Sam Prekop of The Sea and Cake

While in lockdown in Chicago like the rest of us, Sam Prekop of The Sea and Cake talked with QRO. ...
Sam Prekop of The Sea and Cake : Q&A

Sam Prekop of The Sea and Cake : Q&A

While in lockdown in Chicago like the rest of us, Sam Prekop of The Sea and Cake talked with QRO.  In the conversation, Prekop discussed his upcoming solo record, Comma (out July 10th), the last Sea and Cake, record, Any Day (QRO review), painting, photography, touring right before quarantine, the right age of children to lock down with, camaraderie beards, and more…



QRO: How are you holding up with everything that is going on?

Sam Prekop: Pretty well, actually.  All things considering…

QRO: You are in lockdown with family?

SP: Yeah.

QRO: What’s it like in Chicago right now?

SP: It’s a beautiful day today.  But I wouldn’t know – it’s pretty much totally locked down.  It’s not normal.  It’s definitely bizarre.

QRO: But your children are going to online school?

SP: They do it live, I think it’s about two, three times a week, and then it’s assignments.  They’re in fifth grade.

I think, if you’re going to be locked down with kids, that’s maybe the best age.  Not toddlers, not teenagers – I feel lucky.

They’ll be twelve in July – twins.

QRO: Have you been writing/making music during all of this?

SP: Not a lot.  I just started, recently, messing around with music.

QRO: Do you have your own home studio?

SP: I do, yeah.

I’ve been doing a lot of drawing and stuff like that, which is another one of my pastimes.  Have not been doing a lot of photo stuff, which is my other passion.

I’d say, four-or-five days ago, I turned my studio back on.  It’s been a pleasant diversion.

Because I had no plans of doing a new project right now or anything.  It’s kind of a blank canvas at this point, which is so really nice & pleasant.  Just making sounds for the joy of it.  It’s been nice.

Once I really get into it, I’m easily sucked in, can become quite myopically focused on it, and not think about anything else.  So, it’s really good for that – a pleasant diversion.

I’ve been thinking about, ‘Oh, I need to buy some new stuff.  I need this to keep going…’ [laughs]

In a weird way, my day-to-day has not changed a huge amount since the lockdown. I haven’t had a day job for a really long time – besides trying to make art.

QRO: Is it tough to do anything, specifically music, with the family in the house?

SP: I have a pretty nice set-up.  I have a studio – it’s an apartment, actually below where we all live.  So, I have like an escape route.  It’s pretty nice.

I’ve had this studio maybe four years or something, so before that, it was a bit tricky to get it going.

I’m still not able to do much during the day, because I’m kind of in charge of home schooling, and I do all the cooking.  I’m pretty much stay-at-home dad type.

In a weird way, my day-to-day has not changed a huge amount since the lockdown.  I haven’t had a day job for a really long time – besides trying to make art.

In a way, I feel kind of guilty.  It has not thrown everything out of whack for me, in some ways.  It’s starting to get to my kids a bit.  They’ve been going with it pretty well, but I don’t think they have any idea how long this could actually go on.  And, of course, we don’t dwell on it.

QRO: And you didn’t have a tour get cancelled…

SP: Right.

And the other bizarre thing is, right before everything started to shut down, I was on tour.  Not a huge tour, but I think we did maybe seven or eight shows – this was with The Sea and Cake.

You could feel something was happening.  People were starting to talk about it.  This was at the beginning of March – I think our last show was March 8th or 9th in Mexico City, actually.  And we were on the West Coast.

I remember being in San Francisco, and a friend of mine was like, ‘You guys should leave soon, because I think it’s all going to be shut down, in the next day or two.’  And we’re like, ‘What are you talking about?…’

The audiences were amazing, the shows were great, and I have the feeling it was sort of a ‘last hurrah’ situation. [laughs] Without anybody admitting it, or saying it out loud, kinda?

I mean, I’m probably projecting onto it, now, at this point.  But I feel terribly lucky that we were able to play those shows right before it all shut down.

And it’s amazing to think I was in Mexico City not very long ago, and it was like another world to what’s happening now.



QRO: How was making Comma?

SP: It was good? [laughs]

I spent quite a long time on it.  It was done in my home studio, for the most part.

I guess I started over a year ago, I suppose?  But most of the pieces that ended up on the record sort of happened over last summer.  I had a couple months to warm up to it, get a lot of stuff out of my system.  So, I abandoned a lot of those early, false starts, but they led to the next phase.

