To hear Alex Brown Church, the singer and lead songwriter of the indie-rock band Sea Wolf, talk, it’s no surprise that almost three years elapsed between his latest release, Old World Romance, and the previous record, White Water, White Bloom.
“I’m not a super-prolific writer,” Church says without any hint of apology or embarrassment.
Heard a certain way, this statement might make one think that he’s not that invested in his music, or doesn’t try hard enough. But, in truth it’s exactly the opposite. Old World Romance is an expertly crafted record that shows just how much time and energy Church put into it.
Unlike White Water, White Bloom, which was produced by Mike Mogis, Church took a more active producer role this time around, and as a result, Old World Romance doesn’t have the same live vibe that White Water did. Similarly, since the other members in Sea Wolf (currently, these are keyboardist Lisa Fendelander, drummer Joey Ficken, guitarist Scott Leahy and bassist Eliot Lorango) frequently rotate in and out, Old World Romance found Church consciously dictating how the album should sound. The record showcases the highs and lows of relationships and the strain that time and distance put on them. The weight of such notions rested heavily on Church as he prepared to write the record.
“I’d been away [from home in Los Angeles] for a few years, and during that course of time, I lost that day-to-day contact you have with your friends,” Church says. “That was one aspect, coming back and realizing how important your friends and family and social network are. So for me, it was sort of about reconnecting to that aspect of my life.”
The idea of connection plays a significant role in shaping his content. Most of his songs are at least somewhat autobiographical, and this is done intentionally. For Church, music is all about building a connection—be it between himself and the listener, or himself and the song—so even if the songs aren’t autobiographical, he still tries to put his stamp on them.
“I always try to put myself in the narrator’s shoes,” Church says. “Some of the songs are more autobiographical than others, but I always like to have a feeling of being in the song, because for me, it’s a way to be able to connect emotionally to it. It’s hard for me to connect with story songs that I’m slightly removed from. I’m always trying to get the maximum emotional impact.”
The impact of traveling, returning and reconnecting are prominent themes on the album. The swelling rocker “Dear Fellow Traveler” recounts how seeing the world has helped change the way Church views his home since his return. The mid-tempo rocker “Changing Seasons” highlights Church’s love of the fact that things never stay the same even if you want them to, and the dreamy, jangly pop-rock opener “Old Friend” details Church’s efforts to reconnect with someone from his past as he recalls days gone by. Despite the autobiographical bent of the album, Church’s decision to try a different writing tactic this time around helped him remain objective about the material.
“Rather than use my traditional way of writing—picking up a guitar every day, spending a few hours coming up with song ideas, finding one I like and then sticking with that one until it becomes a song—this time I wrote a lot more song ideas each day and just recorded them,” Church says. “And then, every few weeks or months, I would go back and pick out the best ones after having an extended period of time away from them, so I could look at them more objectively.”
Such objectivity allowed Church to simultaneously be emotionally invested in his work and create the best album possible. Sometimes, as Old World Romance proves, you just need to take extra time to get it right.
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