Hey there Sea of Fog, welcome to BuzzMusic! We’re very happy to feature your blissful track “Michael Collins Observes the First Moonwalk From the Columbia Module”. Could you share what made Sea of Fog want to create a track that highlights solitude in its many forms?
Absolutely! I decided to write a song to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and Ben Cheney, our bassist, suggested I look into the story of astronaut Michael Collins. Collins was the third man on that mission, and he was tasked with piloting the command module Columbia alone as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon and took those first glorious steps. Michael Collins’ solo lunar orbit captured attention from the media, who referred to him as the “loneliest man in the universe.” He rejected the title and described an experience of wondrous solitude that was anything but lonely. I was captivated by this experience of awe and tried to capture something of it through the story itself as well as imagery from Greek mythology. Solitude can be a powerful and exciting thing.
The underlying instrumentation on “Michael Collins Observes the First Moonwalk from the Columbia Module” perfectly enhances the song’s lyrical message. Could you share how Sea of Fog went about matching the song's instrumentation with its message?
Our engineer, Robert Shimp, and I spent a lot of time at the Moog Voyager honing in the synth sound we were after. We wanted two lines of synth with a contrasting tone color that would also complement one another. We did this to create a sense of vastness while also giving a nod to classic sci-fi soundtracks. The rhythm guitar is very much in the foreground to give the song drive and excitement. While writing the guitar part I pictured Michael Collins rounding the dark side of the moon and seeing the sunrise over the lunar surface.
You’ve mentioned that Sea of Fog was founded by Thomas Bowers, who then invited his friends for the track/EP’s debut release. Could you share how the group works creatively, and how your songwriting process goes?
I started singing with Jordy Cheney a few years back, and it quickly became clear to both of us that our voices work very well together. This vocal sound is at the core of the project, and everything else is built around it. Her husband Ben is an awesome bassist (and videographer) and was a perfect fit as well. We brought on Walter Williams on drums, Jon Powers on electric guitar, and Beth Hataway on French horn for this EP as well, and they were able to quickly familiarize themselves with the vision and make it happen. For instance, for percussion on this track, I told Walter I was looking for a mix of Jeremy Barnes from Neutral Milk Hotel and Bryan Devendorf from The National and he pulled it off in two takes. As far as the writing process went for this song, it started with lots of research—reading interviews with Michael Collins, newspaper clippings from the time, and dusting off the old mythology textbooks. Apollo himself became a central character of the song, and his traits as a god of herdsmen, the young, and a healer of plagues lent well to the subject matter. And Hyperborea, which is referenced in the song, was the mythical, idyllic land beyond the North Wind in which Apollo had authority, which seemed a fitting metaphor for outer space.
We’ve heard that frontman Thomas Bowers is a professionally trained harpsichordist and organist. How does this help Sea of Fog’s sound and overall music?
Yes, my focus in grad school was the music of the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Baroque periods. At the time there was a concept in cosmology called the “music of the spheres.” This was the idea that the movement of the celestial bodies was perfect music that was reflected imperfectly by the music here on earth. Since I was writing a folk song about space I wanted to weave something of this bygone philosophy into the structure of the song. So I chose a triple meter and organized seven-measure phrases because those numbers were seen as related to the perfect music of the planets. And of course, having classical training in the technical stuff like voice leading and counterpoint helps immensely with the compositional aspect of songwriting and studio recording.
What can we expect to see next from you?
We’re planning to get back into the studio this year to record a full-length album, so hopefully, we’ll be dropping some singles sooner than later. We also plan to keep our YouTube page pretty active where, among other things, we take harpsichords to places they shouldn’t be and cover songs they shouldn’t play. When the pandemic is over we hope to start putting together some live shows, and in the meantime, we’re looking for creative ways to perform while keeping audiences and musicians safe. Thanks for the interview, BuzzMusic crew, and stay well!
Listen to “Michael Collins Observes the First Moonwalk from the Columbia Module” here.