myself.

Paste: What were some writing or recording techniques that were different between what was used for this record and what you’ve done in the past?
Church: Well, writing, I had a lot more material. In the past I would kind of fool around on the guitar until I came up with a song idea that I liked and I would just stay with that one song until it was finished. But this time I really wanted to just increase song output because I’m not just prolific. So I tried just recording every idea that I had and just spending maybe ten to fifteen minutes max on an idea. That way I was able to get down a lot more ideas in one day. And then I would go back after a week or two and listen to that stuff and find the songs I liked. And I ended up having a lot more ideas in the end that I really, really liked. So I think that is the main difference songwriting-wise.
And recording-wise, just being back in my own home studio and not being at a proper studio, that was a big difference. I felt a lot more confident in my ability to record it by myself, but with minimal recording gear and still put most of it together in my own space – with the exception of drums, which we did in a proper studio.

Paste: Now that you’ve finished the album and you can go back and look at it as the whole finished product do you see anything in the songs that reflect what you were going through at the time?
Church: Definitely. You know, it’s tough…You can’t really predict what an album is gonna sound like but you can go in with certain parameters. There’s a few, one of them for me, which was to kind of have the songs be simpler and more straight forward musically as well as melodically and structurally. So looking back, that was accomplished on a lot of the songs.

Paste: Was there anything in particular that inspired the material, anything you were listening to or into at the time?
Church: Yeah, I actually didn’t listen to any music while making this record, just ‘cause I didn’t want to have any outside musical influence really. But I think just being home, being back in California, being back on the west coast – that had a big influence and really connecting with my friends and family…just reacquainting myself with my home state, if you will, I think that had a big impact. Coming back with a different perspective, sorta refreshed and I think that was the main thing. I had a few personal incidents that happened; some tragic stuff and some happy stuff that went into it at well.

Paste: Are there any songs that stand out for having changed a lot from the demo to the album?
Church: Yeah, well I mean all of them really. They all changed a lot from the acoustic guitar and vocal stage to the final product and some of the I had a sense of what I wanted to do than others. I would say, one song that kind of stands out for me is “Kasper” ‘cause that was one of the first songs I wrote for the record and I really liked the….I struggled with that song. I didn’t know if I liked the song until I demoed it out and then I was able to hear it back.

Early on when I was first experimenting with recording every little song sketch and then coming back and listening, that was one that I sort of discovered in coming back and listening to the sketches. And it was that I spent a few minutes on and had completely forgotten about it and I came back to it and listening to it and got really excited. So then I started working on it, trying to actually turn it into a song and not just an idea. I struggled with it, struggled a lot with it and finally got to the point where I felt like I couldn’t finish it but I wanted to record it where it was and essentially what it is now, is what it is then – the demo that I recorded. I remember recording and I think I went away for like two weeks and completely didn’t listen to it, forgot about it, and I was like “eh,” I didn’t think it was very good. And two weeks later I came back and played it and was kind of really excited because it was, I dunno, different and sounded better to me.

Paste: What do you do to shift out of the “Making the record” mode and into the “Being on the road” mode?
Church: There’ s a lot of stuff that you have to do before a record comes out. Photos, videos, websites, merch that I’ve been busy helping with. And as for the actually shows, I’m looking for a bass player because Ted, who I’ve played with for a long time, is switching careers, and we’re not going to tour with a cello this time around because the record doesn’t have any on it. There’s no real strings on it at all, actually. So I wanted the live show to reflect the new record. So we’re kind of rearrange old songs without the cello and figure out how to make the new songs sound good in the live setting and kind of preplanning whatever technology I might need to wire, new gear or whatever.

Paste: It is interesting that there aren’t strings on this album because that’s been a pretty big part of the shows in the past and on the albums too. Was that on purpose?
Church: I kind of did it on purpose because I was getting bored of the strings, quite honestly. So I wanted to try and see if I could do something that sounded good to my ears without the strings. And I ended up using some fake strings on keyboard and mellotron samples and stuff like that. So in the end I didn’t really get away from strings entirely but they don’t sound entirely real, I guess. I just thought it’d be interesting to see what I could do without the strings.

Paste: Any stops along the way that you’re excited to see?
Church: Any cities that we like to hit in particular? Jesus, I mean San Francisco is always fun, New York, Denver is always great, yeah I dunno. I would say most of the cities are pretty fun.