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Let There Be Lemon Lights: An Interview With Seablite

24 October 2023

All photos by Kasey Kalis

Seablite is a four-piece pop band from San Francisco inspired by 80s/90s indie and shoegaze. Seablite was formed in 2016 when Lauren Matsui (vocals / guitar) and Galine Tumasyan (vocals / bass) bonded over a mutual appreciation of early 90’s Britpop and UK underground music. The pair began writing songs and soon after Jen Mundy (ex-*Wax Idols*) joined on second guitar and Andy Pastalaniec (Chime School) would eventually join on drums. They have released an LP (2019’s Grass Stains and Novocaine), a 7” single (Breadcrumbs c/w Ink Bleeds) via Emotional Response Records and a 10” EP (High-Rise Mannequins – recorded and produced by Alicia Vanden Heuvel of the Aislers Set) in conjunction with Spain’s Meritorio Records. The band is among San Francisco’s current indie pop renaissance and have opened for the likes of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Charlatans and Ladytron upon their most recent Bay Area visits.
Recorded over the summer of 2022, “Lemon Lights” contains 12 dreamy pop tracks showcasing the group’s continued growth and maturity and marks a strong progression from their debut album. After recording basic bed tracks with Robby Joseph, the band finished overdubs in their practice space and Lauren’s apartment. The freedom of home recording allowed them to experiment, resulting in an organic and intuitive manifestation of the band’s emotions and creativity – a sonic inkblot of unfiltered pop appreciation. 
One may hear Manchester undertones on “Hit the Wall” and “Melancholy Molly”, or the feminine noise-pop of Lush on “Pot of Boiling Water” but Seablite are not to be mistaken for anglophile copycats. Seablite incorporates the jangle of their San Francisco “Fog Pop” contemporaries on tracks like “Hold My Kite” and a relentless and driving guitar on “Blink Each Day”, while the wonderfully dark elements on “Monochrome Rainbow” and the wistful closer, “Orbiting My Sleep” give them a wide range of sounds and vibes.

Many thanks to Mark at Mt.St.Mtn. for arranging and Lauren for coordinating!

James Broscheid: I last saw my heroes Seablite on Emotional Response who released your ace debut LP Grass Stains and Novocaine back in 2019, an EP in 2020 and a single in 2022. So let me start by saying congratulations on your sophomore record, Lemon Lights! This record sees its release on Sacramento-based Mt. St. Mtn. How did this arrangement come about?

Lauren Matsui: Thank you so much James, took us a while but it’s finally out! Lemon Lights is sort of a new direction for us, we really focused on expanding our sound and experimenting with a lot of things. With this direction change, we decided to try a new label as well and Mt. St. Mtn. seemed like a natural choice. Andy has known Mark Kaiser from Mt. St. Mtn. for a long time and worked with him on the Cruel Summer LP (called Ivy from 2017), plus we’re fans of his other releases so we thought we’d be a perfect fit for the label.

JB: The band’s appreciation of Britpop and UK indie/underground music is well known but how did you manage to hook up with Ride’s Mark Gardener for his mastering services on Lemon Lights?

Galine Tumasyan: Lauren and I were hanging out at the bar in the mission one evening and were talking about the last step for our record- which is mastering. I heard that Mark Gardener has a mastering and recording business called OX4 Sound, so we looked it up randomly and decided to shoot him an email and see what happens! Of course I almost fell off my chair when I saw his reply that same evening! We were incredibly excited to work with Mark and he did everything we wanted to get the sound in the right place. He was a joy to work with!

Andy Pastalaniec: Yes, OX4 is owned and run by Mark Gardener of RIDE, so it’s a good association for any record to have, but they’re a great mastering service, with good rates and quick turnaround. They also did the new Umbrellas record that will probably be out by the time this prints. We definitely recommend OX4 for all your mastering needs!