But last summer I had almost two months, on my own, to work on it, because my kids went on a summer vacation kind of thing.  So that was quite fortuitous, and I was able to get a lot of work done.

I didn’t finish it at that point.  The project kept nagging me, and I was worried that I wasn’t going to pull it off.  I find, when I work solo, that it’s kind of quite difficult to not second-guess your decisions, and takes & stuff.  I think that’s why it always takes me much longer – always not quite sure if it’s what I was hoping to achieve, or if it’s actually any good.  So, I go back and forth, ‘It doesn’t matter – it’s just another record.’  Or start over kind of thing.

Then I mixed it with John McEntire [also of The Sea and Cake] in November.  That was great, actually, just to get it out of my house, have John listen to it, help me finish it, wrap up loose ends & stuff.  So, I was feeling pretty good about it, at that point.

I think it sounds quite a bit different from my other electronic records.  In a way, this one is a bit related to some things I might’ve started with in writing Sea and Cake songs, or pop songs.

Which, in the beginning, I was sort of disappointed that I took this ‘easy route,’ in some ways.  But it’s just how it’s going… [laughs]

And I’ve always been a proponent of following the music, and the ideas, paying close attention to what those cues might be, which direction to take.

I find, when I work solo, that it’s kind of quite difficult to not second-guess your decisions, and takes & stuff.

QRO: It seemed like you worked more with beat programming this time around…

SP: Yeah, a bit.

The main thing is that there are some beats in there, but I like to think of them as utility, tools, kind of.  And I kinda like that they’re so basic – it’s a way to get to other ideas, and I think that’s why I relented, in a way.

I’ve always had problems doing that kind of stuff in the past.  That’s always been a frustration.

Before [2010’s] Old Punch Card, I would try to do stuff with beats all the time, and it didn’t quite work out, or I wasn’t any good at it.

My breakthrough was that, ‘Okay, you can write stuff that has nothing to do with rhythm, beats, or pop songs.’  Once I got to that point, I felt quite liberated, actually.

But now, I found having that architecture and structure behind the tune helped me get to different kinds of ideas.  So, I think that’s why I kept on.

But I do like that they’re so pared down, and basic, for the most part.

QRO: When during songwriting do you know if it’s for your own solo work or for The Sea and Cake?

SP: It’s usually for a project, so I knew that this was going to be for a new solo electronic record.

I guess there is a hard delineation between the two, just because I know what I’m working toward for each discipline.

But for this one, or in retrospect, one of my problems, I would listen back to the tracks, and I would be like, ‘Why actually aren’t you singing on this?’  And I found that to be problematic, in fits and starts.

But one of the reasons I’m not singing on it is because that’s all anybody would hear.  Would totally change the focus.

But the structure & nature of the tunes, they could have gone towards The Sea and Cake.

One of our EPs, [2011’s] Moonlight Butterfly (QRO review), there’s a song, “Inn Keeping”.  The beginnings of that are very related to this kind of stuff.  But that’s what happened when it became a Sea and Cake song.  The foundation is a modular synthesizer patch, initial direction of that.

My favorite thing to do is work all the time. So, if I could, and can, that’s what I’ll end up doing.

QRO: Is it just a coincidence that you seem to do a solo record every five years?  Comma, 2015’s The Republic, 2010’s Old Punch Card

SP: I haven’t thought about it, but sort of ‘Sea and Cake record, solo record, Sea and Cake…’  I do have a record every two-point-five years, exactly… [laughs]

It’s just sort of the cycle of making the record – of course, this time it will be a bit different, because I don’t know how I could tour on this, considering the lock down of the planet.  Maybe I’ll have another record next year, instead of two years.  We’ll see.

QRO: The Sea and Cake had released records at a pretty regular pace through 2012’s Runner (QRO review) – yet it was six years until Any Day.  Why such a break?

SP: One big thing was that Eric [Claridge] quit the band, so that changed things up quite a bit.

I think the time just got away from us, without us realizing it.  It is sort of problematic, when you look back on it.  ‘Oh yeah, we should have done something a bit sooner.’  But that’s not it always goes…

QRO: Are you working on any new Sea and Cake material?

SP: Not right now, but that’s entirely possible.

