With the June release of their debut album, Dead Weight, RVA trio Sea Of Storms has grabbed quite a bit of attention in the underground scene. As a result, you could be forgiven for thinking that these guys are new to the music world. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
This article ran in RVA 21 Summer 2015, to check out the entire mag – CLICK HERE
Singer/guitarist Brandon Peck’s original claim to fame was as guitarist for Wow Owls!, a short-lived but widely-heralded RVA band who toured extensively in the US and Europe before breaking up in 2006. Bassist John Martin has an even lengthier history, getting his start in the late 90s with melancholy indie rock band Marion Delgado before going on to heavier things with The SetUp and Tigershark. Drummer Chris Brown is best known for his time behind the kit with Race The Sun, RVA pop-punk strivers who scored a top 10 album in Japan, of all places, back in 2005.
By the end of the last decade, these three musicians were playing in the same band–but it wasn’t Sea Of Storms. Instead, they were members of Mouthbreather, a powerful quintet whose heavy post-hardcore sound was comparable to that of At The Drive-In. Mouthbreather had released one album, 2008’s Thank You For Your Patience, and several EPs, but by 2010, had begun to wind down, with some band members experiencing a clear shift in priorities. “[Bassist] Tyler [Worley] was planning on moving,” Martin explains. “[Guitarist] John [Hall] was getting ready to go back to school. They just had other stuff going on in their life.”
Meanwhile, Martin, Peck, and Brown still wanted to play music together. They began planning to do so even before Mouthbreather broke up. With practices taking place on a farm in Powhatan, a lot of travel time was required, and the three wanted to make the most of their time together. “We started trying to do a little bit more either before or after [Mouthbreather practice],” Peck says. “Trying to start something different that we could focus more of our energy on.”
By the time Mouthbreather played its last show in late 2011, the band that became Sea Of Storms had already written a couple of songs. However, they were in no hurry to debut before the public. Martin, who’d been the singer for Mouthbreather, hadn’t touched his bass in four years when Sea Of Storms started. “It was all moldy,” he says. “I had to sorta relearn how to play bass. We definitely had to learn how to write songs differently for this band. Not better or worse, just differently.”
From the moment of their formation, Sea Of Storms had a plan intended to separate their songs from the sound of their previous band. “When we decided to do this, John said, ‘You should sing, but you should actually sing,'” Peck explains. “Trying to think about [vocal] melody and how it works in the songs has definitely shaped some of them.” It’s also led to a more deliberate songwriting process. “We definitely take our time writing,” Martin confirms. “In Mouthbreather, we’d finish a song, and everybody would be like, ‘We’re gonna play it next week. Are you gonna be ready?’ And I’d be like, ‘Yeah, totally.’ Then the first six months we play the song, I’m just going ‘Rah rah rah aaahhh ahhh!’ Nobody knows the difference. But in this band, because Brandon is actually singing, you don’t want that. You don’t want us up on stage being like, ‘Peas and carrots…'”
The transition from Mouthbreather’s heavier, more punk-derived sound to Sea Of Storms’ emphasis on melody has allowed a melancholy, wistful edge to creep into the band’s music as well. One can’t help but wonder if this change also has to do with the band members, all of whom are over 30, gaining perspective as they mature. Speaking about the lyrics he wrote for Dead Weight, Peck says, “Loss is kind of the overarching theme. Loss of initiative, getting older, becoming complacent.” The album’s title is derived from the name of a song on the album, but the phrase is more significant than it appears at first. “[‘Dead Weight’] was a phrase that was a placeholder in certain songs,” Peck explains. “I am the dead weight on the record.” However, he’s quick to explain that this rather gloomy statement isn’t the entire story. “It’s definitely self-referential, but not necessarily in a bad way. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to look at yourself in retrospect that way–trying to move forward and deal with things differently.”
Peck mentions other ways in which the album relates to loss. The title track is about “a relationship ending, and how I contributed to that,” while “Belly Full Of Bones” relates to “loss of faith.” Peck begins to explain the lyrics to another song, but before he can even identify which song, he pauses for a long time, then says, “I don’t feel super comfortable talking about it.” Obviously there are a lot of deep feelings that the band is working through in these songs. Closing track “Cedar Run” is a particular standout, summing up the album as a whole with its memorable midsong declaration: “I know I’ve made mistakes,” Peck sings, then continues, “Those mistakes made me.”
Musically, Sea Of Storms have stumbled upon a sound that achieves a greater accessibility than any of their previous projects without losing the immediacy and power they draw from their punk rock roots. Peck’s melodic yet throaty vocals recall various late 90s emo bands, including Planes Mistaken For Stars, Small Brown Bike, and Hot Water Music. As the band’s only guitarist, he avoids solos; instead, he and Martin generate tension through repetition, stretching out the lengths of many of these songs beyond the five-minute mark. Meanwhile, Brown’s dynamic drumming helps to keep things interesting and listeners engaged, even on eight-minute epic “Weak Ones.”
