Sam Prekop, frontman of The Sea and Cake, has a few skills to fall back on if the whole band thing doesn't work out.
There's his solo career. And his painting. And his photography.
"It's like that saying," Prekop suggests from his home in Chicago. "Jack of all trades, master of none."
His band may not sell out stadiums, but during the past 14 years they've put out seven albums-including the just-released Everybody-and amassed a devoted following. In the world of post-rock, The Sea and Cake are widely considered masters.
Prekop's not the only multitasker in the group. Guitarist Archer Prewitt, who backed Prekop on his recent solo tour, has serious cred as a comic book artist and solo musician. Drummer John McEntire moonlights as a producer and multi-instrumentalist for Tortoise, another icon on the Mt. Olympus of post-rock. And bassist Erik Claridge is a painter and illustrator soon to release his first solo recordings.
With so much creativity on the side, it's easy to understand why four years passed between their last album and Everybody. It had some people worried, including Prekop.
"I had my concerns this time," he explains. "I always do. I worry that something's changed and we won't be able to play together. That there's been some shift of thinking or change in chemistry."
Really, not much has changed-at least not for the worse. Like past Sea and Cake efforts, Everybody sounds like stepping into liquid. There's just something damn soothing about the breathy, easygoing vocals, the vibrant, woven guitar rhythms and the lulling percussion.
While no great departure, there are pleasant surprises in the details. The opening track, "Up On Crutches," crackles with a hard-pushing energy their work often lacks. And then there's the memorable guitar motif in "Exact to Me," which has an Ali of Mali, Africa-meets-the-West feel to it.
"That line came from nowhere in particular-the good ones stand out among the noodling on the guitar," Prekop explains. "We were perhaps more aware of African-based stuff. Pattern-based music stems from that."
Then, returning to his natural self-deprecation, he adds, "My skills on guitar are limited. Because of that, I have to be more inventive. That guitar thing is not terribly complicated. It sounds like more than it actually is. [The melodies] change a lot as we work on them, but at the very beginning, the songs are coming from me in a broad stroke."
It's not surprising that he uses an art metaphor. His father was a painter and a sculptor. Sam went to art school intending to become a painter himself. Once there, however, The Sea and Cake's success presented him with other options.
"I can't do both at the same time," he says. "It's an either/or situation. Occasionally, when I'm frustrated with something musically, I'll be ready to give it up and go back to art. But it can be hard to start at point zero."
Now he finds his visual outlet in photography, a far more immediate medium. The photos tucked inside the Everybody packaging are his. A book of his photographs will soon be published in Japan.
It's open to interpretation whether those accomplishments speak to the jack of all trades or the master of them. Either way, Prekop says he approaches everything he does with the same goal.
"I'm ultimately interested in beauty. That's what moves me. Complex, soulful, unexpected beauty."
The Sea and Cake plays with Robbers on High Street and The Zincs at the Belly Up on Monday, May 21. Doors open at 7 p.m. $15. 858-481-8140.
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