>>Caleb Cordes of Sinai Vessel just wrapped up a solo tour, during which he made his first stop in Rochester in nearly two years. Floated caught up with Cordes on what he’s been up to for the past couple years and how these life experiences have shaped his new songs. The new material was played on this acoustic tour, and will be on the next Sinai Vessel album which will be out this year.
Listen: "Brokenlegged" - Sinai Vessel
Cordes has been to Rochester a few times before. He’s from the Southeast, and recently relocated to Nashville. We talked about how brave it is to tour up North in the winter given the unpredictable weather. It turns out that he is all too aware of how bad the weather can get up here.
“My mom was born here during a blizzard. That’s the famous family story. She was born in the middle of January, and was escorted by a police cavalcade and rode in a fire truck. She was the Rochester Blizzard Baby.”
While he doesn’t have any family here these days, he’s made some friends in the area. He’s come through to play as a full band a couple times. He even came through when he was playing bass on tour with his friends in the punk band Gumm.
“I grew up playing hardcore. That’s where I first got my feet wet, playing in bands, was in hardcore/punk music. Whenever they needed a bass player, I jumped at the opportunity to go on tour again.” Cordes added that it was fun “to play a position in a band that wasn’t the main songwriter, to just enjoy playing and not have to worry about anything else.”
His own indie rock project Sinai Vessel released the albums Labor Pains in 2011 and Brokenlegged in 2017, with an EP and a split in between. But things have been pretty quiet for the past couple of years.
“I think the reason for the touring hiatus was just that I realized that what I was playing in front of people was just not in sync with the music that nourishes me, or the kind of musical experiences that nourish me.” Cordes continued, ”Every time I’d try to book a tour or put a show together, I’d just feel this wall in myself. Eventually I just started paying attention to it.”
In addition to getting back to his punk roots playing with Gumm, Cordes was also in a short-lived slowcore project with a couple friends. While they only played a few shows before the other band members moved away, it was a remarkable experience for Cordes.
“More than anything it was an opportunity to step inside playing music that was really slow and patient and quiet, which are qualities that I’ve always really loved in music that I listened to but I never stepped inside those qualities myself and embodied them and played them. Doing that in such a focused way for a few months… busting down the wall into this whole new dimension of playing music was really really really powerful for me. I felt like it widened the spectrum of where I could go with music. I think that informed the new record in a big way. Playing quietly or speaking plainly or not trying too hard to shape my voice when I sing… all of these things can be just as powerful as their opposites.”
The songs played acoustically on his solo treks last fall and this winter have a different feel than his previous body of work, more intimate lyrically and softer instrumentally. However, he adds that they’re still a rock band, and they do get loud on some of the tracks they recorded for the new album. And while it feels new, it’s still got Cordes’ signature style.
“It definitely feels like a natural progression to me. I feel like with this record the songwriting takes a step in front of the band. I consciously arranged things so that the lyrics can be heard and the narratives of the song would be out in the open and the music would be supportive and wouldn’t be too distracting… I feel like it pushes into a new territory. I think there’s a lot of space for the listener on this new record.”
The past couple years have been full of change and growth, some of it painful. A couple summers ago, he was diagnosed with tinnitus, a constant ringing in his ears. It was around the same time that he was moving from a smaller town to a new city about an hour away from his family and friends. That also coincided with when Sinai Vessel was heading into hiatus. He describes it as a difficult period in his life, and sings about it in one of his new songs.
“Talking about tinnitus in song form is a way to talk about that whole season in my life - just the realization that things can break including that and my outlook on the world.”
Crafting new songs was a conscious and introspective process. Tuning into what kind of music he found satisfying and finding the courage to write more openly even about painful events has led to some of his most authentic work.
“I had to write without any goal of what that writing was going to turn into. It was a long hard-fought process that required a lot of change and growth for me. As a result, playing the product of that time for me feels really really gratifying. It’s still so new.”
The band has just wrapped up recording on the new album, and it’s in the process of being engineered. There’s no definitive release date yet, but there’s a lot of excitement about how it will turn out.
“We recorded most of the tracks live. I enjoyed the experience of recording and I think it makes for a wonderful immersive listening experience. We did a lot of work on the front end of making something we’re really proud of. I feel open to wherever the process takes us after this.”
While you’re waiting on the new album, check out the Sinai Vessel cover of Radiohead’s “Four Minute Warning” for Floated Moody Mondays.