Off the shores of San Francisco, Seatraffic’s Mark Zannad and Brandon Harrison have been recording their upcoming new album, Beauty in the Night, at the Mission’s Different Fur with Nic Pope, and today are premiering a supernatural sparkle of synths splayed across western waters on the single, “Man On The Coast”. In the duo’s succession of singles Conscious Awake, Tempo of Regret, Superficial Heart, to the Crimes EP and remixes; Mark and Brandon have developed their sound to not only encompass the outstretches of sea and sand but engineer songs situated and etched into the ocean-side artifices perpetual change.
Like a solitary walk along the bluffs, “Man On the Coast” presents Seatraffic strolling in stride along the edges of the Pacific leaning earth. Mark’s voice is carried out in his trademark wind-gust that pours gifts of oceanic weather like lowland downy pillows of fog, while Brandon’s timing on the kit ties together the sliding descent of synthesizers. And like the thundering silence of moments spent in the late hours of night moon-watching, the key moment of the song shows a minimalist and modest unplugged rendering of Zannad’s vocals and Harrison’s militarized beat. The song concludes in a modern-day folktale of a seaside obscured hermit or mythological secret sharer whose abode exists where lands end. We caught up with Mark to talk about recording a proper full-length, and their new coast dwelling single.
Looking back over the past three years, what have both of you taken away from the oceanic drift and progressions that have helped define the Seatraffic sound?
The last three years have really been a learning experience for us. We honestly had no idea what we were doing when we started out, and I think our first release was an example of how naive we were. The songs on that self-titled EP were truly the first five songs that I had ever wrote, and I think you can tell when you listen to them (at least I can). The progressions and overall sound of Seatraffic is the same, only more refined, and much more thought out these days. I think the vision or direction for this band is still unclear to us, but we have a better sense of what we are doing, we’ve grown up a little bit and played a decent amount of shows.
I feel like you guys started out with a clear idea of what you wanted to sound like from the beginning, and now all the way to Beauty in the Night you are standing by this evocative approach to songwriting expression. How did your longstanding use of water motifs and themes contribute to the texture, atmosphere, and sea depth of “Man on the Coast”? We’re guessing this one is semi-autobiographical?
I’m really glad to hear it that we have been fooling everybody, because we don’t have a clear idea of how Seatraffic should sound, but a lot people seem to think we do. What you are hearing in our songs is really just what is coming out, we never sit down and say, ‘hey I want to write a song that sounds like this or that.’ The difference now is we know how to be critical of ourselves, we obsess over what we are making, and we work it through over and over again. The water motifs in “Man on the Coast” are for the most part coincidental, the song is about a particular moment I had while I was in the Oregon Coast writing Beauty in the Night. It’s about an experience, not auto-biographical.
Can you tell us a bit more about the experiences related to, “Man On The Coast”?
“Man on the Coast” was written with the rest of Beauty in the Night in Seal Rock, Oregon. Each day I was there I would spend eight to ten hours improvising melodies and coming up with song concepts. After dinner I would take the days work onto my phone and walk the beach critiquing my work and coming up with lyrics. I remember the specific moment when I thought of the initial lyrics for “Man on the Coast”; I was standing on the four mile stretch of beach alone and I turned off my flashlight. As I stood there in the darkness of the beach completely isolated, an indescribable presence came over me. Something about the subtle light from the moon, the sound of the waves, and the expansiveness of the beach made me feel as though I wasn’t alone at all. It felt like someone was there with me, not an actual person but some kind of supernatural feeling. “Man on the Coast” tries to capture that feeling in the medium of a song.
What was the process of recording ‘Beauty in the Night’ like, and what felt different than your work on previous releases?
Recording this time around was a lot less rushed. We had never recorded a full length before, any time we had spent in the studio before this had just been day sessions. We recorded and mixed the whole album in 10 days. This was the first time that we ever recorded the synthesizers and keyboards in the studio as well. The session still felt rushed, but we had a lot of time to do a lot of takes, so I think in general our performance and the quality of the recordings is just way better than anything we have put out before.
What is the state of the SF and Bay Area indie scenes right now according to your perspectives?
The Bay Area is home to some really inspiring musicians, I’m constantly amazed by the creativity of my friends and the people around me. It’s no secret though that SF is in experiencing a housing crisis, and it’s really hard for bands to live here these days. It makes me sad when I see bands moving away, but I wish people wouldn’t turn their backs on SF. Brandon and I both work two jobs, we struggle to live here too but we are making it work somehow. I try to stay positive and tell people to keep supporting the places they enjoy going, and the artists they want to support. If we keep doing that those things will stick around for a while, if we all just move away SF really is going to turn into a culture-less tech hole.
Autumn and winter plans post-album release?
We are already working on whatever the next release will be, so we will be following up with something after Beauty in the Night sooner the later. In the immediate future the plan is to play more and more shows, and to play outside of SF. That’s honestly the best part of this whole music thing and we just want to continue to connect with people in our live setting.
Seatraffic’s album Beauty in the Night will be available September 9 via Bandcamp.