Song Spells, is an exciting new Sea Wolf project. “It’s a real Sea Wolf album, but it’s not an official record. It’s a gift for our fans,” says Alex Brown Church, the songwriter/guitarist behind the band, “It has a roughness to it, and an intimacy that was allowed by a faster, more experimental approach. It provided a kind of creative regeneration for the next album.”
With Sea Wolf, Church has made three excellent albums - Leaves In The River; White Water, White Bloom and Old World Romance – each displaying his dexterity as a songwriter and the band’s ability to flesh out his visions with a subtle grace that intensifies their fluid emotional content. The music on Song Spells is powerful and more experimental than their previous studio work.
“This is the first of a series of records I’m going to be doing in my spare time, between official studio albums,” Church explains. “The word ‘spell’ can refer to a magical spell or a period of time. I wrote and recorded it in a four-month period to force myself to go with first instincts and let go of the need to get things perfect. It was done for fun, with no commercial expectations from a label, something to share with our fans until we make our next ‘official’ album.” The band will be offering it on their website as a free or pay-what-you-wish download. “We’re giving it away as a thank you to the people that have supported us,” Church says.
Church recorded, mixed and produced the record at his home studio, inviting band members Lisa Fendelander, Joey Ficken, and Scott Leahy in to augment the album’s undulating, moody tone. “I wanted the music to convey the broad spectrum of moods one might experience in a typical four month period, the multi-dimensional flow between reflective, quiet moments and the more urgent, visceral feelings you get.”
As promised, the songs on Cedarsmoke are spellbinding. Spinning together layers of acoustic and electric instruments that connect with vaguely familiar ambient sounds, mimicking the wistful feeling of floating between drowsiness and dreams. “Ram’s Head”, led by a warm classical guitar and subtle synth swells, suggests a quiet scene in front of a fireplace on a cold and rainy evening. A wandering cello line drifts through a cloud of swirling white noise on “Cedarsmoke,” an instrumental with a smoky, yearning feel. “Young Bodies” is a song of regret and betrayal, full of raw emotion delivered simply by Church and his acoustic guitar. Grainy electronic textures and a propulsive backbeat drive the fractured reflections of “Bergamot Morning,” while the clash of major and minor keys gives “Whitewoods” a rollicking, feverish tone. The music ebbs and flows as the songs unspool, carefully balanced between feeling tough and sensitive, dark and hopeful.
Alex Brown Church was born in Columbia, a gold mining town in the sierra foothills of northern California. When he was seven, his family moved to France. They spent time in Paris and living a tent in the French countryside for a year, before returning to California, relocating to Berkeley. Then he moved on to New York to attend the Tisch Film School of the Arts at NYU. “When I was young, I used to hear bluegrass bands playing on the street and thought I’d be a fiddler when I grew up,” Church recalls. “I took classical violin in elementary school and got into bass guitar for a while, but put it aside to study film.”
In college, Church had a roommate that played in a band. “He was the first person I knew that took music seriously as a career. That gave me the confidence to do it myself.” After graduation, Church moved to LA to make films, but music took over. “I spent the requisite 10,000 hours making up songs and learning guitar. I was interested in songs as a whole, in creating a mood.” After meeting Brian Canning and Steven Scott, they started Irving, an indie rock quintet that made two albums. “We all contributed songs to the band, but I was also writing things I wanted to do on my own.” While he was in Irving, Church did a couple of shows a year as Sea Wolf, allowing his sound to evolve slowly into songs that were more serious and introspective. “I sing and write songs, but I’m not a singer/songwriter. The trick is taking something that’s essentially the creative output of an individual and making it a group experience.”
Church’s work with Sea Wolf has been widely praised for its blend of language, both literary and homespun, and melodic invention that touches on rock, folk and classic pop structures. “I really feel good about this record and we’re happy to give it away. Experimenting, doing things in new ways, working with a looser, more visceral approach and exploring new territory was really invigorating. I’m already working on the next official Sea Wolf album and am excited to keep pushing forward in this way.”