Dan Capaldi can’t say no.
For the past few years, living and working in Portland, he’s played with what seems like half the musicians in town — and that doesn’t include traveling to the U.K. once or twice a year, to play in his other band, Welsh indie rockers the Soft Bullets.
This is a testament to his skill, of course; his drumming and guitar playing abilities are much in demand, whether it’s as a member of ShaShaSha, with songwriter Joe Gallant, as a guitarist with Spencer Albee, or in any number of other studio sessions. It’s meant, however, that’s he’s had little time for his solo project, Sea Level.
“I’ve been working with seven to ten different bands at any given time for the past five years,” said Capaldi, who first came to be known in Maine as a member of the Cambiata. “Sea Level has just been churning and churning underneath it all this whole time. It finally came to a head this year. I had to reprioritize.”
While all that work has been rewarding for its own sake, it’s just not satisfying that ever-present creative itch that Capaldi always has. Over the winter and early spring of this year, he downsized his commitments to other musicians, and he focused on one thing only: recording and completing a new Sea Level album.
On May 30, Capaldi will release “Sea Level,” seven tracks of complex, impassioned electronic-flavored indie rock; a record release party is set for Friday, June 6 at Empire in Portland.
Sea Level has morphed and changed over the years, and is an entirely different beast from what it started out as back in 2008. Back then, it was more strictly indie rock. Now, it’s truly a one-man band, with Capaldi using an enormous array of pedals, samplers and programs to create a multi-layered, at times somewhat orchestral sound.
“In the past, what I was making never sounded quite right,” said Capaldi. “I decided to scrap everything I’d done before and just start from scratch, using the huge amount of samples I’ve collected over the years, from string quartets to various Portland players. The sounds you hear on this album could be from last fall, or they could be from ten years ago.”
With that massive library of collected sounds at hand, Capaldi began weaving them in with the songs he’d written on guitar. There’s something that feels a bit like a throwback on “Sea Level,” whether it’s his dramatic, multi-octave Jeff Buckley-esque vocals on songs like “Embryonic Feel,” or his kitchen-sink approach to sampling, as on “Close Enough” or “Fire Like This,” bringing to mind that mid-to-late-90s heydey of electronic-infused indie rock, such as Cornershop or Cornelius. There’s lots of guest stars from the Portland scene, including vocalist Kristina Kentigian, rapper Eyenine and members of the Fogcutters Big Band. Capaldi’s collaborator Noah Cole is featured on a number of tracks as well.
Live, Capaldi deftly manipulates all those pedals and triggers, creating that soundscape on his own before picking up his guitar. It’s a complicated setup — but Capaldi is a complicated guy. Musically speaking, anyway.
“I wear a lot of different hats, all the time,” said Capaldi. “Yes, it’s really complicated. I can’t help myself. I definitely have sacrificed a lot to be able to make music for a living. I’ll probably be broke my whole life. I’ll die in the gutter with a loop pedal. That’s OK.”