Interview: Alex Kent of Sprain on New Album ‘As Lost Through Collision’

Sprain are a relatively new, slowcore-adjacent band operating out of the Los Angeles area. Following a 2018, self-titled EP, they’ve expanded richly upon the foundation of their sound on their new album As Lost Through Collision which drops on September 4 via The Flenser.

The band feature some staggering extremes on the record, as exemplified by, among other examples, their song  “My Way Out.” That track winds down to a trickle of whispered vocals before bursting forth with a vibrant geyser of heavy sound.

Across the record, the music seems to capture a sense of contemplating deep, shadowy wells of malaise and accompanying unease. As Lost Through Collision feels focused on the journey component of emotional discovery rather than an endpoint. When the slower aspects of the band’s sound come in, rather than simply building towards a crescendo, there’s enough breathing room that the experience feels focused in the moment, and the same goes for the heavier components.

Alex Kent, who does vocals and guitar for the project, is one of the co-founders of the band, alongside bassist April Gerloff. They’re joined by Alex Simmons and Max Pretzer, who handle guitar and drums, respectively. Below, Kent explains how Sprain’s new album came to be, including the band’s genesis in a “cramped apartment,” and how the band chased vibes like the metaphorical soundtrack for an occasion when “your car just broke down in the middle of a blizzard in rural Idaho.”

Thanks for your time today! The new record feels very compelling. So, for starters, since Sprain seems like a relatively new project—how did the project get going in the first place? What sorts of things have gotten the creative fires burning, in a sense?
Thank you for having us. Sprain initially started off in the form of a recording project, molded by my living circumstances. When I was recording that first EP, I was living in a cramped apartment and didn’t really have any ability to play or record loud music. The impetus to play was still there, despite the situation, so I took it upon myself to write and record very tranquil songs, inspired by artists like Low and Duster.

I had recently befriended April Gerloff and was impressed with her artistry after seeing her perform bass in a 20-plus-piece, chamber-metal ensemble. She knows a lot more about audio engineering than I, and plays bass, so we naturally began working together on the recordings and arrangements. The collaboration was fruitful, and April had a great work ethic. Sometimes we would stay up until six in the morning getting the right vocal takes.

After finishing the recordings, we started to play really small shows around L.A., anywhere we could get a gig, and things kind of picked up after a while. We recruited Alexander Simmons to play second guitar for some bigger shows we got booked on, and it worked out perfectly. After we parted with our first drummer, Max Pretzer joined shortly after and filled out our present-day line up. That’s kind of how this whole thing got started.

So, for the new record in particular, there’s definitely a palpable thread of malaise that runs through at least some of the music and is evident in the compelling lyrics. What other sorts of guiding principles or unifying threads, would you say ran through the songwriting process? What sorts of things were you trying to capture?
I think that we were just straining our actual anxiety and uncertainty into the music. All the songs were kind of written in less-than-comfortable scenarios, so I suppose that it just translated naturally into the recording and performance processes. The most primary, common thread that stitched this particular batch of songs together was the notion that every piece of music had to support the kind of artistic framework we were trying to achieve.

We wanted to create something that differentiated heavily from [2018’s Sprain EP], which was constantly and annoyingly—and fairly—compared to the artists it was inspired by. The new record is quite different from the EP, but it still has some similarities. It’s not a complete departure. We just wanted something more singular, and we wanted it to be the best it could possibly be.

We shelved lots of material that we felt didn’t make the cut or needed more time. The process was more cerebral, more conscious in its attempt to be heavy and dissonant but not amelodic. As for the things we were trying to capture, I think we just wanted to be emotionally intense. If things were going to be sad, they had to be crushing. If they were going to be angry, they had to be furious. I’m not sure if we succeeded in that, but it was the intention.

The songs definitely feel very richly developed. So, how did they tend to get going in the first place? Did you tend to construct the songs around particular moods? Particular sounds? Some of both?
Thank you. Typically the songs begin with fragmented pieces that I write. From there, we all arrange the pieces into palpable, flowing compositions. It’s very much a collaborative process, the song idea and outcome are never the same. They sometimes begin with a “part” I have written, but can sometimes begin from a more abstract and impressionist place.

Sometimes, I will just describe, in non-musical terms, how I want something to sound, and we will all interpret the description until it resembles what I hear in my head. I’ll say ridiculous things like, ‘I want it to sound like your car just broke down in the middle of a blizzard in rural Idaho,” and we’ll work on it until it until the sound paints that picture in my head. I guess they are constructed around both sounds and moods and filling in the blank space between those two things.

Are there other bands with the sort of “slowcore” vibe who have felt particularly inspiring to you, whether or not that’s even necessarily reflected in your song constructions?
Of course. I think people can pick out the obvious ones like Low, Unwound, and Slint. But there’s lots of music outside of the “slowcore” umbrella that informs our music as well. We all come from different backgrounds with different inspirations. Max mostly played jazz before Sprain, and there’s a precise “looseness” to some of the songs that I can still kind of hear jazz in.

When Alex and I write guitar parts together, we often pull harmonic ideas from avant-classical composers like Ligeti and Penderecki, building these big, dissonant cluster chords that really throb when we play them together. You can hear an almost country twang to some of April’s bass parts, it’s subtle but it’s there.

Bringing all these “non-rock” influences into our music is really important to the end product. It’s not that we set out to write “slowcore noise rock” or whatever with these particular influences in mind, they’re just ingrained into our musical subconscious. I think it makes things more unique, even if they’re really subtle.

What role has the new record played in your own lives? For example, have you found some catharsis through the music? Something else?
You can’t really put out a record without it, in some way, affecting your life. I think it has been a grounding experience. Some of the songs were really difficult to record and play, so when I listen back to them, despite the innumerable flaws I detect in the performances, there is a sense of accomplishment.

I know for a fact we were all really excited to tour this record, and because that’s not happening anytime soon, the music has to stand on its own. The compositions have to stand on their own. That’s kind of a scary thing. It was cathartic to write, and it’s still very cathartic for me to perform the songs, but I’ve listened to the record so many times through the mixing and mastering process that I barely even hear it at all at this point.

I think that happens to most artists working on their music; they hear it so many times that at some point it kind of just becomes background noise. Still, the writing and performing processes were very cathartic, and we really miss playing the songs live.

It seems pretty great to have a record coming out via The Flenser within what seems like a few years of forming the band. Where would you like to take the project from here?
It is great, and we are very lucky to be working with them, especially given the age of our band. I think we all see the project moving onward and upward, making new music, putting out new records, hopefully playing live again sooner than later.

We’ve begun working on new music, so that is consuming most of the band’s attention that is not focused on the logistics of putting As Lost Through Collision out. We’re really grateful for the opportunities we’ve had and are looking forward to the release of this record and more to come. Hopefully, we will be able to constantly evolve as a project and continue to release music that we feel deserves to be listened to. That is the goal.

Pick up the record here.

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