Sea Wolf goes deep and stays vague
Alex Church talks new scenery, new albums, and being the new guy
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Despite roots in Los Angeles’ indie music scene, Sea Wolf is the inverse of its sunny and bustling birthplace: It is baroque folk-pop meant for rainy days and slow strolls along empty streets. Sophomore album White Water, White Bloom expands upon the successful template of Sea Wolf’s full-length debut, 2007’s Leaves In The River—swooning strings and frontman Alex Church’s restrained, clear-as-a-bell tenor remain front and center, but the band shows a new willingness to bare its teeth and show off its fangs on harder-rocking numbers. Church talked with The A.V. Club in advance of Sea Wolf’s performance Thursday at Schubas, about making records at a faster clip, lyrical ambiguity, and the creative benefits of being the new guy in town.
The A.V. Club: To the public eye Sea Wolf came out of nowhere two years ago, but you'd been working on writing and recording songs for years, dating back to your tenure as a bassist in Irving in the early 2000s. Why the long gestation period?
Alex Church: Irving was the first "real" band I ever played in, and I learned a lot from that experience. By the time I was starting Sea Wolf, I knew I wanted to approach it differently. It was really important to me to spend time developing the songs and have a clear plan of action before introducing it to other people. That took awhile, just getting enough material together that felt like it cohered and had a consistency to it where I could really envision it becoming a band. During those years I was recording with Phil Ek and at my house, just learning how to use Pro Tools. By the time that first record was done, after a couple of years working on it, I had a pretty strong grasp of what the aesthetic was and I feel that was pretty important in terms of being ready to finally go out there into the world.
AVC: For the writing of this record you transplanted yourself from southern California to your girlfriend’s hometown, Montreal. How did the change in scenery affect your songwriting?
AC: Just being in Montreal was inspiring. It’s a cold-weather city, which is nice because you feel like what you want to do is be inside and drink a tea and do a puzzle, or in my case write songs. [Laughs.] It’s an environment conducive to being creative and introspective. Since it wasn’t my hometown, I didn’t really have any of my own friends there, so it was a more solitary experience. Being in a place where I was the new guy nobody knew was really humbling and kept me in a creative state of mind. I was motivated in a way I couldn’t have been if I was at home with all my friends and familiar distractions around.
AVC: There’s a purposeful vagueness to the lyrics on White Water, White Bloom, as though you wrote a traditional narrative and then removed a lot of concrete details to focus instead on snapshots of action and scenery. Why the ambiguity?
AC: My first record was much more specific, there’s a bit of vagueness but mostly there are clearly spelled out stories. I wanted to get away from that this time around and instead have specific moments that were easier to latch onto, but at the same time enough allegorical phrasing and ambiguity that listeners could insert their own meaning to a degree. Words are kind of constricting and often just a label for something more complex. I like being less specific and leaving the songs more open to multiple interpretations because that’s truer to life. Many moments are beautiful and sad and so many other things simultaneously.