The dark venue was overwhelmed with the scent of cheap incense, the sources of which were aimlessly poking out of the cracked and crumbling brick wall that dominated the right side of the long room. On the left, the bar was crowded with neon Pabst signs, skulls, and stools, topped by tattoo-ed and leather-ed patrons. Anarchy emblems and National Bohemian abound.
“It’s time to take the thrash out!” screamed the lead singer from the campy, metal-screamo band Hammer Throw that had taken the stage hostage for the last ten minutes. I had been staring at the creepy glowing gas-mask-on-a-stick they had brought with them (and introduced as their new guitar player), when I gave a side-long glance to the group of boys to my left. Wide grins grew on their faces as they watched the spectacle they would soon be following with their own set. Nobody else in the room seemed to think there was anything humorous about the presentation.
Taking in everyone else’s stoic expression, Kevin Wenger leaned over and whispered “Maybe I should introduce the songs like him.”
But fifteen “thrashing” minutes later, as up-and-coming band Sea Patterns readied to unleash their special brand of noise pop on Baltimore’s Sidebar, all Kevin Wenger had to say into the microphone was “This is Mr. Bitch.”
“I really liked Sidebar in Baltimore. It was a decent crowd. We got a lot of positive feedback,” Wenger said later, beaming in on a skype call while drummer Chris Sweeney, guitarist Jeff Koplovitz, and I- journalist extraordinaire- sat in Chris’s North Charles Street dorm. Any praise that the performance received was well deserved. Through the set, the band showed a dynamic sound, ranging from the poppy, cross-over potential “Strings Out” to the energetic “Zero Course Meal.” “I love playing ‘Zero Course Meal.’ I like playing guitar but I really like to jump around on stage with a microphone more…. There is nothing worse than seeing a band stand still and look entirely dis-interested.”
“‘Backyard’ and ‘Strings Out’ are always fun,” Koplovitz said, hands fiddling with a button on his shirt. “I really love ‘Strings Out.’ I think it’s a song that shows all aspects of our current sound.”
It’s this “current sound” that Sea Patterns expands on with their debut release “Play Date,” out this summer. Recorded at Mobtown Studios, where such diverse acts as Holy Ghost Party, Celebration, Future Islands, Waka Flocka Flame, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra have all previously recorded releases, the six-song EP represents the world where Sea Patterns comes from- counting Joy Division, The Smiths, Deerhunter, Merzbow, Black Swan, Animal Collective, The Shins, Nick Cave, and even Vampire Weekend as an assorted list of influences. But, while making passing references to these bands, the sound of Sea Patterns’ “Play Date” is something all its own.
“Backyard,” the release’s opener, begins with a one-two knock on the drums from Chris before plowing into a rumbling guitar progression that is familiar, yet impossible to dismiss. Somehow cinematic in its motion and rhythm, it’s the kind of tune that would perhaps score the scene of a Jonas Akerlund film starring the strung out and ever-bambi-eyed Olsen twins as they hopelessly drive across Baltimore in a 1970 Lincoln Continental on the search for some cheap heroine. That is to say, there is something gritty, innocent and world-weary in the music from the start. The chorus of “Why do I wake up? Why do I go to work?” immediately calls to mind the restless frustration of Ed Norton a la Fight Club. But far from Norton’s plunge into psychosis, Kevin’s story seems to be one of generational apathy and resignation, where every small and strange moment is painstakingly stitched together to create the narrative of life, ignoring fiercely the existence of the mundane that takes up the time in between his truly brilliant extra-curricular adventures. “Kevin, there’s a house with no light’s on/ Lets go inside/ Boy, that sofa looks comfy/ Like a nice place to die.” Just try not to agree.
