When I first checked out A Thousand Years At Sea’s new EP, “We Will Fall Apart”, I was taken by surprise. It was the first time I’ve heard of the band, so I didn’t really know what to expect. On their Facebook, the band says “A Thousand Years At Sea is the fusion of singer-songwriters Colin Cotter and Ethan Lewis, and pianist Neil Pearlman’s distinctive and innovative musical sounds, bringing together elements of folk, jazz, celtic, and rock into a dynamic and unique experience.” I’m always impressed when a band can mix numerous types of music into one song and still pull it off, creating their own unique sound. I was taken by surprise at how well ATYAS mixes folk, jazz, celtic and rock together. The fiddle, keyboard, guitar and drums all come together very nicely. The new EP consists of songs Desperado, The Growing Light, I’ll Just Swim and Like Fading Faith. I would say my favorite song off the EP is Desperado, with I’ll Just Swim following in a close second place. I found the EP to be very relaxing to listen to, while still combining a lot of good rhythm and beats. In order to find out more about the new EP and the band, I asked band member Colin Cotter a few questions about how the band got started, how recording the EP was and what the band’s plans are for the rest of the year.
BLD Music Quest: How did A Thousand Years at Sea first get started?
Colin: Back in 2008 I was writing a lot of songs, but I didn’t really have an outlet for them. At that time I wasn’t doing a ton of performing, but I was playing for fun a lot, usually just having Celtic sessions with friends. Ethan Lewis and I have been friends for ten years or so, having both grown up attending the same fiddle camp, Valley of the Moon Scottish Fiddling School. I knew Ethan was a really rad fiddler who was also getting into songwriting more and more, so that along with the fact that we always got a long really well made him an ideal candidate for a band-mate. Neil Pearlman and I met at a party freshman year of college out in New York City, and it came up that he was a pianist and mandolin player who was really into the Celtic and Cape Breton music scene. The trad music world is a tiny place, so we ended up realizing we had a ton of mutual friends, and decided we’d have some tunes in the next few days. After jamming with Neil, I knew his style would be a great fit for what I was trying to accomplish – he incorporates elements for our shared background of Celtic music while involving a lot of really interesting jazz and funk ideas. So logistically getting the band together was and is always a bit of a nightmare, since Neil lives on the east coast while Ethan lives on the west coast, but I talked to both of them, and in January 2009 I had Neil fly out to California at the end of our winter break, and we recorded our first CD, Silver Shores Await.
BLD Music Quest: You guys have a great EP! When did you guys record & how did it go?
Colin: Thanks a lot! Recording Silver Shores Await was an amazing time – it was my first experience in the studio, and it was our first chance to get these new songs recorded, which was big for me and Ethan, since doing the whole singer-songwriter thing was a big step outside our Celtic comfort zone. So in January of 2009, we flew Neil out to the bay area, and we had about a day to run our material before recording at Live Oak Studio in Berkeley, CA. In that first weekend we got 13 tracks recorded and rough-mixed. The recording process was really fun, since we basically had just the bare bones of each arrangement planned, and the rest we whipped up right there in the studio. When I flew back home for spring break, Ethan and I went back into the studio with Live Oak’s engineer, James Ward (who was awesome to work with) and worked out our punch-ins and did the mixing. We had a little time left over at the end, so that was when I decided we should try recording the last track, One More Mile – it’s the only track without Neil on it, which is because he was thousands of miles away from the studio when it was recorded.
We recorded our new EP, We Will Fall Apart, back in April of 2011. Ethan teaches at a school out in California, so I had him fly out to NYC to play a couple gigs and get these recordings done so we could have them for the summer. This time around we decided to limit the number of songs and work out some more refined arrangements while still keeping a degree of “winging it” in there. We had a great engineer in Nathen Rosenberg over at Doghouse NYC Studio in Brooklyn, and we pounded out 4 tracks, fully mixed in a day. Recording this one was a lot of fun, as we were incorporating drums (metal drummer, Alex Cohen) into the band for the first time. Emphasizing the rock element was really cool, because up to this point, I felt like rock had been somewhat trapped as an underlying influence in ATYAS’ music, but having the drums in there really helped bring it out front.
BLD Music Quest: What plans does the band have for the rest of the year?
Colin: Right now we’re about to jump off on a northern California tour for a few weeks, starting with the KVMR Grass Valley Celtic Festival for the first weekend of October. After that, Ethan and I will have a weekend here, and a weekend there for gigs through December and more extensive gigging will pick up around January. It’s a little hectic to get the whole band together, since Neil lives out east and plays with a few groups, Ethan teaches during the school year, and I play in another group as well. What this means though, is a couple times a year, we have tours that last a couple weeks, and in between those, I play shows as a duo, either with Ethan when I’m out on the west coast, or with Neil when I’m out on the east coast.
BLD Music Quest: What advice would you give to bands just starting out?
Colin: I think my most fundamental piece of advice to bands just starting out is that while music is this amazing thing that people spend their whole lives doing just for fun, if you want to be a professional musician you really need to treat it like a business. That doesn’t mean stop having fun with music (if you stop having fun with music, you need to reevaluate things…), but you need to be really, really proactive with everything from booking to marketing so you can make money. You can’t be a professional musician for long if you aren’t making any money at it. The money is there (usually not a ton), but you need to go after it. Every show should build your audience – that means new people in the door who come back next time, every time. You’re doing yourself no favors if no new people come, or if your performance isn’t polished, prepared, etc. In short, there are annoying, gritty aspects to working in the music industry, but don’t be lazy about them, be professional. Grinding out the annoying parts of being a musician is what allows you to be a musician.
You can check out the band for yourself at their Facebook page or buy the EP off iTunes or CDBaby.