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Photo by Michael Aguilar
Today marks the record release of the debut LP by San Francisco odd pop quartet Seablite. “Grass Stains and Novocaine” (Emotional Response) signals the culmination of over a year’s worth of work towards refining a sound lush with distorted atmospherics, blissed out lead flourishes, ethereal vocal melodies and sagaciously snappy rhythm section. Lauded with comparisons to shoe gaze pioneers My Bloody Valentine, Lush and Pale Saints and the twee & DIY-indiepop of Sarah Records bands, Lauren Matsui (vocals/guitar), Jen Mundy (lead guitar), Galine Tumasyan (bass/vocals), and Andy Pastalaniec (drums) are a band that continue to hone infectious melodies with smart song craft; making them a band not only to watch out for but to be infatuated with!
Special thanks to Lauren Matsui for coordinating this interview.
James Broscheid: First off, congratulations on the excellent debut album! I was immediately knocked back by lead track ‘Won’t You?’ and its much more fuller, thicker and faster sound compared to 2017’s self-titled (also excellent) EP. Can you discuss the band’s evolution from the EP to LP? Were there any changes made or lessons learned from your experiences recording the EP that were applied to the album?
Lauren Matsui: Thank you, we’re pretty excited about it. I’d say the biggest difference between the EP and the LP is that Andy started playing with us. The EP was recorded before we had played our first show and I was still exploring different sounds and pedals, my pedalboard is constantly evolving/growing. We recorded the majority of the EP in our practice space, so when it came to the LP, we recorded the basic tracks at Tiny Telephone (recording studio in San Francisco), which gave us a huge sounding foundation to build on.
JB: I just heard the EP last year courtesy of a recommendation by Chris (Rosi) and Corey (Cunningham) from Smokescreens. Was the time between the EP and LP deliberate in that the songwriting/recording process took some time to flesh out or was it a matter of juggling jobs with being in a band?
Andy Pastalaniec: We spent a good 2 or 3 months just rehearsing the material, getting to the place where we felt ready to start tracking.
LM: I think we all wish we could focus on music full time, but the reality of living in San Francisco is that you have to work a lot to make ends meet. We finished tracking the record over a year ago (April 2017!), but then getting it mixed, mastered and into a label’s production schedule is all part of the process as well.
JB: The EP was written by Lauren and Galine primarily but, for the LP was the songwriting process a collaborative one between the four of you? Do you have a track on the new record you most identify with?
LM: It’s definitely a collaborative process. We’ll usually have a rough sketch of a song, then bring it to the band and it takes on a new life. Ultimately we all put a lot of thought into each song and everyone adds their own parts, energy and instincts. I personally identify the most with “(He’s A) Vacuum Chamber”, which I think morphed into something very different than what it started as, which I’m very happy about.
Jen Mundy: I added a few parts on a couple tracks from the EP, but a lot of it was already written before I joined the band. For the LP all of the songs were a collaborative effort. It’s hard to pick one that I identify with the most, but I love “Pillbox”. It has some of the more intricate parts that I’ve written and it’s really fun to play!
JB: I remember pestering Stew (Anderson) at Emotional Response (and the band!), the moment I heard there was an LP in the works. How did the band get hooked up with Emotional Response initially? To be honest, the fit would be great at Bay area-based Slumberland too. Were there other interested labels?
AP: It was a real slugfest amongst all the labels trying to pick up this record (kidding!). Emotional Response has been very prolific the last few years so they were definitely on our radar. For the reasons you cite, it was also a natural fit in a lot of ways. We’re very thankful for all their support. Thank you Stew!
JB: For the non-botanists amongst us, seablite is a very rare, endangered plant specific to the Bay Area and Morro Bay. I am always fascinated to learn about how bands come up with their names. Also, could you provide a history of the band in how the four of you met and realized you would be a kickass band together? Any botanists in the band?
Galine Tumasyan: The process of naming the band was very long; we went through lots of variations. One of the names we considered was Brite (which of course was taken), then Lauren found seablite somewhere on the internet. We all liked how it sounded as a word (even though it doesn’t have much of a meaning behind it) so that was the band name.