Next comes “Smashed Glass” with its fuzzy uber-punk guitar that dumps the listener somewhere between a nameless Lower East Side dive in 1976 and Weezer’s mid-90s “Buddy Holly.” In fact, Sea Patterns offers up a luke-warm college boy tantrum that lyrically evokes some of 90s grunge-pop’s more passive tracks. But that is what’s brilliant about it. The boys in Sea Patterns are speaking to a generation that doesn’t know how to not participate in “the system,” only equipt to ignore or cover up their confusion about their dissatisfaction.
The third track on the EP is an early band and fan favorite “Strings Out” whose intro pays respect to early ventures into beach-rock vibes. Its Beirut guitar stewed in Beach Boys tambourine with a pinch of Vampire Weekend until Kevin’s voice comes in. Here, his voice is at its weirdest- shrill and exclaiming about “pools of amphetimines” and playing “the perfect song.” Around the two minute mark, a strange instrumental breakdown comes in that sounds like a psychotic radio transmission. Imagine Johnny Depp, fistful of cigarettes, tuning stations in time to the beat while speeding down the highway in the poster of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or simply… that trippy tunnel scene in the orginal Willy Wonka. But, surprisingly this solo melts into a beautifully simple and mellow verse where Kevin sings in a tired falsetto drenched in rippling, watery reverb “I slowed down; I took a nap today/ ate three meals and answered the phone.”
“Cape” kicks off the second half of “Play Date” with some of the best rhythmic language yet. A beautiful, big tom and kick give the song something special. Tambourine and cymbal crashes come to play in the high ends. It’s definitely a moment for Chris to shine and it’s his favorite song to play live “because it has a unique drum part.”
Meanwhile, Kevin presides over the song at his most “bratty-kid-on-the-jungle-gym” insecure, pointing and shouting at everyone else about how to play the game. “You will not move at all, until you hear the call!” he whines. “I like to take themes of childhood and kind of distort them- that’s what Cape is about.”
Before the EP’s proceedings are over, “I Don’t Want to Make a Baby” comes in with Sea Patterns’ most quiet moment yet. The softly strummed electric guitar and- dare I say- almost Motown-esque bass tone accompany Kevin’s uncertain lyrics which began as a poem written in the summer of 2009.
The album’s closer is the sweet kiss off “Battle Royale.” As high energy as “Strings Out” with soaring sliding guitar that swings back and forth between a growling lawn mower and a paper shredder, on paper it sounds like this would be the easiest to skip over. But it’s not. At just three minutes and twenty seconds, the mostly-instrumental piece sounds like the colors and movements of Super 8 film, the boys cruising down the highway, wind in their hair, racing victoriously from town to town on their own play dates.
All in all, “Play Date” brilliantly tells the story of smart, compelled young men who want to play dress up as little boys to deal with their problems. It’s both commentary and confession. But for the questions the album didn’t answer and to learn more about the making of this incredible record, I sat down with Sea Patterns back in Chris’s dorm.
What do you think of the Baltimore music scene?
Chris: It’s great. There are a ton of great bands, a ton of people who love music. I think what makes the music community great here is that it seems to be supportive rather than competitive.
Jeff: Recently, many Baltimore bands have broken up… Double Dagger, Videohippos, Thank You, Ponytail… Bands that I really loved….
Kevin: People feel comfortable making experiemental music here. It’s socially acceptable.
What do you think Sea Patterns brings to the Baltimore music scene?
Jeff: I think we’re different from most Baltimore bands. I think there is a spot for a type of heavier/ new-wave/ pop sound in Baltimore.
What is the most important aspect of performing to you?
Kevin: Making it dramatic. I love a lot of the Baltimore music scene because of how high energy it is. I think energy is a bit more important than accuracy.
Jeff: Energy. Stage Prescense. Personality. I like dressing well. I don’t want to look like shit while performing.
Kevin: I think image is a big deal, not in the sense of “we need a good image to be popular” but finding something that fits in with the music we are making. It kind of annoys me when people say “it’s all about the music” because it’s not. It’s not just about how technical you can be and how nice your equiptment is, it’s about how you project yourself visually and on stage.
