(photo: Connor Sorenson)
When Alexi Erenkov and Alison Alderdice got married, Erenkov’s vows weren’t your typical declarations. “They were about our mortality,” says The Saxophones’ drummer Alison Alderdice with a bit of a grin. “The light and the dark and how this marriage will end when one of us dies…It was really romantic, though.” The couple laugh.
The Saxophones — vocalist and lyricist Alexi Erenkov, drummer Alison Alderdice and bassist Richard Laws — create music that is gentle and ethereal, layered with woodwinds and rich, serenading vocals. Alderdice shifts their 3-month old on her chest, who looks in my direction with wide, glassy eyes before dozing off again. There’s an easy-going kindness about the pair. Throughout our interview we were all joking around and sharing some solid chuckles — which almost surprised me, given the mood of their work.
“What do you think you’d classify it as?” Erenkov asks me after saying he’s always kind of stumped by that “genre” question.
I consider the namesake saxophones, the quiet poppy feeling, the obvious jazz influences. On the spot, I say, “Folksy, jazzy, gentle pop?” They both smile and nod like, sure, so it feels about right. The Saxophones’ sophomore album, Eternity Bay (out March 6 on Full Time Hobby) is a touch peppier than their 2018 debut album, Songs of the Saxophones, but not by much. In a good way. Eternity Bay is an album with some of those Erenkov existential touches — à la those wedding vows — which he jokes are a result of growing up in a Russian household in the Bay Area.
“This album in particular feels like it holds a lot of those existential pieces that you’re talking about,” says Alderdice. “And it’s not depressing–there are some sad aspects to it but it’s also very optimistic. I think you hold the contradiction in your way of being in the world.” We look at the song “Flower Spirit,” which has a line that says: When I pick the flower, does the flower spirit leave the flower body?
“Yeah, that’s the lyric that kind of started the song,” Erenkov explains. “I was thinking about spirituality — and I’m not a very spiritual person but I’ll still kind of think about spirits, or I can go along with that kind of thinking a little bit. That line was kind of a joke at the time, though. I was thinking like, does everything have a spirit? Does every little living thing have a spirit? Because that was just be so many spirits!” We all laugh. “So, it’s kind of just poking a hole in people’s faith that every thing is precious and will live on in some way. Because it just seems like no, that’s just not manageable. Every cell can’t have a spirit. That’s too much. Just, too many spirits.”
While “Flower Spirit” questions different kinds of faith, song “Namaste” looks at the kind of new age spiritual practices that are especially prominent in the Bay Area in which people pull parts of different cultures’ beliefs and customs and appropriate them. The second verse in “Namaste” references the idea of walking into a church and feeling like you feel something spiritual about it, but that maybe it’s just the space itself that’s giving that energy. Says Erenkov, “I almost feel like I can be fooled by it — like I feel like there’s some kind of power in the space but maybe it’s just the architecture and the grandeur and it’s still just kind of well, there’s nothing really there.”
A lot of the tracks have an almost basilican feel about them. They’re vocal-forward and wind-heavy, with the flutes and sax at the forefront and melodic basslines mixed modestly low but carrying steady as footsteps. Take track “You Fool.” The song has a three-part flute harmony that’s mixed louder than the pleasant little bassline — a production choice that creates warmth and connectivity. Opening song “Lamplighter” has that signature saxophone with a solo that’s worth repeating. It’s no surprise the album sounds as great as it does. Eternity Bay was mixed by Noah Georgeson, a guy with a pretty dreamy resume. He’s worked with Johanna Newsom, Andy Shauf, Devendra Banhart, Cate Le Bon, The Strokes and the list carries wonderfully on.
“Noah was a super exciting part of this record for us,” says Erenkov. “…I just wrote our label to see if we could get in touch to see if we could some day possibly collaborate and in my mind it was this impossible thing. But he totally liked the music and was happy to work on the project.”
In terms of influences during the creation of Eternity Bay? Erenkov says, “I was really into Jonathan Richman and to Caetano Veloso, Chico Buarque…other Brazilian songwriters that have a lot of winds and other things going on, too…It was kind of an eclectic mix…a lot of Elton John. I actually made a playlist on Spotify of things that I was listening to that sort of influenced the record. Which I made basically by going through and looking at the songs I was listening to a lot during that time.”
I ask if there were any songs with an unexpected influence. They both smile knowingly. Erenkov chimes in again to explain: “On ‘Eternity Bay’ there were two references I was using when I was talking to our bass player, Richard, when we were coming up with different chord changes. We were considering Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and then Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies,” because there’s this really ominous synthesizer part that comes in at one point…and it is kind of in there, in ‘Eternity Bay’ this climbing bassline part, but it’s not actually a sample or anything more. That’d be a hell of a legal battle.”
Eternity Bay arrived today, March 6, on Full Time Hobby. The Saxophones are playing their record release show at The Starline Social Club’s Crystal Cavern on May 16 and their full tour dates were just announced, far and wide.
The Saxophones, Foxtails Brigade
Starline Social Club
May 16, 2020