We are proud to present to you another installment in our In-Time Interview series, which has featured such local luminaries as The Great Nostalgic, the Midgetmen, Quiet Company, and SPEAK. We add to the list The Eastern Sea, whose new album Plague is one of the best we’ve heard this year. Eastern Sea’s Matt Hines chatted online with OVRLD’s Carter Delloro as they listened to the album in real time. What follows is a transcription of their conversation that listeners to Eastern Sea’s music will hopefully find enlightening. If you want to listen along you can currently stream the entire album at MTV’s website. Enjoy!
Matt: AH YES
Carter: Why start with this song? It’s not exactly an easily inviting opener.
Matt: That’s true
It’s kind of a shock, probably
To the everyday listener
Carter: Not many sing about “feral dogs”
Matt: And that’s kinda one of the reasons I wanted it to be this way
Carter: To let people know they’re in for something different?
“Plague” is something of a prologue
It sets the tone
It shows the outline
Carter: In what sense?
Matt: For telling the stories I want to tell on this record
It’s very different than a lot of the tunes
Carter: It creeps in and swells
Matt: But it has the same dynamic qualities
Carter: Right, ending up with a massive arrangement in the middle here
It’s what we like to do when were at a club and everyone’s talking
“Plague” always brings the crowd to a hush
Carter: “Above the hum of this bar tonight…”
Matt: It has a physiological response
Carter: What does “Plague” refer to? Why is that the name/theme of the album?
Matt: I’m gonna try to answer that question over the next 37 minutes
"Wasn’t For Love"
Matt: And that’s why “Plague” is the first song
Carter: I see
Matt: It sets the tone for the question
Carter: So this is the first track where we really get a sense of the arrangements on the album. They have so many moving parts. This band started as a bedroom project for you – how do you write such extravagant songs?
I’ve been making music for a long time, and for much of that time, the process has been kind of solitary. I’ve spent the last ten years writing and recording music that reflects my imagination, and my imagination has definitely grown as I’ve cultivated my musical mind.
Matt: Now, I am able to build these structures
Without my work on a laptop for years in my bedroom and dormroom, these newer attempts would just fall apart
Carter: Do you work with the other musicians in the band, or is songwriting a fairly solo endeavor for you?
Matt: The songwriting is solo, but the arrangement is completely communal
This song sounded much different before this band put it together
Their sensibilities have a huge role in the overall tone
Carter: So you bring in the skeleton and everyone layers on top of it?
Matt: Yeah, I like to say I bring the seed,and everyone cultivates it together.
"So Long Either Way"
Matt: Scene change!
Carter: When you put up a Kickstarter page for this over a year and a half ago, you had the tracklist almost exactly the same as it is now that you’re done. “Wasn’t for Love” seems to be one of the two exceptions (assuming it’s a different song from “Berlin”, is it?). Were you tempted at any point to alter your vision? Add in newer songs? Do you still feel the way you did when you started putting the project together?
Sorry, lots of questions at the end there
Matt: It’s exactly the same
“Berlin” is “Wasn’t for Love”
Just a different name
Carter: ah okay
Matt: The plan from the beginning was to make THIS album
Which is why it’s so interesting to look back on the process
Carter: That just floors me that through what must have been two years, your vision was so consistent
Matt: The vision was consistent but I had to make many compromises
The songs were there
The vision was there
It had to adapt to changing situations
Carter: like what?
Matt: Technical problems
Carter: So, do you even still relate to the songs like you did when it all began?
Matt: Yeah, in a lot of ways
This song is an example of this actually
Carter: How so?
Matt: It almost seems I wrote it for myself
So that I could understand things betterThis music is about overcoming misunderstanding
Striving for understanding
“Plague” is something that frustrates and obfuscates understanding
Carter: Does that have something to do with the vocals being so clear and present in the mix?
Matt: The vocals are the main character right
It was important for the vocals to stand out
To tell the story
Like a narrator
It’s essential that listeners understand what im saying
Carter: It just allows for better understanding, it seems
Is there a throughline here?
An overarching narrative?
It’s an autobiography but it’s non-linear
It’s prose but it’s non-fiction
Carter: Okay, it seems thematically connected, but I wasn’t sure how explicit that was
Matt: It’s mythology (especially this song) but it’s not untrue
Carter: So about this song – what is the significance of Santa Rosa?
Matt: Santa Rosa de Lima
Carter: What is the mythology?
Matt: She’s a figure of great reverence in Lima, Peru
Carter: So it’s not the city in California?
Carter: Why bring her into a song about America?
Matt: South America
Matt: It’s tricky
Carter: How is this autobiographical?
Matt: It’s a mythologizing of this relationship I have
A relationship that has already been highly mythologized by myself and her
It’s about seeing and feeling and hearing the life and love of someone in everything you see feel and hear
Matt: In the good
And the bad
In the scary
And the beautiful
In the things that mean nothing
And the things that mean everything
Carter: And Santa Rosa represents that?
Matt: She is Santa Rosa
She is there
In the catacombs
Carter: I see
Matt: With me
She’s the sound of the marching band outside the presidential palace
Carter: The transitions provided by some of the track ordering are so smooth and natural, like this one. Did you write this with “Santa Rosa” or did they develop separately?
Matt: This was written as one song
I made the choice
(I think it was the right one but I’m not sure still to this day)
to make the songs separate on the CD
Matt: I believed there was more interest in a reprise
More than a really large 8-minute song
A separate experience
Carter: What role does tracking play on this album? Since it was specifically laid out like this from the start, how did you know these songs needed to go in this order?
They are matched in threes
“Say yes,” this track
Is the last of three songs
Carter: Of the second group
4 sets of 3
Carter: How does this match with the other two?
