The music of Seapony is refreshing in its simplicity. Most songs on Go With Me use no more than three chords, with an average running time around two-and-a-half minutes. In lieu of a human drummer, the Seattle trio entrusts time-keeping to a vintage gizmo the size of a desktop calculator. The lyrics to "Dreaming," the track that catapulted them into the spotlight, are just six lines long. Like Young Marble Giants and Beat Happening before them, this young three-piece has generated excitement that belies their music's modest means. And their back story is just as no-nonsense.
Seapony is songwriter Danny Rowland, singer Jen Weidl, and bass player Ian Brewer. Danny and Ian grew up and made music together in Oklahoma. In 2001, they moved to Olympia, WA. In 2004, Danny visited Cincinnati, missed his flight home, and ended up staying in Ohio for four years; he met Jen during his Buckeye State sojourn. After a period of work and study in Lawrence, KS, the happy couple came west in 2010 and were reunited with Ian in Seattle. Seapony was born.
Although Danny has composed many originals over the years, "Dreaming" was the only finished Seapony tune when he and Jen arrived in the Emerald City; the rest of the songs featured on Go With Me were written afterward. Likewise, the friends had only played as a trio once before, while Danny and Jen were vacationing in Seattle. "We were all messing around with an acoustic guitar, a glockenspiel, and an Omnichord," Danny recalls. The vision for Seapony was more focused: Fuzz-drenched guitar playing simple chord progressions, topped with concise melodic hooks and Jen's breathy vocals.
Other bands make a fuss about coloring outside the lines, but Seapony aspires to the reverse, making each ditty distinctive while operating within the same basic sonic framework. The dreamy "Nobody Knows," for instance, emerged from attempts to distribute melodic materials between different instruments, with more prominent bass and a subtler type of guitar lick. If the character of a song seems more upbeat, Danny may adopt a darker tone for the lyrics, as on "I Really Do." Regardless, he wants other people to be able to relate to what he writes, which is why his words are few and his topics familiar.
"You can sing about being sad and being in love, or you can sing about the weather," he says, apropos of his subject matter and connecting with listeners. For now, at least, Danny is sticking to the former. He writes the songs for Jen because he thinks her voice shimmers amidst all that distortion, whereas his just sounds rotten. Although he's credited as the primary songwriter, Danny admits that he solicits Jen's opinion throughout his creative process, from initial approval of melodic ideas to experimenting with turns of phrase together.
Ironically, Danny's introduction to both Ian and Jen resulted from answering ads seeking drummers. That's right: Danny is a drummer who leads a group with no drums. "Drums are too loud," he insists. "Plus I don't like the sound of the crash. It can get in the way." Drum machines are another story. In high school, Danny began experimenting with a classmate's Roland 808. "He didn't know how to operate it, and thought it was broken. I figured it out and showed it to him. Then he wanted it back." Seapony relies on a vintage Alesis HR-16, which Jen bought Danny for his birthday three years ago.
The band's ascent has been almost absurd in its rapidity. After posting a handful of demos (including "Dreaming") on the Internet in late 2010, UK label Double Denim latched on to Seapony and released a 7-inch single in a limited edition of 300 copies. In a matter of weeks, the band was favorably reviewed on Pitchfork, played on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle, and made its live club debut. In short order, they were invited to appear on bills with La Sera, the Love Language, Kisses, and Pains of Being Pure At Heart.
Having written and recorded Go With Me at home, even as they got settled into a city where they had virtually no friends—let alone extensive ties to the local music scene—Seapony is still finding its comfort zone onstage. Don't mistake the absence of stage banter for lack of enthusiasm or appreciation, Danny emphasizes. "The Velvet Underground didn't talk," he observes. "It's cooler to just play song after song, like the Ramones did." Exactly. Keep it simple, and there's no telling how much impact the music can make.