By Dave Chamberlain
FEBRUARY 15, 1999: "I don't really consider myself a musician."
That's a bold statement, and one many in Chicago and around the world would disagree with, by the unassuming Sam Prekop, whose part in Chicago's The Sea and Cake has made him one of the city's most notable and noted music figures of the past eight years. Prekop released his first solo record February 9, a ten-song eponymous effort on Chicago's Thrill Jockey Records.
As the son of two artist parents and a graduate of the School of the Art Institute, Prekop has always considered himself more a part of the art world, not music. "I've been in that world as long as I can remember. I've always sort of identified myself as an artist. Though it's not like I think about it all the time."
In fact, Prekop is currently working as an artist (he's a painter), preparing for his first solo show at the Jan Cicero Gallery opening in late March. It's his second show overall; his first was last year at the Evanston Art Gallery.
Coincidentally, it was his concentration on art while in art school that led to his first musical endeavor, in the Chicago rock-scene trailblazers Shrimpboat, along with Ian Schneller (Falstaff) and Brad Wood (Liz Phair producer). "We were all in art school," says Prekop, sipping coffee in the Grand Avenue Wishbone. "It seems like one year in art school, you tend to meet people who are open ended to trying things."
Those "things" became Shrimpboat, though he smiles as he recalls Shrimpboat's early live efforts. "There were hardly any expectations," he says and lets out a wide-mouthed laugh. "I think we really fucked up a lot of parties early on. But we were really into it, which is what kept us going. We had just the slightest inkling that we might be doing something, and we were clearly amused."
At that time (roughly 1988, prior to Shrimpboat's first, self-released tape, "Some Biscuit"), Chicago's rock scene was hardly what it is today. "The scene was totally different. I think with what we were doing, you'd be hard pressed to equate with Chicago rock at the time. And at that time, it felt pretty novel. I had no idea about the 'Chicago sound' then, like Big Black or whatever. That wasn't really part of my world at all. I had not a clue." Prekop goes on to add, "I'm not sure how it escaped me."
But Prekop has come full circle, in an unintended sort of way. Building on the lasting legacy of Shrimpboat and The Sea and Cake, Prekop has become part of what the rest of the country now defines as Chicago's rock scene. Gone are the Ministrys and Revolting Cocks of the late eighties, and even the Veruca Salts and Urge Overkills of the early nineties. In are Tortoise, The Sea and Cake and Jim O'Rourke. Pick up any alternative newspaper in any city, or even national music magazines, and you'll find a reverence for the Sea and Cake similar to that for Wax Trax! bands of the late eighties.
"I get asked about the Chicago scene around the world," says Prekop. "The bands I know or the bands I'm in seem to be the bands people equate with Chicago. It's been like that for a few years, and it hasn't stopped."
But it's acclaim about which he remains humble. "We've all lucked out. I don't think any of us would have done as well without everyone else, and the Chicago hype - which I'm all for perpetuating."
Prekop cites the increasing delays between The Sea and Cake records (the last was 1997's "The Fawn" on Thrill Jockey) as his motivation behind recording his own, solo record. (Prekop's ensemble includes Josh Abrams, Chad Taylor, Archer Prewitt and Jim O'Rourke.) "I knew John [McIntyre, member of Sea & Cake] was gonna be gone [touring with Tortoise], so I knew there was going to be a little break for The Sea and Cake. Our records have been getting further apart in between anyway. I just felt like I should do a record."
He adds, however, that recording a solo record isn't something he'd always thought about. "There's nothing in The Sea and Cake that wasn't fulfilling my 'vision.'"
Prekop's new album will most certainly further strengthen the world's already respectful attitude. Perhaps less-scientific sounding than The Sea and Cake, Prekop lends a smattering of his airy, breezy vocals, and though it's impossible to count the various styles exhibited on the record - jazz, Afro-Latin, Beatlesesque pop and ambient to name a few - they fit together like pieces of a perfectly cut, interlocking jigsaw puzzle, resulting in an entirely natural sound.
All the same, Prekop is grounded in reality and modesty, and maintains a healthy recollection of the past. "I still think, hey, if I can pull this off, there's something going on beyond any innate, real skill. I just count that I got lucky on this one - don't fuck around on the next one."
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