SEPIA (from l-r): Colleen Becker (bass), Derek Falzoi (drums), Ryan Beckelman (vocals/acoustic guitar), Chris Gray (electric guitar)
INTERVIEW by ZAK SLOMAN
Drawing from a wide range of musical influences, from the grunge of Nirvana, progressive rock of Pink Floyd, heavy metal of Metallica, to the psychedelia of The Beatles, Baltimore four-piece Sepia specialise in a distinctive, well-crafted sound that utilises catchy hooks, incorporates the use of both acoustic and electric guitars, and provides a few hints of 90’s nostalgia.
In the last couple of years, the band have gone from strength to strength in their home state of Maryland, amassing a devoted following, as well as bringing out two positively-received albums, including recent offering, ‘Drop Dead, Gorgeous…’.
The quartet spoke to me about the new release’s lengthy recording process, the reaction it has had so far, and much more.
How did the band initially get together?
The short answer is we started in 2006. However, the first incarnation started a little earlier in around 2003 when our singer Ryan was serving in Iraq. Ryan’s friend Brad (who was also serving in Iraq) was sent an old broken down acoustic guitar by his wife, and he and Ryan fixed it up and wrote tunes to pass the time.
When they returned home, Ryan and Brad linked up with another guitar player named Chris, and Sepia was born. The acoustic guitar has always been a staple of our songwriting process, as well as being a cornerstone of our sound. Most of our song ideas start out with an acoustic guitar riff of some sort, whether they end up being acoustic-based or not.
Over time, as our songwriting was evolving, we decided we needed some drums to keep us in time, and that was when Derek came in (sometime around 2006/2007).
Around the same time, Brad left for other ventures, and Sepia was once again a trio, with Ryan splitting time between acoustic, bass and vocals. Then in 2009, we brought in Colleen to take over bass duties from Ryan, and that takes us to the Sepia you hear today.
It was around that time that we started to experiment with some of our other alternative/electric rock influences and really started concentrating on the songwriting process. By then, we had a stockpile of originals, so we took the show on the road and two albums later…here we are!
How did you all decide upon the name Sepia?
Really good question! It kind of became a torch that got carried on without 100% knowing where that torch came from. The best answer, according to Ryan, was that the early acoustical songs elicited feelings perceived as sepia tones when writing and performing those songs. Thus, the band became Sepia!
What is the band’s songwriting approach?
For us, it usually starts out as a simple guitar riff, chord progression, or a lyric. Ryan writes the lyrics, but prefers to leave themes up to the interpretation of the listener most times, however, there are definitely common threads on this album.
Lyrically, there are a lot of analogies presented that draw connections between intangibles with objects in everyday life.
With everything being online these days, it’s really easy to spitball ideas back and forth until something sticks. Typically, Chris and Ryan will go back and forth and elaborate on the original idea and then build a few verses around it. Derek has a knack for arranging, so he will then jump in and get everything where it needs to be. Colleen will then come in at the end and work out the rhythm section with Derek to tie it all together.
Though we do write a lot of songs, we try to do something different in each song to make it interesting and unique…especially in the bridge.
For ‘Drop Dead, Gorgeous…’ (the band’s recent album), since we recorded it entirely on our own, we had the luxury of being able to play around with different ideas and sounds that we normally wouldn’t have had time to if we were on the clock in someone else’s studio. We had fun experimenting with synths, strings, keyboards, and of course, more cowbell!
In 2013, you released your debut album, ‘…Break My Heart’, which received much praise. Was that something you all had expecting whilst recording it?
‘…Break My Heart’ was an effort to categorise our eclectic rock, power pop, and acoustic-based variety of tunes that we had been playing for a few years when we did a lot more performing. It was more of taking songs that people already recognised and getting those recorded, with the exception of a few newer songs.
This record was mixed and mastered at Orion Sound Studios in Baltimore, Maryland, and works through the complications of life, with many different literary themes as sub-genres.
Recently, the band brought out the follow-up to that, ‘Drop Dead, Gorgeous…’. How was the recording process for that?
With the exception of the drums, this album was recorded entirely in our home studio. While it was a huge learning curve for us (and most likely why it took us almost four years to complete – ha!), it really gave us the time to think about the songs as a whole, as we were able to layer parts and add various textures.
