The indie-folk movement has become a plague. What started as an innocent return to roots quickly became a fad and, somewhere along the line, the pining for simplicity and an authentic nod to American roots music turned into a push to get ahead.
But the cynicism directed at Americana's revival doesn't apply to singer/songwriter Alex Brown Church, the man behind Sea Wolf. His acoustic-driven pop songs are intricately woven around literary narratives that are full of life, and they aren't weighed-down, gimmicky, old-timey affectations.
With his third album, Old World Romance, Church trades in his trademark introspection, but this attempt is his most mature and sincere. We spoke to Church over the phone, asking about balancing romance and sappiness, his literary influences, and how he felt having his song "The Violet Hour" appear on the Twilight: New Moon soundtrack.
New Times: I like how you described your latest record to OC Weekly: "A romantic drive along the Pacific Coast Highway." It fits perfectly. What's your attraction to romanticism?
Alex Brown Church: I don't know if it's so much an attraction as it is just an instinctual subject matter on my part. I couldn't really say exactly why. I wouldn't even necessarily say I'm attracted to romanticism, but I think when I say Old World Romance, it is a little about that. It's sort of a nod to having a romance with the old, corporal world. To me, it's sort of a reference to the romantic views of the Old West and romantic painters, like Caspar David Friedrich. These grand landscape painters who romanticized the West . . . I guess I have a somewhat romantic way of viewing the world, so that tends to come out in my music.
NT: Are you afraid of becoming too sappy? How do you find that balance?
ABC: No, I'm not. I totally understand the question because I'm not a fan of sappy music at all . . . There are certain things I would probably never say in a song that I find sappy. I just trust my tastes, and if people have an issue with it, one way or another, there's nothing I can do about that.
NT: Your songs, especially some off Leaves in the River, also have a very literary quality, which I appreciate. Do you write outside your music? Like fiction, a journal, or something?
ABC: I used to. I went to film school, so I used to try and write screenplays. I used to journal, which is mostly like a daily recount of whatever I did the day before. That was kinda just so that I would be writing every day. An excuse to be writing something. But I haven't done that in years. Now, I'm mostly just writing songs.
NT: Who are some of your favorite authors?
ABC: I went through a William Faulkner phase one time and a Jack London phase — obviously — there for a while. These days, I tend to go on subject matter phases rather than author phases.
NT: What kind of film directors are you into?
ABC: It depends. I just saw Django Unchained, which was awesome. I love Tarantino — he's great. I love Wes Anderson. I guess, director-wise, those two guys are the only true American auteurs. They are really building the kind of catalog of films that exist in their own universe. You have a sense of style to them that is consistent.
NT: Did you watch Twilight: New Moon, which features your song "The Violet Hour"? What did you think of it?
ABC: I did see it actually after, much later, after the fact. I was pretty confused by it because I didn't know anything about the Twilight thing. But I thought it was pretty bad. I also have friends that the Twilight stuff is completely their guilty pleasure, so I didn't feel bad about it.