The Eastern Sea
Staving Off Infection
Sep 21, 2012
Photography by Tommy Kearns Web Exclusive
When Matthew Hines, songwriter and creative leader of the Austin-based ensemble The Eastern Sea set out two years ago to start work on his debut full-length, he already had settled on a name for the record, one inspired while reading Albert Camus' 1947 novel The Plague. Hines now looks back on the decision with at least a few regrets.
"I started calling it Plague before it was really even arranged," he says. "In a lot of ways it wound up living up to its name. I learned not to name things before they're done."
For 11 months, Hines and his assembled band endured a variety of unfortunate events that more or less stymied the album's development at every turn. The first of these particular setbacks occurred just a month into recording when the building complex that housed their studio was unexpectedly condemned. "The landlord had completely neglected the building," says Hines, noting that it had been marked with a number of code violations. Set adrift so suddenly, the band had difficulty finding a suitable replacement studio, particularly one that could accommodate their live-to-tape method of production.
When they eventually did find a new place, there were only more snags: technical problems, poorly allotted time in which to work, and infighting between their producer and the establishment's staff. Growing increasingly frustrated and impatient with the progress, Hines' drummer and bassist left the project altogether. Things were further delayed when a breakout of wildfires in Bastrop, located a short distance southeast of Austin, threatened the producer's house, taking his attention elsewhere. Though the house would survive the natural disaster, conflict between Hines' producer and the studio's other engineers finally hit a breaking point. Forced to pack up his gear, Hines finally finished the album by making hour-long day trips to the producer's still-standing house. For all the trouble that surrounded the album, Hines says the record itself came away unscathed.
"I don't think it contains any of the negativity that I felt during the process of making it," he says. "I don't find it to be cynical. I find it to be really hopeful."
Sprawling with verbose, narrative prose, poly-rhythm percussion, and meticulously crafted melodies that immediately bring to mind the talents of The Decemberists' Colin Meloy and Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard, the record is about "slow change, like when you take a guitar into a cold room and the strings pull and push on each other," says Hines. "Usually I try to write about how wonderful and beautiful my life is, but also how difficult it is, because it's always—man—shit's always difficult. That's what I came away with. Anything that's worth anything, there has to be an element of struggle. I'm not saying that struggle dictates what is good, but you have to accept struggle and you have to go, 'This is what is going to make me better. I'm going to have to deal with this and in the end I'm going to come out of it smarter.'"
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