(History of the band) Me and Lauren already knew each other for a few years. Shortly after David Bowie passed away, we ran into each other on the way to work in 2016, both sad about it but somehow creatively inspired. I had been itching to start the band for a while, so I asked if Lauren would want to get together and jam. We got together in February 2016, Lauren already brought “Pretend” from the EP, that we worked on and we wrote “Woolly Sweater” on the spot, so that was a sign that we would be great collaborators. In the summer of 2016 we brought our dark sparkle Jen Mundy into the band, and in Fall of 2017 we were thrilled to have Andy join the band. I feel like this is when all four of us just clicked and it was super fun ever since! Each member of the band brings something special to it, like 4 perfectly matched puzzle pieces.
LM: I am actually very proud of the amount of plants in my house that are still alive after years, so I feel like maybe I’m a botanist at heart!
JM: I’ve known Galine’s fiance for years and he suggested me to Galine. She contacted me back in the summer of 2016 to see if I wanted to get together to play. I had been on hiatus from music for a while since I had left my last band Wax Idols in early 2015. At that point I was really missing playing in a band and I agreed to meet up with them to play. Long story short, we all hit it off and the rest is history as they say!
JB: Any truth to the rumor that the band will hit the road will other CA greats Neutrals after the LP is released? If so, will it be an extensive tour or Western U.S?
AP: Yes! We are working on some jaunts up and down the west coast with Neutrals. We’d very much like to do something more extensive!
JB: I can see quite a few parallels between seablite and what Emotional Response are trying to achieve in addition to other bands on their roster and the obvious *Boyracer*/_Sarah Records_ history (particularly in tracks like the gorgeous “Heart Mountain”). Can you share some the band’s influences whether it be music related or otherwise?
GT: Most of our music influences come from Britain, from C86 indie, to 80s goth/new wave, to brit pop and shoegaze. We’re also highly influenced by David Lynch, the artist Rene Magritte and surrealist movement. We love the juxtaposition of dream and reality. David Bowie is a master at blurring the lines between real and fantastical, both musically and visually, he provides endless inspiration for me.
LM: I was raised on a combination of New Wave (mom), 60’s Garage (dad), and The Beatles (mom & dad). I think it’s the perfect combination, thanks parents! My dad taught me how to play guitar via Beatles songs when I was in middle school. In high school I was a huge Britpop head, which I haven’t really outgrown. I’m also a sucker for minimal synth, Dark Entries is a great label for that stuff! Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of Grouper and Body/Head.
AP: We’re all record and music junkies. Galine and I each have been doing our own DJ nights for years and we’ve all played in various bands. Musically, lots of 80’s UK influence obviously, but American indie pop too. The Bay Area has always been on the map for indie pop. We are pretty into the fashion side of things as well. That 60’s via the 80’s kind of fashion highlighted by those amazing Sam Knee photo books; that Stephen Pastel and Debsey, “style icon” sort of thing.
JM: My influences are pretty diverse. My parents (particularly my mom), were always playing music when I was growing up and I heard everything from Roy Orbison to Simon and Garfunkel to Donovan, and the list goes on. Discovering The Velvet Underground in my formative years had a major impact on me. When I heard The Velvet Underground & Nico album for the first time it had a profound effect on me. It was pretty much the only album I listened to for a year (along with Mazzy Star’s She Hangs Brightly), and around the same time that I started playing guitar. They are a huge influence to this day. I also really love Johnny Marr’s guitar playing, he’s a favorite for sure!
JB: I remember reading a piece on social media regarding Lauren’s ancestral ties to Japanese internment camps in the U.S. during WWII. For the life of me I cannot find it to reread it but, I am wondering how historical atrocities like that influence your drive not only as a musician but as a person? Especially in this day and age where really bad ideas like that are floated again in some segments of our population.
LM: Both of my Japanese American grandparents were in Internment camps during WWII. My grandfather was sent to Poston (War Relocation Center) in Arizona and my grandmother was sent to Heart Mountain, Wyoming. I’m pretty critical of what moves are made in the name of safety but clearly rooted in xenophobia. It’s something this country still struggles with, and unfortunately the song (“Heart Mountain”), still feels relevant in our current political climate. My grandma continued to believe that this is a country of opportunity, despite what she had been through. Heart Mountain helps me keep my grandma close to my heart, she was always supportive of all my creative endeavors from dance, high school plays, painting and music. She bought me my first keyboard.
Photo by Michael Aguilar
JB: Seems like California is exploding with music I closely identify with right now. Bands like Seablite, Terry Malts, Neutrals, Smokescreens, Susan, etc. Is the music scene in the Bay Area one of support/collaboration or more competitive in nature? Any other local bands you care to recommend?
