When you have the opportunity to speak with a musician/songwriter whose been in the biz for a couple of decades, releasing 10 LPs alone with reputed art-rock band, The Sea and Cake, it’s safe to assume there will be a lot of burning questions. After a half an hour of talking about their early days, their repeat hiatuses, side projects and more, a very generous Sam Prekop humors my request to dish on each of The Sea and Cake records individually — and rightfully so, I totally ate up every delicious minute.
So, I thought we could go through each of The Sea and Cake’s albums one by one. I’ll give you the album title and you simply talk about whatever that album’s name brings to mind. I may also have some specific questions I’ll throw out about them too…Are you up for it?
I’ll give it a try, yeah.
Okay, so the first one is, of course, your self-titled debut, The Sea and Cake.
(laughs) I don’t even know what to say about that one…I mean, it’s an interesting but absolutely baffling name. It’s two absolutely commonplace words, yet when put together they tend to confuse people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve repeated the band’s name in my life. In a way, I think that makes me hate it but at the same time it’s so unusual that it’s a really, really good band name.
(laughs) Okay, now Nassau.
It’s one of my favorite titles. Its kind of tongue in cheek title. The album titles, artwork and the music are completely intertwined and somehow, they need to resonate on a peculiar level for me to be interested. I think John came up with that title actually. He’s really good with odd titles — he came up with the band name too.
This one was recorded live, and I think we had worked out most of the tunes to play live, and that makes it different. We’d done shows with those songs before we’d put them on the record…and I think that’s the last time we worked that way.
In a way, that was our most experimental record. We were dealing with new input and we were playing instruments we didn’t really know how to deal with, so it was very exciting and disorienting — in a good way.
Now, Oui. Clearly there was some French inspiration there (laughs).
I guess…Actually, I have no idea how we came up with that one; I think we thought it was funny. It was our most ambitious record and it was our biggest record; we did a big bus tour and all that stuff afterward. We had more money than usual to spend on this one, so we went all out with live string arrangements and all kinds of stuff. I will say, it’s Archer’s favorite record.
So with One Bedroom, did you scale things back again?
It was at a similar level. I told you previously how we’ve never made a record that’s in direct response to one we’ve done before…and that’s one instant where I was really struggling and hoping to change it up a lot more and hoping to change things up more than usual. It was pretty much written in the studio and we were trying to bring it back to our art rock roots though I’m still not really sure if that’s how it came out (laughs).
You guys went on hiatus for four years, then came back with Everybody. Did that feel like a reunion record?
It did in a weird way. You know, during all these hiatuses, I think the one source of continuity that enabled things to keep going on and moving ahead was that Archer and I always worked together. I’ve taken him on my solo records – except for the last one – and I think us always working together has been the glue to hold everything else in place. That’s not to discount Eric and John (laughs) but if Archer and I hadn’t kept things going on a different level I can’t quite imagine what it would be like to come back from that sort of distance.
Car Alarm came out quite quickly after that. Were you feeling on a roll again?
Yeah, I think we were feeling quite energized. We’d just come off of a lot of touring and I think we just decided we wanted to work as a band and just keep it going.
So Car Alarm was 2008 and then it took until 2011 for The Moonlight Butterfly to come out. The industry changed a lot during that time, didn’t it?
Did that impact Moonlight Butterfly in any way?
Well, I will say that during that break I had kids…and that was another impetus to get Car Alarm finished because I had twin boys. They’re 4-years-old now and I can’t believe it. We toured for Car Alarm but not as much as usual because of the babies so that changed a lot of things for me, in addition to all those changes with industry. It definitely impacted things in the way that people don’t pay for everything anymore and that’s certainly cut into our bottom line – but that certainly wouldn’t impact how we make a record. We have less money to make the records now but in a way, that’s fine, too. Technology has afforded a lot of people to make amazing music in their house and we’ve been able to use some of that technology for the better. It facilitates making different music.
I have to veer off course for a minute and ask you this: Does being a rock star with kids change things for you in terms of writing? Do you give thought to the fact that one day they’ll be listening to your records and making judgments about them?
