Articles / Interviews
"Come Slither" - eye magazine
The debut CD from Toronto's Sea Snakes is filled with eerie sounds, and not all of them are made by the band. In between the group's echoing guitars, twinkling celestial keys and mournful horns and strings, Clear as Day, The Darkest Tools (Three Gut) is a bit creaky, creepy. It's like someone, something, else is in there, listening. Perhaps that's because the disc was recorded in an old house due for demolition, like a building on death row, and the lonely, empty vibe was captured on tape.
The debut CD from Toronto's Sea Snakes is filled with eerie sounds, and not all of them are made by the band. In between the group's echoing guitars, twinkling celestial keys and mournful horns and strings, Clear as Day, The Darkest Tools (Three Gut) is a bit creaky, creepy. It's like someone, something, else is in there, listening. Perhaps that's because the disc was recorded in an old house due for demolition, like a building on death row, and the lonely, empty vibe was captured on tape.

In 2003, Sea Snakes entered the Sweatshop, a basement studio run by engineer/producer Jeff McMurrich (Rockets Red Glare, Les Mouches) until last year, when developers crushed it to make a Shoppers Drug Mart. McMurrich was still there when the upstairs tenants moved out, so, unbeknownst to the landlord, he transformed the empty apartment into a recording room, and the Sea Snakes moved in.

"It's hard to describe to somebody who wasn't there but the record sounds like the house," says Sea Snakes singer/guitarist Jim McIntyre. "Jeff's almost obsessive desire to capture reality on tape really informed the way the record sounded. We didn't set about to construct songs, they were very much us playing in this run-down house."

For seven months, Sea Snakes set about defining their sound. The band had started in 2002 as a solo project for McIntyre after his former group, Blake, split up (see sidebar). He enlisted friends Kristian Galberg (guitar) and Shaw-Han Liem (keyboards, also of I Am Robot and Proud) to present his folksy singer/songwriter material live.

"Over time it became less about me and more about what we were doing as a trio. We decided we wanted to pursue a band with each other," says McIntyre. Ranks soon swelled to five with the addition of drummer Nathan Lawr (ex-Royal City) and bassist Jeremy Strachan (ex-Rockets Red Glare), whom they all knew from the Southern Ontario hardcore scene.

"I don't think any of us were necessarily punk rock, but we had played in very unknown indie bands together, growing up," says McIntyre, now 27. "The hardcore scene was mostly populated by very militant, heavy metal kids into straight edge. I don't think any of us identified with that part of it, but we were very into the ideology, the community-based music scene, something owned and operated by a bunch of underage kids."

Clear as Day, The Darkest Tools bears no trace of the band members' hardcore roots. The five of them are clearly delighted that quiet is the new loud. Much like the beautifully orchestrated sounds coming out of Montreal's Constellation crew, this record is a slow burn of calm, introspective moments woven into epic crescendos. Roots, rock and jazz-influenced moments are washed over by sorrowful soundscapes or hushed to intimate acoustic guitar. Although there are few pop choruses, it's not morose or without humour: "A Pallbearer's Calendar" is surprisingly lively.

"We've never, ever talked about what we want to sound like. It started quiet mostly because our beginnings were rooted in singer/songwriter music," says McIntyre. "It started just with me, slowly adding things to the mix, and I was sort of obsessed with doing something extremely quiet. In a way, I think it was a reaction to the music we'd all made until that point, playing in fairly loud bands. We got tired of screaming."

"We do have to rein in some of our rock tendencies," he says. "But our rule is that if everyone is happy we'll keep it, regardless of how ridiculously loud or soft we get. On the record, there are some relatively loud parts. One song has five tracks of bass feedback and Nathan is wailing on the drums. Lisa [Moran] at Three Gut Records insists that we are no longer a quiet band. I still like to think of ourselves as quiet but I think we're getting louder."

Now that Sea Snakes is a bona fide, five-piece touring rock oufit, the levels have been slowly creeping up, if just to deal with chatty club audiences. For their CD release party on Oct. 23, the band will try to replicate the graceful subtleties of the record. Among themselves they can already handle the diverse instrumentation (Strachan is a music student at U of T who plays flute, clarinet and alto sax in addition to bass) but McIntyre says they're calling in the musical reinforcements, including "a small army of saxophonists" plus oboe and violin. It will help that they're skipping the usual live venues for the more artful space of the Dovercourt House.

