There were two possible leads for this story. The first one was, “Sea and Cake singer Sam Prekop is a man of few words-unless he's talking about David Bowie.” The alternate: “Sam Prekop hates me-unless he's talking about David Bowie.”
Both seemed valid. Both made sense. Neither worked without the other.
So, let's go with, “Sam Prekop is a man of few words and totally hates me-unless he's talking about David Bowie.”
Setting up this interview via e-mail, Prekop seemed almost jovial, but once on the phone, dammit if he didn't sound like he hated my guts. It was only 30 minutes of my life, though; so I decided to roll with it.
He wasn't so eager.
My first question was met with pin-drop silence and I had to ask it again. The next few got grumbled, three-word answers. (Also, it seemed like he was multi-tasking. Doing taxes, maybe? Baking cookies?) But then I brought up David Bowie and Prekop came alive.
On the new Sea and Cake record, One Bedroom , their cover of Bowie's “Sound and Vision” is, by far, the standout track. Prekop and Co. filter the original's basic elements through elevator-core post-rock, brushing it with typical light-touch finesse in a supreme, glammy channeling of the Thin White Duke himself.
But it wasn't easy, as Prekop explains: “It proved challenging because when it was first recorded, it sounded like a bar band covering a Bowie song. It sucked. And we were just banging our heads against the wall as to how not to make it a bar band song. We proceeded to dismantle it, rework it, take it apart again and put it back together. We needed to get beyond a certain point where it wasn't interesting enough. I mean, we didn't want to obliterate the original version; but we didn't want it, like I said, to sound like a bar band. It became a desperate working environment.”
See?! I couldn't get him to stop! Since he was finally talking, I let the dude run with it.
“I found out Bowie's range is just an octave below mine but then I found out that it had been radically EQ'd higher than it actually was! So, we needed someone to sing the lower parts.”
Fifteen minutes later, I got a couple words in when I blurted out, “But why?!”
“Huh?” Prekop stammered, taken aback.
“But ... why ... did you decide on that Bowie song? I mean, good choice, but why that one?”
“Well, we all love that song and it didn't feel like an incredibly huge stretch in relation to our other material. Rather than covering, like, ‘What's Going On?' We didn't want it to be a novelty, or wacky.”
Sea and Cake, wacky. The words don't usually go together. Their music, while breezy, is dead serious post-rock-the kind that feels like it was recorded in some bone-cold Chicago basement over coffee and cigarettes and tons of humorless in-band fighting.
So, how does one push Sea and Cake into wackyland?
“There's this thing when you play a cover live: It's like the audience can't resist,” explained Prekop. “It ends up partying-up the show.”
Partying-up. Fair enough. Seen it happen to the best of ‘em. However, thinking the Bowie topic was finally tapped out, I switched gears and asked about tour stuff.
Prekop wasn't having it. With a quick side-step, he boomeranged right back to “Sound and Vision” and revealed the “dark side.”
“I assumed everyone knew the song, but I'm old,” he said, sighing. “I thought it was a hit. I guess it wasn't.”
He's right. Great song. Not exactly part of the Ziggy canon. Nevertheless, I patted him on the shoulder (over the phone, anyway) and told him I thought it was a kick-ass cover, and that, anyfuckingway, who wants to hear another note-for-note dryhump of “Under Pressure” or “Heroes”?! Still, I wasn't winning him over. And it got worse.
After I told him I probably had enough material for my article, Prekop ended our conversation with a snappy “Okay. Bye,” followed by dial tone.
I dunno, that Bowie cover is still rad. And Sam, if you're reading this, I'll see you at ‘Canes. Maybe I'll bring a cheer-up card or some of those Mylar balloons that come in the shape of Pokemon or dinosaurs.