360°Sound recently sat down with indie singer, songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Ben Cramer, better known by his stage name Old Sea Brigade. The 31-year-old Nashville-via-Atlanta musician just announced his third studio album, 5AM Paradise (due out October 28 on Nettwerk). Last month, he shared the first single from the new record, “Man Made by Delusion,” which made Brooklyn Vegan’s “Our favorite songs of the week” playlist. The music video for the title track (see below) dropped on May 27. In this exclusive interview, Cramer talks about the new album, the evolution of his sound and songwriting, and more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
360°Sound: For the people who are not familiar with your work, how would you describe your music?
Old Sea Brigade: It started out as a singer-songwriter project, but it’s sort of evolved into a full band with an indie rock/indie folk sound. I just want to constantly evolve as an artist. I don’t really want to pigeonhole myself into one particular genre or sound. But I guess the type of music I’ve been making recently is a bit more of an indie rock vibe.
Talk more about how your sound has evolved and how you landed on what you’re doing now.
I came from the world of playing in bands all throughout my teens and twenties. I always wrote my own songs so I kind of stumbled on the singer-songwriter world and put out some songs that did well. I then found myself recording music under the Old Sea Brigade name. That’s gone on for the past six years.
I started trying to introduce new elements that excite me in the studio. I think on my last record [2021’s Motivational Speaking] my co-producer Owen [Lewis] and I tried to bring together a lot of our friends here in Nashville. We’re lucky to be in a city that has so many incredible musicians. We had a lot of people play on the record, and that just resulted in the record being a bit more of a full band-sounding vibe.
For 5AM Paradise, I wanted to kind of expand on that sound. I sometimes don’t even know what the record is going to sound like when I go in and make it, but it just kind of takes on a life of its own as we sort of go on the whole creative process. We started this new record with tracking it a couple days in the studio with a full band, and then we would take the drums we recorded and run them through a bunch of different weird filters and sort of mess them up a bit, come up with some interesting sounds and then add synthesizers here and there.
I worked with Owen, and also brought in my buddy Jeremy Griffith who produced my first EP and my first record. It was nice having both of those guys with me to guide the record making process. Jeremy is such a talented musician himself; he really brought a lot to the record.
You’re now three records in as Old Sea Brigade. How has your approach to the studio changed?
I feel like when I go in to make a record I always think I know kind of the sound I want to go for, but that always changes as soon as we get going. I think I just have to open myself up to different sounds and different ideas, not corner myself into what I intended the record to sound like because it never ends up sounding exactly like you intend it to sound.
I just try to allow myself a safe space to experiment freely musically, and not overthink things. Also, another part of it is just to know when it’s done. You can keep tweaking stuff forever. I work on records for other folks, too. As a producer, you kind of have to act like the therapist for the artist.
From making records for other folks, I’m able to kind of navigate the stressful moments artists find themselves in. But in the studio the tables are turned when I have my friends helping produce me. I’m a bit more self-aware when I’m producing other folks. I know when I’m going down a rabbit hole that’s not going to get anywhere as far as like stressing out on a song not sounding how I want it to sound. Or ‘maybe this record sucks’ or ‘we need to go Mix 17 because Mix 14 didn’t have the hi-hat loud enough.’ Little things like that.
You kind of just have to know when your thoughts are turning a bit more toxic in regard to the record. You kind of know when to be like, ‘OK, this is good where it’s at and let’s not over-complicate it anymore.’
How would you say you’ve grown as a songwriter since you first started?
I feel like I’ve grown from getting to collaborate with other folks. I think they’ve pushed me as a songwriter to dive a little bit deeper on the narrative, the story behind the song. I think surrounding myself with people who I think have something to offer or they have a different perspective on things.
When you’re just writing songs by yourself all that time, that can be great and I really like it. But I also think it’s really nice for someone to challenge me on what a verse means or what I’m trying to accomplish with the chorus of the song. It’s easy to get complacent.
You’ve described 5AM Paradise as a “coming of age” record. Why would you say that about it?
I feel like when COVID hit, all of my friends just grew up a lot. Now, everyone is having kids and we’re sort of in this new phase of life. We’re not going out on Tuesday nights till 2 in the morning. Or if we do, we’re hungover for three days.
It’s kind of a nostalgic record in some sense, looking back on younger years and adolescence and things you wish you had done having the knowledge of being an adult now. You wish you’d done things different but that’s also just life and you have to accept that. It’s a record about entering a new phase of life and maybe feeling a bit more comfortable.
The title track “5AM Paradise” is literally a song about going to bed early and waking up early. That personally for me brings me a lot of joy. I could never imagine when I was 22 years old staying in on a Friday night.