Interview with Matt Hines of The Eastern Sea
The Eastern Sea just kicked off their national tour in Austin with a show at Stubbs (with Dana Falconberry) in support of their new album Plague. This tour will take The Eastern Sea to Denton, Tulsa, Memphis, Atlanta, Athens, Annapolis, Asbury Park, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Houston and New Orleans.
We sat down with the band’s founder and principal songwriter, Matt Hines, at Spider House Cafe to discuss the recording of Plague and how to become a national band…
A2: You named the album Plague. Tell us more about that.
MH: It was the worst idea in the world to call a record Plague, because it turned into a plague. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong. When we were writing songs during pre-production, we went on tour and I was reading The Plague by Albert Camus and Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse – both books have plague elements. I spent time as we were recording, developing an idea of what Plague really meant; but then after all the shit started happening, it took on a life of its own. But it stemmed from an idea that had been toying with – a philosophical concept of things that change over time. One day you wake up and discover that your entire life is different. In Camus’ The Plague they open their eyes after eight months of being wrecked by a disease and their lives have been drastically changed. They had to adapt – the human adaptation to change. That is sort of what ended up happening with the record.
A2: Can you talk about the trials and tribulations of recording Plague?
MH: The making of this record was one of the hardest things I have ever done. A lot of the problems were out of my control – I don’t want to pass the buck or whatever, but there were a lot of things that were not my doing, and there were just acts of god. We started making this record with a guy named Matt Smith at Hot Tracks!!! in East Austin. It was a really cool space and we were really excited. The whole point of Plague was live-tracking to 2” tape, to make it sound like a real band. We started in February 2011, after months of pre-production in 2010, and there were tons of setbacks. Just lots of equipment problems and there was a horrible winter storm. We were behind by a week and were losing hours. We ended up getting all of the basic tracks done – drums, bass, guitar, and keyboards – for all twelve songs. Then the studio got condemned by the City of Austin for building violations, so we got kicked out and didn’t have a home because we had recorded everything on 2” tape and we needed that same tape machine.
We lost lots of time and it was really hard to deal with. It caused lots of tension in the band. The band that I recorded Plague with was the same band I had been playing with for four or five years. We had already started fighting about some stuff and this only made things worse. Finally we got settled down in Ohm Recording, but we had to dance around all of the other work that was already booked there. We never got a time for us. We would record overdubs for a couple days then have two weeks off. It was all going at a snail’s pace. I had been living with my girlfriend and I was turning into a heinous creature. I went into this horrible depression and could barely kick it. It almost ruined my relationship.
Then our producer Matt had started dating Rebecca and moved in with her in Bastrop. The Bastrop fires [in September 2011] got really close to their house. It ended up being a really sweating moment because it looked like our producer’s house was going to burn down. But it didn’t; it got saved by firefighters. We took that as a sign, so we moved into their house and finished the record there.
It took a year to record the whole album. From an outsider’s perspective, you think that an album recorded over the course of a year is going to sound scattered. We recorded at all of these different places, on different mediums – but I think it came out really coherent. It only sounds as coherent as it does because of all of the planning that we did. There are no B-sides to this record. It is just 12 songs – the very same 12 songs that I wanted to record in 2010 are now being released in 2012.
A2: When did you decide that hiring a publicist was the next step for The Eastern Sea?
MH: It happened really early in the process, in mid-2010. I have always been very adamant about publicity. Before we even recorded Plague, I was interested in doing tour publicity. So began talking with Brett Cannon, who is now our manager. We really wanted Brett to be our publicist, but he decided that he needed to be our manager. Then we met Sheila Kenny, our publicist, through Brett. The first meeting we had with Sheila was when we decided to announce the release of Plague; but we had done a lot of pre-planning and publicity roll-up with Brett, which Sheila came in to execute. We took a huge step in trying to become more professional by having a more streamlined approach towards to truly releasing a national release, which is much different than releasing something and making sure that it is in End of an Ear and Waterloo Records in Austin. The idea is for us to expand nationally. Out of the entire country, we probably only have a presence in four to five markets and the goal is to expand to ten to fifteen, then go on. That wouldn’t be possible unless you had a coordinated attack plan.
A2: The Eastern Sea performs live in various incarnations, from you performing solo to a 12-piece band. Do you have an ideal band size for national tours?
MH: Touring is difficult. In order to make the sound happen, we have to have at least five people. We have played with up to 12 people, but at that point we are just adding extra melodic instruments. Right now, the wall that I am at is eight people. That allows for two melodic wind instruments, two guitar players (including Shawn Jones from The Lovely Sparrows), a bass guitar, two drummers – which is a little bit gratuitous but Plague is drum heavy and features a lot of auxiliary percussion – and keyboards. If we had all of the money in the world, and I could pay everyone and we could travel in a big van, we would tour the country with eight or nine people at every chance.
Also be sure to check out The Eastern Sea’s “Santa Rosa” which is the featured song on our June 19th podcast.
Feature image from foodrepublic.com