For nearly twenty years, Chicago’s Sea and Cake has churned out music that manages to sound like almost nothing else. Often described as indie-jazz or post-rock, the band (most recently The Moonlight Butterfly) pulls together a constantly shifting array of influences all the way from jazz to obscure ambient electronic music.
In conversation, lead vocalist Sam Prekop gives the impression of someone looking to grow constantly, always looking for new ways to perform and write. Most recently, he provided the soundtrack for Tim Sutton’s film Pavilion. According to Prekop, the film itself is very “visually enticing and engaging, and there’s not a lot of dialogue, so it’s very open for music,” making it a great opportunity for Prekop to explore the connections between sound and image.
Though Prekop is also a visual artist, he says that in the past there has “rarely been a practical connection between the visual and the musical.” Of course, “they are both outlets of [his] sensibility and either one would be different without the other,” but he’s never made a conscious effort to connect the two until now. He says that working with the film was a great experience “because the music was so directly related to the visuals.”
Director Tim Sutton originally asked the Sea and Cake to compose the music for the film because of the relationship they’d established over the years -- Sutton has helped make a few music videos for the band, as well as for some of Prekop’s solo material. Unfortunately, “because of scheduling issues, the band wasn’t able to work on the film,” so Prekop decided to compose the music on his own.
Prekop describes the music on the Pavilion soundtrack as most similar to his work on 2010’s Old Punch Card, an abstract and mostly instrumental album that was itself something of a shift from his usual work both on his own and in the Sea and Cake. Though he’d never made anything like Old Punch Card before, the process of composing the album, though difficult, was an organic one.
“It’s not something I could have planned ahead of time, but there’s definitely no way I could have made it without being interested in electronic music like that for so many years," he says.
“I was pretty skeptical myself for quite a while, it was such a long process making that album," he says, speaking about whether or not he felt any skepticism from fans of his more song-based work ahead of Old Punch Card.
Though he was unsure at first, he says he often values most highly those records that are a real “trial” to make. He says that records like Old Punch Card and his self-titled solo album are of the sort that “could probably never happen again,” simply because they were so much work and because they arose from such unique situations.
On his current tour, Prekop is yet again making music in a new context, this time with fellow Sea and Caker Archer Prewitt. The music they’ve been playing live pulls from all over Prekop’s and Prewitt’s careers. Some of it similar to Old Punch Card; there’s “a synth piece with Archer playing along on guitar.” Still other songs are taken from Prekop’s older material and from the Sea and Cake’s catalog.
Though Prewitt and Prekop have worked together before, the music they’re playing on this tour “only exists live at this point,” though that might soon change. Prekop describes his long-standing plans to make an album with Prewitt “where it’s just two guitars and [Prekop] singing.” He says he looks forward to making an album like that because of the “intense and interesting challenge” it would pose. In addition to a possible future duo album, The Sea and Cake have recorded a new full length called Runner, and it’s scheduled for release on September 18th of this year. Beyond that, Prekop will no doubt continue to seek out new approaches to his music into the foreseeable future, looking for ways not only to surprise his listeners, but also himself.