"When you see a band at a venue you've been to a thousand times, it feels like a flashback," he says. "It's not that we need a run-down house to play these songs in, but we're excited about playing somewhere unconventional because it's nicer to experience something less familiar. We sometimes feel this pressure to play loud, catchy tunes but there aren't a lot of repetitive things to latch on to on the record. Every time you listen to it, it's like the first time. We'd like it to be like that live, too." - LIISA LADOUCEUR
"Sea Snakes sing softly but carry big talent" - Toronto Star
Jim McIntyre's current band, Sea Snakes, sounds nothing like Blake, the group he cut his teeth with a decade ago as a Mississauga teen. But the 27-year-old singer/guitarist has no interest in playing the "grown up" card when comparing the two.

"Blake was what you'd call a post-hardcore scream-o band," McIntyre says. "We were squeaky-clean punk rock kids from the 'burbs.

"It's not that I felt that I outgrew that. I just got to the point where I started to feel divorced from that style. It was more that I'd been there and done it. I'd basically done all I could do with out-of-tune guitars and screaming vocals."

Sea Snakes, who open for Songs:Ohia at the Horseshoe Tavern Saturday, is harder to characterize. Of the many terms you might use to describe the quintet's debut, Clear As Day, The Darkest Tools, released last week by Toronto indie Three Gut Records, scream-o does not even remotely figure among them.

Contemplative, even hushed at times, the disc's nine songs match lovely, horn-inflected arrangements with dark, vaguely unsettling lyrics.

Starting out four years ago as a loosely formed trio made up of McIntyre, guitarist Kristian Galberg and keyboard player Shaw-Han Liem, Sea Snakes solidified its line-up in 2002 with the addition of Jeremy Strachan on bass and sax and Nathan Lawr, a singer/songwriter under his own name, on drums.

On disc, the textures get added warmth from horn player Gille Thibodeau and Hidden Cameras' string players Owen Pallett and Mike Olsen.

"We all have a mutual appreciation of The Band," says McIntyre. "We're obsessed with the idea of playing as this super-tight unit.

"But I definitely think the first record was very much a first record. It was the result of the process of discovering our sound."

With plans to tour Canada and the U.S. next spring, the band is already at work on a follow-up disc, which it hopes to record this fall and winter.

"Next time, we'll probably try to put together a record that's a little easier to pull off live," McIntyre says. "A lot of the stuff we're working on now is focused on integrating the various instrumentation instead of using it as an accent to the songs. So we're actually writing with clarinet and saxophone, rather than arranging things afterwards." - VIT WAGNER
"Long awaited Sea Snakes CD is here" - Mississauga News
The debut album from the Sea Snakes has been recorded, produced and ready to go since January.

And, much like waiting for Heinz Ketchup, the anticipation is maddening for fans of the band. Ever since the stunning live single, This One Is The Worst, appeared on the band's die!venom website, fans have been clamouring for a full-length album.

When the new nine-track CD, Clear As Day, The Darkest Tools, drops Sept. 21, it could usher in the quintet as the next unexpected but respected independent rock act. Recently signed to highly-regarded Toronto label, Three Gut Records, which boasts a line-up including Jim Guthrie, The Constantines and Oneida, the band with Mississauga roots holds the dubious honour of being the last act to record at Jeff McMurrich's studio The Sweatshop.

"Yep, it's been demolished and replaced with a Shoppers Drug Mart," said Sea Snakes lead singer Jim McIntyre.

McMurrich (The Hidden Cameras, Danko Jones) helped capture the band's clever live sound on the album.

"We didn't have a conscious mandate to make a live-sounding record, but we definitely wanted to make sure we didn't invent a band that is impossible to exist live," said McIntyre.

Deliciously expansive, alternating between tempestuous walls of sound on the track, Kid Don't Go Big Song, and the progressive instrumentals on Firebugs At Cafe Eitelkeit, the release captures the essence of the band's eclectic nature.

Everyone has a distinct musical background. Organist Shaw-han Liem is the innovator behind the lap-top act I Am Robot And Proud, while drummer Nathan Lawr (who played a series of summer shows with Sarah Harmer) is a former Royal City drummer who has struck out on his own.

