SEA WOLF (SOLO)
8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15 | The Social, 54 N. Orange Ave. | 407-246-1419 | thesocial.org | $15
Since 2003, the literate, languid folk-pop of California songwriter Alex Brown Church’s solo project, Sea Wolf, has evolved at a charmingly glacial pace. Like a series of quick, picaresque glances unfurling out the window of a car cruising up the Pacific Coast Highway, Sea Wolf’s three full-length albums and single EP reflect Church’s filmmaking background and dedication to craft. Softly strummed guitars here, soaring vocals there, swelling strings and symphonic flourishes tossed in for extra flavor.
Those moody melodies, indie-orchestral arrangements and tenderly nostalgic lyrical tropes can be both endearing and maddening. After a Sea Wolf song was used on the soundtrack for blockbuster 2009 vampire hit Twilight: New Moon, the ivory music-journalism tower let out a dramatic sigh, inveighing against Church’s earnestness and his new young, mostly female audience. The glossy production of slick 2012 album Old World Romance only intensified those howls of protest – from both devoted Sea Wolf fans who longed for Church’s previous rootsy, lo-fi approach and those critics who began dismissing anything he touched.
Here’s the kicker about Church: Dismiss his songs all you want as autumnal, Coldplay-lite scoops of vanilla ice cream. But you can’t knock the man’s ability to expertly mold a sweeping four-minute mini-epic that will gently tug at the heartstrings of even the most skeptical. Now, Church has returned Sea Wolf from whence it came: recording and producing a fan-funded, non-label-affiliated album at home in his personal studio – and then taking those songs on the road for an intimate solo tour, including his first headlining dates in Florida.
“The solo tour is partially to promote the new record,” Church says. “But it’s also something that’s become a part of what I do every few years. A lot of songs sound good with just acoustic guitar, and there’s definitely a certain sector of Sea Wolf fans who appreciate hearing those songs at a show.”
Church says that he’s not trying to replicate the folksy groove of his first album, Leaves in the River. But, he adds, “I was excited about returning to that place where there wasn’t any sort of pressure from labels about selling lots of records. No expectation of what Sea Wolf was going to be. That was a very playful time for me, and being able to experiment back in my own studio with my own instruments in my own personal space was the spirit I was trying to get back to.”
Of course, Sea Wolf isn’t a true “solo” project. Church credits longtime band members Lisa Fendelander, Joey Ficken, Scott Leahy and Eliot Lorango with steering his music in the right direction. And then there are those 1,169 Kickstarter backers who helped Church raise $63,169 in 42 days to fund the as-yet-unnamed new album, touted online as “experimental” and “stripped-down.” In the grand spirit of online gift-giving, those supporters will receive exclusive T-shirts, posters, set lists, vintage copies of Jack London’s The Sea-Wolf (the inspiration for the project’s name), personalized videos and, for lucky fan Matt Langston, who donated $3,500, the opportunity to lay down guitar and vocal tracks on a song.
“[The Kickstarter process] definitely allowed me to be more comfortable with my songwriting,” Church says. “I can’t say I was always productive, even when I wanted to be. But what I’ve learned making four Sea Wolf records is that you go through peaks and valleys of productiveness. The important thing to keep in mind is that it always comes back. There’s always going to be material in the future, which has definitely provided a sense of confidence in my own abilities as a songwriter.”