The overall result seems to fit in with a lot of bands currently categorized as post-hardcore, or even alternative rock, but for the members of Sea Of Storms, these terms feel foreign. Martin refers to Sea Of Storms as a punk band on multiple occasions during our interview, inspiring an interesting conversation about what exactly the terms “punk” and “hardcore” mean in 2015. “I don’t know what anything is anymore,” he says. “You used the word ‘post’ a lot, and I don’t really know what any of that means.”
“It’s just dawned on me that I don’t like hardcore, because what is hardcore now?” he continues. “Twenty years ago, you could say this band is a hardcore band, and they could be like Judge, or they could be like Braid.” “Or Botch,” Peck chimes in. “[But now] it’s like, it’s ONLY this,” Martin continues. “Everything else is ‘post-hardcore’ or…” Screamo? “Screamo, yeah! I only ever used that term as a pejorative, and now that’s just what that music is called. Orchid is just screamo. Look on wikipedia. They were a hardcore band–now you can’t get around it. That’s just how it is now.”
So I have to ask–what’s it like for Sea Of Storms to exist as musical veterans in a scene they no longer understand? Do they even have a peer group anymore? “That’s a really good question,” Peck says. “There are bands that we love to play shows with, but I don’t know if we necessarily fit together.” Then again, he’s not sure that really matters. “I feel like sometimes some of the best responses we’ve gotten are on shows we’ve played with bands we don’t sound anything like.” “I think it’s less about what a band sounds like,” Martin agrees. “It’s more about–are these people that we can vibe with?”
Sea Of Storms has been fortunate to find that their music vibes with club owners around the country to a much greater extent than their previous bands did. “As the guy that books the tours, I feel like the band’s music does half the work,” Martin says. “[With] other bands I was in, I’d email a club and be like ‘What’s up? [Can we have a show?],’ and they’d be like, ‘You’re not really good, so no.'” He laughs. “With this band, they’ll be like ‘Yeah!’ Then we’ve got this awesome place to play. But how do you get people to come out to shows in other cities? It’s a different set of problems.”
For Sea Of Storms, making sure that their tours go well has taken on greater importance. “If we go out, we have a great time hanging out with each other,” Peck says. “But [if] you play a bunch of shitty shows in a row, you’re like, ‘Man, I could have taken this time to go on vacation.’ That’s an adult thing.” Martin chimes in: “I was thinking about this the other night–ten years ago, I was doing pretty much the exact same thing. I feel like I’m more responsible, like I’m a focused adult in a lot of ways, but I still wear band shirts every day.”
And here we come to a key point in the philosophy that fuels Sea Of Storms. “I feel like we have to go all in,” Martin explains. “Where [we] are, if [we’re] happy playing in a punk band and working in a restaurant, [we] have to either go all in on doing that, or…” Peck finishes the thought: “Stop everything and start over.” “Yeah, scorched earth,” Martin continues. “Go back to school, or … maybe move? You’ve got to pick your priorities.”
One listen to Dead Weight will confirm for any doubters that Sea Of Storms are all in. Indeed, its nine songs are so impressive that many of the band’s friends around the country thought they were destined for a high-profile signing. Instead, the band chose to work with friends they’d made over their years in the underground music world. Dead Weight is receiving a joint vinyl release by Charlotte, NC’s Self Aware Records and Providence, RI’s Tor Johnson Records, while a cassette version of the album is being released by Arizona’s Protagonist Records. “Josh from Self Aware interviewed [Mouthbreather] in the back of our van for a zine,” John explains. “Brendan from Protagonist was our roadie when Mouthbreather went to Europe.” The band cares far more about lasting connections made amongst equals in the DIY scene than they do about getting signed to a massive label. “It’s always nice when your friends believe that you could be signed to [a big] label,” says Peck. “That’s cool,” Martin agrees. “[But] it’s cooler when your friends are like, ‘Hey, we noticed you’re ruining your life playing in a punk band–we want a piece of that.'”
All joking aside, Sea Of Storms are much more comfortable with their position in the underground music scene now than they once were. “Ten years ago I’d be really mad at this band for not having had this record out last year,” says Martin. “I just don’t take things as seriously now.” But that doesn’t mean they don’t care–they’ve just become more grounded, self-assured versions of the talented musicians they always were. “As you get older, you prioritize different things,” says Martin. “We don’t really connect with the scene, but our drive and our focus, our ability to do stuff, is better than ever. It’s a weird graph where our punk coolness goes down, but our ability to not give any fucks goes up.”
In the end, Sea Of Storms might be a perfect example of that old saying, about how you’ll only find what you really want once you stop looking for it. They aren’t really worried about being a cool band, or fitting into the hip scene. They just want to enjoy playing their music. Can it really be coincidental that the result of them adopting this attitude has been the best music of their careers? Dead Weight is ready to take over RVA and the underground music scene in general. If you’re not paying attention, you’re missing out on one of the best albums and bands to come out of this city in 2015. Don’t make that mistake.