Bassist Jeremy Strachan is known from his work with Rockets Red Glare while guitarist Kristian Galberg plays with Burn Rome In A Dream.

"I Am Robot And Proud is very melodic and numerous instrumentals are found in Burn Rome In A Dream. So is Nathan's solo record (the critically acclaimed The Heart Beats A Waltz)," said McIntyre, explaining the album's heavy emphasis on harmonious instrumentals and measured feel. "I can't speak for everybody, but I think we all agree the Sea Snakes are equally important to everyone and we all work incredibly hard to create meaningful music."

Fresh off a series of shows with Jim Guthrie in New York City, McIntyre said the band hopes to lay down some of the dozen or so songs they penned during a week-long retreat in the Gatineaus come the winter.

Three Gut's Lisa Moran said the Sea Snakes, good friends for many years, were a perfect fit for the label.

"I used to run in to Jim at Ted's Wrecking Yard (club) all the time and there's a mutual respect between us," said Moran. "They played a show with Royal City in the fall which was amazing and we've known about them for awhile." - CHRIS CLAY

Reviews of 'Clear as Day, The Darkest Tools'
exclaim magazine
The Sea Snakes are an inventive, ingenious quintet consisting of Kristian Galberg, Jeremy Strachan, Jim McIntyre, Nathan Lawr and Shaw-Han Liem, whose heavenly, heartfelt pop is damn near soul shaking. If any of the band members’ names seem somewhat familiar, it’s because most of these young men have put in some time in bands involved in the hardcore community in and around Toronto. They have connected here to form an achingly lovely ensemble whose sound is only subtly informed by the aggressive tension that bound their post-punk roots. This stunning debut consists of wonderfully inventive arrangements that are guided by McIntyre’s angelic voice and unique instinct as a singer. Something like “It’s Good” conjures the sombre, impassioned work of Michael Stipe circa-Automatic For the People, while one can rightly imagine either Sufjan Stevens or Sade having a go at “Black Phones.” Musically, the band’s intricate guitars, soulful keyboards, jazz-tinged horns, and locked-in rhythm section carry the day, offering up a somewhat more emotionally engaging take on the pioneering sound of bands like Tortoise. Similarly, the Sea Snakes make the kind of sophisticated pop music that feels contemporary yet is timeless in its scope, a hallmark of the music that receives the Three Gut stamp of approval and is sure to appeal to a wide range of listeners.

Why did you decide to work with Three Gut?
Guitarist Kristian Galberg: It comes down to working with someone that you have complete faith in and respect and we have that with [label boss] Lisa Moran. We certainly like all of the bands on the label and have been friendly with them, so in some sense, whether or not we fit any kind of musical aesthetic, there is some other type of hard-to-define kinship that we share in how we all conduct ourselves.

How have the Sea Snakes’ roots in the hardcore scene evolved into such a pretty sound?
I think the thing that we all share is that, while we were involved with it, it was always just an interest among other interests; it was never a complete devotion to just one style. Jim and I have always been fans of sappy, pretty music; Jeremy’s influenced by weird, 20th century composers; and Shaw-Han’s into a lot of electronic music. So, I think we drew a certain work ethic, a certain conceptual base from the hardcore scene, but aesthetically it was never super important to us. We also kind of joke about how we’ve grown up and at a certain point in your life you don’t want to be screaming into a microphone. - Vish Khanna
"anti-hit list" - eye magazine
SEA SNAKES, "Conception Bay South": Though it's a disservice to reduce the extraordinary music of this Toronto five-piece to a slogan, characterizing their sound as "quiet music that's disquieting" is at least a fair starting point. You can flesh out the rest after you've downloaded this lead-off track from the band's upcoming debut full-length. - JOHN SAKAMOTO
There’s an autumnal feel to the debut effort from Toronto’s Sea Snakes that captures both the lonely, windswept desolation of the season and the beauty of the final burst of colour before the cold and muted shades of winter.

Like a tree sheds its leaves in the fall or a snake its skin, Sea Snakes have shaken off their hardcore past in favour of a more subdued sound and intricate arrangements that never once overwhelm the listener. Jim McIntyre’s gorgeous voice provides the emotional anchor for the disc’s nine tracks.

