To sit opposite Neil Brogan is to stare at a visual representation of his band, Sea Pinks. Dressed in faded denim, with tousled hair and the whisper of a beard, Brogan’s style is laidback and vintage. So it is with Sea Pinks's sound, which, for fans of Merseyside tunesmiths The La's, will come as a very welcome surprise.
The group’s third and latest offering, Freak Waves, is a lo-fi long player that sneaks up on you through a wall of reverb. It is nonchalant, with a hint of melancholy, yet it very much has a smile on its face. Nobody else in Northern Ireland is currently producing anything like it.
Following on from 2010 Youth is Wasted – which 'substituted Girls Names shades of grey for a sunnier disposition and more stripped down sound', according to Brogan – Freak Waves is surely one of the finest, most confident albums to come out of Northern Ireland in 2012.
Brogan speaks haltingly of his artistic process, but there is no doubt Sea Pinks is very much his vehicle, his vision. The group itself is ever-changing. Sea Pinks started off as a solo project and, on record at least, remains very much a solo effort, with Brogan playing drums, bass and guitars in addition to being responsible for the songwriting, recording and mixing.
The earliest live incarnation of the band saw members of Brogan’s other outfit, Girls Names, drafted onto the stage. But, with the release of Freak Waves on October October 15, 2012, Brogan is now joined by members of Charles Hurts, namely Phil Quinn on lead guitar, Steven Henry on bass and Davey Agnew on drums.
This way of working – of recording everything himself before playing live with a constantly changing group of people – might seem a touch indulgent to some, a creative challenge to others, but it suits Brogan just fine.
'It doesn't have to have a set personnel, just whoever's right for it at the time, whoever's into it. I feel a lot more comfortable just working when I have the space and time to work for myself, and I'm not worried about studio time or what other people might want to do. It's not that I object to other people's input – and I can see that that works a lot of the time – it's just how I've worked up until this point.'
In addition to working alone, Brogan works fast. Uninterested in perfectionism, he prefers the excitement of recording an original, unedited thought. As a result, Freak Waves plays like a stream of consciousness, a snapshot of emotion instead of a laboured point. Brogan records riffs, melodies, vocals intuitively, without being concerned with filters, and fills in a song's composite parts thereafter.
'I'm very impatient,' he admits. 'I like to just get things done, I'm sort of impetuous. First bought, best thought – that's the best way. It's spontaneous. I'm really excited by the idea at the time, instead of having played it for six months and being bored shitless by it.'
Brogan's desire for speed and freedom extends to the way he releases music also. The founder and head of CF Records – the label is dedicated to cassette tape and vinyl releases, preferring the price point and sound of the older, analogue technology – Brogan was able to speed this latest album through the publication process.
What he loses out on by not working with a larger label – such as a promotional budget, distribution network and connections – he more than makes up for in his enduring enthusiasm for the music.
'I made Freak Waves in July 2012 and it was out at the start of September on vinyl. It was literally straight onto the press and out within five weeks, which is great. That's the way it should be. I'd hate to have done the album and then let it sit on it for six months, because by then you've moved on [as an artist].'
As for where he sees the album leading to in the future, or where he’d like to see Sea Pinks go, Brogan, perhaps characteristically, doesn’t put much thought into it. He’s more of a 'take life as it comes' kind of person, he says.
'I look ahead for a few months, but I don't look ahead beyond that. So I don't know,' he says of the long-term plan. 'We'll see how this record goes. So far it's going pretty well.'
Freak Waves is available to purchase via Bandcamp now.