Located in the basement of a nondescript office building on East 40th Street, Unsparing Sea's rehearsal space is so inhospitable that the band has to escort guests into its confines. "It's scary," says singer-guitarist J.R. Bennett before we navigate the treacherous stairs and dark, low hallway leading to a damp room decorated with Christmas-tree lights and a plastic skeleton.
"A lot of people have come through this basement," says Bennett.
In fact, Bennett and cellist Tara Klein are the only original members of the group, which formed in 2006. Klein joined after responding to an ad she saw at the Cleveland Institute of Music.
"I was looking for different types of musicians — cellists, violinists and trumpet players — so I put up some flyers," says Bennett. "Tara was the only one who responded. An orchestra would have been nice, but a cellist is perfect. It's better, actually."
The group released its debut album, A Cloud in the Cathedral, last year, which it recording locally at Zombie Proof Studios. The Six Parts Seven's Tim Gerak heard the band at the Beachland Tavern and offered to record the next album at his Mammoth Cave Studios in Akron. With new drummer Ryan Kelly, Unsparing Sea adopted a noisier sound on their new CD, In the Diamond Caverns, showcased on tunes like "Diamond Caverns" and the rollicking, could-be-a-drinking ballad "Here, Here." But their baroque-pop sensibilities still come across clearly on "Sandpaper/Sadpaper" and "Sing Devil Sing," songs that sound like Nick Cave crossed with Wilco.
"We started out kind of folkier, [but] Ryan's background is different because he was in a band in Denver called Sleeper Horse that was more punk rock," says Bennett. "As a result, we've moved on from the early stuff and don't really play it anymore."
"All I've ever played is punk rock," says Kelly. "We all have different musical backgrounds, which is kind of cool."
Even after the album was recorded, the band's lineup continued to shift. Bassist Dave Molnar — a local journeyman who's played with Dreadful Yawns, New Planet Trampoline, Artificial Sweeteners and the Hot Rails — replaced Mike Marks, who left the group after he got a government grant to hike the Appalachian Trail.
Even though membership hasn't been constant, the artful album graphics and CD-release invites haven't changed. Bennett says the artwork represents the band's music.
"I'm interested in graphic design, and the music to me feels like old mixed with modern stuff, so that's kind of the aesthetic," he says. "It feels like that's what the music is at this point."
The band's CD-release party will feature several former members. They'll open with a new, untitled song and then perform the new album from start to finish. Band members will also hand out prizes.
"I think Ryan is giving out hugs," jokes Bennett. "Actually, we're going to give away the In the Crystal Canyon EP along with the new album."
With solid back-to-back albums, Unsparing Sea have gotten into a groove, and hopefully their fine new album will be heard outside of Cleveland.
"It's all just happening right now," says Bennett. "The actual release date isn't until November 24, so we're way out ahead of this. We'd like to take it on a tour, probably after winter. We're really just throwing it out there to see what happens."
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