AP: I think it’s collaborative, if only because it’s harder and harder to do music and book shows, so we kind of have to work together to some extent. Our friends April Magazine make a great racket in the vein of Galaxy 500*/*Spacemen 3. I like to call them “San Francisco’s slowest band,” which I mean as a great compliment, I really appreciate their approach. Shhh – don’t tell anyone but we actually talk about them from time to time when we’re writing songs, even if the end result doesn’t show it! There’s a new band comprised of some really nice local kids called The Umbrellas, who are really nailing the Sarah Records sound and look. I highly recommend their new self-released tape EP. Someone needs to get their song “Visions” on a 7” right away.
LM: I love Lower Self; their video for “In The Glow” is incredible, everyone definitely watch it! Part/Human are awesome, catchy synthy gothpop. Also Swiftumz has the most catchy jams, love them too.
JM: I second Andy & Lauren on April Magazine and Lower Self, Houses of Heaven, Moon Daze, Bellavista too.
GT: I would also like to add, Cruel Summer, Well Read Seals and Cellar Doors.
JB: I have not formulated a thesis on it yet but, I have always maintained that those who feel empathy, compassion, melancholy, heartbreak and pain are drawn to being artists or fans of said artists. Like better art comes from tortured souls or something. In fact, I interviewed a band where the discussion came up about melancholia’s influence on songwriting. How delving deeper into emotions helped write better songs whether it be finding a specific melody, lyric, etc. How happiness is just scratching the surface and therefore, does not make a deeper connection between the band and its listeners. In your experiences so far, is that something the band can relate to? Despite some of seablite’s sunnier melodies on “I Talk To Frogs” or “House of Papercuts”, lyrically it may be a different story.
JM: I can’t speak for the rest of the band, but personally I can definitely relate to that sentiment (that’s why they call me “Blue Mundy”, haha.) I don’t necessarily think that being a “tortured soul” makes for being a “better” artist. Art is always subjective anyway. To me it’s about the catharsis, the process of delving inside yourself and purging out the bad and the ugly and creating something beautiful and meaningful out of it.
AP: I’ll bite. Honestly, we’re a pretty happy, well-functioning band that has a lot of fun playing music together. But then again, I’m not writing the lyrics! Personally, I think we’re influenced most by striving for the perfect pop song or telling a good story in lyrics than we are by our own emotions, but that’s just my take.
LM: For me, listening and creating music is mostly about being aware of my feelings and translating them to sound. Personally, I can be inspired to write songs by any emotion. I tend to be more abstract with lyrics, usually I have a scene or image in my head and then find words to create the same feeling. Sometimes it seems like they don’t make sense, but they do to me.
JB: I think Jen brings up a really good point. As musicians, there is an internal process (whether it’s a struggle or not), one goes through during writing and recording sifting through not so pleasant or pleasant emotions/feelings to create something beautiful. Some of my favorites over the years from Ian Curtis of Joy Division to Adrian Borland of The Sound and Alex Soria of The Nils*/*Chino to Kurt Cobain who poured out all they had in their music only to all suffer tragic endings. I was so pleased to see you bring up David Bowie; a true innovator and inspiration; an artist who really did it right.
In saying all that, Seablite’s melodies are so sunny but no less poignant when it comes to heart and soul. There are somber melodies in tracks like “(He’s A) Vacuum Chamber” but the record overall has plenty of zing! Does the new LP prove the point that music with heart/soul does not necessarily mean “sad bastard” music?
LM: I suppose you could say that. I tend to be drawn to darker melodies, even if the lyrics don’t mirror the sentiment, I do use a TON of minor chords.
JB: Lauren, you mentioned your pedalboard becoming ever-expansive in the quest for new sounds. Does it ever get cumbersome? I would imagine it being fun as hell tinkering with sounds to get the sonics just right. Jen, do you have a similar experience? You mentioned “Pillbox”; is your style more towards concentrating on the intricacies of playing lead?
LM: It can definitely get cumbersome! Both physically (my board is really heavy) and also mentally when things don’t work out like they should. Technical issues are part of the deal, I like to tackle them like a puzzle, lots of process of elimination stuff. I joke at practice, “more pedals more problems”. That being said, messing with pedals is one of my favorite things.