Matt: Like most of the sets
The third song
Serves as a rumination
A remembrance of something that has passed
Carter: That relationship?
Matt: “Say yes” is an old song
I must have written it in 2007
A different relationship
A different time
Maybe even RIGHT before I met [current girlfriend] Caitlin
Carter: So Caitlin is the same one as Santa Rosa?
And “Wasn’t for Love”
And “The Snow” [from 2009 album The Eastern Sea]
And pretty much everything
Well, except this song
And the ones at the end
Those are about different people and for different reasons
I wrote a lot about this song on American Songwriter when they debuted it so I won’t go big into it
Carter: You said a lot about this song on American Songwriter, so I’m not sure where else to go with it. Except that you specify that this is really tied into a particular Austin neighborhood where you spent a lot of time. And yet some of your promo materials say that y’all sometimes forget Austin is home. What exactly is your relationship with this city?
You anticipated me a bit there
Or i anticipated you
One of those
We’re on the same page
This album travels
Each scene seems to go to a different place
And Austin is definitely at the core
Even though there isnt much time spent here musically represented
I’ve lived in Texas all my life
It is what I know and a part of me feels that the Hill Country lives in the roots of my musical sensibilities
Carter: How so?
Matt: A lightness
Carter: So you kind of musically reflect the places that you write about?
I try to at least
Sometimes I’m good at it sometimes I’m bad
Carter: And so this one reflects Austin?
Matt: Yes, very much so to me
Carter: How so?
Matt: The beat
Carter: Austin has a beat?
Matt: That compound meter in the drum
It’s a four-four drum beat
Played as a waltz
3/4, 4/4 mix
Which is Austin to me
Carter: Yeah, I hear that now
A mixture of feelings?
"China Untitled One"
Matt: It’s a slow texas waltz played as a heavy almost bluesy straight ahead rock
Tough and a bit delicate at the same time
That 3/4, 4/4 mix is changed a bit for this song
We shift the focus to my hotel in China where I lived during the summer of 2007
The picture on the front cover of our record is the bedroom
Carter: So this has China. Other songs reference other places, as you’ve done already in this interview. Somewhere else you talked about the importance of place in the writing of the songs on this album. Why is that? What can places say about people, or vice versa?
Matt: Places are vehicles for people
They provide a platform for humanity to react
if im interested in the human condition
it is only a human condition in a particular setting
Carter: Context is important
Matt: I come to learn more about myself and others the more see them interact with varied locations
I LOVE TO TRAVEL
Carter: I’m getting that sense 🙂
Matt: This song is cool, though
Because the language I use is language that paints a setting where I am confronted with future truth that I would love to deny again something I wrote to teach my future self a lesson or perhaps something my future self left for me to find on my own
Carter: As your future self now, do you feel like you were onto something?
Matt: Yeah, the sound of banging
The only way I could understand what my future self was trying to communicate
was really just a message
Saying: hear how thin the walls are
Hear how veiled the message is
Carter: In the place you were in at the time and in a more metaphorical sense?
Matt: It was a meta message
Carter: A message about messages
Matt: A message about commmunicating truth
Carter: In this and in “China Untitled One” the hooks – if you can call them those – are based in wordless sounds and syllables. You pack so many words into some of your lines – why leave the refrains free of words?
Matt: Because it’s like shifting gears
I’m giving the listener an opportunity to see the shift
When I’m singing fast syllables with lots of text, you understand that those words are the focus
And when it’s just wordless melody, there is a moment to gain some perspective
Carter: To stop and reflect
Matt: If they want
Carter: Who is that?
Matt: It’s Latin
Christ have mercy
This is a song about dying
Carter: Well, that speaks to the appearance of death in a few tracks on the album
“The Line”, one of those earlier ones
"There You Are"
“The Line” is the Pulp Fiction ending
I’ll explain later
“There you are,” “A Lie,” and “The Line” are an interesting set of three
Carter: How so?
Matt: They are conclusion
The end of a story, where maybe the other sets were the beginnings of a separate story
These three are about a lost love
Carter: You said earlier that these songs are about a different relationship
Matt: About something I grew up thinking would work
The first love, of sorts
Carter: How do they tie in with the other songs, then?
Matt: The other songs have given me perspective enough to say what I really needed to say about the conclusion of this particular relationship
“There You Are” is the set up
and “A Lie” is the punchline
Carter: Yeah, it’s super accessible but also kind of accusatory and bitter
Matt: Yeah, maybe one of the meanest things I’ve ever written
Carter: What’s the genesis for it?
Matt: It’s a song about my first kiss
Carter: Haha, cheesier than I expected from the lyrics
That’s the idea
Carter: What is?
Matt: Something that might have been romanticized
Like I’ve mythologized my current relationship
Can be revisited
And torn apart
It’s a warning
Carter: Do you worry that your current relationship will suffer a similar fate as the earlier ones?
Matt: That’s a deep fear
But one I know is irrational
Only I control my fate
Carter: So your songs are conversations with yourself
Matt: In a lot of ways, yes
Carter: A kind of idealized version of the past, present and future
Matt: Warning, lessons, explanations
Like a journal you constantly revisit
Unlike regular journals that you never pick up and read again
I’ve built these conversations with myself into my career
Carter: So for such intensely personal work – how does audience interaction affect it?
Do you care how everyone else hears it?
Or is this really just for future you?
Matt: The audience’s relationship with these things is really the thing that sets them apart from being journal entries
A journal isn’t art
These are written for an audience
Which might be stuck up
But in a lot of ways I hope that the things I look for in my art are the things that all people look for in art
Probably not ANSWERS
But definitely truth
Carter: And you feel like you got there on Plague?
Matt: It’s got SOME truth in it
Carter: And a lot of…
A lot of