A couple freshmen in a band once called Seaver’s Express were readying themselves for a set at Hillside Pub Series. Sean Seaver, A&S ’16, looks out into a crowd of increasingly intoxicated BC upperclassmen. The band has a tidy little EP called Parachute to promote and a couple rap covers at its disposal. On the first song, Seaver breaks a string—not an uncommon occurrence. He gave it a quick fix and they played on. Two songs later, two more strings snapped. He contacted his roommate who ran over an acoustic guitar from Newton. Seaver went acoustic for the rest of the set.
The band never went full acoustic, but it does sound different—psychedelic is tagged as their new “brand” instead of the generic indie rock. It is a different band now—new name, new sound. This past Tuesday, Small Talk released the first single from its Us Kids EP, “Retrogradient”—which was published to Soundcloud an exact year to the day Seaver’s Express released “A Different Gravity.”
This past December, wandering around BC’s campus and for the first time in a while, Seaver was unsure of his musical project. Seaver’s Express had been falling apart since the recording of “On the Table,” the band’s last single released in early December.
The Seaver brothers had a talk in Seaver’s off-campus house. Brian admitted he just didn’t have the fire to perform and write anymore.
“And I think it kind of was a long time coming,” Seaver said. “Because Brian was just so much older than us. He just wasn’t always on the same wavelength.”
The band will, for a time, miss the sheer musicianship and live spark the elder Seaver brought to the band.
“He’s such a good musician and he brings so much to the band and he has such great stage presence, but he was just mentally there less and less,” Seaver said.
Seaver ultimately decided to take on the mantle of lead vocals. The band added another guitarist and synth enthusiast Adam Dubec from Seaver and Chris’s hometown of Cumberland Rhode Island and moved forward as Small Talk. Seaver and Adam had been working on more experimental, “psychedelic” songs in his back pocket and thought Brian leaving offered the band a natural opportunity to genre hop away from the density of indie rock.
It wasn’t the first time the band was forced to switch gears. Small Talk is essentially the third iteration of the band that played at the Pub Series three years ago. The band is one of the recurring characters in the BC music scene. Lucid Soul may be the scene’s elder statesman and the once upstarts Juice have a more than a fair shot at earning its second straight Battle of the Bands crown. Few bands, though, have undergone as much change as the band formerly known as Seaver’s Express.
In his freshman year, Seaver teamed up with a couple old pals from Cumberland, R.I., Chris Southiere, Berklee ’16, on drums and Jacob Monk, CSOM ’16, on vocals. They released an EP Parachute in the spring of 2013 and began playing at the familiar haunts for small-time college bands in Boston—Cantab, The Middle East—as well as emerging venues at BC like the Hillside Pub series and Music Guild showcases. In the fall of 2013, though, Monk left the band to focus on schoolwork. It was then that Sean’s older brother, a recent graduate of Berklee, joined the band as its new frontman. Berklee student Zoe Ainsburg joined as well on vocals and keys.
Sean continued to write the music, but Brian took on the mantle of vocal melodies. They released three singles, “A Different Gravity,” “2×2,” and in December just before Brian and the band parted ways, “On the Table,” which in retrospect Seaver realizes is clearly about the band breaking up—a song about leaving on the table and “maybe we needed less people,” and how “the best is yet to come.” Bassist Connor Gallagher, CSOM ’16, joined right before the band recorded “On the Table” for its show in the concourse of Conte Forum in early December, finally stabilizing the ever-revolving door of bassists.
Eventually, after disappointing experiences recording “A Different Gravity” and “2×2,” Seaver eventually felt that with “On the Table” he knew enough about producing to self-produce the band’s work. Seaver is adamant that from here on out everything the band releases will be self-produced. It allows the band to further achieve the vision it has for its songs. And the band didn’t always forge clear versions for its songs.
“Before you could tell he wrote it playing guitar, strumming along, thought of some words, wrote down the words first, and then came up with the melody,” Southiere said.
Now, though, Seaver works not from just one, catchy riff but towards a sort of vision.
“It’s not like I’ll write one guitar part and try to build a song around it,” Seaver said. “I’ll have a vision of what I want the song to accomplish and then what tools do we have in our arsenal that we can get that done.”
The Parachute era Seaver’s Express was about writing something catchy. The “2×2” era took those catchy, dynamic riffs and layered a dynamic vocal melody over. The Us Kids Small Talk is about sounding different, yes to differentiate themselves from the now crowded BC scene of Juice, Infidel Castro, Lucid Soul, among others, but also about expressing those emotions that got buried under the temptation to sound like a band they liked.
“I think before, it was about writing some tunes,” Southiere said. “Now it’s about making a piece of art.”
Art is a weighty term to throw around for a college band, but that’s the direction Small Talk seems to be going. In “Retrogradient” and “Brothers,” which the band played at the Battle of the Bands, the group is defining its sound by letting it loose.“Retrogradient” comes in with frantic tapping and a thick, wavy guitar chord. The song isn’t nearly as guitar-driven as much as earlier work. And while Seaver and the band in the beginning tried to fit as many words as they could into a three-minute song, in “Retrogradient” Seaver sounds far away, like Springsteen at the end of “Jungleland.” Whereas earlier iterations of Seaver’s Express worked to get as close to credible indie rock as possible, Small Talk is about purposefully writing and performing music you haven’t really heard before.
There’s a sense that Small Talk is more of a college band now than Seaver’s Express ever was. If a college band is about playing music because you love it and playing different music than what’s out there, then Small Talk is on its way. But more so, the guys in the band are having fun again. They’re writing in ink not pencil.
“I think we’ll probably put a ring on it,” Southiere said.
Featured Illustration by Fransisco Ruela / Heights Graphics