Even if you don't know Chuck E. Costa and Mira Stanley, their music is easy to love. The stunning melodies wrapped around enchanting lyrics are the sonic equivalent of a plush stuffed animal just waiting for a hug.
The indie-alt folk-pop duo that writes, records, sings and performs together under the mysterious guise known as The Sea The Sea (check your ancient history) seem so intertwined with the lush sounds and blended vocals they create that it would take a crowbar to pry them apart.
Readers here were introduced two years ago to Love We Are We Love, their drop-dead gorgeous full-length album debut, through the video premiere of the spring awakening "Fists Full of Flowers." Now it's a pleasure to have them back ahead of the Feb. 26 release of The Sea The Sea's pretty perfect EP, In the Altogether.
The title track, which kicks off a captivating six-song set that'll leave you yearning for more, premieres at The Huffington Post today (Feb. 5), just in time to put lovers and strangers in the mood for Valentine's Day.
For performers in the play together/stay together mode, it makes sense that after starting The Sea The Sea in 2011, Costa (a native New Yorker) and Stanley (raised in Charleston, West Virginia) have taken their relationship to a serious personal level -- as in they're engaged. And as symbiotic singer-songwriters who go together like love and marriage, their words mesh as well as their voices.
"All of our songs feel like co-writes at this point -- because even if one of us starts or nearly completes a song on our own, by the time we've worked through the editing process, or just played it a few times together, it becomes a fully shared piece," they said in a joint response to a series of email questions this week. "That's true of all the songs on this record except 'Restless Heart,' which is a song Chuck wrote before we formed our duo. It was one of the first songs we ever sang together, and has become a favorite among our audiences. So we wanted to give it the honor of a proper recording."
The EP produced, recorded and mixed by Troy Pohl includes first-class musicianship, which shouldn't be surprising considering the players involved but nonetheless remains a remarkable feat when taking into account the usual time and scope devoted to a low-budget indie project.
The Sea The Sea's Chuck E. Costa (left) and Mira Stanley.
"The turnaround for this record was wildly, though intentionally, quick," Costa and Stanley said, pointing out most of the tracking took place at the end of November at Overit Studios in Albany, N.Y., near where they live together.
"For this album, we really wanted the arrangements to grow beforehand with Troy and the musicians we'd be playing with on the record," they added. "So we took some good time to do that before actually going into the studio. The time between this record and our last has been -- well, a lot of time on the road -- but also finding ourselves in the midst of a really incredible musical community around where we live, and letting that inspire us."
Members of their "musical family" performing on the EP with Costa and Stanley include Eric Margan (bass, acoustic guitar), James Gascoyne (electric guitar), Ian White (drums, percussion) and Chris Carey (drums, percussion, piano, organ), with Pohl adding "a whole list of instrument textures."
Costa and Stanley will begin the In the Altogether release tour Feb. 10 at Rockwood Music Hall in New York, where audiences can get sneak previews of most -- if not all -- of these six gems, with "All the Diamonds" another jewel that especially sparkles.
You can get your shine on today, though, by singing along to "In the Altogether." Then check out the love stories behind the song and the EP that Costa and Stanley continued to provide in the email Q&A.
This EP should come with a warning label, though: Repeated plays might cause a serious case of guy/girl crush. When it comes to matters of the heart, The Sea The Sea get to the heart of the matter.
IN THE ALTOGETHER
I know you know me now
Didn't take you too long to get through
Don't know how it happens how
It happens that you do
Don't give it away
I don't want to be that clever
But what do you we say
In the altogether?
You know I know you now
'Cause I wear it like it's true
Don't know how it turns out how
It turns out that I do
Don't give it away
I want to stay like this forever
So what do you say
Now that we're in the altogether?
I know, I know
You know me now
We'll stay like this forever
Don't know how it happens
In the altogether
I know you know me now
Stay like this forever
Don't know how it turns out
In the altogether
MORE TO LOVE: A Q&A WITH THE SEA THE SEA
Your songs are beautifully written and recorded. What led to the decision to release an EP instead of a full-length record?
The Sea The Sea: The process of making and releasing an album can be lengthy and it sometimes can feel difficult to capture where you are creatively in a moment. By the time you are ready to release it into the world, it's often a year or more. Recently, we've been drawn to shorter form projects that allow us a bit more freedom to experiment -- to see what sorts of scenarios bring out our best work -- without devoting a couple of years to one project or idea.
Also, while we love the longer form album, we also love the closer attention an EP can bring to each song. And while there's a bit of a diversity of songs on this record, there is something about this particular collection that felt like these songs just fit
together -- talked to each other in interesting ways.
Who do you rely on for career advice outside of each other and what's the best advice that you've been able to put to practice?