Often, we would lay something down and sit on it for a week or two…and then come back and entirely redo it. While the whole process ended up being a lot of fun, it definitely took us down some rabbit holes.
As far as engineering goes, we are fortunate to live in Baltimore with so many talented, like-minded musicians. We linked up with a great local engineer and musician called Ryan Matchett, and he helped to engineer the record and also helped us with the drums, with another friend and musician, Alex Lakis (Killer Penguin Productions), taking care of mastering the record.
They both were able to guide us through the recording process and pick us up and dust everything off when we took a wrong turn. It was an amazing collaborative effort and we learned a lot in the process, almost four years in the making!
I hope you don’t mind me asking, but why did it take you all four years to put it together?
Of course. As much as each of us would like to write and perform full-time, life and families come first. After our first record, we continued to play for a year and a half or so, and then wanted to try to record on our own for the second record. This would allow us the flexibility to take as much time that we needed in order to get the songs as good and tight as we could.
We had a few setbacks, like drums not being up to par. As a fellow friend quipped, “The drums are the devil.” Between life and setbacks, it just happened to take longer than we expected. However, now that we have learned a lot from the process, future efforts should be much quicker!
How has the reaction been to the new album so far?
We have had a lot of good feedback, with some saying that it brings back 90’s nostalgia. Being reminded of the 90’s is something we hear a lot about, in regards to our sound, and is something that we have learned to embrace.
The ’90s were pivotal for us growing up, and the music of that time has always had a strong hold on us, obviously, bands like Nirvana, Weezer, and Faith No More…but with some other bands (new and old) thrown in for good measure (i.e. Husker Du, Alkaline Trio, Dashboard Confessional).
These days, 90’s alternative could be considered “classic rock“, so those bands seem to be making a comeback in places like Internet Radio and XM. We are hoping to lure in those listeners who enjoy the nostalgia of that era as much as we do.
We have been finding success on college radio, a few indie blogs (which can sometimes be aversive to our 90’s sound), as well as some really cool rock publications.
We’ve been on some internet radio broadcasts, and we’ve also be focusing on one of our favorite local performance spots, Frederick, Maryland, featuring in some of the publications there.
The band regularly host headlining events in their home state of Maryland. How is the experience, for you all, of playing live?
When we started playing, we were happy with whichever venue would have us. After a few years playing in Baltimore, we ambitiously wanted to play better venues when we’re normally reserved for cover bands, the music people from this area typically want to hear.
In order to do that, we started hosting events with other bands at a couple of notable venues willing to take a chance on us, and that allowed us to really grow our base and play more frequently.
We love performing, there’s nothing in the world like it, and we’ve played some pretty cool places like Rams Head Live in Baltimore and HMAC in Harrisburg, also some pretty cool local festivals.
It’s great to hear new tunes getting to breathe, and it’s also interesting which songs fans tend to gravitate to. One of our internal success stories of the new album is our oldest song ‘Delaware’, which we think is the only song still in rotation from those earlier Sepia days. We had the opportunity to reinvent it, which started as an acoustic song, and it soon became one that people unanimously seem to like.
And finally, now that ‘Drop Dead, Gorgeous…’ has come out, what are your plans?
Before and after the release of ‘…Break my heart”, we played a lot of shows, and sold CDs and merchandise. For the promotion of the new album, we are only performing select dates over the summer, with a digital release, which is a big difference in approach.
We are employing a truly DIY effort to marketing, reaching out to publications with the goal of getting as much exposure as possible, similar to when we started playing shows. That expansion has taken up a lot of our time with doing podcasts, interviews, etc, and hopefully, will continue to do so!
Also, we’ve already been working on new tunes for our third release, which we are hoping to release later this year. We have drums tracked for four new songs, and we’re just starting to do the vocals and guitars for it.
Our band are most happy when we are making new music and are allowed to be creative with recording and post-production.
‘DROP DEAD, GORGEOUS’, THE SOPHOMORE ALBUM FROM SEPIA, IS NOW AVAILABLE TO STREAM, DOWNLOAD OR PURCHASE FROM SPOTIFY, iTunes, APPLE MUSIC, GOOGLE MUSIC, AMAZON MUSIC, BANDCAMP, SOUNDCLOUD, AND THE BAND’S OFFICIAL WEBSITE www.sepiaband.com
FURTHER INFO ON SEPIA CAN BE FOUND THROUGH THE FOLLOWING SITES: