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Interview with Sam Prekop

img  Tobias Fischer
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It has been almost seven years since we last talked or wrote. Please tell me a little bit about what you have been up to since your last Sea & Cake release?
The last Sea and Cake record came out about two years ago. Since that time I've become a father of twins, a boy and a girl, they're just over two years old now, so it's been really quite a life changing event. That's even an understatement really. So my new situation has moved me into previously unforeseen directions musically. I felt I needed to find a way to make a record and take care of two babies and this fact kept me quite busy in my home studio working late nights finding new sounds.


When did the idea for the new record "Old Punch Card" emerge? What led you to take a totally different approach compared to your previous solo record and the Sea & Cake albums?

Well, for years I guess I've been wanting to make a synthesizer record. I can't say I thought it was going to sound like "Old Punch Card" , but I've accumulated quite a collection of modular synthesizer modules and have always wanted to make something out of it. More recently, John McEntire and I were very close to collaborating on an "old fashioned" sequencer record, but I felt, with my new fatherhood situation, that I had to work solo mostly at home as time was of the essence. But hopefully some day this project will be realized as well.


Did you always know that you wanted to work with these "restrictions" (no vocals, no guitar, no beats)? How have these limitations led you to reconsider the way you approach songwriting?
To be honest, I wasn't sure I was going to be able to complete a full album of this sort of music. It was of a more personal exploration of sorts. I didn't play this music to anyone until it was nearly finished, primarily because I wasn't sure of it until it was finished. The "restrictions" arrived naturally not really as a starting point. But once I established my sound pallet it made sense not to try and integrate guitar and vocals for fear of diluting this entirely new sound for me anyway. I'm not sure what effect this material will have yet on my songwriting. I'll see soon, however, as my next project will be a new Sea and Cake record. I will say it's been an amazing experience to work in this way for quite an extended period of time and no doubt will it change my perspective on writing songs. But I definitely will be singing and playing guitar on the new Sea and Cake record.


Do you think this record also has a visual aspect to its sound? Abstract electronic music is often interpreted as having various textures that are reminiscent of certain visual aspects. Did you have any visual material in mind when working on these songs?
A lot of the material I think conjures up strong images but not of my control necessarily, my interest in writing this music was to explore that distinct threshold, delicate balance between chance/composed music. And my discovery has been that texture, action, dynamics, and abstraction are powerful visual cues. Early on in working on these pieces, I felt a strong affinity to the way I paint, an analog to establishing a pallet and really exploring within those limits, but that initial selection of sounds/pallet always felt like setting the scene for something to happen.  


What did you personally look for in these songs?
I really just felt  it was time to learn something new to do musically. It was, I admit a somewhat selfish act in a way to abandon for a time what people would expect of me. This music reflects my listening habits of late, and I just felt that perhaps I could create something pretty different considering my musical background. I felt the time was right to exploit my interest in abstract electronic music and do something about it rather than just name check records.


Do you think that certain music can actually represent geographical landscapes or is this always only established through lyrics or visual material accompanying the record?

I suppose music can represent landscape without vocals. Music can certainly be evocative of a place and in the best sense perhaps be descriptive of an otherness of place that couldn't be achieved visually. An imagined landscape can be as good as the real thing and music is perhaps a gateway.


You have been a full-time musician for many years now. I was wondering how your relationship to music has changed over the years. Does one become more analytical and distanced when getting older?
One thing I've learned from making this new record is that I'm quite sure I'll never be done looking for a way to express myself musically, whatever it takes. I never planned on being a musician and the fact that I am at this point, I take as a gift really. There are times of course when I feel I've done all that I can to keep it going, but this distress is always conquered by working and not over-thinking it. 


What is the difference between art and entertainment?

When one encounters real art it's quite undeniable and profound and rare. also a completely two way street, a great piece of music, art, whatever couldn't exist without its audience. It's not there unless someone is truly moved by it. Entertainment won't hurt anybody but it seems to just stop short of  effecting anything.


Would you say that a typical Sam Prekop audience is pretty much the same as a Sea & Cake audience? In how far do they differ?

Well, the Sea and Cake audience is quite a bit larger but I think there's a subtle difference, the fans I've met seem really quite passionately attached especially to my first record. And they tend to be hip hop fans. 


Will you tour this album? What do you expect people to take away from a live show?
It's unlikely I'll tour on this album, unless there's a crazy wellspring of demand. I'd like to incorporate some of these ideas in a live setting but it would be impossible to recreate specific tracks live. But at some point I'd like to come up with a synth patch that I could improvise with live and be as involving as the recorded pieces. I fear it would be pretty difficult but certainly an interesting challenge.


Have the overall dwindling record sales affected you as a professional musician? Would you agree to smaller indie bands that cater to a certain niche are better equipped to generate income from their records since these people are more likely to continue go out and spend money on records?
I've never sold a ton of records but it was always enough to make a living. Now it is definitely more difficult and I'm not sure how much longer I can continue really. The "collector" attitude that has sort of reappeared has been encouraging, in that they really want the physical product, but I'm not sure if it'll be enough in the end. 


What can we expect from you in the near future? Any collaborations, records, tours planned?
The Sea and Cake is about to tour the U.S. for about a month and a half and then we'll begin writing a new record. For my next solo project I hope to make a record with Archer, just two guitars and me singing.

By Matthias Rauch

Sam Prekop Discography:
Sam Prekop (Thrill Jockey) 1999
Who's Your New Professor (Thrill Jockey) 2005
Old Punch Card (Thrill Jockey) 2010

Homepage:
Sam Prekop
The Sea & Cake
Tortoise

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