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.”

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Bruce is Bigger than Big 12 Tourney

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By Joel Francis

The Kansas City Star

With the Big 12 tourney reigning in Kansas City, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band commandeered Omaha’s empty arena for nearly three hours of musical magic on Friday night.

Springsteen opened with “No Surrender” and kept his foot on the gas for the rest of the night. Although the band played three-quarters of last year’s album, “Magic,” they didn’t shy from their late-‘70s glory days. The new material meshed with the old well. In short, it all worked and it all kicked ass.

The ballads were just as affecting as the barnburners. Violinist Soozie Tyrell duetted with Springsteen for a beautiful reading of “Magic” accented by guitarist Nils Lofgren’s flamenco-like fills. Bass player Garry Tallent added a captivating countermelody to “The River,” which was haunted by Springsteen’s falsetto vocals. “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day” found the band armed with acoustic guitars and leading the audience in a campfire sing-along.

After a short sermon updated from his pro-John Kerry, “Vote For Change” tour, Springsteen dedicated “Living in a Future World” to his “Vote For Change” tourmate, local boy Conor Oberst. Oberst himself popped up nearly an hour later during the encore to lend his voice to “Thunder Road,” but was woefully unprepared to keep up with The Boss. Oberst nervously paced in circles around guitarist Little Steven Van Zandt, and flubbed most of his lines. Fortunately, everyone else in the arena had the lyrics down and picked up the slack.

There were several surprises tucked into the 25-song set, but none was bigger than “Jungleland.” Saxophonist Clarence Clemons looked shaky throughout the night – he frequently took breaks in a large easy chair positioned near the back of the stage – but he and pianist Roy Bittan delivered a riveting performance of arguably Springsteen’s greatest song. That was followed by a throwback romp through the “Detroit Medley” led by drummer Max Weinberg. Springsteen said they hadn’t performed this one in a while, and he proved his point by fumbling with some of the lyrics. Earlier in the night, the band reclaimed “Because the Night” from Patti Smith.

Two E-Street mainstays were M.I.A. Springsteen’s wife Patti Scialfa was at home tending to the family, and Danny Federici is receiving treatments for melanoma. His organ bench was ably filled by Seeger Sessions tour alum Charles Giordano.
For a man who named his sixth album after Omaha’s home state, Springsteen and the E Street Band haven’t been frequent visitors. Springsteen said this was their first visit in 30 years, and his only musical nod to “Nebraska” was a boogie version of “Reason to Believe” that sounded like it was arranged by John Lee Hooker and Canned Heat.

The house lights came up for “Thunder Road” and “Dancing in the Dark” before the night ended with “American Land,” a Irish-flavored original that brought St. Patrick’s Day a few days early.

Setlist:
No Surrender/Radio Nowhere/Lonesome Day/Adam Raised A Cain/Gypsy Biker/Magic/Reason to Believe/Because the Night/She’s the One/Living in a Future World/Promised Land/Waitin’ On A Sunny Day/The River/Devil’s Arcade/The Rising/Last To Die/Long Walk Home/Badlands//ENCORE: Girls In Their Summer Clothes/Thunder Road (with Conor Oberst)/Jungleland/Detroit Medley/Born to Run/Dancing in the Dark/American Land

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