photo: courtesy of Jim Newberry
As The Sea and Cake has found, consistency can be a double-edged sword. Over the past 14 years, the Chicago quartet has turned in seven albums of predictably great, breezy pop. And for some fans, that's the problem.
"Sometimes we're accused of not changing enough, but we feel like it'd be a shame not to take advantage of our long history playing together," says Sam Prekop, the band's soft-spoken lead singer and guitarist.
"Of course we don't feel like we're making the same record. If people actually listened to where we started and where it is now, they'd be surprised. I think it's more they're reflecting on their memory of what they think we've always done…We're always just trying to make a better record than the last one. That's how we stay interested."
Some might say the members of The Sea and Cake are interested in too many things. Prekop, who has released two popular solo albums, is an accomplished photographer (Japan's Press Pop Gallery will release his book this fall); drummer John McEntire keeps busy with his other band, Tortoise, as well as running Soma Studios; guitarist Archer Prewitt, who also plays solo, has a burgeoning art career with his Sof' Boy comic; and bassist Eric Claridge, yet another acclaimed visual artist, has a solo album in the works.
Considering their melange of other involvements, it's no wonder the band began taking breaks between records after putting out four albums in their first few years. This year's Everybody arrived three years after the group's last full-length album, One Bedroom.
"When we got together to rehearse for the record, I guess maybe we felt slightly rusty in the beginning," says Prekop, adding that the band will begin working on its next record this fall. "But it always blows our minds how it sort of instantly feels like we never stopped, and this bizarre reflex kinda kicks in."
Everybody marks the first Sea and Cake album that McEntire relinquished the role of producer, handing the reins to Brian Paulson (Slint, Wilco). The change was a bigger adjustment for some members than others.
"I'm so used to how John works, so I was confused at certain points with what I was hearing at the time," says Prekop, noting that his bandmates, particularly Prewitt, took to the new producer much more quickly. "I'll admit it took a couple months after we had finished the record for me to hear what was really good about it, but that happens to me almost on every record…I just sort of tend to not listen to it much after we're actually finished, because then I focus on the things that bug me, and that's not too pleasant."
By now Prekop finds plenty to like about Everybody. It's one of The Sea and Cake's most straightforward albums to date, eschewing the electronic elements of many past releases.
"I think we were hoping to go with the more documentary-type approach in terms of representing the band, that sort of live interplay that we felt was missing on some of the more recent records," Prekop explains.
If nothing else, the recording process for this album distinctly from the band's past efforts. "We felt the tunes were pretty much ready to go before we recorded, so that was a big difference from One Bedroom, when we decided to do a lot more work in the studio as we were writing the songs. We tend to sort of counter-react what we did the last time," Prekop says. "Our next record could be different again in another way. I couldn't quite predict yet."
Well, at least one person will be surprised.
In the beginning: Our first gig I remember was at my brother's wedding, and I think we knew how to play like three of the songs live. I don't think we had to entertain the whole night; we were sort of a side attraction.
Most surreal CTA story: The other day I was taking the bus to Soma Studios to meet up to leave on this tour, and this guy was passing out these survey forms regarding the CTA. The bus was packed and it was just hilarious how many people were completely up in arms. The guy was completely swamped with complaints, and that wasn't quite the nature of the survey. It was an intense sort of microcosm of the city; it was really surreal in a crazy way. People were really letting the guy have it. I felt sorry for him.
Fresh from the woodshop: Everybody is out now on Thrill Jockey.
Coming soon to a stage near you: The Sea and Cake will perform on July 15 at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park.