JB: Lemon Lights leans more towards edge-y alternative rock especially on numbers like “Frozen Strawberries” and “Blink Each Day” – am I wrong in assuming Jen is behind the rougher, post-punk edges on those tracks? There are of course tracks that are instantly recognizable as Seablite in all their indie pop goodness – “Hold My Kite” and “Monochrome Rainbow” come to mind. I want to avoid “polished” but this record does have a thicker production value to it. Were you able to, as a band, dive further into experimentation on this album?

LM: We definitely were able to diver further into experimentation on this album. We recorded drums and bass with Robby Joseph in his studio, then we were able to take our time layering and experimenting with the overdubs later. This was the biggest project to date that I’ve engineered, recording guitars in our practice space and then vocals and other layers in my apartment. I think the hardest part about recording like this, is to know when to put a bow on it. It’s very easy to overwork a song, or not know when it’s done. A huge part of this record’s sound is that Andy mixed it, so we had a lot of freedom to nudge things here and there. Andy really nailed it with the mix.

Jen Mundy: Post-punk is definitely a big influence for me, but “Blink Each Day” is all Lauren! I wrote some guitar parts to “Frozen Strawberries”, though.

AP: Thank you Lauren! I probably spent a good three months mixing the record from October to December of 2022, including an intensive two weeks at the end of the year when I added additional percussion and sort of “glued” everything together. Although we recorded the bass and drums to tape in the studio, everything else was recorded to the computer. I tend to think of digital recording as graphic design for audio– a lot of magic happens during mixing, it’s almost a second recording process and I went pretty deep with this one. It’s hard to contextualize the final product because I’ve heard it through all of its various stages, but it’s been pretty cool to see the response so far!

JB: The new record was recorded over last summer. Was the band’s approach similar to the first record in that a good deal of time was spent in rehearsals building the songs and gaining in confidence prior to tracking? Throw in Mark to do the mastering and there’s a logistical aspect there as well? I’m sure all of you are still holding down “day” jobs too? Believe me, I wish you all could devote all your time to music and the arts!

GT: We were sitting on some of these songs since even pre-pandemic, the pandemic itself really threw a wrench into the whole process. As soon as it felt safe again to rehearse – we were eager to get this record going and get this done! We all worked incredibly hard as a band to rehearse the songs and arrange them all together to get them in the right place.

LM: Sort of! Like Galine said, some of these songs had been written for a while, but the pandemic made it hard to get together and really flesh them out and see how they sound as Seablite and not as rough demos. As soon as we were able to get together in the same room, we pretty much began a marathon of practicing and reworking the songs. To keep us on track we pretty much scheduled time with Robby to give ourselves a deadline. All of us working full-time on top of trying to cram for recording made it important to focus on the time we had together.

AP: Speaking as a drummer who had to go into the studio and nail the parts, I kind of wish we had rehearsed more (laughs)! But I am really excited for people to see us perform the material live because I think we’ve really gelled as a group with this material since we made the record.

JB: Plus, all of you are super-busy with other projects including Neutrals (Lauren), Chime School (Andy), Galine does a TON of artwork for this band and others. What are some of the benefits and challenges working on other projects in addition to Seablite?

GT: To me being part time artist and part time musician is mostly beneficial- both things are helping and influencing each other very much! Music never got in the way of making art or vice versa. I remember doing a soundcheck in Liverpool on tour and then running backstage to get on a zoom call with the festival, who I was making artwork for! It can get hectic, but in a way that keeps things exciting and fun!

LM: The only real challenge is time, finding time to do everything can be tough. The main benefits for me is that I feel like playing bass in Neutrals has made me more versatile. I had never really played bass in a band setting, only on demos and around the house. My brain approaches bass a little differently than guitar, I focus more on locking in with the drums which I’ve started doing with guitar as well now.

JM: I started a side project called BLACK MUNDY with my friend Sam Black (bassist from SF band The Tunnel; they’re rad!), during the pandemic. Since we couldn’t all get together as a band to play, I was feeling restless so I started writing my own songs. Sam and I started collaborating remotely at first, then eventually we met in person to record demos. This was 2+ years ago (laughs). Working full-time and being in a band is a balancing act, but hopefully soon I will gain the energy, time, and momentum to finish what we started.

