The Eastern Sea Battle Personal Economies on ‘Plague’

Photo courtesy of Right On PR

Austin, Texas’ Eastern Sea, which began in 2005 as Matthew Hines’ bedroom project, has swelled to seven members and are poised to break out of the Texas panhandle any day now. On the band’s debut album Plague, the filled-out lineup lean on orchestral arrangements, but Hines’ vocals still stand out. His voice registers somewhere between softly singing and speaking, lending a sometimes morose, sometimes optimistic mood to the album. The 12 tracks blend pianos, guitar and horns for a lushly produced, engaging debut.

Hive caught up with Hines to talk about making a record with spoken-word-like vocals, big emotional ideas, and his dream of someday recording an album of background music.

Stream the the Eastern Sea’s new album Plague below.

Listening to Plague, it’s obvious that you have things to say, stories to tell, and a viewpoint to share. What are some of the main ideas on the album?

The main idea behind a lot of the music on Plague is the personal give-and-take that you have to accept. It’s almost like a personal economy. You have to trade a little bit of yourself for a little bit of this, a little bit of that. You give it what you want, and maybe you can take back a little bit of yourself. And sometimes you can do all of these transactions with your soul, almost, and you wake up one day and you’re like: “Whoa. I woke up, and things are a lot different. And I don’t know how it got this way. I guess I was on autopilot and made some trades.” Your life can change real … slowly.

It sounds like music is a vehicle for communicating big ideas for you.

Absolutely. Musical ideas and — I don’t want to say philosophical ideas, because it’s not really philosophy … maybe emotional ideas. It’s more about feeling things, and priorities, than about finding some greater meaning or truth. One of the things I’ve had to grapple with is that I made some choices to put the vocals up front, and that’s not something that’s popular right now. It’s real up-front, it’s almost abrasive at moments. Nowadays, a lot of popular vocalists are like M83, or Grimes. It sounds beautiful, but the style right now is to hear the vocal more as a melody.

At times, Plague almost sounds like a spoken-word record.

It’s not, but there are elements of that to it. I really like to challenge myself to do things I’m not comfortable with, and previously, my vocal style. I’ve never been really comfortable with that spoken thing. I challenged myself on this record to do some things that I was a little bit less comfortable with.

What are some of the benefits of that?

I want people who listen to be informed, active listeners. I think that shows. I’m happy with that. I think it’s better – like, morally more good – to focus on the people who will truly engage. I know that this isn’t a record that millions of people will just kinda like. But it’s going to be a record that a small portion of people really love. And that’s cool. That’s important.

So you’d rather make records that someone might listen to 90 times in their bedroom rather than a casual jam?

That’s more of what happened [on Plague]. Next record, maybe I’ll have a different opportunity. Maybe I can make more of a background, in-the-back-of-your-head record. That’s something I’m really interested in doing. But this one’s not that way.

Plague is out June 26 on WhiteLabBlackLab. Stream it here:

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