Specific Ocean Dives Into Lost Lake With New EP and Improv-Heavy Set

Denver's Specific Ocean performs at Lost Lake on November 15.EXPAND
Denver's Specific Ocean performs at Lost Lake on November 15.
Courtesy Specific Ocean
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Members of jazzy Denver quartet Specific Ocean felt a tinge of nostalgia when they used the studio at the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver to record their second EP, Muscle Memory.

The original lineup of the band met while they were students at the school in 2014.

“It was a long time coming,” says guitarist Alec Wenzel. “It was a very smooth process. We got a chance to work a lot of the songs live, and we feel great about the arrangements.”

While Specific Ocean bears an undeniable jazz style, the members also count rock, funk and hip-hop as influential in their sound. They consider their songs upbeat, with introspective lyrics by vocalist and keyboard player Camilla Vaitaitis. The band is currently made up of Wenzel, Vaitaitis, drummer Clayton Vye and bassist Charlie Akers. Denver artist Anjanette Frederick contributed the colorful, disembodied heads that grace the cover of the band's soon-to-be-released four-track EP. Members also say Kevin Cincotta, who engineered the recording, played a big role.

“He did a lot of creative work on his own,” Vaitaitis says. “I would almost say he contributed to the compositions at times. It’s definitely more studio-produced.”

The EP will be available on Bandcamp on November 15. According to the group, the four-song offering is more polished than its previous EP, 2018’s Specific Ocean.

“The first EP felt a lot like we were trying certain things because we just didn’t know,” Wenzel says, “or there were certain things we were trying to emulate. This one felt like we were a little bit more in control of our personality and the structure and the way we were writing. We feel better about the process.”

The band is taking the stage at Lost Lake Lounge on November 15 to mark the release. The members are excited to play live. It’s how they work out material to later record, and it offers listeners a different take than they will find on a record.

“I think ‘contained’ is the right word for the way the EP feels, compared to our live show,” Wenzel says. “When you're in the studio, there is this very set intention, because you're aiming for something. But when you're playing live, there's a higher energy. It rocks harder. The tempos feel a bit more up. Solos are longer. The dynamic changes can just be greater across the board.”

The material on Specific Ocean’s recorded output, even if it’s more restrained, owes its existence to the band’s live shows, because improvisation is a big part of their creative process. Vaitaitis or Wenzel might take a chord progression to the rest of the group, but once the bandmates start playing the song live, it can end up different on a recording. A guitar solo might become a keyboard solo, and a guitar chord progression might change substantially once the bassist and drummer start to play.

Vaitaitis says that the improvisation can be a bit scary on stage, but it often leads to changes and that magic moment when the song feels complete and ready for recording. Paying attention to what the crowd likes is also a part of it. Although improvisation is a big part of the process, the musicians don’t just go on stage with an incomplete idea.

“It’s always a structured thing, something we are still in the process of working out,” she says.

The original members once lived together, so jamming at any time of day was easy. Now that they have moved on from college (Vaitaitis is getting her master's degree right now), songs are coming a little slower. Nonetheless, Specific Ocean, which hasn’t yet released a full-length record, plans to have the recording process under way within the next year.

“We want to be able to really push that and see what we can do with an entire album,” Wenzel says.

Specific Ocean, Panther Martin and Amazing Adventures play at 9 p.m. Friday, November 15, at Lost Lake, 3602 East Colfax Avenue. Tickets are available at lost-lake.com.

Specific Ocean, Panther Martin and Amazing Adventures and more favorites from Westword writers on our Westword Staff Picks playlist.

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