Chris: This is a bit corny, but it’s just really fun. It’s therapeutic as well, very stress relieving.
What do you feel each member brings to Sea Patterns?
Chris: Kevin is great at writing songs. I think his lyrics are original and inventive. Jeff is great at coming up with riffs and more technical, musical things. And I play the drums.
Kevin: Jeff brings all of the pop and complexity that balances out my kind of dumb brutish heavy stuff. My favorite way of describing it is “a punk arguing with a Smiths fan.” Chris makes sure we aren’t too much of a rock band. He doesn’t do the heavy 4/4 rock beats. He keeps it engaging and interesting. A thinking man’s drummer.
Jeff: Kevin brings a weird songwriting approach into Sea Patterns. Kevin writes things that I would never think of. Chris always has really good input when we’re writing songs and always comes up with rhythms that are unique.
How much of your own personal musical background do you think gets funneled into Sea Patterns?
Chris: In terms of bands I’ve played with in the past, I would say little to none, because during high school I only played jazz. But if we’re talking about musical influences in general, there are a few bands that I’d say I’m conciously influenced by when I’m playing with Sea Patterns: Deerhunter, No Age, Vampire Weekend. I know we sound nothing like Vampire Weekend, but the sparsity with which he plays the drums was a big influence on my playing style. Those aren’t the only influences, but I guess they are the most apparent. And anytime you talk about musical influences it will always come back to Brian Wilson.
Kevin: Most of my musical background is stuff I’ve been listening to since I started the band. I started really digging deep and listening to a lot of different stuff around early 2009. I like a lot of noisy punk/experiemental/avant garde stuff like Merzbow and Swans and Big Black, so I definitely try to bring in the heavier side of stuff. There’s almost a different influence on each song. I think I’m shaped by what I’m listening to, which is good and bad.
Jeff: I feel like when I play guitar now, or when I write a new song, everything I’ve played or learned before comes into consideration. I always see my musical background as a staircase or something. Every stair has a little bit of knowledge of previous learned songs or chords or whatever. In high school I played classical and jazz guitar, so that definitely helped me to become a better musician but I don’t consider myself a great musician.
What has been the crowning moment when you really felt that Sea Patterns was a reality as a unified musical being?
Jeff: While playing Mr. Bitch at Charm City Art Space.
Chris: Last summer when we drove to Pennsylvania to play a few times, it felt more serious, like a little glimpse of the whole “touring” thing, lugging all our stuff around and driving together. I started to feel that this could really go somewhere.
Kevin: Probably the three days in the studio. I had a little revelation while we were recording that we had gone from three friends jamming in my basement to recording in a real studio. The songs have really come a long way and it’s so interesting to hear how they’ve changed. I looked forward to recording in a studio for so long and we finally pulled it off.
What was most exciting about working on “Play Date?
Kevin: Just being in the studio was great. We’ve never done the whole professional set up. We recorded everything ourselves prior to going to Mobtown. It was really great working with Mat- the producer. He knew what he was doing and was very easy to work with. I think it’s amazing that somehow we did it all in three days. And we played a show one of those nights so we were out late and my voice was shot from performing, but somehow it all came together.
Chris: We had done all of our previous recordings by ourselves, so it was exciting to just have the potential to flesh out the songs by means of some nicer equiptment.
Jeff: I thought it was really exciting to work in a professional studio and work with someone that knows what they are doing.
What songs are you most excited for people to hear on the EP?
Chris: All of them. People seem to like “Backyard” and “Cape” the most. I really like “Strings Out” and “Battle Royale”
Jeff: I honestly can’t pick one.
Why did you decide to release “Play Date” on vinyl as well as MP3?
Kevin: Vinyl is more desirable to people who will really appreciate our music. Vinyl and MP3 is the difference between porn and having sex.
by Hunter Hooligan
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