Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

Photo by Sarah Jurado

One of my favorite local releases this year, and one of the most pleasant surprises, has been Memory Matches the latest album from indie rock trio The Sea Navy. It’s a fast-paced rock credit with catchy verses, introspective lyrics and focused instrumentation to play those parts.

The constant factor in The Sea Navy has been guitarist/singer Jay Cox, who recorded the first Sea Navy album in Boston before moving to Seattle. He since has found a great rhythm section with drummer Jordan Cumming and bassist Stuart Fletcher. Since moving to Seattle, The Sea Navy has played a lot of high-profile shows, with the next one sharing the stage with David Bazan and Say Hi at Neumo’s on Saturday, November 7.

I met with Cox for drinks at a Belltown bar to discuss The Sea Navy, it’s excellent new album, the best way for bands to use social networking and the paintings from legendary artist Steve Keene that we are giving away to a couple of lucky readers on TIG at the end of this week.

How did you form The Sea Navy?

I was in a band in Boston for about five years called The Ivory Coast; we put out a record on Polyvinyl before Polyvinyl had a lot of big acts. There were some songs that didn’t fit the band so I just came up with the name The Sea Navy and started playing them with another guy in the band – he played drums – just so I could keep playing shows.

I moved out here and my first show was with a CD-R of pre-recorded drums that I recorded in Boston. I played at Neumo’s with a CD player – it was before the iPod – the drums would be going into the PA and I would be playing along and hoping to God that the CD didn’t skip. I was introduced to a couple of people: this guy Andrew (Rudd) was playing with Aqueduct and I started playing with him and he went on to something else and I started playing with TW Walsh, who was in Pedro the Lion and I knew from when we both lived in Boston. He introduced to me folks who wound up doing the same. Being able to play and record with TW really was a great education. Record #2 would not have been made without him and also my approach to playing music totally changed for the better after many long talks and recording and mixing.

People have come and gone, but I’ve been lucky the last two years that I’ve had the same lineup (with Stuart Fletcher on bass and Jordan Cumming on drums) and it’s been really awesome because it’s been more of a band and less of people playing my songs. We’ve got people playing their own parts now and it makes it a lot more fun for everyone. I don’t feel like I’m twisting peoples’ arms to play shows anymore.

I didn’t know you weren’t a Washington native because you have a lot of Northwest imagery and references to Seattle and Tacoma on this album.

I was born in Philly, went to school in Boston and lived in Brooklyn, so the whole Northeast corridor was pretty much covered. My wife and I moved out here about five years ago. You move to a new place and you have new surroundings and new stimuli and influences, so it’s hard for Seattle not to show up in songs. If I’m writing songs, I think about how I did a massive thing in my life with moving across country and had to restart my life all over again. I had to find a new job, new friends. It’s hard to be in that situation and not have it affect you so much.

What was it about Seattle that made you decide to take this big leap and move across the country?

Orcas Island. My wife had some family up here and we came to visit during Thanksgiving, you know not in the best time of year, and it basically looked like Return of the Jedi: the trees went up forever and looked like the Ewok village. It was amazing but it was really great to be in Seattle but outside of Seattle on this island in the middle of nowhere. I’ve been to every state in the US but maybe five and I always wanted to try the west coast out and we both came up with the same idea at the same time: why don’t we move to Seattle? My wife is from Boston and she’s lived there forever, I lived there for ten years.

Seattle’s been really great to me. I didn’t go to school in Bellingham or at the UW, I wasn’t in some seminal Seattle band that broke up, I wasn’t here during the grunge years, so my roots aren’t here. For a while, that was an uphill battle but I met a lot of good people who vouched for me and introduced me to a lot of good people. It was like a mafia movie: “yeah, he’s a good guy, I vouch for him”. I just met a lot of people that were really nice. I’m not an asshole, so I’ve gotten to know a lot of really great people and it’s been awesome. It makes me feel like we’ve lived out here a lot longer than the five or six years we’ve actually lived out here.

That is one of the things I really love about Seattle: most of the musicians I know are really supportive of one another. I also wanted to ask you how was this album recorded?

