The Sea and Cake
The Sea and Cake
When the Sea and Cake formed in 1994, Chicago's post-rock scene was just coming into its own. The post-rock style—defined by innovative rock artists using a typical drums/bass/guitar combination to make jazzy, avant-garde pop music—drew much attention from the international press and launched the careers of bands like Tortoise, Boxhead Ensemble, Dianogah, Eleventh Dream Day, and Gastr Del Sol.
The Sea and Cake founder Sam Prekop met Archer Prewitt while studying painting at the Kansas City Art Institute in the early 1990s. There they began to forge a musical friendship that would carry over to their pending move to Chicago, where Prekop would continue his studies at the Art Institute of Chicago. Upon moving to Chicago Prekop also met bassist Eric Claridge—then a beach bum from Hawaii—and together they formed Shrimp Boat. Prewitt had his own band, the Coctails, and when both bands folded, the remaining members formed The Sea and Cake, although they didn't yet have their band's name. Just before they were to record their debut album, the band's drummer left. Fortunately, one of the engineers at their recording studio, John McEntire of the Mosquitos (later to become Tortoise, the scene's most well known band), was available as a replacement. Soon McEntire found himself behind the kit on the record, and then a permanent member of the group. They found their name when McEntire, having misheard the title of the Gastr Del Sol song "The C in Cake," called it The Sea and Cake, a rather garbled translation.
In late 1994 The Sea and Cake released their first record, a self-titled debut, on the fledgling—and later to be scene-defining—Thrill Jockey label. The Sea and Cake, which the Rolling Stone website called "an enigmatic fusion of pop, jazz and blue-eyed soul," soon became an underground classic, assuring the band of their direction and priming them for a busy year to follow. In 1995 the band reached its most prolific stage, releasing both Nassau and The Biz in less than 12 months. Besides the praise bestowed upon Prekop's lilting voice and lead arrangements, the rhythm section received equal recognition. Jason Ankeny of All Music Guide commented on The Biz: "The resulting sprawl brings the group closer to jazz than ever before, with the songs' extended instrumental passages and shifting rhythms shining new light on the telepathic interplay between Eric Claridge's bass and John McEntire's drums."
The group followed up two years later with 1997's The Fawn, a brilliant mix of heady jazz and rock with obvious pop overtones. The record was definitely an experimental one, as the band tried its hand at drum machine and synthesizer sequencing during the record's production. The experiment proved successful. "Full of airy spacious grooves, The Fawn is as gracious as its namesake," commented Entertainment Weekly 's Rob Brunner.
Instead of noting the changes in production, however, critics continued to focus on the more organic elements that came to characterize the band's sound. Stephen Thompson, writing on the Onion AV Club website, commented that "Frontman Sam Prekop lapses in and out of a falsetto without a hint of testosterone, while Archer Prewittt provides shimmering guitar lines that meander while avoiding tension or showboating."
After a heavy schedule of touring and supporting their records, the band's members took some time off at the end of 1997 in order to pursue their numerous solo and collaborative careers. Claridge, also a painter, went back to his artwork and held a series of shows in the Chicago area. And Prewitt concentrated on his comic book illustrating while touring on his own, and released a second solo album. The busiest of the group, however, may have been McEntire, who continued touring and recording with Tortoise. In addition, he founded his own Soma Studios and engineered the work of Stereolab and countless other bands.
Like his visually-minded bandmates, Prekop also returned to painting and eventually displayed his work in both Chicago and New York. In 1999 he released and toured for a self-titled solo record, where he began experimenting with self-recording and digital technology. This posed an occasional obstacle for him. "I wasn't really writing songs. They were more like a bunch of little computer-based snippets, and I got kind of bored," he told Billboard 's Dylan Siegler. Faced with the dilemma, he called the Chicago scene's most prolific and high profile producer, Gastr del Sol's Jim O'Rourke. O'Rourke ended up producing the album, adding string arrangements and incidental backing vocals to lend the record a less-digitized sound.
Still, stepping back from the band proved to be a worthwhile experience. "I wonder what would happen if I worked on the Sea and Cake constantly," Prekop pondered to Billboard 's Chris Morris. "I think it's good and necessary to step back from it.… It's important to get a different perspective on it."
By the end of 1999, however, the group had gathered back in Chicago to record Oui. "Surprisingly, the long lay off didn't seem to pose any ill effects, somehow the distant perspective supplied a new necessary focus," Prekop explained in the band's publicity materials. The minimalist Oui was recorded at Soma Studios in order to make the record as a live album, with very little overdubbing and few production tricks. The band brought in Paul Mertens—the man responsible for Brian Wilson's 35th Anniversary Pet Sounds tour—to work on the horn and string arrangements. After Oui' s supporting tour, however, the band members once again decided to pursue their own solo interests.
In 2003, after another lengthy recording absence, The Sea and Cake returned with One Bedroom. Writing in Rolling Stone, David Malley commented that the record's "soft hue is interrupted only in the final track, a wonderful cover of David Bowie's "Sound and Vision" that's so overwhelmed with Eighties synth it could only be painted electric blue." The choice to include Bowie's cover may have been a sly allusion to the band's fascination with visual art, and perhaps reflected the growing convergence of musical and computer technologies with which they had familiarized themselves. Prekop explained to Chicago 's Kevin McKeough that the band's newfound digital recording process gave the music "a graphic quality. Now I equate making a record and sound with a visual display." Claridge added, "It's become so much more visual. You play the bass part and you actually see the wave form of the bass."
Process was always an important facet of the band's musical growth and this time they let the music take its shape in the studio. "We decided to go it a bit looser," Prekop told Morris. "All the tunes were together when we went into the studio, but we knew we were going to stretch it out.… Part of the plan [was] to see what happens."
For the Record …
Members include Eric Claridge , bass; John McEntire , drums; Sam Prekop , vocals, guitar; Archer Prewitt , guitar.
Group formed in Chicago, IL, 1994; released The Sea and Cake, 1994; released Nassau and The Biz, 1995; released The Fawn, 1997; released Oui, 2000; released One Bedroom, 2003.
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.
Billboard, January 23, 1999; November 16, 2002.
Chicago, January 2003.
Entertainment Weekly, April 7, 1997.
Rolling Stone, February 6, 2003.
"The Biz" All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (March 12, 2004).
"The Fawn," Onion AV Club, http://www.theonionavclub.com/review.php?review_id=2397 (March 12, 2004).
Additional information was obtained from Thrill Jockey publicity materials, 2003.