Singer, songwriter, guitarist
As a member of the Sea and Cake, Archer Prewitt provided the jazzy pop quartet with buzzing, finger-picked lead guitar lines and stoic backup vocals. As a solo artist, however, Prewitt indulged his inner pop genius, concocting layered, contemplative and oftentimes melancholy songs that are at once lush and baroque as they are stripped down and straightforward. Over the course of four full-length albums and one EP, Prewitt stepped out of the shadows of Sea and Cake's post-rock meanderings to create songs that "sound like they were written on a piece of shag carpet resting in a slice of sun," according to a writet at Salon.com
Born in 1963 in Frankfort, Kentucky, Prewitt first cut his creative teeth as a visual artist. Attending art school in Kansas City, Prewitt split his time between working on his comic book, Sof' Boy, and playing music with his friends. Published by Drawn and Quarterly, Sof' Boy became a cult hit within the comic underground. A review of the book Sof' Boy and Friends: Econo Combo Nos. 1 & 2 said, "Sof' Boy devotees are kind of diehard, and won't be swayed by my opinions of their favorite squishy little guy and his oblivious misadventures. Besides, if you feel the need to be caught up to the current state of discussion among comic-book circles, this is one of the most important books to pick up: it's a convenient, 1950s-era inspired little thing that urges you to enter Sof' Boy's world, surround yourself with his kind-of-Chicago environs, meet his crazy friends (Flitty the Fly! Pidgy the Pigeon! And the wacky cannibalistic drunk bum!) and get over your meaningless concerns about what is or isn't a cultural phenomenon. After all, if you were Sof' Boy, dogs would piss on you, mean kids chase you, and you would regularly get run over by all manner of motor vehicles, but you would still enjoy each and every day to the fullest."
While he wasn't working on his comic book, Prewitt played guitar with Kansas City group The Coctails, a band he co-founded in 1989. Performing in matching tuxedos and playing soft jazz and Martin Dennyinspired lounge-pop, the 50's-era nostalgia that Prewitt explored with Sof' Boy was now given a musical counterpart. The Coctails released a number of albums, including 1990's debut EP Hip Hip Hooray for their own label Hi Ball. After their 1991 album, Here Now Today, the band moved to Chicago, and issued the Songs for Children EP in 1992, The Long Sound in 1992 and Peel in 1994. 1995 saw the release of their self-titled and final album, and the band subsequently broke up, with a farewell show on New Year's Eve of that year.
Prewitt's move to Chicago was key in upping his profile, both artistically and musically. Sof' Boy began to get noticed more in a larger city, and helped introduce Prewitt to other like-minded artists that were also musicians. While still a member of the Coctails, Prewitt met fellow visual artists Sam Prekop (who helped form and supplied guitar and vocals in the band Shrimp Boat), painter and bassist Eric Claridge (who also played in Shrimp Boat), and burgeoning studio wizard/drummer John McEntire (who moonlighted in Tortoise), and formed the Sea and Cake in 1993. The group released an impressive 6 albums and two EPs worth of material throughout the 1990s and into the year 2000, including 1994's Sea and Cake, 1995's Nassau and The Biz, 1997's The Fawn, 2000's Oui, and 2003's One Bedroom; all albums were released by Chicago's Thrill Jockey Records.
After the Sea and Cake recorded and released The Fawn, Prewitt began work on what would become his first solo album. Whereas the Sea and Cake was mainly a vehicle for guitarist Prekop's songs, Prewitt's solo work veered away from the jazz-and-electronics oriented sound of his main outfit. Inspired by the likes of the Beatles, Emmit Rhodes, Burt Bacharach, Nick Drake, and the Bee Gees, Prewitt's debut In the Sun (released by Hi Ball in April of 1997) was a decidedly funky, sometimes folky, eclectic and highly melodic affair. Nudeasthenews.com said In the Sun was, "An excellent, if somewhat anachronistic, slice of folk-rock. Prewitt's guitars are ironclad—not a note is off-key or out of tempo. The only sign that this record came out in 1997 and not 1967 is in the rhythm section, where drums are firmly rock (no divided tempos or jazzy flourishes here) and the bass playing (mostly by Prewitt himself) jets and pokes more adventurously than any other instrument on the album."
Following heavy touring supporting the effort, Prewitt returned with his second record, 1999's White Sky, released by Carrot Top. Prewitt told Dailycal.org, "The basics were recorded coming off tour for [my previous album] In The Sun. Everything was kind of solid and all the dynamics were there, so we went ahead and went to the studio a few days after we got back to try and document that new body of work. It's more of a band effort this time around." The band Prewitt spoke of consisted of drummer Steve Goulding, keyboardist/trumpeter Dave Max Crawford and his former Coctails band mate, bassist Mark Greenberg; all of them contributed to the tighter and more expansive sound heard on Prewitt's second solo effort.
