A few months later, that was what we did. I flew down to Texas and stayed a few weeks working on songs with them, in a very experimental, “Is this anything?” way, and at the end of those few weeks we had a core of the album ready. Songs like “I Don’t Want Children,” “Black Willow,” “Joy” and “Sundogs” were already there in a form where you could tell what they were going to be. We all felt very excited about it, and over the next several months, we kept coming back in a period of two weeks or 10 days to keep fleshing those songs out, write more songs and discard some things that weren’t working. There was just sort of a magical feeling about the whole process. It was like all three of us had our hands on the Ouija board and no one was exactly leading.
The album just appeared more than any other album I’ve ever worked on. It felt like some energy was in charge that we were all somehow summoning. I made that sound too magical, but there was something that seemed charmed about it, and none of us wanted to disturb it, it was like we were blowing a giant soap bubble.
DTH: The album came out on Seattle record label Sub Pop. How has it been to be on such a storied label?
JM: Well, Shearwater released three albums on Sub Pop before this, so I already had a good relationship with them going in. When I told them about this project and that I wanted to do it, Jonathan Poneman, who’s the head of Sub Pop, was interested in the idea and gave us a bit of leeway to sort of try it out and see if it worked.
I think they were all really happy with the outcome. It was a joy to work with them, as it always is, and I feel really happy to be on that label.
DTH: How has your tour been so far? How has it been seeing these songs come to life and have they changed at all playing them live?
JM: We got together in December to try playing the songs together with the band lineup. We’re using a five-piece lineup even though it was mostly three of us that made the record. We had Emily Lee on keyboards, who was a veteran of the last Shearwater touring band, and Matt Schuessler on bass. So, as a five piece we began playing the songs, figuring out who was going to play what. We weren’t even sure what our set roles were going to be. Now, I’m mostly just playing guitar and singing backup vocals, and Dan, the engineer and producer, is playing drums mostly.
The West Coast tour that we just finished took about two weeks. Like all west coast tours, it includes just a huge amount of driving, which is spectacular but it sort of puts you in a bit of a trance. The shows were amazingly good, both in terms of the way the performance felt and the audience response. It was sold out in L.A., Seattle and Austin, which was extraordinary, but we still had 20 people on a Tuesday night in Salt Lake City.
It was fascinating to watch the response of the audience to the songs, because I’m used to more of a typical rock show, where the idea is to get people more and more excited throughout the show and then at the end maybe have a big cheer and you walk out and maybe do an encore. At these shows, the audience does a funny thing. They keep coming closer and closer to the stage and get quieter and quieter. It’s like the opposite of a rock show in a way. The show isn’t entirely a quiet show, but there’s an intensity to it that seems to draw people in. Every audience that we’ve seen so far has responded in that way. It was unnerving at first, but we’re starting to get used to it.
DTH: Is there anything you want to say to someone who may be interested in coming to see the show?
JM: I guess I’d say that the show is more likely to be meditative, in a way, than most rock shows that you would see. Which is not to say that it's “chill,” exactly — we like to call the music “uneasy listening,” but there’s a lot of different energies. Your ears won’t be ringing when you leave, but your mind might be.