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The Eastern Sea unleashes 'Plague'

Singer-songwriter says band's dark new album is all about setting

Peter Mongillo

Matthew Hines, singer and songwriter for Austin band the Eastern Sea, wrote a lot of his band's new album, "Plague," after he graduated from St. Edward's University in 2009. As you might guess from the album's title, the inspiration for the material came from a dark place.

"Everything had gone perfectly, and then I graduated and felt like I had been shunned," Hines says. His girlfriend left the country, and he found himself feeling isolated. "My post-graduate life was just depression; I went from feeling that I was part of something to feeling that I was worthless."

He dealt with that depression by writing, a therapy that resulted in an album that merges elements of quiet folk and indie rock. With a dark and anxious tension that builds throughout, Hines reveals the feelings of sadness, fear and uncertainty he felt at the time; a brighter moment emerges toward the end only to fade into the background again.

"Plague" is earning praise from MTV and Paste, among other publications. It has allowed the band, which started as Hines' solo project in 2005 and since ballooned into a seven-member lineup (which at the moment includes members of the Lovely Sparrows and Wild Child, among other bands), to reach a national audience. An upcoming fall tour that includes a stop at the Austin City Limits Music Festival will help their cause even more.

Hines spent his early years in Buda and moved with his family to the Woodlands outside Houston as a teenager. In high school he took part in a suburban Houston music world that is responsible for producing a good chunk of Austin bands, including A Giant Dog and OBN IIIs, members of Wild Child and Driver Friendly.

Hines' high school years were spent playing all-ages shows ($10 all you-can-drink milkshakes) at Javajazz, which was then located in Old Town Spring. "It was a really huge deal," Hines says of the venue. "One day we'll probably recover all the video that our parents took. It was our CBGB."

After high school Hines moved to Austin to study theology at St. Edward's. A breakup (with a different girlfriend) left Hines feeling he needed stability, and he moved in with a group of monks, the Brothers of the Holy Cross.

Another project is still in the works about that experience, but it was during his time there that Hines began writing some of what would end up on "Plague." The Eastern Sea was a three-piece at that time, with Hines plus a drummer and a bassist.

"I'm not a very religious person, but I'm obsessed with the idea of community, to actually be a part of somebody's life in a living situation," Hines says.

That living situation, which involved daily scheduled prayers and group dinners, allowed Hines to find the structure he desired; he graduated at the top of his class.

After graduation, Hines' girlfriend's departure contributed to his depression but also moved him to travel to Germany, which serves as one of several settings on "Plague."

"Wasn't For Love" tells the story of his trip to Berlin, where a missed plane, a series of trains, and trouble finding his girlfriend left him with nightmares. "Central Cemetery" finds him in Vienna, thinking about death.

In addition to Germany and Austria, China, the United States and South America also serve as settings, giving the album a cinematic feel. "Mostly the record is about setting," Hines says. "Every time the scene changes there are these big changes in the songs."

Though the songs follow a loose narrative arc, the material isn't all about one relationship. Generally, though, Hines does view the album as tied to the past couple of years of his life. "It's like a symbolic release from that moment," he says. "I feel like I'm finally over it."

Contact Peter Mongillo at 445-3696

Blues on the Green ACL Fest Preview Show with Quiet Company, Wild Child and the Eastern Sea