JM: I have a fairly minimal setup on my pedal board, as I don’t want to get inundated with too many effects. I think it’s good to have a few standard goto pedals when you’re trying to create specific moods and sounds. As far as the writing process goes, I try not to overthink it too much. Coming up with leads usually involves a lot of trial, error, and editing. Sometimes the end result is completely different from what I started with. It’s all just part of the process and I love the challenge!
JB: Galine, Lauren, Jen; it’s time to praise Andy. With another drummer playing on your selftitled EP (a different Andy), can you discuss the transition from EP to LP with a new drummer? Did the band put out an ad (do bands do that anymore?), reading “searching for a drummer that must be into this band, that band and be named Andy(!)”? Seriously though, was Andy’s joining the band a moment where the three of you felt you really had something special and the lineup was set?
GT: It really felt this way! Andy just gets it, so every song became exactly what it was supposed to be. Andy and I knew each other for a few years from dj-ing around San Francisco. At the end of his tour with Cruel Summer, I reached out to him asking if he would like to join Seablite and we were ecstatic when he did! He’s a fantastic drummer and a solid dude.
LM: Yes! Andy is a very talented musician, we were really excited when he started playing in the band. We’re constantly working on stuff and hashing things out as a group.
JM: I think we’re all in agreement on this one! I feel like Andy was the missing piece of the Seablite puzzle and the band became much more of a cohesive unit when he joined.
JB: The new record was recorded at Tiny Telephone. How was your experience there? Was the entire LP recorded there or were there any embellishments after the tracks were recorded there? Did you have any run-ins with John Vanderslice?
AP: Tiny Telephone was used to record drums and bass for all of the songs onto big beautiful 2” tape. No run-ins with Vanderslice. The engineer on hand was Jacob Winik, who did a great job. We recorded everything live there, but later overdubbed guitars and vocals and other flourishes at a production studio where Phil Lantz (Lauren’s husband) works.
LM: Phil let us moonlight at his work to do all the overdubs. That’s also where/when we recorded Joel Gion (The Brian Jonestown Massacre) playing percussion on “Vacuum Chamber”, “Haggard” and “House of Papercuts”. We were really excited he wanted to play on a few tracks, it was a cool experience to see him just come in and do his thing!
JB: Did all of you have input on mixing and mastering the album? How did that process go for you and were there others involved?
AP: Our friend Matt Bullimore, (Mantles, Legs) mixed the record. The number of tracks and overdubs got to be pretty overwhelming by the end. We really needed some help sorting through it and emphasizing all the right bits, and Matt did a great job. He would send us drafts and we’d provide feedback and we’d refine things till they were right.
LM: Stew Anderson (Emotional Response) did the mastering!
JB: Lauren brought up the cost of living in the Bay Area; it has always been notoriously high compared to other parts of the country. With tech companies gaining larger and larger footholds in the area, how has gentrification impacted the music scene there? Less places to play live? I’ve spoken to several people from California here in Tucson who have decided to move this way. It’s as though they are pricing themselves out over there! Residents here are concerned that their sudden influx to AZ will drive up costs here.
GT: It makes it very challenging, especially because many venues are closing down. There have been several waves of people moving away to LA, etc. because they get evicted or simply can’t afford to stay anymore. All four of us are fortunate enough to still be here due to rent control. We love San Francisco so much and even though it’s changing every year, we don’t want to give up on it as it still has a scene of very talented artists and musicians. We are just waiting for this bubble to burst, at least a little bit but, sadly this is happening everywhere right now in different ways, so all we can do is adapt and keep doing what we do.
JB: The album’s title “Grass Stains and Novocaine” could pretty much sum up my childhood! Can you discuss how you came up with the title and what, if anything, does it say about the tunes?
GT: We had a large list of potential titles. Lauren added “Grass Stains and Novocaine” and I immediately felt “this is it! That’s the one!” It just nailed the overall mood of the record. I also loved how vague it was and how many meanings and associations it can bring.
LM: It’s the aftermath of summer days spent eating too much candy!
Seablite on tour:
6/7: Bottom of the Hill – San Francisco, CA – Record release w/ Neutrals and Boyracer
6/14: Firkin Tavern – Portland, OR – w/ Neutrals, Collate, Cay Is Okay
6/15: Southgate Roller Rink – Seattle, WA – w/ Neutrals, The Middle Ages
6/16: Jankuland – Tacoma, WA – w/ Neutrals, Sun Spots
7/28: Oakland Secret – Oakland, CA – w/ Lunchbox, Holy Tunics, TBA
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