Name: Sea Wolfe aka Alex Brown Church
Occupation: Singer, songwriter
Nationality: American
Current release: The new deluxe version of Sea Wolf's Through Dark Wood is out via Dangerbird.

If you enjoyed this interview with Sea Wolf, visit his official website for more information. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, and twitter.

Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?

Whenever I get excited about something someone else has made, it tends to make me excited to make things too. For music, most often if I hear music that excites me, that’s when I want to go make some too.

But I don’t need that excitement to go make music. Often the excitement arises from the creative process itself.

For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?

Definitely not.

Whenever I do go in to trying to write a song with a concrete idea in mind, it usually turns out pretty bad. It’s more about being open to whatever comes - that’s the best headspace for me to be in.

Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions’?

For songwriting, I need a space to write, privacy (and to know nobody can hear me), and a bit of uninterrupted time.  And I need a guitar, a piece of paper and something to write with. That’s pretty much it.

Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?

No rituals per se, but I do like to get into a daily routine, which serves as a kind of ritual.

I like to work in the morning, before I have a chance to remember all of the stuff on my to do list for the day. If I’m writing for a record, I make that a daily habit. Then if I’m in the right creative headspace, I’ve already carved out some optimal time for me to make the most of it.

Now, how to cultivate that ‘right mindset’? That’s the million dollar question. There are things that help, but aren’t pre requisites. Some of those things are - having a dedicated writing space that’s just for writing, leaving my phone in another room and not looking at it, changing up some element of the writing space (cleaning, making a mess, moving your chair somewhere else.), going to the writing space at the same time every day.

Rituals, routines, yes they help, and I think are necessary if you want to write on a consistent basis.

What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?

I always leave the lyric writing until the end of the songwriting process. I like to have a structure, melodies, the songs figured out. By then I’ll  know if it’s even worth spending time writing lyrics - or if the song’s not good enough to continue working on.

From there I’ll usually start with any words or phrases I may have happened to start unconsciously singing while coming up with the song until that point. If there’s anything there that’s good, I'll use that as a jumping off point. If not, then I’ll just ad lib, see what comes up.

I may also adjust the structure or melody later, once lyrics start to form, to allow the lyrics to take the song to new places.

Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?

Best case scenario, the words / narratives lead themselves and your job is just to get them down. That doesn’t always happen, however - it’s rare for me - so in many cases I have to guide things a bit more deliberately.

Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?

It depends. If I’m ‘in the zone’, the direction is fairly clear, and it’s easy to identify which roads to take and which ones to pass up, even while acknowledging they might be interesting. I'll know not to digress.

But most of the time I’m exploring all of the roads. And then with a day or two, or a week or a month, of perspective I decide which one I really want to take.

There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?

I’m not a spiritual person really, but I sometimes think it would help me get in the zone creatively if I were. But I think for me it’s really about how well I slept the night before. The creative state for me is one I’m striving to get into most of the time, but maybe get into once every couple of weeks.

If I were to describe the creative state, I’d say it’s a state of extreme clarity and presence and delight in the present moment. Sleep helps with that.

Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?

For me I just know when it’s done. Not sure how to describe it. In my experience if I’m not sure if something is done or not, it’s not. I guess a good metaphor would be meeting the right romantic partner. It’s like a lightening bolt. You just know.

But I’ve let some songs be finished before I actually feel they are done. Usually it’s when I’ve run out of time, or feel it’s going to take too long for me to finish before I start hating the thing, or it’s taking time and energy away from songs that might be better.  

So sometimes I just have to finish working on a song before I feel it’s actually done, and just let it be so I can move on to other stuff.

Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?

This is an area in which I feel I can do better. I do believe if I love something when it’s finished, then I shouldn’t go back and mess with it. So I don’t. But often, if I have mixed feelings about a song, I’m not really sure what to do, so I end up wasting a lot of energy trying to make it into something I like, when the best thing might be to just leave it off the album.

But leaving songs off the album can sometimes be difficult to do. I had to do this in the extreme with Through A Dark Wood. I wrote and recorded an entire album, but didn’t know I felt about most of the songs on it, so I had to leave most of them off and in effect start over completely. That was a tough decision to make since I’d already worked on the album for a year and a half, and it felt like I had to start over again completely from scratch. It was hard to do, because I knew it was going to mean there would be a very long gap between albums.

I do think it was the right thing to do at that time, but now a few years have passed since I abandoned the first batch of songs, and I was able recently to listen to them again and appreciate them in a way I wasn’t able to back then. I even found some solutions that I couldn’t find then.

"Witchknife" is a good example. I didn’t know back then how to get the instrumentation for it to be something I liked. Only years later - this past summer - did I get the idea to approach it the way it is now. And now I like it.

What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?

I think self producing is pretty important for me because I create a lot of the instrumentation of the songs only in the recording process, and that requires that I have a lot of time on my own to try this and that while recording. I do like having a producer co-produce with me, but since it takes me so long to come up with the instrumentation and I have to do that while recording, I haven’t had the budget to have another producer on board full time during the making of an album.

The one time I did have a full-time producer was with Mike Mogis, during the White Water, White Bloom album. I did that with the band and him in the span of two months, and he was a creator of a lot of the instrumentation on that album. It sounds a bit different I think, then the other albums because of that. And while that experience was great, I realized afterwards that Sea Wolf albums have to involve a lot more time to record because I need a lot more time for my own part writing.

As far as how things sound in terms of EQ and compression and effects, etc. that has evolved for me. I used to not really know how I wanted things to sound, and would just rely on producers and mixers to know better. But now that I’ve made a handful of records I've become more opinionated on how I like things to sound. I’ve improved at the technical stuff, but it’s still not my area of expertise or focus, so I’m still even now trying to figure out how to achieve what I want and how to communicate that.

I think at the end of the day it’s about how cool the music itself is, not how ‘good’ it sounds. As long as the sound of the recording / mixing / mastering don’t take away from the music, then that’s great.

After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?

Totally relate. Albums are what I usually create, and they are usually at least a year long process. And then once they are out I go on tour, and then only a year after that, start to write and work toward another album. So it can feel like you are standing at the foot of a mountain, wondering how you are going to get to the top, and you haven’t exercised in a year.

it will feel like I have no idea how to even write a song anymore, but the only thing to do is to take the first step and start song sketching. I’ll do it every day, Monday through Friday, for at least an hour, until I arrive at something that seems like it could be a cool song. Then I’ll try and finish it, and not worry too much about how good it is or not. And then repeat that process. And repeat. And repeat. Until I have another album’s worth of songs.

Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?

Yes it’s very different. Music is storytelling, it’s poetry, it’s style and emotion all at once, and it’s intangible. Music expresses human emotion most of all, and that’s something a great cup of coffee just can’t express.