AP: Chime School occupies a lot of my creative energy and focus these days, but for me, each project influences the other to some degree. Writing, arranging and producing music as Chime School has made me a better producer (allowing us to do Lemon Lights on our own) but it’s also somehow improved my drumming. I think having a strong sense of song will always make you a good drummer, even if you don’t have the most impressive chops. At the same time, my Seablite bandmates have encouraged me to channel my inner Loz Colbert (Ride drummer) a bit with the new Seablite material, so I feel like I’ve evolved there as well!

JB: The band has opened for the likes of Ladytron, Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Charlatans to name a few. What were those shows like and were the headliners willing to share some of their insights and experiences? If you had the opportunity to open for any band, who would it be?

GT: Those experiences were incredible and unique in their own way. To me being able to play with your heroes is one of the best parts about playing music! The Charlatans show was the most surreal perhaps, as we found out about us opening for them 2 days before the show, which was absolutely nuts! I cannot describe the excitement and the decibels of screaming that happened in our rehearsal space when we received this email between tuning our instruments. Ladytron was incredible as for me personally this band is very influential and being able to play with them was a dream come true! Some of the Brian Jonestown folks are our good friends and that was a very fun show and the first big show for Seablite! It was good fun and definitely an unforgettable experience. My dream is to open for some of the absolute favorites like Ride, Pulp or Suede!

JM: Those shows were all very exciting and memorable for me. Opening for BJM at the legendary Bimbo’s in particular was super cool! To echo Galine’s thoughts, playing with the Charlatans was super surreal, and if we had the opportunity to play with any of our other 90s heroes that would be amazing! As for newer artists/bands, I would love to play with Jonathan Bree. I think he’s just brilliant!

AP: Playing with those artists was definitely surreal but the Chickfactor 30 shows we played in Fall of 2022 were my personal favorites. It was incredible playing in New York with Gary Olson*/*Ladybug Transistor, and then in London with Rachel Love, Debsey Wykes and Paul Kelly of Birdie. Their formative groups, Dolly Mixture, and The East Village are major influences for me, so it was a total dream to meet and hang out with them.

JB: With all the attention the Bay Area scene is generating, at least in the music sources I read, has it been getting easier to book gigs compared to the last time we spoke?

GT: It has!! Also because we have more great indie venues now in San Francisco which is incredible!

AP: I think a big factor in the Bay Area is the pandemic exodus. As many as 70,000 people left San Francisco alone in 2020, mostly the tech money types who moved here for access to venture capital. SF had a vibrant DIY scene for years, but nightlife (well everything) in the 2010s became geared toward chasing tech dollars. Now that they’re gone I’ve noticed the focus shift back in favor of the local community. Also, the City is so worried about chasing even more people away they’ve become more permissive about things like outdoor music and bars, which has allowed places like the Hit Gallery and Vesuvio to throw really amazing DIY shows.

JB: From an outsider’s perspective, there is so much going on in the Bay Area these days it is very difficult to keep up! Does it feel that way to the four of you? Does it ever feel overwhelming at times?

LM: There are so many shows going on all the time, it’s definitely hard to make it to even a fraction of them!! It never feels overwhelming to me though, since I am a big fan of nights in as well as going to shows. Gotta find the balance!

JB: I guess my only gripe about the Bay Area scene and all the glorious music coming out of it is that I don’t live there to see all the bands I’m into. Other than The Umbrellas (who have come to AZ twice!), I have not been able to see shows featuring the NoCal artists I love. Any chance Seablite/Chime School/Neutrals will break away from the coast and tour the states? I know the days of labels springing for a national tour are over so I’m sure cost plays a huge role.

LM: I really wish we could tour more, especially the states, I haven’t been to most that aren’t on a coast! Realistically we have to work around our work schedules, which make it very very hard for any of us to get away for any longer than a week or two at most.

AP: Seablite has a new record out now, Chime School will have a new one next year, and I think Neutrals will as well. We all want to tour more, and we probably will, so look out for us all!

