The world right now is a spinning cauldron of unknowns, veils torn apart, and realities setting in. However, this atmosphere of ambiguity and harshness is a norm within the confines of metal’s hallowed halls. Hailing from the Northeastern region of the United States, SEA emerged out of the depths of the Atlantic earlier this year to unleash a sonic leviathan, Impermanence. Bearing in mind the Atlantic Ocean has been historically associated with a myriad of philosophical inquiries and musings about life, it’s only natural to look at the enormity of SEA’s album and draw comparisons to the mighty waters. The group’s sonic focus of atmospheric/experimental doom casts the paralysing vastness of the ocean and its ephemeral splendour with harrowing force on Impermanence.
Whilst the world continues to hunker down, guitarist/vocalist Liz Walshak and bassist/vocalist Stephen LoVerme of SEA sat down and answered a few questions to dive deep into some of the nuances of their new album and the group as a whole.
What brought the band together? It seems that you all came from different bands before this, so what led to the formation of SEA?
Liz: Steve, Andrew and I met through playing in our respective former bands and playing shows together. Boston has such a small but tight-knit music community, so you see the same faces and get to know each other a bit. After my departure from my former band, I was interested in starting a new project of dark and experimental heavy music. Mike [Blasi, guitarist, thereminist] and I had been domestic partners and playing in another band together for years, and it felt natural to start a new project together. We started writing some songs on guitar and thinking of people who we wanted to collaborate with. We both liked what Steve did musically in Olde Growth and he is a super nice person, so we asked him to play with us. Luckily, he agreed! After some time, Andrew [Muro] offered to play drums for us, and that’s how our original lineup came to be.
Stephen: Liz asked me to start a band with her and Mike at just the right time. Olde Growth was on hiatus and I was looking for a new project. I liked them as people, and we seemed to be on the same page musically. I hadn’t met Andrew before our first practice, but we’d been going to the same shows for years, and we had a good laugh years later when he found some old, way too formal Facebook messages we’d sent each other trying to get a gig together with our old bands. It was Andrew who suggested recording with Keith [Gentile]. They’d previously recorded and toured together when Andrew filled in on bass for Keith’s old band VYGR. After we recorded Impermanence, Andrew moved to LA and we started playing with Joey Gonzales from Fórn, but then he moved away too. We’d all really clicked with Keith when we were making the record. He’s also a fantastic drummer and he already knew the songs, so asking him to play with us was a no-brainer.
What musical musical influences do you draw from as a group? We know you each may have particular styles, or concepts that you gravitate towards, but what inspirations have proven themselves to be the most influential?
Liz: I have always been heavily influenced by music that carries an emotional weight and creates an atmosphere, regardless of genre. I would say the most influential albums have been ones that made me think differently about what music can be, and that resonate on a deeper level at a particular time and place in my life. One of my all-time favourite albums is Nine Inch Nails‘ The Downward Spiral. The raw emotion, layers of organic and electronic sounds and overall dark mood and viscera of that album heavily influenced my musical taste when I was growing up. A lot of sludge bands from the 2000s had a huge impact on my playing as well, particularly Mastodon, Baroness and Dark Castle. It was very empowering for me to see women like Stevie Floyd and Laura Pleasants from Kylesa wielding their guitars, screaming, and making badass music. When I started experimenting with guitar sounds and figuring out what I liked, I had read that those bands tuned down their guitars, so I tuned my guitar down to C standard, and immediately fell in love with the darker sound and thicker low end. Since then I have experimented with different low tunings and it has greatly influenced how I write music.
Stephen: A few people have name-dropped SubRosa in their reviews of Impermanence, which I take as a huge compliment because they’ve been such an important influence on me as a songwriter. When Liz brought in the riffs that would become the foundation of ‘Shrine’, I instantly recognised their influence on what she’d written, and I drew heavily on their sound on More Constant Than the Gods and For This We Fought The Battle of Ages when I was writing the lyrics and vocal melodies. We were fortunate enough to play with them twice a few years ago when they were on tour with Wovenhand.
Neurosis‘ A Sun That Never Sets is another album that had a big influence on me and my understanding of what heavy music could be. There is such an emotional depth to the songs on that record, both lyrically and musically. I believe it was on that album where the folk element in their music really took shape, and if you look at a lot of the artists playing Roadburn each year you can see that their influence has spread far and wide.
I also think we’ve all found a lot of inspiration from our peers in the Boston music scene. Our friends in Glacier have set the bar for making music that’s oppressively bleak, but also full of beauty and subtle dynamics. Elizabeth Colour Wheel are another band that impressed me early on with both their musicianship and their visceral, yet vulnerable approach to heavy music.
Looking at your discography up to Impermanence, including splits with Weedwolf and KYOTY as well as a self-titled EP in 2015, it seems that a particular theme has permeated your output – the ephemeral nature of reality, and its beauty and turmoil. Has exploring such themes changed your perception of life throughout your time in the band?
