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Interview: Sam Prekop on his new solo record

Zach Long
Written by
Zach Long

Three decades after he hit the Chicago club circuit with Shrimp Boat and subsequently founded the Sea and Cake, Sam Prekop is still one of city's most stalwart musicians. With his latest solo record, The Republic, Prekop continues experimenting with a hand-built synthesizer, presenting a suite of tracks that accompanied a video installation by visual artist David Hartt. In anticipation of his upcoming record release show, we spoke with Prekop about his predilection for modular synths and his next solo endeavor. 

This is the second record you've made that is analogue synthesizer based. What attracted you to the instrument?

Ever since we started the Sea and Cake, our drummer John McEntire has had some classic modular synths that we used on each of our records, so it's an instrument that has always been on my radar. I started getting my own system together about 10 or 15 years ago and at that time—unlike now—the stuff cost more and was much harder to find. Now it is becoming somewhat ubiquitous and everyone has a modular synthesizer.

On the last Sea and Cake record, Runner, you used a synthesizer to write the songs. Did that change the way that you thought about composition?

Somewhat. One of the good things about modulars is that there are built-in limitations, so it forces you to do things that you might not do otherwise. It's hard to program a really specific chord change, so it lends itself to repetitive, linear, textural, pattern-based kinds of ideas, which is sort of the same way I play guitar. I use the synth a jumping off point to get ideas going that I would not have arrived at in any other way.

Many of the songs on The Republic served as the soundtrack to a video installation. What was your approach to composing music that complemented the film?

It's a pretty intuitive process—I spent a lot of time with the footage. I never got stuck on particular cues, because the edit would change as I was working on it. I wanted to capture a sense of the general feeling of the film and find sounds that resonated with the images. As I worked on each piece, they would evolve. One of the reasons that the tracks work as a record is that the music was written as a suite.

How are you planning to approach performing the new record?

I can't really play the record exactly as it was recorded. [Sea and Cake guitarist] Archer [Prewitt] will be with me and will accompany me on a long synthesizer-based piece that is somewhat improvised. That portion of the show will be similar to the rhythmic, pattern-based pieces on the second side of the record. Hopefully, if everything is going right, the piece will evolve organically and good things will happen out of our control. We'll also be playing a new guitar duet piece as well as versions of some of my older solo work and Sea and Cake songs.

Could you ever see yourself making an album similar to your first two solo records?

I think that my next solo release will be a guitar record with Archer and I playing as a duo. We've done a lot of shows together and it would present a pretty interesting challenge to make a record without drums and all of that other stuff. The Sea and Cake is still my outlet for more song-oriented material, whereas my solo output is whatever I'm into at the moment.

Sam Prekop plays with Cleared and Good Willsmith at the Empty Bottle on Saturday, Apr 25. The Sea and Cake play Portage Theater May 23.

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