Indie folk artist Ben Cramer (who works under the moniker Old Sea Brigade) and fellow singer-songwriter Luke Sital-Singh have collaborated on an EP, All the Ways You Sing in the Dark, which will be released on August 28 – but it is only now, during this interview, that they are realizing how their songwriting styles are actually at opposite ends of the spectrum.
“When I write by myself, I hate rushing things because it takes me time to know whether the songs are good, so I will actually write a verse and a chorus and put the song away for a while. Then I’ll go back and work on it some more [later],” Cramer says, on a Zoom call from a seaside trailer park in Sweden (where he’s staying with his girlfriend, though he’s normally based in Nashville). “Maybe Luke forced me to finish the songs in one sitting.” This is not an accusation; rather, it’s clearly something of a revelation. “I actually never thought about that until I answered the question,” he adds amiably.
This insight, Sital-Singh says, “was interesting to hear. I hadn’t really put that together, that I was forcing us to finish the songs.” He has joined the Zoom call from his home in Los Angeles. “I definitely am the opposite to that: I have to finish the song. If the song doesn’t get finished in that day, it will never be finished, pretty much. Usually, whatever I was digging about the song in the moment, the next day, it’s gone, it’s just not the same. So I have to push it through.”
Even with these differing approaches, though, both Cramer and Sital-Singh agree that it was an enjoyable experience working on All the Ways You Sing in the Dark. “The whole project has been so fun,” Cramer says. “Luke and I, neither one of us take ourselves too seriously. We just had a great time. It came together so naturally. We didn’t go into it with any sort of sound or thing we were trying to accomplish.”
Sital-Singh agrees: “Being a fan of Ben’s sound, I was definitely open to following his nose in terms of what it would end up sounding like. I was definitely in a mood of wanting to explore some sonic territories, if you will.” The songs they wrote, he says, “all have a different flavor, which I think is quite cool. They’ve all got a distinct thing from each other.”
The tracks on All the Ways You Sing in the Dark came together during an intensive week of writing in Los Angeles last summer. While Sital-Singh and Cramer have been friends for years, including touring together, this is the first time that they’d attempted to collaborate, so it was a relief to discover that it went well.
“I’ve had experiences before where you try and write with friends – you just assume you’ve got the same taste, you get on really well, and then something doesn’t work for some reason, and you never really try again,” Sital-Singh says, “but we were lucky from the get-go.” Cramer agrees: “We were very productive.”
While this EP is their first together, both Sital-Singh and Cramer have previously established themselves as singer-songwriters of note: Sital-Singh has released three studio albums (his most recent one, A Golden State, came out last year), as well as several EPs and singles. Cramer, as Old Sea Brigade, also released a full-length album last year, Ode to a Friend, and has released EPs and singles.
Besides sharing a similarly ascendant career trajectory, Cramer and Sital-Singh agree that playing music has been something they’ve each felt compelled to do from an early age. Cramer, who grew up in Atlanta, began playing in bands when he was 14 years old. Sital-Singh, a London native, also began mastering his craft from a young age.
“I find it hard to pinpoint a moment where I made a decision to do it,” Sital-Singh says of his professional music career. “My life just flowed into it. I remember being at school and everyone was in bands, but I could tell that I cared about it in a different way. All my friends, they were still planning to go to university or another kind of plan; music was just something they enjoyed.” But for him, playing music for a living “felt like the only choice.”
For his part, Cramer admits that there was a time when he thought he might do something else with his life: “I actually had a brief moment when I was 20 years old: ‘I’m going to study business at school.’” He followed through on that plan, moving to a small college town in Georgia and starting school, though he soon regretted it. “I did that for a year and I hated it. I was so depressed. I was having anxiety attacks. I was like, ‘What is wrong with me?’ I didn’t feel like myself.
“Then I decided, ‘Screw it – I’m going to move to New York City and actually do the music stuff,’” Cramer continues. “The second I made that decision, I felt like myself again. I felt free. I failed miserably up there, but I also learned so much at the same time.” He eventually relocated to Nashville, where he finally found his footing.
Now, with both of their careers in a good place, and their collaborative EP ready for release, both Sital-Singh and Cramer are taking the next steps along their musical paths. Sital-Singh is writing what will be his fourth full-length album, which he hopes to release later this year. Cramer, as Old Sea Brigade, just finished recording his second album, which he plans to put out next spring.
And, since All the Ways You Sing in the Dark has been such a good experience, Cramer and Sital-Singh agree that they’re open to doing another record together. “I’d love to do it again,” Sital-Singh says of working with Cramer down the line.
Even with things so uncertain these days in the world, and in the music business in particular, Cramer and Sital-Singh both say they are committed to sticking with their chosen profession. “It would be harder for me to quit than not because I’ve got nothing else!” Sital-Singh says, adding that, given the current pandemic, “I find I can’t think too far ahead. That’s the one looming weakness of the whole thing, is that I have no idea what’s going to happen in the next two or three years.”
That uncertainty is also on Cramer’s mind: “I do find that element nerve-wracking – but also very exciting, at times,” he says. After all, he explains, “You could get up one morning and write a song that would change your life.”