When Pittshburgh dream pop band The Real Sea was founded, they took their name from the Sylvia Plath poem “Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea.” “The first songs we wrote together were chime-filled, dynamic, shoegaze-influenced soundscapes with vocals on top,” says singer and guitarist Sharon Mok. “The name–with all the implications of an undulating ocean–fit nicely.” Like holding a seashell up to your ear, you can still hear it in the ebb and flow of their twin guitars and the foamy, swaying rhythms.
But before they settled on that watery moniker, there was another potential name in the rotation, which became the title of their debut single: “Paper Machete.” Guitarist Christopher James came up with the oxymoronic image even before The Real Sea existed, but Mok repurposed and ran with it when they wrote the song in late 2019. “I used the phrase as a kind of allegory for male fragility, or more specifically, white male fragility,” she says. “The yin and yang of frailty and brutal, society-driven machismo.”
She continues: “Some of the lines are meant to take a mocking tone and all of the lyrics are sung to a male character, someone who represents an accumulation of personal experiences. The line ‘Machette en papier cuts just like the real thing’ is an allusion to the sort of microaggressions that might stop you from wanting to pursue your career–from pursuing artistry that means something to you.”
After a few months of writing and practicing as a trio, The Real Sea formed in earnest in September 2018 when James, bassist Eric Sakmar, and drummer Sean Finn asked Mok (Tiny Rhymes) to join as their vocalist and second guitarist. They recorded “Paper Machete” in February of 2020 at Philadelphia’s Miner Street Recordings with Brian McTear and Matt Poirier producing. Mok says the duo were particularly helpful in nailing down the band’s wavy dual guitar tones.
“They’ve recorded a bunch of our favorite bands, and it was incredible to be in such a creative and productive environment,” she says. “I love how dirty and full my Jazzmaster sounds through a RAT and Memory Man, and Chris is playing a Tele Deluxe on those solos that just sounds perfect. And of course, I was also excited about how they handled my vocals.”
Though The Real Sea has released a few tracks in the past–most recently, a remote-recorded cover of The Flaming Lips’ “Waitin’ for a Superman”–”Paper Machete” is billed as their formal debut. And as if a culture of toxic white masculinity and microaggressions weren’t obstacles enough, the COVID-19 pandemic split the band soon after the song’s recording, prompting them to delay the release for an entire year.
“It is with a big sigh of relief that we release this single. Needless to say, it has been such a hard year on everyone, and we are as eager as any to get back to making music together,” says Mok. “We probably would have released this last spring, since we were so excited about how it came out. I’m just really in love with the final product. I think we all are, and we’re excited to share it.”
“Paper Machete” is available to stream and download now, and with the technical work of engineering their sound out of the way, they’ve booked a second session at Miner Street to record two new songs. “Matt and Brian graciously invited us to record with them again at what should be a concise session, now that we’re all familiar, says Mok. “We’ve kept in touch via Zoom calls, and were very excited to arrange another session now that the pandemic is winding down here. Hopefully, these songs will start rolling into an EP or full length.”
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