Q+A: The Sea and Cake

June 05, 2007

We caught Chicago post-rock veterans the Sea and Cake at the Troubador in LA a couple weeks ago where they worked through old jams like "Parasol" and new jams from new album Everybody. The band are finishing up this leg of their North American tour starting with a show tonight in Boston with dates in New York, Philly and DC through the end of the week. While they were in LA, we sat down with S&C songwriter Sam Prekop to talk about the album, the tour and the future. The Sea and Cake's, not like spaceships and shit. Check the interview after the jump along with a pro-fessional video of our favorite Everybody song "Crossing Line" live from the night we saw them. Crazy. For more live videos, head over to Thrill Jockey.

How have the shows been so far?

Good, Vancouver was a little rough—it was the first show. It wasn’t bad, we were going for it anyway. It just wasn’t as tight as we would like. That doesn’t always matter of course.

Were there extensive rehearsals before you started the tour?

We probably started a month ago, three days a week or a little more. What happens for me is we’re playing almost all of this new record so I have to learn how to perform them, playing them and singing them simultaneously because that’s not how we record them, and that can take – so I start earlier in case I have to make some minor adjustments. It often has to do with my guitar will be on one track and Eric’s accents will be on some weird beat, and the vocals will be on another one – sort of the whole rub your stomach pat your head scenario. Usually what happens is I’ll be working on it, and it seems completely impossible- I can’t do it. And then one day I wake up, and it just works somehow, crosses this threshold and you’re able to pull it off.

So do you guys hang out regularly when you’re all at home or just when it’s time to record or rehearse?

I probably see Archer the most, but there will be vast stretches of time where we don’t see each other. We’re all workaholics and social engagements don’t always fit in, but Eric never leaves the house, he’s like a hermit and John is also, except he’s always at the studio. So in between records I don’t see Eric for a year or two, but no one does. So we bring him out for the rock, put him on stage, give him a workout. But Archer and I, we tour a lot in between—he’s on my solo record. We do a lot of one-off show things and we see each other fairly often and do other things. John, I’ll stop by the studio and make sure he’s still alive.

So the first day recording the album, is it like: “Eric, your hair has grown?”

Yeah kind of, a little bit. That’s always what I was worry about because I don’t know if it’s gonna work. Archer and I can play together and that’s fine. In reality, we haven’t played with John and Eric in three years. Now, we’ve made it through breaks like that before, but you can’t count on it. So we started and you know, slowly, started to hear it again. Oh my god I can’t believe it, it’s like this freakish reflex that snaps back into place. It took awhile, usually it starts as Archer, Eric and I starting things, get rough stuff up before the drums, mainly because if you’re trying to work a full line right in the beginning its too hard to concentrate on the micro-arrangements, what’s really actually happening. So we get it to a certain point then we get with John, then it will change further and become something else. Its several stages of evolution from when we’re completely rusty and we don’t know what to do. I mean by that point before they all show up I’ve got a bunch of ideas and beginnings of songs and what I think we could do.

How long does it usually take to make the song come together?

Some songs will seem to come together really quickly and not be delayed. None of it is terribly labored. We definitely work on it, but it kind of happens sort of naturally. We’ll run into problems and make changes. One song on the record, “Lightning” is one of the few I worked on that came out of my home studio. And so I had almost like a demo in some ways, it didn’t have the vocals, but it had musically some specific requirements that screwed up the flow of how we normally write stuff, because it wasn’t quite working and the first full band version we did in the studio I didn’t think worked at all. So I wanted to redo it another way. So I had John do some electronic drumbeats based on the rough drumbeats I did at home or the pattern a little bit. Everything else flowed pretty easily.

Was it recorded piecemeal like that or in full studio takes? I noticed listening to it that it’s pared down and sounds like a live recording?

Yeah, we had the material together, even that one tune that didn’t work, and we still recorded it all live – we’re all just playing. The instruments are isolated somewhat so if someone really fucks up it doesn’t ruin the track. The idea was to get it across as a performance type record. The last record was more intentionally a post-production sort of thing. We had open-ended ideas with the intention to discover stuff in it as we’re working on it in the studio whereas this time we decided not to do it that way. Also, we had a more pressing deadline this time. The label wants it out at this time, or this would be the best time, is it possible to finish it now? We sort of procrastinated- we had been talking about getting it back together for at least six months before we actually started. But for whatever reason I got caught up with – I was working on this book project for a long time so I couldn’t event think about…

That’s the book of photographs?

Yeah. By the time we decided to do it Thrill Jockey was like it would be great if it could come out now, when it did, if we could finish it by January 1st. So we started at the end of November, and in that time I have to write all the lyrics and vocals and I never have that together until I get the music.

So did that constraint change the content of your lyrics this time around?

When I start I don’t have any plans necessarily. I figure it out as I’m working on it, so one thing leads to another, and I do one song at a time. I’ll choose to start on one song first cause I think it’ll be easier or whatever to warm up—stay away from the ones I fear. There’s this one song, “Left Arm,” where I had worked out all these vocals for the front part, but it didn’t work so there are none, but I didn’t know that until I started dealing with it. I just respond to the tune at hand. For each one I finish it and move on to the next. I like to think of them as the lyrics develop their own logic within each song and that will carry into other ones, but they’re kind of insulated in that sense. It’s not always exactly intentionally oblique, there’s some straighter sounding stuff – I couldn’t name one of them.

Did the limited time also influence your technique? Eliminate the post-production stuff?

I think it was just for this record. We did the basic tracks at a different studio than the one we normally work at. It’s part of just changing it up a little bit, go somewhere else, record it somewhere else. We tend to sort of counteract the last record. The next record will have a house sound.

Do it.

Well one thing, John and I are hoping to make an electronic record. We’re really into that stuff and have mountains of gear that we want to try and use.

So that’s just an idea at this point?

Well, we haven’t started. We’ve definitely been talking a lot about it. We don’t know what it will be like. We want to improvise with it, throw stuff out and not over work it. One of our early loose plans is to start in the studio without having prepared too much. Kind of show up, and see what happens – I think it’ll be great.

Have you ever recorded Sea and Cake material like that?

Not a whole record. I guess not really. I think one of the reasons for not—it could happen—we’re hoping to do another record and we might have to approach it that way. I don’t know when I’ll have time to write those other tunes. It almost feels like we should take advantage, regroup. I really don’t know at this point what would happen if it took another four years. I sort of hope I’ll maybe be doing something else. I can’t get into it.

You think the next one might be the last, if you do another one soon?

It’s hard. I wouldn’t want to say that exactly, or predict that. You could have asked me six months before we started this record and I wouldn’t have known if we were making another one. I will admit my creative interest could be quite fickle. I wouldn’t be shocked if I woke up one day and just wasn’t that interested in doing music. I’m exaggerating the point, but I’ve shifted priorities and music has been way, way, way behind my other pursuits. Not to be crass, but one thing that helps motivate me back to music is that I’m able to make a living. Play rock, make album, wash dishes, and mop floors. I wouldn’t do the music if it felt totally like being a whore.

Posted: June 05, 2007
Q+A: The Sea and Cake