The Slaughter Beach, Dog frontman on life after Modern Baseball and how his solo project has finally turned into a band
Jake Ewald answers the Zoom call from his back porch, eyes screwed against the sun and pleasant sounds of nature drifting by. The Slaughter Beach, Dog frontman lived in Philadelphia for a decade, where he co-fronted the cult emo outfit Modern Baseball through his college years and into his early 20s. Now aged 30, he’s a new father, and he’s living in an A-frame cabin out in the Poconos — a mountain vacation town two hours north of Philadelphia. He and his wife, photographer Jess Flynn, bought the place almost on a whim during the pandemic, desperate to escape the city.
“We didn’t plan to do it at all, but it totally changed our trajectory and our perspectives on what we wanted,” he says. “It was really nice, the ability to finish something with the band in Philly, and then physically drive two hours away. Usually I would get home at night after it was dark and I would pull into the driveway and just open up the car door and hear the bugs and the quiet. I’m an anxious person, so it’s really nice to be able to go do something and then be like, ‘I left. When I’m ready again I’m gonna go back, but for now I am separate.’”
This is the process that created the band’s new album, Crying, Laughing, Waving, Smiling. You can hear the extra room afforded by Ewald’s new rural life infused in the album. The project’s fifth full-length, it’s a feat of gentle, winking storytelling, communicated through warm and lived-in Americana. The personality and richness in Ewald’s lyrical narration, inspired by Randy Newman and fiction writers such as William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy, grows with each record. And as the former solo project has grown into a bona fide band (completed by bassist Ian Farmer, guitarist Adam Meisterhans, drummer Zack Robbins and keys player Logan Roth), Slaughter Beach, Dog’s musical world has also deepened considerably.
With a UK tour coming up, Ewald chatted with Discover about how Slaughter Beach, Dog has grown up alongside him over the years.
Could you tell me a bit about how the record was written and recorded?
I started writing the first songs for the record once we moved up here in fall of 2020. Summer of 2022, got the guys together and we booked a five-day session in Philly at our studio, and just started burning through songs. Then we did another three-day session in August. We’d sit down and I would play through a song, then I would start playing it again and everybody would fall in. We would talk about where we wanted it to go, and if anything felt weird, but for the most part, I didn’t give that much direction. It was really just shockingly natural how it all happened. We didn’t have to force anything. It was a really pleasing experience, and I think I can speak for everybody when I say the band really gelled in the recording process.
What does it do for the songs to have a more collaborative approach to Slaughter Beach, Dog than ever before?
There’s this thing that started happening on stage last year. When we started playing shows after the [album] sessions, I just started having this feeling on stage of being so supported. I mean, yes, in an emotional way, but I more literally mean just in a musical and collaborative way. For a long time, I was of the philosophy that recording is kind of just assembling something, and at a certain point it’s done, and all the pieces went together successfully. But starting with this record, it feels more like we’re creating something that’s bigger than the sum of its parts. It’s more like everybody’s really getting in tune and listening to each other. It feels more transportive, and there’s room to get comfortable and get lost inside the songs.
I feel like with each of your albums, your storytelling has become richer and richer. Is that something you’ve really focused on over the years?
I think I just have so much more reverence for the act of writing, and the act of finding a home inside of art and music and literature. When I started writing these songs, I was just listening to music all the time, and reading all the time, and writing all the time, even if it was just journalling. I guess the major change has been, I used to look at songwriting as this thing that you kinda just sit down and do at a certain point. But I’ve really settled into this thing that feels a lot more fulfilling, where it kinda just feels like a whole thing to live inside of — discovering new influences and practicing all the time and really appreciating the practice. It’s awesome that it’s becoming more fulfilling as I’m getting older. I’m really glad that’s happening, and that I’m not just getting jaded and bored.
This band grew out of Modern Baseball, which was a more immediate, cathartic experience musically. What kinds of expression have those different kinds of music offered you at those different times in your life?
I have thought about that before, how that felt like it was mirroring our emotions and our personalities at the time. I think about how young we were and how we were experiencing these things in our lives for the first time. Not even stuff with the band, but like, we were having romantic experiences, experiences with our friends, we were going through stuff with our families. And everything felt like such a huge deal all the time. I remember being in my early 20s and everything just feels like a huge deal. And that’s how the music felt. It was like, no matter what we’re talking about, it’s a huge deal.
The older I get… there are certain highs and lows of regular life that in Modern Baseball felt insane, but now so often I’ll have the experience of being really upset by something or really excited by something, but it’s just happened enough times already that I’m like, well, this is gonna go away in 24 hours. It feels like a process of being able to take those moments where something really sucks or something is amazing, and just sit with it for a little while, even if it’s just five or 10 minutes. And I think that that’s kind of reflected in the music. I feel like that’s kinda what songs are for me now.
What have you learnt about the live show over the years of being in these bands?
Modern Baseball was really cool because that energy and excitement did also translate to the performance. There was this thing that happened [early in Slaughter Beach, Dog]. I was like, I don’t know how to play guitar, I don’t know how to write guitar leads. When I was in Modern Baseball, I didn’t really have to know how to play guitar or write a certain kind of guitar part, because whatever we were physically able to do was kind of just carried by the emotion of the whole thing. And that was awesome. I still remember viscerally certain Modern Baseball shows for the feeling of playing the songs for people, like how intense and how cathartic it was at certain times.
But now, so much room has been created to really kind of focus on the details and the craft of it. Which is really rewarding, because that’s a project in itself. Apart from songwriting, I just love working on something, I love figuring out how to get better at something. School was like my favourite thing in the world, so it’s really nice to just have a bunch of versions of school. So it’s more like that. Just digging into the details, and less of the emotion carrying the whole thing.
You’re coming to the UK soon, and you have a pretty long history of coming to the UK, both with both Modern Baseball and Slaughter Beach Dog. What do you like most about touring the UK?
The UK’s been really supportive of us the whole time. Even at the beginning of Modern Baseball, it kinda happened right away. I get so burned out travelling overseas, I’m really susceptible to just the feeling of being so far away. But it’s so nice to come to the UK and just feel so much love and support and encouragement. To go all the way to the UK and be encouraged like that, it goes a long way. It’s like a bunch of people saying, you should keep doing this, it matters. So that’s really nice.
Crying, Laughing, Waving, Smiling is out now on Lame-O Records