JB: I have always liked the band’s fashion sense in addition to the records you make. The latest press assets indicate that aspect of the group is still alive and well! Can you discuss how your style intertwines with the music you create and how important it is to the band?

GT: The fun thing about this is that each of us has their own unique influences in our style that work so well together! I call my style lately “if Mary Quant (British fashion designer instrumental to the 60’s mod/youth/swinging sixties cultures – JB), went to a rave in the 90s” – mixing those mod mini skirts with little 70’s tees and track jackets.

LM: I call my style disheveled 80’s prep in a band tee. I think it makes perfect sense considering some of my biggest musical influences are Blur, New Order and OMD. Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club, both pre and post make-over depending on the day!

JM: I love that we all come from different backgrounds and have our own personal styles that all blend together as a whole. I think that’s what makes Seablite distinctive and keeps things interesting!

AP: Mostly vintage, 80s does 60s for sure. Lots of vintage Levis in a stovepipe cut, docs or chelsea boots, etc. My style influences are pretty stereotypically “indie;” all the Glaswegians, Stephen Pastel, Boy Hairdresser’s era Norman Blake, bowl cut era My Bloody Valentine. I got a lot of stripe-y mock necks and a great suede jacket, but I’m on the hunt for a black leather blazer a la C86 era Primal Scream. About size 34 if anyone’s got one, lemme know!

JB: Would you be willing to run down the track list for Lemon Lights and highlight any insights into each track? Maybe some fun facts, interesting discoveries, recording stories, etc?

GT: The fun fact about “Melancholy Molly” – that melody came to me when I was making coffee in the morning during lockdown and was incredibly bored watching the coffee steam heading towards the window and feeling envious that it gets to get out and I’m not. That’s how the song came about which you can hear in some of the lyrics. “Faded” also has a fun fact – I knew that I wanted this song to be about leaving the rave late at night, but I did not have the lyrics for it quite yet. After I did my first course of transcendental meditation in 2021, the lyrics basically wrote themselves – which is why it was very important to keep the song very light and airy during arrangements as I really wanted to remember that feeling of transcending for the first time. “Monochrome Rainbow” was the first time I actually wrote my own lyrics, which I’m very thankful to Lauren for pushing me to do this. I only really could write poems or lyrics in Russian before and always was nervous to write anything in English until she gave me this push and confidence. Now I love doing it! Which again shows how important it is to be collaborative and encouraging as a band!

LM: Here’s some random fun facts about some of the songs;
“Smudge Was a Fly” – I had just started to work on the lyrics for this song and a little gnat landed on the paper and I squished it. It made this gray smudge on the page and I started writing the lyrics around the smudge mark. I don’t usually like to kill bugs, it makes me sad, but this one was really annoying me.
“Blink Each Day” – Buried in the outro of this song you can hear Galine and I busting up. It’s actually audio from one of “Ink Bleeds” music video outtakes. I thought it was pretty funny and eerie sounding so I decided to hide it in the outro of “Blink Each Day.”
“Hold My Kite” – Recently Mickey Bradley (from BBC Radio Ulster) played ‘Hold My Kite’ on his radio show and mentioned that maybe this song is about a fight in a park. It’s not, but I kind of wish it was now that he’s mentioned it!
“Laughing Sounds” – We called this song Owls for a very long time because we thought Galine’s ‘hoo hoo hoos’ sounded like an owl. We’re also big Twin Peaks heads, so we’re all about owls not being what they seem! I also recruited my dad to play some atmospheric french horn on this track.
“Orbiting My Sleep” – I love how The BeatlesWhite Album ends on “Good Night”, like a lullaby at the end of a wild sonic adventure. I had that in mind when I was writing “Orbiting My Sleep”, it’s the ‘thank you, good night” song. The intro and outro are the windchimes at my parent’s house played through reverse delay in their bedroom closet. I think I chose to add them because it sounds nostalgic and comforting to me.