Pitchforkmedia.com said, "White Sky may be the most melancholy and beautifully orchestrated album of Prewitt's career so far. The string section's powerful presence is one of the album's greatest assets, but more stunning is the way these pieces fit together, giving the life of stereo surround to compositions that draw inspiration from 1970s AM radio. And Prewitt must be pretty good behind the board, too, because his production work on White Sky ranks up there with Chicago's elite, Jim O'Rourke and John McEntire. In the Sun was packed with great melodies, but Prewitt was clearly less experienced at adding depth. White Sky finds Prewitt more than capable of incorporating open space and perfecting arrangements." 1999 also saw Prewitt help Sea and Cake band mate Prekop out on his self-titled solo debut, adding his signature finger picked style to a number of songs on the disc.
It would take Prewitt three years, however, to return with his third proper solo album. In 2000, the Sea and Cake released and toured on their album Oui. 2000 also saw the Coctails reunite for a show at Chicago's legendary Lounge Ax, for one of the final shows at the esteemed venue. Prewitt also released the EP Gerroa Songs for Carrot Top, a collection of music that he recorded while visiting Australia (Gerroa is a city in Australia). Then in 2002, Prewitt issued Three, his first solo album to be released by Thrill Jockey. Popmatters.com said, "With an orchestral backdrop and hook-laden guitar collages reminiscent of crystal clear blue skies, Archer Prewitt's Three boldly transcends that of the indie rock norm, creating a thing of masterful pop beauty that is not to be missed."
The next few years would be busy ones for Prewitt. 2003 saw another release from the Sea and Cake, followed by a 2004 Coctails reunion, opening up for the reunited Pixies in Chicago. The band also played shows in Japan to promote the release of their box set Popcorn Box. Then, in 2005, Prewitt released his fourth solo album, Wilderness, for Thrill Jockey. Stylus-magazine.com said, "Wilderness is Prewitt's most accomplished solo effort to date. He has craftily corralled the large-scale orchestral sweep of White Sky, but kept the intimacy of the guitar/voice confessionalism of Gerroa Songs. Yet, it's important to note that it isn't a stunning album. These songs aren't the statuesque blond that turns heads; they're the rain soaked girl who arrives late to the party, hangs with you in the kitchen drinking beer, and keeps pushing the hair from her eyes when she laughs. Which one you prefer is up to you."
In the Sun, Hi-Ball, 1997.
White Sky, Carrot Top, 1999.
Three, Thrill Jockey, 2002.
Wilderness, Thrill Jockey, 2005.
With The Coctails
Peel, Carrot Top, 1994.
Long Sound, Carrot Top, 1995.
Live at Lounge Ax, Carrot Top, 1996.
Coctails, Carrot Top, 1996.
With The Sea and Cake
The Sea and Cake, Thrill Jockey, 1994.
Nassau, Thrill Jockey, 1995.
The Biz, Thrill Jockey, 1995.
The Fawn, Thrill Jockey, 1997.
Oui, Thrill Jockey, 2000.
One Bedroom, Thrill Jockey, 2003.
For the Record …
Born in 1963, in Frankfort, KY.
Began career as a comic book artist; co-founded music group The Coctails, 1989; released several albums before Coctails disbanded, 1995; formed new group The Sea and Cake in Chicago, 1993; released albums with Sea and Cake through 1990s and 2000s; released solo debut In the Sun, 1997; released White Sky, 1999; released Three, 2002; released Wilderness, 2005.
Addresses: Record company—Thrill Jockey Records, P.O. Box 08038, Chicago, IL 60608, phone: (312) 492-9634. Website—Archer Prewitt Official Website: http://www.thrilljockey.com/artists/?id=10005.
"Archer Prewitt," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/ (January 12, 2006).
"Archer Prewitt: Three," PopMatters, http://www.popmatters.com/music/reviews/p/prewittarcher-three.shtml (January 14, 2006).
"The Best is Yet to Come," Daily Californian, http://www.dailycal.org/article.php?id=1023 (January 13, 2006).
The Comics Journal, http://www.tcj.com/234/r_hitlist.html (January 2, 2006).
The Sea and Cake Official Website, http://www.theseaandcake.com/ (January 12, 2006).
"Sharps and Flats," Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ent/music/review/1999/10/14/archer/ (January 12, 2006).
Thrill Jockey Official Website, http://www.thrilljockey.com/ (December 30, 2005).
"White Sky," Pitchforkmedia, http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/record-reviews/p/prewitt_archer/white-sky.shtml (January 13, 2006).
"Wilderness Review," Stylus, http://www.stylusmagazine.com/review.php?ID=2644 (January 31, 2006).
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