From East to West
By Tamara Vallejos
When Alex Brown Church wrapped up his time at NYU’s film school, he followed the path of aspiring filmmakers before him and headed west. Already familiar with the Golden State, born in a Gold Rush town and raised in Berkeley, he ventured to new terrain in Los Angeles with the dual goals of making it in film and music.
“Los Angeles is a lot more affordable than New York and I had a lot of friends out there, so I came with the hopes of starting a band and working in film and seeing which panned out, and which I liked more,” says Church.
It took only a week for the signs to point toward music; within days of moving to L.A., he’d met some of the guys he’d go on to form indie band Irving with, kick-starting his career.
He describes Irving as a “retro indie pop band,” which strikes a different chord than the moody chamber pop of sometimes-solo-project, sometimes-band Sea Wolf for which he’s now known.
“It took a long time for me to figure out what I wanted to do [musically],” he explains. As a child, that meant studying classical violin for a year before becoming frustrated—what he really wanted was to learn bluegrass fiddle—and abandoning music for years, before picking up guitar in high school. And like most young musicians, he began with what he knew.
“I started out emulating my heroes at the time, like Belle and Sebastian, Neutral Milk Hotel, Pavement, and all those stars of indie music in the ’90s.”
When Irving came along, it was another testing ground for how Church’s tastes were panning out. Eventually, he found himself penning songs that didn’t fit the band’s sound, and he realized it was time to head out on his own. Inspired by the 1904 Jack London novel of the same name, Church settled on the moniker Sea Wolf and dropped his first EP as such on L.A. label Dangerbird in 2007. Debut album Leaves in the River quickly followed, melodic and mysterious, comprised of instantly accessible pop songs with an irresistibly seductive folksy gloom underlying it all. In other words: unintentionally perfect for the big and small screens.
It wasn’t long before Sea Wolf tracks were accompanying scenes in hit shows like Gossip Girl and The Vampire Diaries. And then in 2009, the biggie: a coveted inclusion for the previously unreleased song “The Violet Hour” on the Twilight Saga: New Moon soundtrack.
“It’s weird because I think a lot of people were trying to get on the soundtrack, but it just happened totally on accident for me,” says Church. “My publishing company called me and was like, ‘Hey, somebody from Twilight wants to use this song you recorded.’ And I was like, ‘What’s Twilight?’”
It’s not as if the soundtrack nod has skyrocketed Sea Wolf to infamy amongst teens and their moms, but the bump was nice—though Church’s marketability hasn’t affected his songwriting any. While 2009 sophomore release White Water, White Bloom was sonically grander, incorporating his live band in the mix, it was earnest as ever. Same goes for this month’s follow-up, Old World Romance, which he wrote after returning to L.A. following a couple years living on-and-off in Montreal.
“Old World Romance is about reconnecting with where I’m from, my roots and family and friends. It’s about growing up and accepting responsibility, facing the things I’d been avoiding.”
And with a theme so relatable, there’s probably another soundtrack just around the corner.
Sea Wolf at Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Rd., Pioneertown, (760) 365-5956; www.pappyandharriets.com. Thu, Oct. 4. 9pm. $12.