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September 14, 2007
With contemporary music in its current dynamic state, and new genre tags seemingly cooked up and propped up by hoards of the hottest hopefuls almost every week, few bands can say they've managed to sustain a certain consistency for over a decade. The Sea and Cake are unique in that sense - having been around for twelve years and never really slipping - with albums dating back to 1995's The Biz sounding fresh beyond its time.

Having sat out the album circuit since 2003's One Bedroom, the Sea and Cake re-entered the mix this year with the release of Everybody. The album, the band's seventh, is an indie-rock album for sure, released like all their others via the venerable local label Thrill Jockey and rooted in the brand of mellow pop the group have been playing with for years, as solo artists as well as in The Sea and Cake. LAS staffer Mike Wright caught up with guitarist and vocalist Sam Prekop to talk about the past, present and future of The Sea and Cake, and how it fits in with the members' respective solo projects.

---

LAS: I find Everybody to be your most straight-up 'rock' record, at least in comparison to Oui and One Bedroom. Do you agree? Was that intentional?

Sam Prekop: To some extent I'd agree, but honestly I'm not quite sure what would qualify as a straight up rock record. I think we primarily aspired to make a more direct record, leaner in a sense of being less decorated extraneously. Another important aspect as to why it might sound more straight-ahead is that we were working under the gun so to speak - our deadline was tighter - and this can be useful. But ultimately the intention with each record is to accurately reflect what we're into musically at the specific time of making the record. And as a loose strategy we usually counteract some element of the last record with a different angle, this time out as compared to One Bedroom there was a conscious decision to have the material pretty much there and ready to go before we started making the record, so there was a de-emphasis of past post-production techniques and more of a documentary styled approach.

So with One Bedroom did you enter the studio with fairly basic ideas, and see how they took shape during the time you were recording?

Yes, I think when we went in to record One Bedroom the ideas were fairly open-ended, with the intent of seeing what happened in the studio. I'll say though that we definitely had the beginnings of most of the songs. We didn't show up empty handed.

Was holding back on electronics and drum machines an intention when you started writing for this album? Do you have a specific agenda when you start writing a record, or do you just see how things go?

I guess [holding back] was an intention in a way. I think we felt that we wanted to recapture our very basic musical impulses, more related to how we've worked in the past, which really is centered around your standard rock band instrumentation. However, we've always been interested in electronic music and still are, but each record lets you know what it needs as the work progresses. I feel that we avoid fulfilling any agenda if possible. I like to think of records as organic documents of thousands and thousands of decisions that could have happened in only one way and following an agenda would ultimately be much less interesting to us.

So what kind of music have you been into lately, enough to have an influence on how Everyone turned out?

Lately I've been obsessed with Studio One stuff - the classic 60's and 70's reggae label. My infatuation stems from a pure sound appreciation, the recordings are incredible. Unfortunately, or fortunately maybe, this obsession has come about lately. While writing for Everybody, I got interested in some Phil Spector recordings, primarily The Ronettes. The very palpable atmosphere in those recordings is what I was responding to most I think. The washed-out but thundering accumulation of so many instruments. Granted, one would be hard pressed to hear that on the new record, but it's definitely what I was listening to.

You must have taken a substantial break from The Sea and Cake to concentrate on your solo projects. What's it been like to get back to playing together again?

Before we got back together, I honestly had no idea if it was going to work again, not for any particular reason except that one never really knows what can happen with time. I think the fact that Archer [Prewitt, guitar, piano and vocals] and I play together quite a bit during the breaks is a critical thread of continuity. Without this I'm sure it would be wickedly difficult, likely impossible to keep it going.

And you think it worked out well for Everybody then?

Yeah, I think so. We had our difficulties when we first got together, but really it wasn't any different from any other time. I'll say it's been great to be a touring band. I feel that we're playing better than we ever have. So we're hoping to capitalize on this action and make another record, sooner than later.

How do you differentiate from which material to use for The Sea and Cake and which to use for your solo projects?

The songs I come up with, well the ideas that get things going, could go in either direction at the early stages. Usually when writing I already know what project they're headed for but they're not tailored for them as such. I'm really just trying to come up with hopefully interesting ideas and, depending on what the project is, that's what they become. But in the beginning I don't really write differently for each band. As the pieces develop they'll demand different sorts of approaches.

So you sit down and write 'Sea and Cake' songs, as opposed to 'Sam Prekop' songs? Can you see yourself going back and writing music for your solo project once your tour is over?

Well the plan is actually to write another Sea and Cake record. But lately I've been working on some solo electronic stuff that's going to be released along with this photo book I've got coming out. So no plans as of yet for another proper solo record. But I definitely would like to make another one at some point.

When building Sea and Cake songs, do you write as a band?

I'd say we write as a band. Over the years we've developed a process that seems to keep working, and that is that I pretty much always come up with the initial gist or basic elements of the songs, then we all work on it and it changes as we work. Then, when it's reached some sort of near completeness, I write the lyrics and vocal melodies then usually more change will occur in response to what the singing is doing to the general direction of the piece. And so on.

Do you feel you've changed a lot as a band since you started playing together?

Sure, I think we've changed a lot. But we've never been a band that was interested in being "stylists" in the sense that our work has been a fairly linear trajectory. So the change has been cumulative rather than in fits and starts.

What's next for you then?

I've got a bunch of photo projects in the works, a book, shows in London, Tokyo, and early next year, Hamburg. Quite a bit of touring coming up and I'm going to some of my favorite places, namely Japan. When the touring is done, I hope to get to work on a new Sea and Cake record.

---
After nearly four years without an album, the Sea and Cake seem to be taking full advantage of the resurgence brought about by Everybody. They will be hitting the road for a few tours this fall, two solid weeks of shows kicking off tonight in Minneapolis, Minnessota (supported by The Zincs and ending back in Chicago on October 5th (with Meg Baird, and two weeks of European dates beginning October 26th at the AV Cervantes Festival in Malaga, Spain, and ending on November 11th in London.

SEE ALSO: www.theseaandcake.com
SEE ALSO: www.thrilljockey.com

--
Mike Wright
A staff writer based in London, England, Mike Wright is eternally troubled by the American bastardization of the English language.

See other articles by Mike Wright.

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