Note: The following is part one of a three part series that is part of Seaknuckle Week here at Frederick Playlist. All three parts will run in this week’s 72 Hours as one single story, though Frederick Playlist is the only place you can find all the videos to accompany the writing. We will be publishing two videos with each post. Today’s videos feature the band running through pre-production on one of their songs (above), as well as the band’s collective opinion on the movie “American Sniper” (below). Seaknuckle will be performing at Cafe Nola on Friday to commemorate the digital release of their EP, “Nailed It.” We will also be there as part of our effort to spread the word about our upcoming Frederick Music Showcase. For now, though, behold part one of our three-part series chronicling a day in the life of Seaknuckle.
“Were you on the click the whole time?” Jonathan Phelps, the lead singer for Seaknuckle, asks his drummer, Colin Shultzaberger, as the final lingering notes of their song escape into silence.
“Almost,” Shultzaberger responds in his typical modest tone. “I lost it a little in the middle part.”
These are the kinds of exchanges the Frederick indie/post-rock quartet have more often than not these days. For months now, they’ve been reserving their weekends for work at Maryland Mix and Master, a basement studio in Monrovia run by Myles Vlachos, who himself has become the de facto fifth member of Seaknuckle, adding suggestions to their songs and helping guide them through the always-rigorous process of recording an album.
It’s barely noon, and the guys have a lofty goal for the day: track drums and bass for two songs. Before laying down the performances that will be heard on the record, however, the group repeatedly runs through whichever song they are about to record. They do it to get the tempos just right (hence the aforementioned click-track debate). They do it to make sure their instruments will sound exactly the way they are intended to sound. They do it to better their chance at achieving an impossibility: perfection.
And that’s odd, considering how part of the band’s genius is its imperfection. Spend a day with them and you’ll see why. Rarely is a breath wasted without an accompanying joke, a joke often hilariously inappropriate and unequivocally offbeat. By the time this final bit of pre-production for the day’s work comes around, Phelps estimates he’s cracking his fourth or fifth can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Bassist Matt Dabson is donning the same type of hat Cousin Eddie wore in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” all the while expressing his intense un-ironic lifelong passion for professional wrestling.
When I assume my position in a tiny hallway of the performance area as they rehearse, the following exchange occurs:
Phelps: “Would you like anything to drink?”
Me: “No, I’m good.”
Me: “No, thanks.”
Me: “Really, I’m OK.”
It’s a mindless, predictable quip, but it lands as solid as the drums Shultzaberger plays. The singer’s face is straight and nobody really laughs. The tone with which he speaks goes beyond deadpan, making me wonder if A) he might somehow own a vile of poison and B) he’s the kind of person who might actually try to poison me. In hindsight, it’s hilarious. In real time, it plays like a threat.
Still, it’s clear that there will be no time for poisoning anybody today. There is work to get done, and the bulk of the songs that will be on their album are almost completed. The home stretch for the recording process is within sight. Despite their ability to be seriously unserious, the vibe in the room is very much workmanlike.
Or, well, that is until a discussion about the album title breaks out.
“We don’t really know how to Instagram or anything like that,” Dabson explains between takes.
“Wait!” Phelps interrupts. “That’s what we can call the album: ‘Instant Grammy!’”
Everybody in the room laughs. A lot. And within seconds, you can hear the click track echo through the headphones, one last try at perfection creeping its way back into each band member’s ears.