We’ve had a blissful courtship with indie rock/folk duo Seasaw since before Imperfect Fifth ever existed. Having had the opportunity to review an album of theirs at a previous publication, my mailbox experienced an unexpected and happy surprise when they shipped me a vinyl copy of said album with a personalized thank you note. The music industry is incredibly rewarding in most ways, but to get a hand written note is rather rare anymore. That particular memory stayed with me, and then when I got a chance to peep the material for their new album Big Dogs, I was floored.
Lucky for me, I got the unique opportunity to meet up with Meg and Eve on a balmy September day in Kansas City while they were on tour. We sat down while they tried some tacos from Mission Taco, and chatted a bit about that new album and their progression as artists. Check out the words below!
What’s the first song or record you remember hearing, and does it have any bearing on who you are as a performer today?
Eve: The first thing I probably listened to would be the Beach Boys because my dad is a huge Beach Boys fan. He would make me mix tapes of the Beach Boys that I would play on my tiny kid cassette tape player. He made me lots and lots of music like that. And we would listen to it all the time in the car too when I would drive around with my dad. I don’t know that anyone could live up to the amazing harmonies and chord progression that the Beach Boys produced, but of course it’s always in the back of my mind to choose something even a fraction of the beauty that they were able to create sonically. They did such cool things in the studio too as their albums progressed.
My dad also made me a mix tape that had The Kinks and included “Lola”, which is one of my all-time favorite songs. As you know, it’s a song that has a very adult theme. But I brought it in for show and tell in 2nd grade and I think the teacher called my parents and was like, “Did you know that Eve** brought ‘Lola’ in?” Of course they loved it. It’s an amazing song.
Meg: I remember listening to Billy Joel’s The Stranger a lot with my dad and dancing around the living room to that. My mom would always play Carole King’s Tapestry. I was a dancer when I was little, so I would put those two songs on and kind of go for it. I don’t think they shaped anything besides the fact that I still listen to those records today.
My parents didn’t listen to a lot of music. Eve went to a lot of concerts growing up, but I didn’t really. I think the first concert I went to was when I was in high school with my brother. Music was there. I played instruments and stuff and I sang here and there. But I really remember Billy Joel and I still listen to it all the time. I have my dad’s copy of The Stranger vinyl. They would all write their social security numbers on their records so they were safe, but that was when social security numbers weren’t as protected so now it’s blacked out on the copy of the vinyl. In hindsight, a pretty poor choice but kind of cool.
The inspiration behind the title track from Big Dogs – and much of the album – was brought on when the duo played a festival slot recently. A band member from the act playing after them jumped on stage while they were wrapping up their equipment and harassed them about moving too slowly. “If you want to play with the big dogs, you need to get the fuck off the stage,” he yelled at them. This caused a verbal altercation, and the ladies didn’t have security or stagehands to help them out. The power imbalance was notable, and bred some of their most alluring new work.
So from the last album to this one, there is a little more edge, and that’s for a variety of reasons including subject matter. When the – actually heartbreaking – event happened that inspired “Big Dogs”, did you dive in and write a song, or did it take a second before you were able to process and create material around it?
Meg: It was mostly me that the interaction happened with, but Eve came to bat for me and we both had an interaction with the person. So we had talked about it together and had brainstormed a list of all of the things that were funny because we wanted to be able to process it somehow. So we wrote some of the funny things that were said — some of the words in the song are actual direct quotes. Then I would say it was maybe a month later that I sat down and hammered it out and wrote “Big Dogs”.
Some songs take me a long time to write, but that one kind of just poured out really fast. It was done within an hour or two and then Eve helped me make some revisions. It was pretty quick that it happened after the event.
Eve: So we were going to name the album Big Dogs before the song and then Meg wrote the song so we were like, “Oh, great. That’s even better.”
So when the theme of the music video for that song came up, how did you guys decide to go tongue-in-cheek?
Eve: I came up with the idea just after hearing what Meg had written. The image of a dog is kind of tricky in a song because of the language involved and we think the phrase is funny. So, we were trying to figure out a delicate way to be kind of cutting with the idea of what a big dog is. Because it is someone who is kind of a sad person who doesn’t have self confidence and is a bully and has to call themselves that to feel important. So we wanted to portray that in a more artistic and creative way so there wasn’t just dogs on everything.
It came about after trying to be very thoughtful about how to portray that idea. And then I came up with the invisible dog and it fits. We a kind of tongue-in-cheek and sarcastic with everything we do, and I like how it makes you have to think about it a little harder so it’s not as obvious. Even the front cover to the back cover forces the listener to wonder who the Big Dogs are. Is it the women on the cover or the image of the dog on the back? I like how it makes people try to figure it out and dig a little deeper to understand the meaning. That’s wha we did with the video too.
How did your recording process differ this time than with the last album?
Eve: There’s definitely a big difference. With the last album we did everything ourselves. I engineered everything so I couldn’t put my whole mind into the playing piece of it because there was still that hindrance of about 10% brain energy. This time we had a friend engineer the whole thing for us so we really got to go all-in. We also spent a lot of time demoing the songs. It was probably about a month before we started recording so we were able to go through many iterations of the pieces to get them to a more full state. We didn’t have as much time to do that with the last record. I think that really helped inspired a lot of the full and different sounds you hear. We were able to have fun with it.
As for your live performance, you guys do such a wonderful job. Was that something that just came naturally to you? How did your performance style come to be?
Eve: Well, we’ve been working on our presentation for as long as we’ve been recording. We’d start sitting on two chairs and Meg would play the bongos and I would quietly cower near the guitar. So we just had to grow into the confidence to do things that are more thoughtfully laid out for the audience’s sake and for the flow of the music that we’re performing. So there is a lot of thought that goes behind the flow of what we’re doing. We’re constantly tweaking things and trying to make it better because it’s just the two of us in the moment so anything can go right or wrong and throw something off. So there’s a lot of energy in our performances because we can only rely on each other to make the music. So I think that pressure gives us the reason to act the way we do.
There’s a lot of thought that goes into our social media and the esthetic on our stage and the esthetic in our album and the fact that it’s blue. Every little piece has been made cohesive to grow into this more thought out and developed product that you’re going to hear on this album, all the way from the recorded version to the final piece to the performance.
In these 8 years that we’ve been together, we’ve been stepping towards something we can stand behind. Each piece is more 100% than we could in the past because we just didn’t have the experience at that time.
When you were here in June, did you get a chance to experience KC at all? I know it was a pretty quick trip.
Eve: No, and there’s a lot to see. It looks beautiful and we need a tour guide to show us the inside scoop. (wink)
Is there anything specific that you have planned for the rest of this tour for your off time?
Meg: We only have like one off day but it will be in D.C. so we’re hoping to hit some art museums. We’re meeting some friends in Baltimore so that’s what we will be doing as well. I think we are going to the restaurant at the top of The Revival there too. This tour is going to be a lot of fun.
Keep up with Seasaw here!