“You can fit the whole thing onto one page. You can see it as a whole. So songs suited me. I can’t imagine myself having done something else.” Alex Brown Church, musician
Alex Brown Church sails the music world in the guise of Sea Wolf. He shaped Sea Wolf’s latest album, Old World Romance, a collection of introspective, dreamy songs that often are set to relatively active tempos, with particular care. The evidence of his assiduousness includes the unifying sheen that connects all of the album’s 10 songs.
Church enlisted a few collaborators for Old World Romance but he made most of what the listener hears himself. Sea Wolf’s previous album was a full band project, helmed by a producer who played multiple instruments.
“Old World Romance was me bringing it back to myself, being in charge of everything,” the Los Angeles-based Church said.
Released last September, Old World Romance is a return to the approach Church followed for his first full-length Sea Wolf album, 2007’s Leaves in the River.
“I went back to what I started on the first album,” he said. “Demo-ing and recording as I would write, over the course of a longer period of time, in my own space. That way I could let the songs marinate, think about sonic direction and arrangements.”
Sea Wolf’s spring and summer headlining tour includes two big festivals, Sasquatch in Washington and Bonnaroo in Tennessee.
“That was amazing,” Church, in his understated way, said of Sasquatch. “We’re looking forward to Bonnaroo.”
Church is the centerpiece of Sea Wolf, but he performs and records with a band that includes returning members Lisa Fendelander, keyboards, and Joey Ficken, drums.
Ted Liscinski played bass for Old World Romance but has since retired from touring to be a stay-at-home dad and full-time bar owner. Sea Wolf’s 2013 road edition features replacement bassist Eliott Lorango and electric guitarist Scott Leahy.
A late bloomer in music, northern California native Church pursued music only after he earned a degree in film studies from NYU.
“I went to film school because you can get jobs doing film,” he said. “Plus I really liked film.”
During film school, Church, already a bassist, took up acoustic guitar. One of his NYU roommates happened to be in a band.
“He showed me how to play some songs,” Church said. “He inspired me to pursue music because, previously, I didn’t know anybody in a band. I didn’t feel like it was something in my reach. But knowing him, I realized, ‘Oh, this is something I can do.’ ”
After film school, Church moved to Los Angeles. Friends from high school were there as well as friends from NYU.
“I was a newly graduated film student so it seemed like a good place to go if I was going to work in film,” he said.
But within weeks of moving to the movie capital of the world Church formed his first band with musicians he’d just met in L.A.
“I felt like it’d be better to do music when I was young,” he explained. “I could do film anytime. There are a lot of film jobs to be had. And I didn’t mind being poor, being in a band in my 20s. It’s tough to start out in music later on in life.”
But something unexpected happened on Church’s way to becoming a filmmaker in Hollywood.
“I felt more at home amongst other musicians than I did amongst film people,” he said.
The immediacy of music, as opposed to the months, even years involved in making movies, was another attraction to music.
“Filmmaking takes so long and it involves so many people,” he said. “But there’s immediate gratification in making music.”
Whether he was working in film or music, Church, who named his band after Jack London’s classic adventure novel, The Sea-Wolf, was still writing and telling stories.
“I wrote screenplays at NYU. But I became discouraged because the long form of, say, a novel or a screenplay, is daunting. I found myself being much better at writing songs. You can fit the whole thing onto one page. You can see it as a whole. So songs suited me. I can’t imagine myself having done something else.”