The Sea and Cake

the Sea and Cake have often been considered one of indie rock’s first “supergroups,” (consisting of members from Tortoise, the Coctails, and Shrimp Boat) but they’ve long since transcended that partition. Over the course of six studio records, Archer Prewitt, Sam Prekop, Eric Claridge, and John McEntire have created a sound that is incontestably their own. Straying away from the electronic, experimental undercurrents of One Bedroom and The Fawn, Everyday takes an approach similar to that of The Biz, creating a live band-oriented record. Stylus recently had a chance to speak to guitarist/vocalist Archer Prewitt about the development of the group’s seven full-length, Everyday, his everyday life, and everything in between.

Everyone in the band seems to be always working on different projects, when you make a Sea and Cake album do you cease everything to make it, or do you work around other projects?

We put a lot of things on hold. I wouldn’t say there’s a lot of time to do other things because it’s sort of an intensive practice with Sam, Eric, and I—then we work with John after that point. For this record, it was pretty much every day except the weekends for about a month, maybe give or take a few days off. Then we started working with John for about two weeks. We had about 15 songs but the further distillation process whittled it down to ten.

You guys worked in Key Club Studios?

Yes. It’s out in Benton Harbor, Michigan. We know Bill Skibbe and he was instrumental in building John McEntire’s electrical studios and SOMA studios out in Chicago. He builds compressors and sound gear and he is just sort of a high-energy mad scientist. He and his wife practically had a couple of nervous breakdowns building this place in a remote town where not much is happening. Not only did they build this amazing studio, but they have a place for bands to stay. You can get barbecue down the street and there’s a car wash detailing place. But you bunker in: you live, eat, and breathe music and recording. There’s no distraction, therefore I think it made a much stronger record.

Did you have any clear ideas of what you wanted this record to sound like before you went in?

I think the only idea we had was that we wanted it to be more of a live band sound. I think that going into it we really wanted to get the songs leaned up and we really didn’t have to do much editing or post-production trickery to get it to the point of satisfaction.

What was it like having Brian Paulson work behind the boards instead of John McEntire?

I think it gave us the freedom to just be a band and document the music. I think we thought less of post-production ideas and more towards documenting the songs. With an album like The Fawn or One Bedroom there was a lot of thought towards what we were going to do with this material later. I think this was more of a return to the earlier albums like The Biz where the material was worked up in terms of a band sound and I think he was great at capturing that.

Do you think that’s the reason the record strayed away from the experimental undercurrents of the last couple albums?

Well, I think yeah there’s a more straightforward approach to the initial sound of it, but I think a lot of those Sea and Cake ideas prevail. We think of it as kind of a fabric of sound and we stick with things. It’s sort of what we agree on in a lot of cases to be the strength of the music and what we lean towards. I wouldn’t say it was less experimental, although on the surface it probably sounds that way. We didn’t really go for electronic drums, except for one track, and didn’t go for a lot of synthesizers. So in terms of guitar, bass, and drums it’s pretty lean

How does the songwriting process in the band work? Is it a collective effort or more of a separate thing?

It’s primarily Sam’s initial ideas on guitar without vocals. Just sort of chord figures, sometimes very minimal and sometimes a little more worked out. Then he brings it to practice with Eric and I and we’re usually able to flesh it out and expand on those ideas. After working those over and picking out the parts that we feel strongly about, then we take it to John.

At that point, what you think is this fragile sleeper turns into a rock song—so it kind of takes a minute to adjust to that. Then Sam adds his vocals to it. I’ve never worked in a band where the vocals are the last trimming, but I think it really works. Sam plays off all the instruments to come up with melodies. Often times the songs just kind of lie there until the vocals are added and it comes to life. It takes on the richness it was lacking.

What are your thoughts on the genre label “post-rock” that you guys have been grouped in, do you feel it’s a bit overused and too generalized?

Yeah. I’ve often said that post-rock was going on in the ‘70s, where people were going outside of what rock was. It didn’t happen in the ‘90s. Rock was shifted and expanded upon back then, I think, in a more substantial way. I actually don’t really even know how that pertains to Sea and Cake. I think we were sort of locked in with Tortoise and that Chicago sound. None of us have minded it. It draws attention to what we’re trying to do and it’s always helpful to have that work in your favor. I’m not quite sure, because I sort of initially think it’s left-of-center pop.

The track, “Exact to Me,” has a pretty subtle reggae/dub influence it seems, how did that come about?

It just came about with that guitar figure. Sam, Eric, John, and I have always been interested in a variety of, for lack of a better world, World Music. We’ve listened to a lot of African Kalimba and the thumb piano and guitar work. Without trying to ape that sound, that particular guitar figure he came up with prompted me to do something reminiscent of Zulu guitar, which is some of my favorite guitar work—sort of a mandolin rapid picking kind of thing. But, trust me, there is a lot of editing that comes with those kinds of experiments. Like, if we get too funky that usually gets axed in the final mix (Laughs). We try not to go too far in leaning towards a certain sound; we try to keep it to what we do.

What still inspires you to continue make music in what seems to be a pretty harsh music business?

I guess just not having a lot of dealings with that harsh side of the business. Being on a Thrill Jockey is like a friendly lower-key experience. Everything is split 50/50. We’re not taken advantage of and we’re not road warriors. Sam and I do a good deal of touring and so does John in the various other projects we do. While it is hard and grueling, it’s still on a scale where we can relate to it.

What do you do in your spare time when you get away from making music?

I usually do a lot of artwork. I’ve been doing more abstract art lately, less representational and less comic stuff. What I’ve been getting back into is making things for myself. I have a show coming up in the winter in Florida and I’ve been showing my comics, which is kind of odd, because I like to think of it in terms of books that people can afford. I’m also working on a new solo record.

What are the plans for the new record?

It’s supposed to come out next January so five months prior to that we have to have a finished project. We have songs started, so it’s kind of a piecemeal. But everyone in my band is so busy. I mean everyone is excited about it, but you have to schedule it, especially with Sea and Cake touring. So I guess we’re going to start working on it in the summer and try and wrap it up in the fall.

The Sea and Cake
The Sea and Cake @ MySpace
Thrill Jockey

By: John Bohannon
Published on: 2007-04-25
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