Sea Wolf gets back to its roots

(Above: Sea Wolf perform at the Riot Room in Kansas City, Mo., on May 29, 2013.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Alex Brown Church had to come full circle to see how far he has come. As the singer/songwriter/producer and main musician behind Sea Wolf, Church decided to return to his roots, recording at home by himself.

Sea Wolf started as Church’s California bedroom recording project because he didn’t have the resources to work with a band in the studio. When it came time to go on the road with his debut album, “Leaves in the River” (2007), he was amazed by the intensity that developed over time as the material was played each night with a full band.

Alex Brown Church of Sea Wolf.
Alex Brown Church of Sea Wolf.

“The reason why I took the band into the studio for the second album (“White Water, White Bloom,” 2009) was because I wanted to replicate that feeling, and I think we did that,” Church said.

Church was lured to record in Omaha, Neb., by the opportunity to work with Bright Eyes guitarist Mike Mogis, the sonic architect behind many Saddle Creek artists, including Rilo Kiley, Cursive and Jenny Lewis.

“I thought it sounded like fun to go somewhere as a group and be holed up in the studio for a month,” Church said. “That was definitely the experience we had, because being in a relatively small city not knowing anyone made us focus on the record.”

For “Old World Romance” (2012), Church wanted to return to working alone. He wanted the ability to pick up and put down songs as he saw fit — not possible with band members waiting and a studio clock running.

“This time I feel like I’ve gotten better at making albums, and I can match that energy by myself.”

In other words, if you like Sea Wolf’s latest album, “Old World Romance,” you’ll probably like Sea Wolf’s concert Wednesday at the Riot Room. Church is touring with a five-piece band and said the live sound is “pretty close to the record.”

“When I’m working on a lyric, I only work on one song at a time,” Church said. “I might spend weeks on one song. If I’m not feeling it one day, I’ll put it aside and do something else. I’ll wait and try a little every day and usually, after time, inspiration strikes.”

Despite being left to his own devices, Church said it was never hard for him to know when a track was ready.

“I’ll revisit a song and tinker, but that’s not to say I think about things too much,” Church said. “I want a song to feel fresh and inspired, and when I labor over it, it loses that. As soon as I get to the point of not knowing what to do, I put it aside until it feels fresh again.”

Though Church labored in relative solitude, the album never sounds insular. For every sparse track, like “Old Friend,” there is one with lush production, like “Saint Catherine St.”

“I was fortunate, because I could call Lisa (Fendelander, keyboards), Joey (Ficken, drums) and Ted (Liscinski, bass) — my live Sea Wolf band — to come play on songs,” Church said. “My friend Zac Rae, who is mostly known as a session musician but has his own amazing studio, also helped me record some stuff.”

To other do-it-yourself recording artists working at home, Church encourages having two back-up hard drives and backing those up religiously.

He picked up this advice when the hard drive he was using to save his music crashed and he lost everything. Working from MP3s as reference tracks, Church had to tediously re-create his songs.

“Before the crash, the album would have been done early last year,” Church said. “The final turned out a little different, but not in a bad way. I had to let go of what I had done before and just be happy.”

Keep reading:

Review: Sufjan Stevens

The Man in (Frank) Black

Justin Townes Earle: His father’s son

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