Church explores ancient themes with Sea Wolf

Yes, there’s a ton of bands with the word wolf somewhere in their name. But Sea Wolf comes by its moniker honestly, taken as it is from the title of a classic Jack London novel.

“It’s a fun, swashbuckling adventure that’s also philosophically interesting,” says singer-songwriter Alex Brown Church, reached during a tour stop in New York City. “I wouldn’t say I got any life lessons from it, I just liked it when I read it. And the title just stuck with me. I do like Jack London—like me, he’s from the San Francisco Bay Area, so it’s fun to read him because a lot of his books take place there, but 100 years ago.”

Church may be from the Bay Area and currently call Los Angeles home, but he’s spent a lot of time elsewhere. An upbringing spent exploring Europe and the U.S. with his mom has prepared him for touring, which he’s been doing plenty of recently in support of Leaves in the River, his debut full-length as Sea Wolf. A collection of delicate, stately acoustic-based vignettes augmented by keyboards and strings, the disc closely resembles, in its melancholic atmosphere, a darker version of The Hour of Bewilderbeast, Badly Drawn Boy’s 2000 debut. A strong element of romantic wanderlust also permeates the disc, particularly on cello-laced tunes like the loping “Middle Distance Runner” and the sweetly yearning “The Rose Captain”.

The songs’ lyrics are imagistic, and filled with references to rivers, water, and leaves. Church says his narrative style is a holdover from his days as a film student in New York.

“I took a lot of what I learned, like narrative storytelling and understanding of dramatic structure, to my songwriting,” explains Church, who is currently touring with a six-piece band. “When I write and arrange a song, I have a visual sense of how it’s laid out. At the time I was writing the album, I was interested in ancient themes, like the river, and using different elements in nature as metaphors for other things in life.”

His peripatetic childhood is another influence. “My mom just loves travelling,” he says. “That’s her thing. It was cool, though I think when you’re a kid you don’t appreciate it as much as when you’re an adult. I am definitely appreciative of those experiences now. They had an effect on who I became. I get a lot of inspiration from travelling—a lot of my songs take place in other places. Whatever happens elsewhere seems more vivid in my mind than things that happen at home.”

Though now officially based out of L.A., specifically the bohemian Silver Lake district, Church has been spending a lot of time in Montreal visiting his girlfriend. He’s not much up on his Canadian politics and culture, but there is one Canuck tradition he’s become fond of. “I wasn’t really a hockey fan before, but I’ve become a huge Canadiens fan over the past year,” he says. “How can I not be? Especially this year—everybody was just nuts when they made it to the playoffs.” Sounds like Church might be ready to put down some new roots.

Sea Wolf plays the Media Club on Thursday (June 12).