In some ways, Sea Wolf is more than just a band — even though, in other ways, it's more of a solo project.
"It definitely feels like a journey, that's what it feels like to me," says main man Alex Church. "Sea Wolf is really personal to me. That's what I'm trying to put out there — the changes we all go through in life as we grow and change."
Church began recording those changes while a member of a Los Angeles power pop band called Irving. But his songs didn't necessarily fit the group, so in 2003 he "became" Sea Wolf and began telling his stories by himself.
Signed to Dangerbird Records, in part at the urging of his friends in Silversun Pickups, Church recorded most of his 2007 EP, Get to the River Before It Runs Too Low and its full-length successor, Leaves in the River, by himself.
His current White Water, White Bloom has a more expansive sound, a compelling combination of lush chamber pop and indie folk rock.
"I put a lot of myself into it," he says. "The songs are personal, but not entirely nonfiction. A lot of them come from my life [or] they're maybe inspired by true events. But I take liberties with them. I turn them into something more dramatic than what happened in real life."
Sea Wolf takes its name from the 1904 Jack London adventure novel The Sea-Wolf, and Church definitely sees himself as a writer who eschews simple, rhyming song forms for more challenging fare. Given that literary bent, it's something of a surprise that his music — at least the melody or chord changes — tends to come before the lyrics.
"It can take four hours, it can take four weeks, or sometimes it can take four months," he says. "I've never been one of those people that write a song a day. I think I could, but I wouldn't like most of them."
"I definitely eased up on the reins a little bit on this record, to let other people come in and have some input," Church adds. "I wanted it to have a little bit more of a band feel. I still had my hands on the reins, but I wasn't holding as tight."
Among those who had the greatest input was producer Mike Mogis. Best-known for his collaboration with Conor Oberst in Bright Eyes, Mogis works out of an Omaha, Neb. studio where Church went to make the album.
One of Mogis' key suggestions was to add strings to Church's songs. "I wasn't sure if I wanted to have strings on the record at all. Mike was instrumental in having a string quartet on the record. It turned out really great."
That's one of the reasons reproducing the new songs live has been a challenge, says Church. Then again, copying the records isn't the aim. Church has no interest in confining Sea Wolf to a single sound, either live or on record.
"It would be dangerous for me to say, 'This is the sound, this is how it's going to be.' I don't anticipate doing anything completely outside what people would expect from Sea Wolf. But I do want to explore other sounds."