In Conversation: Slaughter Beach, Dog on Surprise-Releasing “At the Moonbase” and This Weekend’s Virtual Shows
Jake Ewald will be playing an intimate solo live stream February 13 followed by a full-band performance on Valentine’s Day.
Jake Ewald may only be 27 years old, but he’s already a musical veteran having co-founded the now-defunct (and highly celebrated) emo band Modern Baseball in 2011, back when he was a teenager. Since 2014, Ewald has also been consistently releasing music as Slaughter Beach, Dog, a solo project that eventually evolved into a full band that also features bassist Ian Farmer, guitarist Nick Harris (All Dogs), and drummer Zack Robbins (Superheaven). However, due to the ubiquitous quarantine, Ewald went back to his roots for At the Moonbase, recording and performing all of the instruments himself alone at home and at his recording studio in Philadelphia with a few friends sending him overdubs of backing vocals and saxophone during the process. The result is an inventive album that sees Ewald stretching out as a songwriter and exploring new sonic territory without any self-imposed limitations.
We caught up with Ewald to discuss how At the Moonbase came together after four months of hard work, his songwriting process, and why the idiosyncratic details of other peoples’ lives can often seem strangely familiar. Finally, we discussed the two virtual ticketed shows he’ll be releasing this weekend to celebrate the album’s release on February 13 and 14. According to the press release: “The performance on February 13 will be an intimate solo show, while the performance on February 14 will be with a full band. Tickets for both are available via NoonChorus.” Check out a preview of the two night special below.
Yes, you heard that right—you can support Slaughter Beach, Dog and not even have to change out of your pajamas. What more could you ask for this Valentine’s Day weekend?
How did the decision to surprise-release At the Moonbase on Christmas Eve come about? Was it calculated or did it just work out that way because of quarantine?
It started in a very nice, free, no-obligation type way where in the beginning of the summer we had intended to make a record with the band, and then that kind of fell apart. I had been sitting on the songs for a little while at that point, so I called the guys and said, “Is it OK if I just make this by myself for the sake of getting these songs recorded so that we could move onto something else?” As opposed to waiting until it was safe for us to hang out and then trying to write the songs together. It was nice because it was maybe the first time I went into a record with absolutely no idea of when it would come out and what the release would look like—and that led to me to spend more time than I’ve ever spent before making the record.
I spent from June until October just tracking it, and it wasn’t until I finished in October that we started talking about when it would come out. One of our inspirations was our friend Jeff Rosenstock, who surprise-released an album in 2020 [No Dream], and me and our manager Eric both thought that was really cool. We put out a lot of records with Slaughter Beach, Dog and Modern Baseball where you put out the single and then you wait a couple weeks and you put out the other single and it just kind of drags on for such a long time. A long time of trying to build up your self-esteem and all these different things. [Laughs.]
For me it was really special to watch people’s comments come back on Christmas Eve because it really felt like having put the whole thing out at once, a lot of people sat down and listened to the whole thing. That’s kind of my dream scenario for when I make a record; I would love it if everybody sat down and just listened to the whole thing.
“It was maybe the first time I went into a record with absolutely no idea of when it would come out and what the release would look like—and that led to me to spend more time than I’ve ever spent before making the record.”
The early Slaughter Beach, Dog releases were solo-based, while the more recent albums are band-oriented. How did it feel to go back to that place artistically?
It was very exciting at first because I hadn’t done it in a while—and then two weeks in, I became entirely full of fear and felt almost totally useless because I was kind of coming to terms with the reality that I hadn’t made a record by myself in a long time. The last time I had done it, I had a much smaller palette to pull from creatively and was a lot more fast and loose with everything. I don’t want to say that I didn’t have high standards before, because I did, but I was just more carefree with the whole operation. Now that I’m a little older and I had a lot more different influences that I wanted to try to incorporate, it was kind of scary to sit down and [make the album].