Our drummer was going to school at the Art Institute of Seattle and he had some free studio time, so we went in and demoed some songs. We were going to do an EP and thought “that was a test run” and we kept wood-shedding the songs and had about ten songs recorded. By that time he had graduated and was working at the studio The Tank in Black Diamond with this guy, Tom Pflaeffle, who was working at the Art Institute also. We went in there and worked with Tom and he produced the sessions and gave a lot of great ideas. We went up there for a few days and did a lot of recording and mixing. No one was waiting for it or anything so that afforded us the time to fool around with it and take our time. I’ve done CDs before where the distribution people need it by this date or someone else needs it by that date. Not having any of that was really awesome for us. That’s one of the benefits of releasing it by yourself: you can release it when you want to.

Your next show is at Neumo’s with David Bazan, right?

Yeah, it’s David Bazan, Say Hi and us. We’re one of two opening bands on the entire tour – the whole tour is Say Hi and Dave Bazan. In Boston, TW Walsh is opening up because he was in Pedro the Lion and had a lot of other bands. Dave asked us to do the Seattle show, so we’re really stoked.

Dave has been a big supporter. We recorded some vocals at the Vera Project and I asked Dave to come along because he’s mastered his voice and he really knows what to do with it. When you hear him sing and perform live, he’s really in control of his voice. I asked him to come down to be around when we recorded the vocals, not to sing or play an instrument or anything but to just be there. He was like our shaman in the studio and he was a big help. He has seen us play a bunch of times, so he’s been really supportive. On the last record we did, we did some of the drums in his basement studio.

My first show in Seattle was opening for Ted Leo solo at Neumo’s and my second show was also at Neumo’s, opening for Headphones and Dave was there both times.

That’s quite a nice start coming into town.

Yeah, we’ve been very lucky. I’ve had good show karma so far. I’m not saying it’s not hard to get shows but I’ve gotten a couple of lucky breaks and am very happy for that. I definitely don’t take that for granted; it’s very hard to book shows.

What do you have planned after this show?

We’re playing a KEXP Audioasis benefit show at the Sunset in December. I don’t know who the other bands are but it’s the first Saturday in December. We have about eight or nine new songs, so we have been writing a bunch. We’re going to try to play a lot more shows in the spring. If everything works out, we’re hoping to go to the east coast. I have a lot of friends out there, so we’re hoping to put together a New York, New Jersey, Boston and Philadelphia sort of thing.

Being a local band and doing everything on your own, you kind of have to have a slow build for everything. We have a show in November, so we gave away our album cover paintings through The Stranger and TIG is giving some away. You try to build up a bunch of small things so when someone sees your name and they think “oh yeah, The Sea Navy, I read about them in Seattlest a week ago”. We’re not on a label so you have to do a lot of grassroots marketing. There are a lot of tools out there for bands to use, like Twitter and Facebook. If you have a Twitter account, don’t update it once a month because no one is going to read it, don’t only update when you have shows because then you’re that annoying band that only sends out requests when you have shows. You have to build a relationship with someone so that when they see something, it’s not spam. A show bulletin might be spam, but not if there’s a history or a relationship.

I want to ask about the album covers we’re giving away. This will hopefully run a few days before the contest ends, so I’d like to talk a little about that.

I was a big fan of Steve Keene from the Wowee Zowee stuff and the stuff with Apples in Stereo. One day I found that you could order stuff from him online and I ordered a bunch of paintings from him. I paid x amount of dollars and I had gotten six paintings wrapped in newspaper and they were all amazing. We have a lot of the album covers he did. My wife and I visited him in his studio in Brooklyn, we didn’t know him personally, so it was like “first time caller, long time listener” but I told him “I have this idea for a thing to do with my band” and I sent him the record and he liked it and was into it. We paid him to do the artwork and he sent me a huge stack of paintings.

It’s a really cool thing to have with this record. When you’re promoting it on your own you have to think of ideas that aren’t cheesy. If I liked the band, I’d totally want one of those [paintings].

{Photo of The Sea Navy by Sarah Jurado.}