Usually when a key member of a band moves out of town, the group tends to break up—or at least slow down.
Local purveyors of pure pop Sea of Jones missed nary a beat when guitarist-singer-songwriter Pat Munson packed up and moved to Portland last year, leaving bassist-singer-songwriter Bill Kelley, guitarist-singer-songwriter Gary Turnier and drummer Roger Thom to carry on as a trio. Thing is, they were in the middle of recording sessions for their second CD, Little Kings.
“We’d recorded all the basic tracks before Pat moved,” Thom explains. “Then he came back a couple of times for overdubs and mixing.”
“Pat’s not out of the band, as far as we’re concerned,” interjects Turnier. “But those of us who are still here in Salt Lake are going to keep on playing. He’s more than welcome to play and record with us whenever he can—we want him to be involved as much as he can be. Being hundreds of miles apart kind of makes that a problem, though.”
The problem is irrelevant for at least this week, since Munson is returning to Salt Lake City for what Turnier jokingly calls “the Week of Jones”—a three-night stand as a four-piece band to celebrate the release of Little Kings. “And after the CD release blitz, he’ll be heading back to Portland as fast as possible,” Thom laughs.
Sea of Jones has long been one of SLC’s underappreciated champions of the guitar-driven melodic pop niche—the kind of collegiate American rock & roll that never goes out of style, yet never catches on significantly in mainstream consciousness, either. Aside from occasional near-breakthrough players like Elliott Smith, Matthew Sweet and the Replacements, this particular brand of earnest tunesmithing stacks more critical raves than record sales.
“Sorry, we’re not very trendy; we’re just a rinky little pop band,” admits Turnier. “We missed the Latin Invasion bandwagon, too—isn’t that whole thing over yet? Where’s Ricky Martin?”
“I hear Lou Bega’s working on a new album,” Thom says, unsuccessfully holding back the sarcasm.
There are no Latin influences evident on Little Kings, and the Wilco/Son Volt glimmers of alt-country heard on Icewater & Flyswatters, Sea of Jones’ lo-fi debut EP of a couple of years ago, have faded slightly. What’s left are 13 hook-laden rock songs, split between three vocalists, that sound like they were knocked out in the relaxed atmosphere of a garage—the cleanest, best-sounding garage on the block.
“We wanted to hear these songs as big as possible,” Thom says. “Not overproduced, just recorded right.”
“When we say big, we mean having it sound like you’re right there live,” Turnier stresses. “We wanted to work in a nice studio, not someone’s basement—not that recording cheaply in a basement is bad; you can do great things that way, too. We wanted to record at Counterpoint Studios, and we wanted to work with [engineer] Bob Abeyta. We also wanted to record on old two-inch analog tape, to get that fat sound you just don’t have with modern digital. Those are the commitments we made for this CD, and it turned out sounding just like us live. Some of the songs are a little more produced and layered, and some were just laid down live and left as is.”
“It’s more of an art project—we didn’t want to just put every song we have on a disc,” Thom says. “It had to work as a whole, to be cohesive.”
“That was another long discussion. We wanted a group of songs that sounded good wrapped around each other,” Turnier continues. “We didn’t have battles, but we did have conversations about what we liked and didn’t like for the CD, and this is the way it shook out.”
As most local musicians will tell you, Counterpoint is a major-league studio, with a pristine sound that doesn’t come cheap. “We spared no expense on recording,” Kelley says, “and we’ll be paying for it for years to come.”
“The recording seemed like it took forever, between scheduling conflicts and lack of money,” Turnier concurs. “The usual obstacles bands face when they don’t have a million dollars backing them.”
Getting back to the Pat Problem: Little Kings isn’t a goodbye note from Sea of Jones, despite founding member Munson’s relocation to the Northwest. “We’ll still carry on as a three-piece,” Thom says. “We’d also like to set some shows up in Portland with Pat now that the album is done.”
Would the rest of Sea of Jones ever pack up and head for the grayer pastures, as well? “Can’t say yes or no,” Turnier considers carefully. “But we can do the things we need to do to make us happy here just as well as we could there—even though Portland’s so much cooler and all.” [Laughs]
“It’s just more of a challenge here,” Thom understates.
“We still get together every week, pound out new songs and just keep working on them, as well as playing a few shows. That’s how we have fun,” Turnier says. “We’re just going to keep on doing what we’ve always done, and we’re fine with that. I’ve thrown some more of my tunes in to sing on, but Bill is singing the majority now. As far as the music, I’ve had to change the way I play completely. With one less vocal and guitar, it’s changed the whole dynamic.”
“Sea of Jones is always a work in progress, and the new CD is really a milestone,” Thom says proudly. “It captures our sound at a certain time, and it turned out amazing. Now, we have to release it, hope people enjoy it and continue on with what we’re doing. Little Kings is not a swan song at all—it’s not The Last Waltz.” [Laughs]
As beer connoisseurs may have gathered by now, Little Kings was named after the Cincinnati-brewed Little Kings Cream Ale, but not necessarily in tribute. “It’s not really that good of a beer, but it’s a great name,” Thom says. “We don’t have an endorsement deal with Little Kings, but we wouldn’t turn it down, either. [Laughs] Free money is free money.”
Sea of Jones CD Release Blitz @ Liquid Joe’s, 1249 E. 3300 South, Thursday, July 13 (with Sketch); Zephyr Club, 301 S. West Temple, Friday, July 14 (with Doublewide); and Burt’s Tiki Lounge, 726 S. State, Saturday, July 15 (with True Grit). Also appearing live on KRCL 90.9 FM’s Across the Tracks, Saturday, 1-4 p.m. Sea of Jones info: www.SeaofJones.com. u