Nearly two-and-a-half decades and 11 albums into their career, Chicago's The Sea and Cake have carved out a cozy and enviable but still cultish corner of the indie rock world for themselves. This is a band that is adored by those in the know, though those numbers are still relatively low. Some would say way too low; others prefer that they're still, after all these years, in on a bit of a secret. The Sea and Cake is one of those bands that it's cool to namedrop.
Yet the three current members—singer and guitarist Sam Prekop, guitarist Archer Prewitt and drummer John McEntire—have the look of everymen. There's nothing overtly rock 'n' roll about the guys, no flash or pizazz, no showmanship. But then that vibe of normality is reflected in the music.
Since the 1994 self-titled debut album, the band has written and released songs that have blended a contemporary indie vibe, electronic instrumentation incorporated, with classic jazz elements. Dreamy, sweet melodies frame poetic, honest, often witty lyrics. Even the band's name is an in-joke—a play on the Gastr del Sol song "The C in Cake."
"It's evolved gradually and slowly but by a lot," Prekop says. "I really don't think any of us planned on the band lasting this long. It's been a pleasant surprise. I feel we've become better 'players,' but without losing a certain surprise element that keeps it interesting. I'm already looking forward to working on the next record."
That enthusiasm is reassuring. The band's 11th album, Any Day, dropped this year, six years after 2012's Runner. As has been the case from the very beginning, the albums were released on former Atlantic Records A&R rep Bettina Richards' Thrill Jockey Records. Prekop says he's pleased with this one.
"I can't imagine releasing a record that we weren't 'pleased' with," he says. "It was a tremendous amount of work which is always the case, but to feel you've really accomplished something is never easy."
That sense of accomplishment is something that's evidently important to these guys; both Prekop and Prewitt are also respected artists, as was former member Eric Claridge, who painted a lot of the album covers. Prekop's photographs have also been used on the sleeves, and the frontman has published his own comic books. That keeps him busy, but music is never too far from his focus, whether that be recording or touring.
"I can't say I prefer one over the other really, [but I] will say I have been enjoying this tour quite a bit," Prekopp says. "The shows have been excellent. I really quite like traveling in general. I feel that touring is definitely easier than making a record. Once you get through the first couple of shows and are feeling confident performing new material, playing live is really satisfying and a lot of fun."
Any Day is a typically lush, introspective piece of work, and the LP version is decorated with more appropriate-yet-cryptic photographs. The album proves that these musicians won't allow the quality to drop. We asked Prekop, though: What does he write about nowadays? What inspires the band?
"I'm not the type of writer that would explicitly lay out any sort of commentary on social/political climate," he says. "However, it of course has an impact. I will say that 'These Falling Arms' is a song that grapples with, if somewhat abstractly, the current Trump folly/embarrassment."
That makes sense; there's a line that goes "How will I find a decision to go with" that Prekop repeats during that song, that reflects the frustration felt by many Americans. What the hell are we supposed to do about all this? And how do we live with the consequences of our decisions when we do make them?
Still, The Sea and Cake are not delving deep into socio-political issues and potential solutions. Rather, Prekop and the band focus on the human side—our emotions and reactions that develop inside when perhaps hell is breaking out around us. By examining and exploring those inner thoughts, the same approach to politically-minded lyrics can be taken to any other subject matter.
Whatever they do, it works for the band. Prekop also points out that the collaborative nature of the group has been key.
"I consider the band absolutely a collaborative entity so the lineup is the band and if it were changing it would be hard for me to call it a band," he says. "We consider our extensive experience writing and playing together over so many years absolutely critical to the sound we make."
On June 15, the band performs at 191 Toole and Prekop says that, while they've played in other cities more often, he recalls having some excellent shows in Tucson. He's anticipating nothing less this time around, and he's looking forward to showcasing tunes from Any Day for us.
"About half the set has been focused on the new record, and we play at least one or two songs from all of our records, so it's quite broad range of material," Prekop says.
At this point, the band sure has enough quality material to pull from when looking to fill a 90-minute set. And, being the forward-thinking artists that they are, it's not surprising that they weigh the set heavily in favor of the most recent work. By the sounds of it though, it won't be long before there's a new record to promote.
"We have more touring planned for the fall, and we're looking forward to start working on a new record," Prekop says.
Apparently, these guys still have stuff to say.