Liz: Our music is an extension of whatever is on our minds and in our hearts at any particular moment, and also a reaction to what’s happening in the world around us. There is so much out there reminding us of how ephemeral our existence is, from the loss of loved ones to the existential threat of climate change and, currently, a pandemic. It can be overwhelming and feel hopeless at times – but for all the destruction, there is simultaneous beauty that is worth appreciating and sharing. Channelling these thoughts into music somehow gives it a new life, and having someone listen to a song and connect with it brings it full circle. Having the band as an outlet through which to process feelings can be very cathartic, and there is beauty in sharing that with people with whom you feel philosophically and creatively aligned.
Stephen: I agree with Liz that it’s mainly our perception of life that’s reflected in our music. The lyrics are usually that last piece to come together, but we put a lot of thought into making sure they are meaningful to us and have some substance for the listener. One of the perks to creating art is that it gives us an outlet to really think about and explore themes and ideas that we find meaningful.
What was the greatest learning moment SEA had while putting the album together, both as a collective social experience, and musically?
Liz: I would say we learned a lot about songwriting for this record. We hit a stride with songwriting after we had been playing together for a few years, where things just clicked. Prior to this record we wrote very collaboratively, which can be tedious at times. We started demoing out more fully-realised ideas independently, which we would then bring to the band and arrange and work out the final parts together. We focused on creating dynamics and considering song structure more than we had in the past. Aside from that, it was a big learning experience self-releasing a record and overseeing the entire process, from songwriting to production, release and promotion.
Stephen: We operate very democratically as a band, which has its perks, but isn’t always the most efficient way to work. Everything takes longer, whether it’s songwriting or just making decisions. With these songs we really found our musical voice, which has made it easier for us to write for the band on a more individual basis. I think we’ve also built up enough trust with each other to be able to cede creative control to whoever is writing the song, while still feeling comfortable giving constructive feedback and suggestions.
With all this ideology of temporality and ephemerality, were there any particular philosophical ideas that drove certain musical points? For example, Heidegger and Sartre are canonically renowned for their work in regards to time, perhaps they had some influence?
Liz: When writing songs, I can’t say I consciously choose to include philosophies, but rather they are deeply internalised as part of the lens through which I see the world. When exploring concepts of time, life, death, and grief, existentialism feels almost inevitable. When I wrote the lyrics to ‘Penumbra’, I was interested in the idea of time and memory, how we carry memories and trauma with us for a long time, so much that it becomes physically hardwired into your being. I like to use metaphors to express things that are personal, and in this case it was taking the concept of shadows being cast and using a celestial phenomenon to describe something psychological. There is an existential component to this because it talks about consciousness, perception and experience – concepts that Edmund Husserl explored with phenomenology.
Stephen: Some of the greatest scientific minds have essentially also been existentialists, and Carl Sagan’s ideas were the main inspiration behind the lyrics to ‘Dust’. How we’re all made of “starstuff”, and that these ancient, cosmic raw materials that we’re made of change state over long periods of time. Another song from the record that comes to mind is ‘Ashes’, which was inspired – at least lyrically – by the death by self-immolation of civil rights lawyer David Buckel. Sartre advocated the importance of being committed to political cause, and David Buckel was a person who was deeply committed, first to seeking justice for LGBTQ victims of violence, and later to environmentalism and dealing with the existential threat of climate change. He was so deeply committed that he ultimately sacrificed his own life to amplify the message that we are doing long term damage to the planet that threatens our very existence. I respect that, and I felt compelled to pay tribute to him in a way that I could.
The concept of time and decay has been a growing motif. SUMAC is a particular group that immediately comes to mind that delves deeply into these elements. Are there any artists and/or particular albums that you have heard that really drive home a concept of time and ephemerality?
Asunder – A Clarion Call is a gorgeous album that takes you on a journey and has themes of death, loss, and nature.
Pallbearer – Sorrow And Extinction. The closing track of this record is a heart-wrenching and beautiful funeral dirge.
Pink Floyd – Dark Side Of The Moon. One of my all time favourite records that deals with themes of time, transience, and insanity.
Nick Drake – Pink Moon. It doesn’t get much more ephemeral than Nick Drake. Especially on this record, which is over before you know it in a flash of brilliance and beauty, just like his too-short life and career. This is my go-to album whenever I’m sad.
King Crimson – Red. King Crimson were constantly breaking up and reforming during their early years, and I don’t think they ever had the exact same lineup on any two albums by the time they recorded Red. This album is super dark and heavy, and it doesn’t get much bleaker than this line from ‘Starless’ – “My eyes, turned within, only see, starless and Bible black.”
David Bowie – Black Star. An incredible final album from an artist whose entire career was spent shape-shifting and evolving. He dropped this album along with some absolutely killer videos that were full of cryptic imagery, and then all of the sudden he was gone. What a badass.
What lies on the horizon for SEA?
Liz: We are in the process of writing our second LP right now and will be playing some regional shows in the Northeast US soon.
Stephen: Lots of writing, and hopefully some videos for songs on this record and future releases. And more cat content on the Instagram!
Impermanence is out now. Order here.
Words: Garrett Tanner