Slaughter Beach, Dog Break Down “Safe and Also No Fear” Track by Track
Modern Baseball’s Jake Ewald gives us the play-by-play for his Americana-conscious solo project’s third album.
Slaughter Beach, Dog is the solo project of Modern Baseball’s Jake Ewald, but Safe and Also No Fear is explicitly not a solo album. The songwriter mostly discusses the process of writing the album in the plural, sounding as if his third record under the moniker was the most fun to write yet (“Working on this song was like riding Splash Mountain for the first time and then eating a huge turkey leg,” he claims somewhat cryptically of the track “Heart Attack”).
Despite the uniquely personal lyrics on Safe, Ewald’s first collaborative album under the moniker sees the project open up to include a wide array of influences brought in by his band (bassist Ian Farmer, guitarist Nick Harris, and drummer Zack Robbins)—sounding as much like a coffee shop–ready version of LVL UP as ever, the talky lyrics of “Dogs” recall John Darnielle’s storytelling, while Ewald himself notes the unabashed David Bazan influence on “One Day.”
With a near seven-minute epic in the form of the ambling electric-guitar driven “Black Oak,” Safe covers lots of ground in under forty minutes. With plenty of backstory behind each of its ten tracks, Ewald sat down to give us an exclusive look at what went into writing the LP.
Safe and Also No Fear is out today via Lame-O Records. You can order it here.
For a long time we jammed this song at sound checks and tried to make it work as a really aggressive rocker, but it never quite clicked. Sometime late last year I started playing it at acoustic shows in this really soft, delicate way and that felt a lot more natural. We finished a lot of the arranging for the record in December at my uncle’s cabin in West Virginia where we set up all of our gear in the living room because there was a whole wall of windows that looked over the hills outside, and it wasn’t until we started playing the song there that it started sounding the way it does now.
2. “Good Ones”
I think this is the oldest song on the record. It was one of the first ones that Ian, Nick, Zack, and I ever worked on as a group. I had a demo with a drum machine and some keyboards that I sent to everyone, and all the guys came up with rough part ideas on their own at home, then we met up for band practice and the arrangement came together really easily. It’s one of the few songs on the record that felt good right out of the gate. I really like Ian’s bass part in the verse and Nick’s lead in the chorus on this one.
3. “The Dogs”
This is one of the newer songs on the record. We didn’t touch it until we got to the cabin in December, but it came together right away. The setting was perfect. The lyrics came pretty naturally too. I wrote almost all of the words on the train ride home from a really good therapy session.
4. “Black Oak”
I sat on this plucky guitar riff (the one that gets repeated at the end) for a really long time. I kept trying to write vocal melodies over it, but it always sounded forced. It didn’t really make sense until I recorded a demo where I spoke deadpan through the verses and let the plucky guitar refrain stand on its own as the main melodic element of the song. I played that demo for the band and then we jammed it and everybody found a way to put their own little stamp on it. We recorded the long groove with the intention of fading it out, but it felt really good when we listened back, so we kept it.
I like this song. We didn’t think it needed the whole band, so we just recorded a few live takes of me playing it by myself and then tried out a handful of weird overdubs. We ended up keeping the bass and some extraneous manipulated stuff.
Lyrically, this song was hard to write. Melodies don’t come naturally to me, and lyrics definitely don’t come naturally when I’m trying to fit them into a rigid melody. This one took a lot of walking around. I love that Zack keeps the hi-hat closed on the chorus. I also love Nick’s solo. We finished writing it right before we went on tour last year, and some nights if we got encored and we were feeling really good we would come out and just play this song and bang heads.
7. “Heart Attack”
We wrote the arrangement for this song right before we started recording, and we also did “Black Oak” that day. It felt like we were using both sides of the brain. I think everything fell into place when we decided to do it with two acoustics instead of electrics. We had so much fun writing this one. I love Ian’s bass runs. Working on this song was like riding Splash Mountain for the first time and then eating a huge turkey leg.
8. “One Day”
This would be our most obvious nod to Pedro the Lion. This one took a while, lyrically and sonically. I finished the lyrics around the same time that I wrote “One Down,” but I had started the lyrics I think a year before that. Then when we spent a long time trying to incorporate band elements in a way that pushed the song forward without giving too much away. I’m really happy with how much space we left in the arrangement.
9. “Map of the Stars”
The organ really glued this one together. That was the big turning point when we were working on it. Also, halfway through the recording process, we ended up really quickly re-tracking the drums on this one with a more clear, sparkly mic setup, and it helped open up the arrangement even more. I really like Zack’s harmonies here.
This is another one that started out as a rocker then slowed down at the cabin. I think I also played it at some acoustic shows between writing sessions, which helped. When we first jammed it a couple years ago it was really propulsive and groovy, but it kind of stayed in the same place the whole time. It was one of the first songs we started writing together as a band and one of the last songs we finished before going into the studio to record. I really love the space on this one.