That’s where the four months came from: I got a few weeks in and realized I could kind of do this quickly with no patience and it would be fine. But I could also take this as kind of an experiment and see what this would sound like if I did go down every rabbit hole and push myself at every turn to say, “You just wrote this guitar part, but we both know this guitar part could be better. Why don’t you take another day and write a better guitar part?” Which I never really had the patience to do before, to be honest.
How does your writing differ from your process with Modern Baseball? Does SBD feel more of an established act this point where you’re pulling from your own catalog now?
It’s not so much pulling from my own catalog, it’s kind of more of a thing where in the years since Modern Baseball, I’ve listened to so much more music in general and found so much more music that I actually like. When we would sit down to write a Modern Baseball song, we didn’t have a whole lot to pull from. We had a big handful of really serious influences that we loved; it was probably like eight to ten bands that we were kind of directly tapping into a lot of the time. Not to say that we intentionally aped those bands, but those bands had completely shaped the way that we wrote songs, and so when we would sit down and write songs it would only go a certain number of ways. At least I felt that way, I can’t speak for everybody.
Now when I write a song I can hear in my head four or five completely different ways I could take it. It’s a way more fun process of thinking which of those ways is the best, and then how can I actually achieve that and what are all the layers required to get there? It makes trying something new less scary because I can look back and say, “Oh, on the last record I did do a song where I just talked the whole time. I’ve done that once, I could do that again.” Or I could do something completely different and my house is not going to explode. It’s going to be fine.
“In the years since Modern Baseball, I’ve listened to so much more music in general and found so much more music that I actually like. When we would sit down to write a Modern Baseball song, we didn’t have a whole lot to pull from.”
Speaking of the song where you’re talking a lot, “Do You Understand (What Has Happened to You)” in particular is so personal, but it’s also universal for anyone who’s been to a punk house before. There’s a lot of specific details, but they feel familiar.
Yeah, that’s a thing that at a certain point I realized I found in other music. The songs that I most connected to that were written by other people were songs that were overflowing with details that, technically speaking, were not my details. They were another person’s details, but for some reason those songs were the ones that made me feel not alone in an enormous general sense. At a certain point that just kind of clicked with me, and now that’s kind of where I like to start from. When I sit down and say, “You’re writing a song, it’s time to be honest,” that’s my way of being honest: Just going through the details—whether they’re my details or not, because sometimes it’s not all directly from my life. But I do know that I feel like I’m telling the truth when I’m giving the details. I’m not bullshitting anybody.
You have two virtual shows you recently recorded that you’re releasing this weekend. How did you prepare for those as opposed to a normal live show? Are you able to practice together at this point?
Yeah, we started practicing together just for the sake of practicing around the end of the summer/beginning of the fall. Then we got asked to do a virtual college show and we had never done any sort of virtual anything and we said, “Let’s do this as a way to see if we can do it, and then if we manage to figure it out let’s try to do our own show.” We did, and it was a good experiment and we pulled it off, but for this show in particular we did a whole hell of a lot of practicing; I think we practiced like twice a week for the last couple of months. Simultaneously with that, my wife Jess is a photographer and she agreed to film it for us along with our other friend Gus: Filming, getting everything we needed for the lighting and even just arranging the room in a certain way so it would make sense for playing and for filming.
We recorded the band at our studio, so we went through basically a month of figuring out how to appropriately mic up fifteen different instruments to all be ready to go at a moment’s notice for an hour-long set, and we brought in our friend Matt [Schimelfenig] who actually mixed At the Moonbase to run the session while we were playing and then mix the audio. It was a lot more work than we put into anything in a long time. [Laughs.] It was fun to figure out actual human band arrangements for the new songs, and we also dipped into old songs, stuff we’ve been playing for a long time. Above everything else, it just felt so good to play together after not playing together for half a year. We’ve been working very hard on it, and we’re so excited to share it with everybody. FL