Nailing the Finite Version: An Interview with Aaron from Aaron & the Sea

I discovered Aaron & the Sea only a few weeks ago.  Not really sure how I got directed to their Bandcamp site, but I was drawn by a free download of their new record.  I must admit, I didn’t listen to the record right away.  It got buried under loads of other obligations and became one of those things I would get to when there was time.

One evening, not too far along, there was time.  Dialing through my iPod, their new album was chosen and soundtracked my long walk to the car.  Immediately I became immersed in a world with hints of places I had traveled before, yet distant and abstract in a way I couldn’t put my finger on.

It blew me away.

Not in an ‘oh this is the greatest thing ever kind’ of way, but in an honest, I’ve been given a glimpse into another person’s universe kind of way.  For the first time in a while I wished for a slightly longer walk simply to listen a bit longer.

The record still holds me because it is still unfolding.  I have yet to feel any kind of control over it.  I have yet to feel like it has spun itself out.

Rather, each listen is an offering of a glimpse at what I thought I knew and how far it was off.  It’s a vision to being quite unique and should open windows and doors for the listeners lucky enough to find it.

Recently, I chatted with Aaron of Aaron and the Sea via e-mail.  Initially I thought this might provide clarity, but in fact, like all great mysteries, it has merely provided new clues.

Garrett: How did you get into music? How did the band get started?

Aaron: I got into music when I was 10. I walked into a friend’s house and he was playing an electric guitar. The notion that things like electric guitars were available to people outside of television was one I’d never experienced before. I’ve been writing songs and playing in bands ever since.

Aaron & The Sea started in 2008 when Alex and I were roommates in Minneapolis. We occasionally made impromptu ballads about dinosaurs (think The Unicorns but less ghost-focused and more awful sounding). Somehow or another we got a slot headlining a Wednesday night R&B focused event at the Turf Club in St. Paul. Months later we began recording and hired local hot shot drummer Peter Leggett to play on the tracks. Weeks after that, Peter decided he couldn’t withstand our methods of seduction and complied in becoming a permanent fixture of the band.

Your initial records had a slightly different sound, but from the beginning you definitely had a way of doing things that was your own. Was the evolution from your first records to your newest one pretty natural? Did you have this current sound in mind when you started or did it come from the process of creating the music? How exactly did you find it?

The evolution from the earlier recordings to Creature Creature was natural but I wouldn’t say it was smooth. The first recordings were remnants of previous projects of my own and of mine and Alex’s, complicated by us not having a clear idea of what we wanted out of Aaron & The Sea. As a band it took us a long time to nail down a finite vision for our music. I think because all three of us are interested in producing any number of different sounds we spent quite a while stumbling through different genres before figuring out what the three of us were collectively most interested in working on. Creature Creature was definitely resultant of that process and of collaborating with our friend Joe Johnson who we co-produced and recorded the album with.

Are there any artists (music or non-music) that you were drawing from with this record? Any artists that have been inspiring to you long term?

I worked as a nanny during much of the time that we wrote this material, and consequently often revisited children’s story books and movies that I’d read or seen as a kid- so authors like J.M. Barrie and Shel Silverstein definitely had some influence. Alex watches lots of horror films.

Long term artist inspiration… Saul Williams comes to mind.

How do you balance out the arrangement of real and electronic instruments?  Do you write from particular perspectives with each song or does it develop through the recording sessions?

On the record it varied from song to song, often having to do with which one of us came up with the initial baseline, or melody or song-mockup. At the time I was working mostly with “real” instruments and was very electronically illiterate. Alex was the exact opposite. So songs that Alex originated like “X” ended up tending towards electronics whereas songs that I originated like “There There Creature Creature” tend towards live instruments. Then they developed through the recording sessions.

One thing that really stands out to me is the calmness of the voice on this current record. Some of the tracks are incredibly percussion heavy and that can lead one to sometimes over singing. Was this a conscious play? Was there ever a worry that the songs were being under sung? Does that make sense what I am asking?

Definitely conscious.  When mixing the record Joe was adamant that we maintain that contrast and even embellish it by keeping the volume of the vocals relatively low. I worried a bit at first but I’m happier for trusting him.

How do you handle a live show? Are you able to maintain the sound on the record or is it altered to suit your performance? Do you have to bring on additional people to the ones credited on the record? Do you ever do alternate versions of songs for a live show? If not, have you wanted to?

Creature Creature was written between two and four years ago so for us it’s borderline old material. With the recent release of the album we’ve really been enjoying reworking a lot of the material. So, many of the songs have taken on modified or new forms- especially when performed alongside even newer material- but not all of them. One of the things I enjoy most about going to shows is seeing how whatever band alters their music for performance. If I want to hear a group’s music exactly as it is on the record I can just listen to the record.  Then there’s also a desire for our music to encourage dancing and movement at shows. Instrumentally we make use of looping, samplers, laptops, drum machines, and integrate with live drums, guitar and keyboards.

Do you try to do anything special for a live show? Video or lights? If so, what kind of preparation do you put into that? If not, have you ever wanted to have something?

Absolutely. We recently started experimenting with different lights-setups at shows that we control onstage. In watching a number of modern dance performances over the past few years I’ve become very aware of and interested in the role of light in performance, and how it can be used to manipulate the atmosphere and create an environment where people are moved to move. So basically we make (too) many trips to Menards and Home Depot and various online stores and watch lots of YouTube instructional videos.

Who are you listening to right now?

Lots of remix music. I think the songs that have received the most spins from me over the past week are “America” by The Shoes, a remix of Phreshy’s “Puff Puff Pass” by Machinedrum, and “Violent Dreams” by Crystal Castles.

What does this year look like for you and the band?

We have a few more performance dates in Minneapolis through June, then we’ll spend most of August performing in New York and shooting another video, and with any luck we’ll release some of our new music in the Fall.

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To learn more about Aaron & the Sea check out their website.

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