Which is not to say that Clear As Day, The Darkest Tools doesn’t have the occasional dark and stormy moment. ‘Firebugs at Café Eithkeit’ has a tense, uneasy undercurrent while ‘Black Phones’ slowly builds to a hair-raising climax. ‘Kid Don’t Go Big Song’ provides the record’s biggest jolt, abruptly shifting gears halfway through from the quiet sound that makes up much of the disc to an intense hail of throbbing keyboards, crashing drums and intricate guitars, as if the band held themselves back for the entire record, choosing that exact moment to let the tension that lurks just below the surface throughout the album burst forth in a dramatic fashion.

While Clear as Day… is immediately recognizable as being an album by a Toronto band, this stunning batch of songs shows they have their fingers on the pulse of the sound. - Andrew Horan
The Charlatan
Albums can be like people.

Some albums are easily ingested and offer brainless escape. Some albums scream for attention and are musically abrasive. One of the best types can be the unassuming album, the kind you can’t really appreciate until you really get to know it; it slowly works it way into your head.

With Clear As Day, The Darkest Tools, the Sea Snakes have created an album exactly this. You’ll put it on, and you won’t immediately realize that this album deserves to stay in your CD player.

With floating vocal harmonies and acoustic guitars, layered with horns and a piano borrowed from Sarah Slean, the album winds its way through, showcasing the wealth of talent found in the Toronto-based band. It is a rainy-day-under-the-covers album that surprisingly still manages to stay upbeat, partially because of the depth of the melodies.

One of the standout tracks is “mafia car,” where the plodding rhythm somehow compliments the reaching vocals. The album’s main failing is that it is understated, and doesn’t necessarily demand the attention it deserves.

This may seem like any other soft-alt-rock production, but if you get to know this album well, you could have a friend for life. - Karen Pinchin
It’s always odd when a label gets more hype than the bands they produce. No wonder it happened with Three Gut Records; they threw cool parties, had funky artwork and a network of hipsters under their belt. But the Three Gut hype-machine has slowed down, the momentum has faded and without the build-up, their new bands wouldn’t get the automatic support like Cuff the Duke and the Constantines. With no recent band signings (excluded Oneida who weren’t new anyways) the Sea Snakes have more to prove with their debut effort, Clear as day, the Darkest Tools than their label mates.

Clear as Day, the Darkest Tools features skilled musicians making a distinctly hypnotic sound - best for lazy Saturday mornings. The Sea Snakes are so hypnotic, in fact, many listeners might miss the talent. And it’s a shame if you do because there are no three-chord ditties here, but rather intricate arrangements all the way through to the last track. Often intense, sometimes soothing, Clear as Day, the Darkest Tools is a piece of art.

The truth is, I could write about the sonic textures of this track or the elevated and calming keyboard riffs of that track, but I can sum up this album in one word: Pretty. The Sea Snakes debut effort is…pretty. When you join a rock band, you might not set out to make a pretty album, especially when members previously played in hardcore bands. But the Sea Snakes did - and should be proud of it. - Steven Himmelfarb
Now Magazine
According to Sea Snakes' tip sheet, some of these guys used to play in hardcore bands. Strange, because you'd never know it from listening to their moody and often captivating debut. Dotted with twinkling guitars, swelling string arrangements and some very clever Pet Sounds-style sax and horn figures, this is about as un-hardcore as things get. The band occasionally noodles, but singer Jimmy McIntyre's breathy, indie boy vocals offset most of the post-rock posturing, ensuring the songs never lose their way. Don't expect to start a circle pit at one of their shows. - JERED STUFFCO
The Sea Snakes debut isn’t quite as captivating as the other adventurous takes on pop and country coming from Three Gut Records. Standout tracks like the short and sweet "It’s Good" with its muted horns and "Tie Me Up God" with an organ/acoustic guitar intro are gorgeous. Hell, opener "Conception Bay, South" even sees Jim McIntyre’s indie-boy vocals reach Neil Young heights of fragility. But the rest of the album has a sort of meandering sameness to it. It’s all very atmospheric and beautiful, but at times there’s an overwhelming urge to pay attention to something else. - David McDougall

other press things
hi res photos

all photos by Molly Crealock

links & related projects

three gut records
the blue house
nathan lawr
i am robot and proud