Flying solo: Birdie and Slaughter Beach, Dog

Jake Ewald, a key member of Philly emo stalwarts Modern Baseball, has maintained solo project Slaughter Beach, Dog on the side.

An outlet to trial songs and ideas, the project initially came about while Ewald tried to beat the vicious trap of writers block. A little while later, when Modern Baseball begun to wind down, Slaughter Beach, Dog became his main songwriting avenue. As of 2018, the project has just spawned a new record, Birdie, and a rapidly approaching Australian tour. 

It’s a big change, going from a band to focusing on a solo project. How have you found the transition?

It’s neat. I guess Modern Baseball was kind of a weird band at the beginning, because it was just me and Brendan writing the songs, and I would mostly do the arranging. It’s now kind of moved away from that. But, now it’s interesting to get back into that solo sort of setup, because I did all the arrangements for the Slaughter Beach, Dog record. So, it’s not completely unfamiliar, but I definitely think it’s cool to do again. I’m kind of, like, back into my brain for a while.

It’s been a couple weeks since your latest record, Birdie, came out in late October. Where on the timeline did you start working on tracks for the record?

It was from the last half of 2016, through the first half of 2017. I’d write mostly if I had time at home, or if I had free time on the road. I would just work out ideas, and put ’em down in my phone. Then in early spring of 2017, I was home… Ian (Farmer) from Modern Baseball and I have a recording studio, and I would go there, two days a week, and just put down demos for all the songs, with drums, and extra guitars, and stuff. Then we actually went in and made the real record at the beginning of the summer, or, like, end of the spring, 2017

It’s always tricky, being in Australia. It’s like, “Which one is spring, and which one is summer?” 

Oh, yeah. So, I guess, early 2017… It was early 2017, yeah.

Your bandmate Ian Farmer produced the record and he’s also in the Slaughter Beach, Dog the live outfit. When you went to working on this project, how did the dynamic shift?

It was definitely something that we had never really tried before, having Ian produce something that I was working on. It kind of came about, because, obviously, we’re great friends from going to school together, and playing in Modern Baseball. But, at the same time, we’re both recording engineers and I’ve been really admiring the work that he had been doing for some of our other friends, out of our studio. He’d been producing [for] other bands in town.

Whenever Modern Baseball was slowing down and I’d decided that I wanted to make another Slaughter Beach, Dog record what I’d done before was just produce it myself. But I thought it could be really cool to still do everything myself, but tap Ian to be the actual producer. I really like his tendencies, and I trust him so much.

It was kind of funny, because it feels so professional to say, “do you wanna produce my record?” But, in reality, it was just two friends in a room together. It was a really special experience.

Did it give you a fresh perspective on the tracks you’d made?

Definitely. We didn’t change the songs a whole lot from the demos, but it was neat. The whole record isn’t super minimal, but there’s not a whole lot of layering. That was one of Ian’s big things –  he really wanted to let the songs speak for themselves. Any time I started wanting to add a bunch of different layers, he would kind of pull on my leash, and say, “no, this song is good. Everything is set.” That kind of back and forth between us was really neat. 

I want to touch on Modern Baseball briefly here. As well as releasing your new record October, another thing that happened was Modern Baseball playing their last shows for the foreseeable future.

Obviously, the band’s been a big part of your life. Was it something that was really challenging, closing that chapter for now?

I don’t know, it was a strange timeline.We cancelled that tour at the beginning of 2017, and that was a big weight off all of our shoulders. We all got settled in to, like, not being on tour. And then later in the year, we had to pick it up – have band practice and play these shows.

But it was kind of weird, because I feel like we all kind of had our own process of slowly getting out of the vibe of, like, being in the band all the time, over that summer. The shows were a special experience, but it wasn’t super stressful. It was kind of just, have band practice, play a couple shows – it was nice.

Kind of like a “Goodbye for now, but not forever,” sort of thing?

Yeah, literally.

The early stories for Slaughter Beach, Dog read that the project was born out of a need to kick writer’s block. Is that something you still tend to struggle with?

What I realise now, is that I’ll go through these periods – of anywhere from one month, to, like, four months. And I’ll write one song, or no songs at all, and then, I’ll wake up one day,  just see something and get excited about it. Like, something that happens to me in my life. I’ll hear, like, a snippet of someone’s conversation on the subway. And then, I’ll write a whole song about it. And then, after  a couple of months I’ll have 15 songs.

So I kind of accept that I have these long gaps where I don’t really make anything. And if I try to make something, it doesn’t end up being good. But I also have these really productive periods, where, if I indulge myself, then I could end up with a bunch of songs. So, it’s real back and forth.

Your songwriting style can be quite personal. As a fan of Modern Baseball and knowing that history there, your style of music has really opened up a positive and helpful dialogue – especially in regards to mental health. How do you feel about the fact that your art has really helped a lot of people?

It’s really inspiring, and it gives me a really special sense of purpose. Because a big part of being a touring musician is having these long periods of time where you’re at home, just doing nothing – and you have to find the most mundane things to occupy yourself with. And it’s easy to start feeling worthless or useless. But, in those moments, I look back on all the times somebody has come up to me at a show, and said, “Hey, thank you so much for writing songs, and sharing them. You’ve really helped me during a difficult time,” or anything like that, it just reminds you that what you’re doing is important and you need to keep doing it.

It’s a really special gift. Writing a song and feeling good about it is one thing. But being able to communicate with another person, and relate about something, is on a whole other level. Totally indescribable.

Listen to Birdie by Slaughter Beach, Dog.