Into the Sea

Into the Sea Has Some Weird Vibes, Doesn’t It?

By Josh Wirtanen

In 2021, I wrote a ton of music. It was kind of ridiculous, actually.

All of it started with this little idea I had for an EP called Chomp. We’d write and record three new songs, then put it out into the world and see what happens. But then I couldn’t stop writing. As the basic premise of this song collection grew in scope, Chomp evolved from a three-song EP to a six-song EP to a ten-song album to a robust 15-song full-length affair, featuring 37 minutes of sad, sad music. And that’s where I had to draw the line; we can’t just keep expanding this thing forever.

But I couldn’t just stop writing. So I ended up putting out the five-song Feathered Bird Thing EP in August, followed by the three-song October EP in, well, October.

And as we got deep in the weeds of the Chomp recording process, I ended up putting together two more songs that felt connected to one another thematically. I decided that we’d get those recorded and release yet another EP before Chomp. We called this one Into the Sea, which is also the title of its first track.

Into the Sea

And luckily enough, we actually had an unused album cover that fit this EP perfectly. The incredible Scott Wiele created this image as an offshoot of the Ant, I project, which he also created art for. The two covers were designed to play off each other, but we never ended up using the boat cover. So when it came time to release Into the Sea more than three years later, all I had to do was add some text.

Ant, I

The recording process was cursed from the outset, with a whole lot of weird stuff going on that changed the EP dramatically over time. And these songs ended up way better because of them, not in spite of them. Even though the final recordings exude confidence, with every single note on every single instrument in the exact right place (at least, in my opinion), most of this was the result of a series of happy accidents. Well, some of these accidents aren’t happy at all, actually.

So let’s talk about vibes. From the instant the first song starts, there’s this odd feeling that strikes the listener. Something feels strange here. Now, I’m not one who spends much time thinking about “vibes,” but I have to admit that some things were going on while we were recording this, things that definitely impacted my mood as I was working on the record. And my mood tends to seep into the things I create.

The wildest occurrence was that someone got shot outside my apartment while we were working on “Into the Sea.” We heard the gunshots, and then police sirens afterward. My bandmate Morgan McCandless went outside and found the street taped off, and we listened to the police scanner to figure out what had happened. As far as I can tell, the victim survived, and none of these sounds ended up on the record audibly. But being so close to a crime scene definitely put us into a weird headspace.

And my neighbors were fighting for a good portion of the recording process. I tried to filter out this sound as best as I could, but it’s possible that with the right headphones, you might be able to pick up some of their shouting. Or else you might just sense more of those weird vibes — some disconnected ghostly voices that aren’t happy at all that you’re listening to them.

While I was recording the mandolin part, a string snapped during the big swell at the end of “Into the Sea.” I kept that take, so if you listen closely, you might be able to hear the string breaking. I layered more mandolin over it to bury it a bit, but I wanted to make sure that string-snap take stayed on the record.

With all this going on, we decided to lean really hard into those unsettling vibes, which I believe was the right creative choice. When it comes to recording music, it’s generally better to go with the flow rather than to fight against it.

So we started off the track with a disorienting backward vocal track. This is actually a reversed take of me singing the line “This place is filled with ghosts,” which comes from our song “The Saddest Ghosts in the World” (from our Let’s Start a Fire EP).

We attempted to simulate the effect of a wooden ship creaking its way across rough waters, so there’s this odd creaking sound in the background throughout the entire song. It’s especially notable during the softer parts of the song, but if you listen closely, you’ll hear that it never really goes away. I created this effect by placing a microphone close to a creaky closet door and swinging it open and shut. Note that I used this same effect on “The Ineffable Boredom of Being a Ghost” (also from our Let’s Start a Fire EP), so it was something I knew I could make work again, and it’s fun to tie these songs together.

At the suggestion of Tyler McAninch, who’s helping us produce the Chomp record, I also de-tuned the piano to make it sound like it’s a worn-down thing being played in some barroom somewhere. To take it a step further, I decided to change the piano part as the song progresses, so that it starts sounding more and more “off” as you get deeper into the song. The lyrics talk about drinking rum, and I wanted the song to feel like it’s going off the rails a bit as the narrator gets more inebriated.

This whole song is layered over an 808 beat, which almost sounds like it could be a hip-hop backing track. This was another accident. I made that beat as a click track, and we were planning on removing it once we were done recording all the instruments. But when we heard the whole thing together, the 808 just felt like it was supposed to be there, with the cracks of the clapping sound ringing out like gunshots.

And finally, I recorded the first take of the synth lead, but Morgan re-recorded those parts to add the grit that you hear. She’s incredible at making the synth do all these weird, distorted, fantastic things, and those skills really brought the synth into the same universe as the rest of the instruments. Like the piano, the synth gets more distorted as the song progresses. The warbling of the synth also ended up blending into the mandolin so they almost sound like a single instrument. I especially adore the pitch bend that happens after the line “And my pockets so weighted with gold.”

“Everyone Dies, Part I” is a completely different beast. Funny enough, I actually wrote down the lyrics for the song, but didn’t write down the chord progression. When I returned to the song, I couldn’t remember the vocal melody or the guitar part, so I had to write the musical side of it over from scratch.

And I’m glad I did, because “Everyone Dies” turned into this massive three-part song that ties Into the Sea into Chomp. “Everyone Dies, Part I” is on Into the Sea, while “Part II” and “Part III” will be on Chomp. “Part II” is the centerpiece of the trilogy, and “Part III” is sort of a reprise that shows up late in the Chomp album. I’ll talk more about how these pieces come together thematically when I talk through the Chomp album specifically, but there’s definitely a through-line that connects them.

For this one, I wanted it to sound like it’s being played on an old record player that’s wearing down, and being outputted through a blown speaker. So I added an effect that simulates a vinyl record, and I cranked up a heavy amp distortion to the vocals.

As a little bonus, when I started recording the guitar part for “Everyone Dies, Part I,” fireworks started going off. I don’t even know what the occasion was, but this was another instance where I decided not to fight against my circumstances. So I stuck the microphone out the window to get a clearer recording of the fireworks. The final result blends into the snaps and cracks of the vinyl record effect, so that it’s hard to tell which crackles are from the effect and which ones are the fireworks.

I know the reception of our low-fi stuff tends to be mixed, so I try to only use it when I can justify it artistically (the temptation is to just record everything low-fi, because I’m a huge fan of low-fi music in general). In this case, I think it’s perfect, especially coming out of the previous song. “Everyone Dies, Part I” feels like the hangover after the binge of “Into the Sea.”

Look, I put out a lot of music, and I know that not all of it sticks the landing. In retrospect, there are pieces that I feel really confident about at release, but then start to feel self-conscious about later on. But Into the Sea feels perfect to me. Maybe I’m just basking in the afterglow of release and I’ll come to be embarrassed about it as it ages, but right now I feel like this might be our best release yet. Even though it felt like a whirlwind of chaos as we were making it, the final result feels especially deliberate, as if every single wind-tossed part landed miraculously in the right place.