A few things you need to know about Jason Brody, the mind and voice behind At Sea: He’s a native New Yorker who everyone assumes is from California. He spent years battling stage fright (though now you’d never know it). And he once killed himself to make better music—figuratively. More on that in a minute.
All of those aspects, and many more, play a role in At Sea. Listening to the Brooklyn band, you’ll hear both the familiar and the unexpected. It’s melodic, equal parts moody electronics and big guitars, with lyrics both personal and quietly political. The music conjures up everyone from the likes of Jeff Buckley to Doves to Death Cab for Cutie, without really sounding like any of them.
“I like the idea of songs having a lot of dynamics,” says Brody, At Sea’s songwriter and frontman. “These songs have peaks and valleys, and they rise and fall on their own. I think there’s a dramatic vibe to the music that people will respond to.
The name “At Sea” implies an ongoing journey. Brody’s trek, like his music, has its own dynamic twists and turns. The son of two deaf parents, Brody spent his youth taking piano lessons foisted on him by his grandmother. In his teens, he insisted on switching to the guitar. He also started sneaking into New York clubs, dramatically redefining and expanding his musical palette. Early on, he battled acute stage fright, even when fronting a band in high school (he refused to sing in public—a condition he now admits he’s dealt with, to which any recent live At Sea show can attest). But by 18, he was playing guitar in an experimental noise band.
“That was weird,” he says. “I naturally gravitate toward melody, but I really wanted to be challenged and taken out of my comfort zone.”
Still, after deciding he “didn’t want to be a guitarist in another person’s band,” Brody went solo. As a “singer-songwriter,” (a term that continues to baffle him) he released a record under his own name and developed a local following, earning more than a few (appropriate) Jeff Buckley comparisons. But the singer found his success musically limiting. “I was getting inspired by things like The Postal Service, Muse, and even The Shins, and I wanted to add electronic elements and a little rock ’n’ roll swagger to my sound,” he explains. “But you hear ‘guitar-playing male singer-songwriter,’ and right away you have a preconceived idea about what that entails.” His solution? “Kill” his persona and rename his project The Death of Jason Brody. It was a clever idea, but ultimately too confusing for both him and his audience. Thus, At Sea was born.
While still part of his ongoing musical quest, At Sea finds Brody both finding his voice and exploring new sounds—and also solidifying a strong new lineup, one that now includes ex-Phenomenal Handclap Band bassist Pier Paolo Pappalardo, and Italian-born drummer Stefano Baldasseroni, who has toured the world many times over and played with The Grandmothers, successor to Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention. Tracks like “Everything Looks Better in the Dark” amp up the guitars and tempo, while “They Won’t Find Us (Panic Room)” (which the singer literally wrote while taking the train over the Williamsburg Bridge) explores the singer’s new fascination with synths and keyboards. “I think we toe the line between the familiar—in a nice way—and stepping into other textures,” Brody says.
Lyrically, the songs feature an apocalyptic undertone, inspired by the recent spate of natural disasters, the Occupy Wall Street movement (on tracks like “A New Machine”), and the continued whitewashing of New York’s culture. It’s Brody’s attempt to inject a little substance into the modern musical climate. “Now there's so much music out there and it’s so easy to get to,” he says. “But it’s also easy to forget that any music we make and listen to was inspired by music that was made from a more political and reactionary point of view. There was an intent behind it all that’s no longer there.”
Interestingly, At Sea sometimes finds itself at odds with its own hometown. “People hear us and think we’re from the West Coast. We’re sort of outsiders in the ‘scene’ here, at least as far as finding like-minded bands or music venues,” Brody admits. “I remember the last time we played at one of our favorite regular venues in Brooklyn, we played before an instrumental-only band wearing Chinese rice-picking hats that rocked out on keytars. That’s really not our thing/vibe at all.”
“But that’s ok,” he adds. “If there’s anything I’ve learned, there’s room for everyone here. You just have to chart your own course.”