The cacophony of a car alarm can drive pretty much anyone crazy, sounding like, say, someone set fire to an arcade.
So what about The Sea and Cake’s Car Alarm? We have good news. It’s a serene, jazzy record from this longstanding Chicago indie-pop outfit, whose labelmates on Thrill Jockey Records include alt-rockers The Fiery Furnaces and Talking Heads brain David Byrne. And it’s the second record since the band’s four-year hiatus ended in 2007.
Singer-guitarist Sam Prekop would like you to think of it as the Cake’s least labored album. Checking in by phone, he talked to us about that, dream cars and vintage jazz.
You were still finishing Car Alarm when your twins were born. How does fatherhood mix with your songwriting career?
I’m not totally quite sure yet [laughs]. I feel like I’ve really had to focus my time I take to work on stuff. I’m a bit worried because I’m going to want to work on another record soon and they’re at the age where I pretty much watch them all the time – but I don’t want to miss out on that. I feel enriched (being a dad), though, so it should be reflective on the next record.
So what car would you love to drive?
I’ve only been driving for two or three years now. I finally sort of got pushed into it. I think I drive a '93 Toyota something. It’s as pedestrian as you can get. I bought it for, like, $500.
What I would like to drive is a '70s BMW 2002. They look like what a cartoonist would draw. That’s my ultimate car.
The Sea and Cake took a break from 2003 to 2007. What brought you guys together?
We didn’t even plan the hiatus – it just sort of happened, so I don’t think we looked at it like a reunion. During that big break, Archer (Prewitt, the second guitarist) and I did a lot of touring together; I made solo records and he was an important partner in the band. Had that not occurred, it would have felt much more like reuniting.
Car Alarm has hints of jazz. So tell us about a jazz record that you can’t put away.
I don’t listen to as much jazz as I used to now. I went through a phase where I listened to it almost exclusively. I went through a Duke Ellington period and then only European improv. But one thing that I think has been influential on me is Sun Ra’s records – probably more of the late 50s and 60s stuff. I think his influence on me has been more of the melodic sensibility than anything else – beautiful chord changes without being pretty. I don’t know how he does it …
I think most jazz musicians would not recognize (The Sea and Cake) as having anything to do with jazz. We’re all self-taught – I don’t even know the names of the chords I’m playing. We’re like folk musicians in the truest sense of the word [laughs].
The titles of Car Alarm are simple – “Weekend,” “New Schools,” etc. Do they reflect how you approached this album?
I’ve always liked plain, straight-sounding titles. For this record, I would say it’s our least labored record. It was a very spontaneous, show-up-and-do-it situation. The whole thing felt a little under the gun in the best way. Sometimes you can spend way too long on a record and get distracted from the plot. I can’t imagine working on a record for more than a month. I think I would totally lose it. I think it’s because I’m creatively restless.