I probably should (laughs). I’ll say that Harbor Bridges was the first song that I wrote while thinking of them and just being around all this kids stuff it’s definitely had an impact on me. I feel like that song is the most like a kid’s song – in the best way – because it’s sweet and melancholic at the same time and its optimistic and wide-eyed at the same time. It’s funny, my last solo record, Courageous, was made while I was watching them and it’s a crazy, abstract, electronic record. I was listening to so much of that stuff at that time that I worried about the effect it might have on their tiny minds…I play all kinds of stuff and they respond to absolutely everything whether positively or negatively. They’ve been exposed to…(laughs) an amazing range of music at this point and there’s some I’m not even allowed to play for them anymore…like, reggae. But that’s probably okay. I just play my iPod randomly in the car and stuff will come on like Lee Perry and they’re like ‘Oh God, no more reggae! Next song, please!’ I’m like, ‘Okay, sorry, I’ll change it!’
Finally, to end, let’s talk Runner. What is this record saying about where you are now?
I think we’ve surprised ourselves with it. It doesn’t sound like a record from 2012 but it doesn’t sound like a 90’s record either. Maybe I’m way off on this, I don’t really know. It did further strengthen my idea that The Sea and Cake can only ever sound like The Sea and Cake — which even though some people see that as a negative, I think it’s a good thing. This record can only be us…and it sounds…timeless.
Would you call it a ‘classic’ The Sea and Cake record?
I think so, yes. I’ll say it’s better than One Bedroom (laughs). Not that I’m dissing that record. I just listened to it recently, actually. Because of the tour for rehearsal purposes, I listen to some of the older stuff and I listened to one track which I’ve always really liked — I can’t even remember which one it was now — but some of the sounds on it and the production and the tones sound dated to me at this point. I don’t think that’s going to happen with Runner.
Have your kids heard it? They’ll likely be the most honest (laughs).
I can’t very easily listen to my own music so if possible, I try not to play it in the house. My kids are completely immune to the fact that I’m a musician and are too young to recognize the career trajectory pit falls of that. As of right now they just think it’s absolutely noble and great that I do this.
Would you like it if your kids became involved in music later in life?
I think its absolutely great if they do, so long as they don’t mind being broke, I have no problem with it.
(laughs) So, let me ask…Why is it so unappealing to you to listen to your own music? Does it embarrass you somehow. or is it because it’s your ‘work’ and you like to keep that separate?
It’s not that I don’t enjoy the music; there are times when I have to listen to it and I end up quite enjoying it. I just don’t know in what situation I should think that it would be great to put on a The Sea and Cake record…I can’t quite imagine it. I think its jus that I’m restless with my listening habits…I’m always wanting to listen to something new and different…I feel like I’m always looking for something that I need to hear. I don’t always find it, mind you, but I definitely know I won’t find it on one of my records (laughs).
To read the first part of our interview with Sam Prekop that ran earlier this month, click here.
The Sea and Cake 2012 Tour Dates (w/ Matthew Friedberger)
10-18 Toronto, Ontario – Lee’s Palace
10-19 Montreal, Quebec – Il Motore
10-20 Boston, MA – Brighton Music Hall
10-21 Brooklyn, NY – Littlefield
10-22 New York, NY – Le Poisson Rouge
10-23 Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer
10-24 Washington, DC – Black Cat
10-25 Carrboro, NC – Cat’s Cradle
10-26 Nashville, TN – Cannery Row
10-27 Cincinnati, OH – Taft Theatre Ballroom
10-28 St. Louis, MO – Luminary Center
10-29 Chicago, IL – City Winery
11-01 Vancouver, British Columbia – Rickshaw Theatre
11-03 Seattle, WA – The Crocodile
11-04 Portland, OR – Doug Fir Lounge
11-05 Eugene, OR – WOW Hall
11-06 Arcata, CA – Jambalaya
11-07 Petaluma, CA – Mystic Theatre
11-08 San Francisco, CA – Slim’s
11-09 Visalia, CA – Cellar Door
11-10 Los Angeles, CA – Bootleg Bar
11-11 San Diego, CA – Casbah
11-13 Marfa, TX – Padre’s
11-14 Austin, TX – Mohawk
11-15 Dallas, TX – Trees
The Sea and Cake LPs
The Sea and Cake (1994) // Nassau (1995) // The Biz (1995) // The Fawn (1997) Oui (2000) // One Bedroom (2003) // Everybody (2007) // Car Alarm (2008) // The Moonlight Butterfly (2011) // Runner (2012)