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The opening song on Sea Wolf's debut, Leaves in the River, is a tale of a guy who meets a girl on Halloween. He was drunk, she was lost, and it was cold, dark and raining. The song sets the tone for the album. Sound like an ideal soundtrack for autumn days and winter nights? There's a good reason for that: Alex Church, the sole songwriter for Sea Wolf, gets more introspective and inspired during the colder months. Jack London is another inspiration for Church, who borrowed the band's moniker from London's novel The Sea-Wolf. We spoke with Church recently about his pursuit of music over film.
Westword: You graduated from NYU film school and then moved back to California and started a band. Why didn't you go the film route?
Alex Church: I realized I wanted to do music, but I wanted to do film, also. I thought I could always do film later in life, so it was kind of my way of trying to do both. I really enjoy the amount of control that you have making music as opposed to the amount of control you have making film. With film, there are so many other people involved, whereas writing a song can be just me and a guitar in my bedroom.
When you're writing songs, do you get visuals, almost like an internal film?
When I write a song, I always know what it's going to be about. I don't necessarily know how all the parts are going to unfold. Sometimes the first things I'll come up with are the lyrics for a verse or the chorus. Then I just have to fill everything else in, in a way that makes sense and kind of follows the same theme. But if you wrote a film out, you would potentially conceive what the film was about before you started writing, so I don't necessarily do that when I'm writing a song — it just happens spontaneously. So it's a bit different that way. But once I get going, I think that certain things, like dramatic structure and whatnot that you learn doing film, definitely apply to writing songs.
In film school, they teach you the formula of how to write a film. This is like a completely compressed version of what they teach you, but the first half-hour is to basically set up the film where you create a world. And then a half-hour later, something changes. The character is heading on a journey, but there's the question of what's going to happen. So there's kind of like this peak there: About two-thirds or three-quarters into the film, it comes to some sort of a climax or crisis. It's more like keeping the listener hooked. I don't necessarily stick to dramatic film structure; I think I learned from that how to keep things interesting.