Heavy Mellow

Mellow enough for adventurous Deadheads and adventurous enough for mellow avant-rock fans, Chicago's Sea and Cake plays an innovative, unique strain of pop. Progressive while still being accessible, its albums have earned the band a modest but diverse fan base. Sam Prekop, Sea and Cake singer and guitarist, offered the ultimate testimony on the potential widespread appeal for listeners of his band: "A lot of people's mothers like us, and that's a good sign."As with some of its Chicago contemporaries, Sea and Cake can't really be pigeonholed into a specific genre or category. Still, it shares with other Windy City innovators such as Tortoise and Gastr del Sol a wide range of influences, from fusion to world music to dub, which it assimilates without overtly copying. "It's always been a slippery concept trying to pinpoint the style of our music. Hopefully we're an interesting synthesis of different influences without trying to do any one style," says Prekop.Prekop formed Sea and Cake in 1993, when he recruited guitarist Archer Prewitt of the Coctails, drummer John McEntire of Tortoise and bassist Eric Claridge of Prekop's previous band Shrimpboat to record an album of songs as a project for London's Rough Trade label. From September 1994 to October 1995, Sea and Cake released three top-notch records. More touring than usual took up the majority of Sea and Cake's time in 1996 until the band entered McEntire's Soma Studios in Chicago to record its latest album, The Fawn.Unlike the previous three records,The Fawn was developed more in the studio than from the live performance repertoire. Prekop, who previously composed on the guitar, began to experiment with other means of composition. "During the summer before recording The Fawn, I got a keyboard, a sampler and a drum machine. I began to come up with songs using these different instruments," he explains."I'm interested in underground dance music, especially the kind that isn't necessarily designed for dancing," Prekop continues, citing the Aphex Twin and Mouse on Mars as examples. "With their music there's a new realm of inventiveness, and it's because of these new tools that people can make these great new sounds," he said.McEntire's studio expertise, heavily informed by dub techniques and analog electronics, has become an increasingly important part of the band's aesthetic. In the band's early days, his expertise helped to document its quick progression from what started as a one-off project to its current placement at the forefront of American rock bands. Now it helps to seamlessly integrate Sea and Cake's rock with elements of electronica, exploring the vanguard of contemporary popular music.Even though the genesis of ideas on The Fawn were in the studio, Prekop hopes to take the innovative sounds found on that disc into its live set. "We're going to re-create the sound of The Fawn pretty faithfully, with keyboards and drum machines fleshing out the sound," he says. For this tour, which kicks off in Detroit, Sea and Cake will be adding Mark Greenberg, also a former Coctail, to play keyboards.Although he said he doesn't compose much while he's on tour, Prekop reveals, "I think we could do another record really soon." The Chicago indie Thrill Jockey released The Fawn three weeks ago. For fans who were initially spoiled by Sea and Cake with a new album every couple of months, a new golden age of Sea and Cake could be only a couple of calendar pages away.

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