The Sea The Sea: It's funny because as we've learned more about the music industry over the past few years, the more we've learned that it's such a unique journey for everyone -- the steps to follow to build your career can be so different for each band. The best advice we've ever received may have been simply not to be afraid to ask questions. So, we've reached out to the people who have come into our lives at various points for insights, but it's amazing how long that list would be if we tried to compile it. Also, we love seeing what other people are up to! We're constantly inspired by the creativity artists have that extends far beyond the music they make. As our good friend Annie Klaver once said to us, "We're all throwing stones in the same river to try to make it rise" -- so staying true to the strength of community, celebrating each other's successes, and learning from them...
Tell me about the song you're premiering -- "In the Altogether." How much should the song title be taken literally?
The Sea The Sea: Ha! Yes and no. We were drawn to the multiple interpretations the saying allowed. The idea grew from wanting to find a word or expression that alluded to sort of an emotional nakedness or vulnerability -- the feeling of really being yourself and being truly honest in a relationship or a community. So there's a togetherness implied, too. It's sort of asking the question: Once we draw back the curtain and lay bare who we really are, what's left? Where are we then? Who are we then?
Is there a theme in this current crop of songs? What would you expect listeners to take away from this EP?
The Sea The Sea: Our last record really dealt with the idea of leaping into the unknown. There are still echoes of that on this EP but, appropriately, these songs feel like they're about what comes after you've lived inside of that leap for a bit longer -- trying to figure out where home is, what home is, who home is, is a thread that connects these songs -- and really what ties us to, connects us to, where we are and to each other. That seems to us like something universal, and worth exploring, and definitely isn't contingent upon whether you're a traveling songwriter or not :)
What was the easiest of these songs to write (and why)?
The Sea The Sea: These were all songs that formed pretty easily -- maybe there's something to that in the way they fit together. They all have their own clear voices -- so maybe it's that quality that makes for the interesting conversation they create together. The title track was the last song written -- just a couple of weeks before we went into the studio. It felt like one of those that wrote itself -- though we'd been floating the idea around for awhile. "Keep On" we wrote while we were making dinner one night, and then finished it on the road. "Set Us Free" danced out of us after one of our practices together. It feels like the easier songs to write happen when you're maybe not trying to write them, but you're just paying attention when they show up.
How personal did you get in the writing compared with your previous work?
The Sea The Sea: All of our work is personal. We can't help it. It's the way that we write. Sometimes it is more explicit than other times but we are always pretty transparent in our writing. "Restless Heart" was written by Chuck a few years ago. The line, "I never was one to believe, that being wild is the same as being free," has resonated with us a lot lately. The song is about the seeming conflict between planting roots and the inevitable wanderlust that most of us feel at some point in our lives. Can one be fulfilled with one but not the other? Are the two things mutually exclusive?
How does writing together now compare with two or so years ago with Love We Are We Love? Are there certain techniques you use to keep it fresh?
The Sea The Sea: Our writing process has been varied from the start, which has kept it fresh for the most part. We both write separately, in our own voices, and we also write together, which leads to a rich pool of material, overall, to work with. One aspect that has changed since LWAWL is that we have integrated more instruments into our writing process. We've been writing with piano, electric guitar and drums this time around, and have based some of the tunes on jamming with each other on those instruments.
Your voices complement each other so well. Did that happen naturally or did it take a lot of work?
The Sea The Sea: Both, actually. We noticed a blend within seconds of singing together for the first time. That is the easy part. The work comes in when it gets to the phrasing and arranging. Locking in vocally is like learning a dance. It takes lots of practice to synchronize our movements to create the semblance of one voice. But with time that part is becoming more natural and getting easier, too.
What can you share about life as a couple these days? What's the most difficult part of meshing your professional life with your personal one?
The Sea The Sea: We're engaged! Thankfully, we like each other a lot, so spending all of our time together works really well for us. It's easy and we're grateful for it. The only difficulty comes at times trying to find downtime together without talking shop. It can be hard to truly disconnect from work when we need to. Though, we do love what we do for a living so we feel lucky to be immersed in it most of the time.
Your debut album was released two years ago this month. What have been the most promising and disappointing career developments since then?
The Sea The Sea: It has been an amazing two years. We have traveled to every corner of the country, played hundreds of shows, made countless new friends on the road, written dozens of songs and our music has connected with millions of people through Spotify and beyond. It is clear that our music has an audience and that is encouraging. The most promising thing of all might be that our work makes us as happy and fulfilled as it did a couple of years ago and we're as inspired and committed to making music as ever.
The only disappointment might have been realizing the time it takes to grow honestly as a band. We've been experimenting with our sound over the last two years. We have been committed to exploring and trying new things without losing who we are in the process. That is a task that takes time and can't be forced. But it is a journey we are happy to be on.
Publicity photos by Jo Chattman of Chattman Photography