For those well versed in the forward-thinking trajectory of Sam Prekop from his work with brainy post-jazz pop institution the Sea and Cake, it may come as a bit of a shock to hear him talking metal. But here was Prekop, post-rock elder statesman, on the phone from his home base in Chicago, praising Thrill Jockey label-mates Lightning Bolt, Liturgy, fellow Chi-Town thrashers Oozing Wound, and the Body, a diabolical doom-metal duo from Portland.
“The Body’s [Christs, Redeemers, from 2013], that was a good one,” Prekop says, though with a slight caveat. “I like all that stuff. It’s not something I put on, really, but I’m all for it. Whatever gets you going.”
Thrill Jockey’s certainly seen its share of change since the mid-Nineties, when Prekop’s band helped establish the label as an indie titan (and template for other aspiring imprints). As Thrill Jockey has expanded its model as a genre-defying force to be reckoned with, Tortoise, Trans Am, and Prekop have soldiered on as its veteran core artists. But Prekop — not one content to rest on his laurels and, say, drop in only every few years with a new Sea and Cake record — hasn’t idled by. While the Sea and Cake remain an active recording and touring unit, albeit not as busy (their last record, Runner, came out in 2012; a new one is on the way), the guitarist/singer has undergone something of a reinvention.
Enter Sam Prekop, Modular Synthesist.
“The Sea and Cake has always involved synth stuff, like really early on,” says Prekop, explaining how his infatuation with electronics crystallized. “John [McEntire], he’s the reason I’ve really gotten into the stuff, through him. I remember on our very first record he had a classic modular synthesizer that we used a lot, and at that time it was definitely not as common as it is now. These things cost a ton of money and were pretty hard to get. So from the beginning, when I first met John, that’s when it started, and then years later I started getting some of the stuff on my own.”
While Sea and Cake LPs sprinkled those synthesizer flourishes over elegantly bendy and melodious electro-jazz pop stylings, Prekop’s recent synth-based excursions under his own name belong entirely to him. For starters, Old Punch Card (’10) and the just-released The Republic are both devoid of a Prekop trademark: his pastoral and cathartic voice. But akin to the Sea and Cake’s detailed and cerebral soundscapes, his electronics guise is unmistakably stamped with that Prekop aesthetic.
On the next page: “When I started, I didn’t have any idea that I would like to make a record out of it”
Unlike Old Punch Card (which Prekop calls a “friendly, abrasive record”), The Republic constructs a futuristic stratum of rhythms and rich textures using oscillators, sequencers, limiters, and filters, emerging with a sonic ambience fit for an art-installation soundtrack. In fact, the first half of The Republic was designed for precisely that — and nearly never saw the light of day. Prekop had to make sure it would be heard outside the David Nolan Gallery here in New York, for which it was conceived, originally, to soundtrack a video installation (also called The Republic).
“When I started, I didn’t have any idea that I would like to make a record out of it,” Prekop says. “But as it proceeded, I was really getting into it. I was like, ‘This is a lot of work for it not to be heard by anybody, so I’m going to try to keep going.’ I just felt once I was in it I wasn’t going to stop.”
The Republic is ostensibly two records in one. There’s the droney, nightmarish futurism, playful synth stabs and ecstatic improv echoed on the first nine pieces (fittingly sequenced as “The Republic 1,” “The Republic 2,” and so on) before it takes a dramatic left turn on the entrancing, techno-ish “Weather Vane,” which, intentionally or not, channels upbeat vibes. “I think I was just trying to — I don’t want to say taunt people — but retrospectively it was kind of rude,” explains Prekop. “A lot of the record implies a beat could be happening and it could easily go in that direction. I just dropped it in for a half a minute to taunt people, I guess.”
For now, Prekop donning a “provocateur” badge is on hold, especially in light of his upcoming tour, which brings him to Ridgewood avant-garde hub Trans-Pecos on May 12. Not only will he be whetting the appetites of synthesizer-seeking purists with an all-electronics set, but he’s bringing his longtime S&C cohort Archer Prewitt along for the ride.
“We’ve developed a long piece that relates to more of the second side of The Republic — it’s more pattern-based and there’s rhythm involved,” says Prekop of the synth segment of the show. “It’s expanding on some of those pieces live.”
And though Prekop, while talking his synth-stockpiling obsession, will namedrop Oneohtrix Point Never and tour companions Pulse Emitter, Panabrite, and Mountains as experimentalists he’s hooked on, he knows his fans want to hear Sea and Cake classics, too. He and Prewitt are happy to oblige with a career-spanning set of minor hits, rarities, and early solo Prekop tunes.
“I don’t want anyone to be bummed out if I don’t sing,” says Prekop nonchalantly. “I think people want to hear me sing something, so I’m like, ‘All right, I’ll sing. Whatever.’ ”
Call it the best of both worlds, or a new Republic of noise.
Sam Prekop plays Trans-Pecos May 12. Click here for ticket information.