John & I have a duo project we’ve been working on.  It’s another synthesizer thing.  We’ve done a couple European tours, and have done a little bit of recording.  And we’re hoping to do something with that project, that is more likely to happen next, than a Sea and Cake thing.

QRO: Do you feel at all that you have to always be thinking about ‘the next project’?

SP: I don’t feel that pressure from any outside sort of influence or anything.

My favorite thing to do is work all the time.  So, if I could, and can, that’s what I’ll end up doing.

It’s really quite hard to make records, [laughs] and to actually finish them.  It’s much easier to just do what I’m doing right now, which is to mess around, try things out.  Which is also important to the process.  So, that’s where I’m at, right now.

But eventually it will start to get to me that I have to take the next step, to ‘get into heaven…’

But I’ve been thinking more about painting, again, which is something I haven’t done in a really long time.  I figure that would be a really good ‘lockdown activity’ as well.

The photo thing is one of the disciplines that I’m able to do sort of at the same time, in a way, and that’s why I really like it. It can co-exist quite well.

QRO: Do you sometimes have to alternate, music, then painting, then photography?

SP: Well, the photo thing is one of the disciplines that I’m able to do sort of at the same time, in a way, and that’s why I really like it.  It can co-exist quite well.

I’m not out taking photos lately, but I’m still dealing with them, and looking at them, and editing, and thinking about them and stuff, while I can work on music stuff.  It doesn’t takeover, whereas painting, if I actually get into that, it will totally take over, and I will be totally obsessed with painting.

That’s why I’m always afraid to do it, because once I do it, I know that will be it.  It’s sort of with the music as well: if I keep digging deeper, messing around on this stuff, or start playing guitar, that will keep me away from any possible painting things happening.  It’s usually either/or.

But with the photo, which is why I think it’s quite important to my day-to-day creativity, it’s a potent outlet that I’m able to deal with, while handling everything else.

QRO: I’ve also noticed that with all the music you’ve done, both solo & The Sea and Cake, you’ve always been with the same label, Thrill Jockey, which is unlike most artists.  Do you just work really well with them?  Is it just easier?

SP: I don’t know if it’s easier, but I guess I’ve never been pushed to need to look for a different situation, I guess?

I’m really not big on ‘hustling new opportunities’ and stuff like that.  I prefer to do the work, more than anything else.

And Thrill Jockey has been great.  And I feel closely tied to the legacy of the label, in a certain way.  I definitely have a loyal streak.



QRO: During lockdown, a lot of artists are doing livestreams, or releasing previously recorded material.  Have you thought about doing anything like that?

SP: I have thought about; I haven’t figured out how to do it yet.  I could see it potentially happening.

A friend of mine, Jim Elkington, he did a thing at The Hideout in Chicago.  It was during the day that he did it, but they were treating it as it was a live concert.  It was amazing; I thought it was really, really good.  I was quite inspired by that.

I’ve been invited to a couple things, but I haven’t technically figured out how to quite do it yet.

QRO: Have you been watching other people’s quarantine release content, like livestreams, concert videos, etc.?

SP: Not so much.

I tuned into Jeff Tweedy’s ‘At Home’ live Instagram stuff.  That was pretty good.

And I’m not like a huge Tweedy fan or something.  It was actually Archer [Prewitt, of The Sea and Cake] said, ‘Oh, you should check it out.  It’s quite amusing & entertaining.’  And I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, this is great, and they’re so good at it.’  Next level entertainers.

John & I actually did an Instagram livestream chat kind of thing.  I really dreaded doing it, but once we got into it, I’m like, ‘Oh, well that was fun & entertaining.’  And I think people seemed to be pretty into it.  It was cool.

I am looking really shagged out. It’s not good. It’s good that I’m quarantined, actually…

QRO: During this time, have you picked up and/or accelerated any bad habits?  Like I haven’t shaved in forever…

SP: Yeah, I have not shaved.  That’s true.

I feel like it’s sort of a ‘camaraderie move’ with everyone else being in it, that you have this horrific facial hair.

I am looking really shagged out.  It’s not good.  It’s good that I’m quarantined, actually…

My hair is super-messed up, and I have a really rugged beard.  And it’s not my thing, so it doesn’t really look right.  But it’s kind of fun.

Once you stop shaving, then it’s like, ‘Oh, I couldn’t possibly start – painful!’  I need several brand new, perfect razors and stuff to actually pull it off…