In literary circles, the term Somehow at Sea may conjure up a vague allusion to the confusing stream-of-consciousness writing of James Joyce’s arguable-masterpiece “Finnegan’s Wake,” but for those in the East Bay music scene, those three words evoke a much more concrete response. More specifically, Somehow at Sea refers to the musical project of Mike Walti and Cameron Jasper, an innovative and funky collaboration of self-described “trash-hop beats with, like, spaced-out synths, with kind of silly fun lyrics.”
Walti and Jasper first met one another in 2005 when both were employees at Musicworks in El Cerrito, Calif. The former had just graduated from Ex’pression College for Digital Arts. Meanwhile, the latter had moved up north after graduating from UCSD, and armed with bachelor degrees, both decided they wanted to work in the music business in some manner.
“I thought that working at a music store would be really awesome,” Jasper said. “Turned out not to be the case. But what was really awesome was that [Walti] worked there at the same time.”
In being co-workers, they realized that despite having different musical foci, their musical interests still converged at a lot of points.
“I produce a lot of hip-hop…and like, drum-machine based stuff, and [Jasper] recorded a lot of like, indie rock stuff,” Walti said, explaining that he’d been making beats since he was 13. “So we kinda got together and I provided, like, the hip-hop elements and he got the indie rock.”
Initially, when the band began, it wasn’t something either of them took too seriously. Instead, what typically happened was the two would hang out at the Ruby Room and drink, and then when an idea of some sort struck them, they would then head over to Walti’s place to record.
“Our prerequisite was always, like, having fun and just like, enjoying what we’re doing,” Jasper explained.
Walti agreed, noting that their lyrics were “silly” more than serious.
“We just kinda, like, jammed,” he said. “[We] just recorded, like, stupid songs.”
Yet in spite of its haphazard origins, the two realized that with a little bit of fine-tuning, their songs had real potential, and they went on to release their first EP, “The Wonder Years,” in 2007. Their second EP, “Tasha’s Mixtape,” came out this year.
Since those early days, the project has evolved, and now the two also lend their production expertise to other artists in a variety of ways. They pointed to the most recent collaboration, with Lateef the Truth Speaker, as an example of what they’re spending their time and energy on.
The main contribution the two are making for this project is writing beats, but producing always means something different with every project they take on.
“I think it’s mostly because of our sound that people want to work with us, just because we have a unique tone,” Walti said. “Sometimes [we] write music, or co-write [it]. Sometimes [we] just mess with tones.”
Jasper also pointed to the idea that they don’t always have a defined role in the production process.
“A lot of time when you work with people you just try different things out,” he said. “You know, you just kinda throw a lot out there and see what works.”
And as a result of all the dabbling with other artists’ work, the two admitted that the next Somehow at Sea release could very well including working with guest artists. Already, the band boasts Jasper’s Rogue Wave bandmate, Pat Spurgeon, on drums during live shows, in addition to a handful of other musicians. But a new album could showcase even more musicians.
“We wear these two hats, and it’s possible our next record might reflect that,” Jasper said.
While there is no doubt that the two have built a complementary relationship, it is also undeniably complimentary.
“Our working relationship is real easy because we have a lot of the same kind of ideas…we just work well together,” Jasper said. “Mike writes beats that you don’t really, like, hear anywhere else…he’s been doing it for so long, he’s got like, really awesome taste with the types of beats that he puts together. And his ear. I always, I trust his ear implicitly.”
“Cameron’s like, really good at, like, melodies,” he said. “He’s like the melody man. You know what I mean? Like…I can write like a good loop of something but if I need, like, a chord change or, like, need to go to a bridge…he’ll write something real quick. He’s got the ear for it.”
The natural musical chemistry between the two is definitely important, and as veterans of other musical projects, both are familiar with just how bad things can be when it is lacking.
“We play off each other’s strengths really well,” Jasper said. “It’s weird. When it works, it really works. For he and I to work together, it’s never a struggle.”
Immediately after speaking, he reneged on that, saying that they do disagree, but that it’s never detrimental in the overall scheme of things.
“I trust the process,” he clarified.
Speaking of the process and the probability that they won’t see eye-to-eye on everything, the two said that a lot of times their disagreements manifest themselves in what songs come to total fruition and which ideas are discarded.
“Ultimately when you’re working with people, everyone has to be all in,” Jasper said.“What you do has to go through that process and there’s all kinds of stuff that makes the cutting room floor…[but] if you want to progress in your art or whatever, you have to be willing to do a lot of it, cut what doesn’t work. You always have to be able to cut the fat. It’s always a hard thing to do but it’s almost like a spiritual exercise…the point is the ability to be able to let go.”
Of course some ideas might later be reused, and the two have toyed around with the idea of making a mixtape of unreleased material, but there are no certain plans yet.
What there is no doubt about, is that the two feel a drive deep from within to make music, and the result is something fresh and uniquely fun.
“I have to make music,” Jasper said. “There’s no choice, in my own, like, just personal day-to-day life…if I don’t work on something creatively…I just go nuts.”
Somehow at Sea will headline at the Uptown in Oakland, Calif., on Friday evening, with James & Evander, Otherness and Parentz. The show begins at 9 p.m. and tickets are $8.