Sam Prekop of The Sea and Cake: Opening The Canvas (INTERVIEW)

As a well-respected photographer and painter, along with being the leader of indie vets The Sea and Cake, there is no shortage of creativity in Sam Prekop’s life. And whatever creative paths the Chicago based musician and artist follows, he is fortunate enough to call himself “boss.” So while he’s gearing up for a fall art exhibit and writing material for a new The Sea and Cake album, Prekop has recently found time to release a stellar new solo recording called Who’s Your New Professor.

An influential presence on the Chicago music scene, Prekop started out in his first band, Shrimp Boat, which helped pave the way for the term “post rock.” Incorporating non-lyrical textures and layers to complement elements of electronica and jazz, Chicago became the home base for the sound, as Prekop, along with Tortoise drummer John McEntire, went on to form The Sea and Cake. Regarded as a post-rock super-group, the band fused the various members’ intangibles in jazz, pop and rock, amongst shades of Brazilian and world music. Along with the help of guitarist/composer Jim O’Rourke, The Sea and Cake has always been on the verge of becoming the next big breakthrough act, but instead has garnered a loyal and comfortable fan base.

With a soft and hazy voice, Prekop has laid down a soulful collection of pop tunes on Who’s Your New Professor that stirs a warm lingering mood. Featuring Latin rhythms and open ended arrangements, the twelve songs feature fellow Sea and Cake member Archer Prewitt on guitar, Josh Abrams on bass and the versatile Chad Taylor on drums. Recorded at John McEntire’s Soma Studio, Who’s Your New Professor reflects the Thrill Jockey Records mantra of diversity and risk, as Prekop has arguably recorded the strongest batch of songs in his career. During his recent solo tour, Glide had the chance to talk with Sam Prekop about flying solo.

Your music has always had a very natural feel to it; nothing seems forced, particularly on this latest album. Is this the most natural project you’d done so far?

I think in a way. I really wanted to exploit the live band quality, but I knew the on the spot interaction was something I felt we should try to get out. One of the ideas was, I didn’t want to do a bunch of overdubs, I wanted a pretty stripped down effort and have the bare essential elements exposed. So that was the basic overriding direction, to not overly decorate the music with all this extra stuff. Sea and Cake tends to be more of that stuff and layers and layers. I’m interested in that type of work, but with this record and this band it feels much more live.

It has a Motown feel to it…

Yeah, I wasn’t expecting it to be an old fashioned soul record, [but] at some point I started to hear that.

What about the idea of people using “Two Dedications” and “Density” as potential make out songs? Isn’t that a bit Al Green for your tastes?

Yeah (laughs) I don’t know, I’ve always loved Al Green of course, and you know, What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye.

How did you come up with the album title – Who’s Your New Professor?

I heard that on the radio driving around. It’s a quote from a really old Fats Waller song. I’m overly sensitive to hearing bizarre sentences or couplets, and this one stood out in an odd way and to have it out of its original context and have it be a very flat question.

People have always assimilated your music with “Bossa Nova.” That’s not a style many artists have associated with their name, but it’s often mentioned in conjunction with your work. Is that a fair depiction?

I think it’s a little lazy on their part. I certainly appreciate Brazilian music and I think with the first record, that was a little more obvious. [But] when I see that all the time, I feel like its kind of lazy.

Without those parameters, is there a direction you’ve wanted to take your work, but weren’t able to because of one restraint or another?

Sometimes I wish I could spend a lot more time painting, but other times I realize it can be problematic.

One thing I really want to do – I’ve started to write songs for another Sea and Cake record – and what I would like to do is work together as a normal band again in terms of writing songs and playing them in concert, just at shows, instead of having everything be so poignantly focused on the final product. It’s been sort of a long time since The Sea and Cake, mainly because, all of these other projects that we do, everything has to be scheduled. But I’m thinking it would be good to keep it open-ended a little bit longer than we might normally do, in terms of coming up with material so we have enough time to really figure out what’s working and what’s not.

Does The Sea and Cake remain atop your priorities list, above your solo work, painting and photography?

I’m not neglecting any of the other ones. I mean right now, The Sea and Cake is further down the line and I’m actively doing this solo thing right now. One of the things I have to do is make a bunch of paintings for a show I have in September, so I’m scheduled up. It’s good, that’s what I bargained for, but I also sometimes worry that I’m overly creative.

Does it feel forced working under such guidelines?

I think its fine, but I also want to develop more in an organic way that doesn’t have a deadline looming over my head. But there is a certain reality that as a working artist or musician, that’s how it goes.

You hear the phrase “post-rock” a lot and that The Sea and Cake helped define post-rock with the sound of elevator jazz, electronica and world music. What is your definition of post-rock?

I think people would normally associate post-rock with rock that has no singing. When I first started hearing it, it’s such an open-ended term. It’s more like certain bands define the term than the other way around. The post-rock band…in a wide open term – rock bands dealing with stuff other than rock music in a way – incorporating a broader range.

Has the Sea and Cake purposely held back from expanding beyond Chicago, and attracting a larger audience? With Lollapalooza coming there this year, The Sea and Cake should have gotten an immediate invite.

I don’t know. I’m happy that there are enough people that show up for our shows and those people are quite intimately involved with the music…I get that sense. So it feels great. And I’ve never been too concerned with reaching a mass audience. I want to keep making records and all that stuff and that [certainly] depends on selling a certain amount of records, [but] I’m not interested in compromising.

Because outside of your music projects, you’ve even had your artwork displayed in Paris.

It was just a gallery. In my mind, I went to art school and studying painting and getting a gallery to represent you in New York is what the big goal is. It’s really competitive and there are a ton of artists that don’t have galleries, you have to be lucky and it takes a lot of work. That was a highlight for me, my first solo show, I think it was four years ago. That was like playing at the Grand Ole Opry.

Any new artists you’ve been inspired by lately, music or otherwise?

Yeah, there’s this guy, Jose Gonzales and he’s from Sweden and he opened for us in Rotterdam where it was just Archer [Prewitt] and I playing in this duo thing and he blew us away. It was amazing. He’s on this label called Peace Frog I think. He just played solo with a classical guitar But that was the last show and he totally blew our minds.


Related Content

Recent Posts

New to Glide

Keep up-to-date with Glide