Jon Weiss is tall and lanky, his frame stretching a hearty six feet and two inches, but nearly everything about how he carries himself seems calibrated to offset that physical advantage and put you at ease. He smiles a lot, and has a habit of looking down at the ground, and thanks you for things that he probably doesn’t need to. He’s a friendly and unassuming dude. So if you comes across him before you have a chance to see his band The Sea Life perform, you’re most likely not prepared for what you’ll hear at one of those shows, which is muscular and unquestionably assured art-rock, soaring with shimmering guitars, to-the-ceilings harmonies, and a knotty but propulsive rhythm section.
Weiss and the Sea Life originated in Rockville, Maryland, before moving on to undergraduate curriculum in College Park . With higher education out of the way as of this spring, the band is preparing to follow-up its winning debut In Basements, an album named rather literally for the environments in which it was recorded in. Weiss told BYT recently the band doesn’t plan to do much differently this time around, but changes within the band – both in terms of personnel and more general maturation – will likely contribute to new directions sonically. The Sea Life has been honing that sound over the summer, touring up the East Coast on a tour that culminated with a headlining slot at the Black Cat. “Everything felt like a homecoming that night,” Weiss said of the night, a highlight of the year’s first six months for the band.
The Sea Life stretches back to high school. How did you guys meet? How do you think you’ve developed as a band through the years?
We met when we were even younger, about 9 years ago, when we were all 13 or 14. I guess what brought us together was a common disinterest in school, or really anything that was supposed to be taken seriously. The only thing we really loved was music. And over the years, we became more serious about it and realized then, and still to this day, that it’s the only thing any of us can picture doing for the rest of our lives. It’s the only concrete thing we can all depend on—no matter what.
What kind of effect has the recent line-up change had on the band?
Around the first day of July, it hit us that we had less than three weeks before our first East Coast tour was about to happen, and we had no drummer and a general dissatisfaction with our new songs. So we asked a great local drummer and another childhood friend, Ryan Witt, to join us. And we then went with a kind of “let’s see how far we can get” attitude. In less than three weeks, we wrote a set list with five new songs and three earlier ones. That kind of time frame pushed the four of us together, and showed us what we had the potential to do as a quartet. We like the challenge of doing some big that doesn’t seem feasible. Over the years, The Sea Life has gone from having four, five and even six musicians – at some points, we had three guitarists and a pianist. Sometimes, it got messy and a bit frustrating. It was easy for us to hide behind other band members, in terms of audio quality and even physically on stage. Now there’s no hiding – only four of us pushing forward to make something big and beautiful and dynamic.
How would you describe the new material that you’ve been working on? Are you taking your music any different places than you did on In Basements?
Definitely, and in many ways. In Basements was somewhat scattered and very reflective of where we were—as a band and in our lives. We were pretty young and indecisive. We weren’t really sure where to take our music. There’s never been a band we wanted The Sea Life to sound similar to. We’ve all been very adamant about individuality and always trying to get better. Our music is undeniably going in a different direction, with a more concrete and energetic four-piece focus. But it’s still reflective of our lives and feelings that were found in In Basements. In many ways, In Basements captured our departure to college, this whimsical feeling of nostalgia, and the reality of growing up and being overwhelmed with life and death and love.
What’s your plan for recording the LP?
Like In Basements, we plan on recording our next EP and LP with our good friend and former bandmate, Tommy Sherrod, who produced and recorded our last two projects. He shares a mutual belief with us that in order to have the best takes in recording, you need to be completely comfortable with the performers and the setting. Tommy has a mobile studio rig that he brings to wherever our current practice space is, which gives us the ability to record in any basement space, and provides us with the comfort needed to get solid takes. With our new music, we’re going to record as many full, live takes as possible, to really try and capture our new energy of a live performance. And though this isn’t concret, we plan on doing production with Nick Martin, the guitarist and engineer of fellow DC band, The Young Rapids. The album will probably be finished early of next year, but we hope to release several singles next month.
Are there any particular challenges you guys are facing in making it?
Time is always an issue, because everyone in the band has jobs, but there are also the issues of funding and locations, which have a huge impact on our production speed. The band members today are scattered throughout DC, Silver Spring and Gaithersburg areas, which create many challenges around organizing practices, songwriting sessions, and recording. As for funding, we don’t really have any money. Our business model is to reach people with our music, and have them pay us through voluntary donations on our website. But we’re in this to make music and get the music out there.
What’s the band’s song-writing process like?
Even at this point, that’s difficult to say. Sometimes, we get together and everyone writes and everything just clicks. A new song may be born before the day is over. But other times, it can take us weeks just to write a new chorus or bridge to a song. Compared to a five-piece band, however, the songwriting process among four musicians has become much more simplified, and a lot of this can also be attributed to the expedited songwriting we had to do before tour. However, the most important part of our songwriting process is persistence. When struggling with a song, it’s always so easy to give up and believe that something doesn’t work just because it’s difficult. But through persistence over frustration, something beautiful can be the outcome.
Are there any bands that you consider particularly influential to the band?
Previously, I would have said Real Estate or Modest Mouse, but I think now more than ever we’re influence by local music. Here’s a few local artists that we really like: The Young Rapids, Pree, Les Rhinocerous, Go Cozy, Foozle, Kid Mountain, The Sherrod Brothers. They’re all incredible musicians and great people.
What’s been your highlight of 2013?
I know I speak for all of us when I say that our July show at The Black Cat with Kid Mountain was the highlight of the year. This was our first performance for many of our friends and fans as a four-piece band, and the show’s turnout nearly filled the club to maximum capacity. We had an incredible time, got an encore, and got to see Kid Mountain, one of our favorite bands. Also, this was our tour’s homecoming show in DC, so we hadn’t seen many of our friends and fans for several weeks. Everything felt like a homecoming that night.
Note: Videos above made by a fan of the band. They are not official.