Sea Wolf’s Alex Church Brown is no stranger to going it alone. Since debuting the project in 2007, Brown has been the only constant Sea Wolf member, as well as the band’s head songwriter and frontman. For his debut album, Leaves in the River, Brown worked primarily on his own before teaming up with Seattle producer Phil Ek (The Shins, Band of Horses). And in 2009, Brown ventured into the studio with producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, M. Ward) and still walked away with a coproducing credit. “Originally it was going to just be Mike,” Brown explained last month from his Los Angeles home, laughing, “but at the end, he felt like I should get a coproducing credit because I kind of had a lot to say.”
For his third effort as Sea Wolf, last year’s soaring Old World Romance, Brown ditched the production partner altogether, choosing to record from home and take the time that he felt the album needed. “I wanted to be recording while I was writing the songs over a long period of time rather than going into a studio and doing it all at once,” he said. “I wanted to be able to spend time with the songs, and in order to not spend thousands and thousands of dollars being in a studio for months and months and months, I decided to just do it at my place.”
Though finances no doubt motivated Brown’s decision, one listen to Old World Romance indicates that home served as much more than just a place to push the “record” button. Throughout the record, Brown delivers reflective, imagery-laden folk ballads with a sense of wide-eyed wonderment. These are songs that fit comfortably alongside the Sea Wolf back catalog yet find Brown sounding more fresh and alive than ever before. The songs’ subjects range from life and love to travel and family, but Church considers the record’s main muse to be simple: This is an album about coming home.
In the years leading up to Old World Romance, Brown was splitting his time between the road and his girlfriend’s house in Quebec, Canada. “It was cool, but it was a little lonely,” Brown recalled of the experience. “I spent four years in New York during college, so the East Coast wasn’t that foreign to me. But being in Canada and everyone speaking French definitely felt a little different.” Upon returning to Los Angeles full-time — for the first time in three years — Brown retreated to his studio to write and record what would become the next Sea Wolf album. “I think the main thing about being home was just finally being able to interact with my friends again on a day-to-day basis,” he explained. “It was just about coming back and having that luxury. That experience was really inspiring for me, that sense of rediscovering where I’m from and seeing it all with fresh eyes.”
Lead single “Old Friend” is a perfect example; it’s a hopeful and wistful track about growing up, looking back, and leaning on each other to push forward, and it’s built around a flitting guitar line. Later, “Priscilla” finds Brown weaving a vivid tale about the importance of good-byes and new beginnings. Like its cover image, Old World Romance seeks the silver linings in dark times just as much as it celebrates fresh starts.
As for the album title, Brown indicates that it’s more about evoking a feeling and paying homage to his roots. “I had this sort of instinctual attraction to the title,” he said. “The record isn’t just about coming home. It’s also a nod to where I come from, which I associate with the Old World and the romantic, grand notions people have of the West and the dramatic frontier landscapes. On a number of different levels, it just felt right.”
As for the future of Sea Wolf, Brown is looking forward to taking Old World Romance out on the road. First comes a West Coast tour, which finds the band returning to Santa Barbara on Thursday, January 17. Then it’s off to the Sundance Film Festival for a set of gigs. It’s a schedule that will take Brown away from home yet again but one he welcomes.
“If it was just work, I would quit,” he laughed. “Creating songs is a magical experience, and it’s really exciting. I’m really moved by music, and I love playing music with other people. I’d say I have more of a professional approach [to the business] nowadays, but I don’t feel like that takes away from my own excitements or passions about what I’m doing.”
Sea Wolf plays SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.) on Thursday, January 17, at 8 p.m. Call 962-7776 or visit clubmercy.com for tickets and info.