JM: The most memorable experience for me was writing my guitar parts for “Pot of Boiling Water.” I was very sick with Covid and feeling the time crunch looming overhead, so I literally wrote my parts for that song while sick in bed with my guitar! I am very pleased with how it turned out; it’s one of my favorite tracks on the album.

AP: “Monochrome Rainbow” is my personal favorite song on the record. I got a bit of a Yo La Tengo “Stockholm Syndrome” vibe from it at first, so I tried to really lay back on the drums like Georgia (Hubley) does on that song, until it gets super loud at the end. You’ll notice I put quite a few claves on the record, that was a bit of a nod to my favorite YLT record.

JB: Could you discuss the thoughts behind how the cover art and packaging came together? The pressing’s color scheme is one of the prettiest pressings I have seen of any vinyl record of late.

GT: It’s all Michael Aguilar – he is our great friend and the visionary behind all of our record sleeves. Michael is also a record collector and loves all the same music as us- so he always knows exactly what to do for Seablite. When we told him about Lemon Lights, we basically said, “Look at it as our Screamadelica, a little dance-y, little more experimental, etc.” (Referencing Primal Scream’s third album from 1991 – JB). He took that information, listened to the songs, and there it was! Michael partnered up with his friend and photographer April Martinez who had these amazing yellow flower images and it all just came together very quickly. The photographs of the band were taken by Michael’s partner Kasey Kalis at Dolores Park in the mission early on a very cold morning. They all did a fantastic job and executed the vision of this record perfectly!

JB: With the repress of Grass Stains and Novocaine announced on Dandy Boy Records and due out next month, I wanted to get the background on how that all came together. Definitely a surprise!

LM: Bobby Martinez, who runs Dandy Boy Records, is a really good friend of ours. He’s been very supportive and encouraging for us to get Grass Stains and Novocaine back in print. After it being out of print for years, it seemed like the perfect time for us and Dandy Boy Records to team up on the reissue. Bobby had brought up that we should try to push this reissue louder and grittier, and we agreed! We actually worked with Mikey Young on our 10” and 7” releases and were super happy with how both of those came out, so we thought he’d be the right person for the remaster.

JB: I am sure getting your debut repressed offered some reflection on the band’s progress from then to now. Could you ruminate on the band’s start and how you’ve gotten to this point? How your individual personalities contribute to the band as a whole?

GT: Individual personalities are what make our band what it is. Everyone has a slightly different aesthetic that works so well together, while essentially drawing the inspiration from the same source. I always joke that if Seablite was a drink or a product – our slogan would have been “Seablite – something for everyone!” In the future we will continue working collaboratively, experimenting more and blending things together. Also hoping to get Mundy to sing with us, and Andy too! More the merrier!!

JB: Finally, my son has recently picked up the guitar. Any advice for the youngsters out there just starting out?

LM: That’s awesome!!! The only advice I have is keep going even when you get frustrated. Learning an instrument can feel like you’re running in place and not making progress, but you really are! One day you’ll realize, “Oh wow, that wasn’t as hard as it used to be!”

JM: I would say the younger you start, the better. I started playing guitar at 18, but I wish I had started when I was younger! Don’t give up, fight through the pain and discouragement, and most importantly do it for YOU, not for anyone else (I still need to remind myself of the latter at times!).

AP: I think it’s easier to get good at music if you start out listening to more bare-bones stuff, I think that’s why punk and 60s pop birthed so many great bands and sub-genres. You can get by with basic chords and developing a good ear. If you learn the major one, four and five chords, and the minor third and six chords that’s basically every song ever written. Look up “CAGED system” and you’ll learn to play those chords everywhere on the neck. That’s basically all I know. Ultimately, just listen to what you like and follow the melody, use your ear! If it sounds good to you, it’s good!

JB: Thank you all! Again, such a pleasure!

For more information and to purchase Lemon Lights, please visit Seablite’s Linktree Bandcamp or Mt St Mtn. To preorder a copy of the band’s recently remastered debut LP, visit Dandy Boy Records. To stay current on all Seablite happenings, visit their Instagram.