The process of creation means everything to Caleb Cordes of Sinai Vessel.
In speaking with him about the band’s full length Brokenlegged, out now on Tiny Engines, his passion for musicmaking is evident from the start. That love for his craft is even more apparent in the details of Brokenlegged, a release that took two recording attempts to perfect. With the album out and the band already eyeing what's next, Cordes talked with us about the past, present and future of Sinai Vessel.
Cordes started writing under the Sinai Vessel moniker in 2009, working with a rotating collection of friends and musicians for live performances and recordings. It was only after the release of Profanity in 2013, that a lineup was solidified and Joshua Herron (drums) and Daniel Hernandez (bass) became permanent fixtures.
“At the time they joined to help flush out the live lineup,” Cordes said. “It’s wonderful because for so long I had this inconsistent lineup and they were both my high school classmates, so it was a very natural thing. We figured out how to become a band together.”
The trio toured for an extended period solely on the Profanity EP and as they continued, Cordes felt a desire to begin creating additional material. During a lengthy time of solitude, he turned to music that was expansive and pensive, something he wished to reflect in future material. Previous Sinai Vessel releases were “very in your face punk songs,” but Cordes wanted to make something with more space and restraint.
“A lot of the lyrical content from Brokenlegged was written before 2014,” he said. “I was living in a dorm room by myself and it was a very strange and isolating time. I didn’t have a lot of connections and I was feeling very isolated, and I poured out all these feelings into songs that were later paired with music.”
He credits songwriting with helping him get through that period of loneliness, admitting it’s hard for him to process emotions completely until he makes a song of it. Looking back now, he feels so differently about the time that Brokenlegged represents.
“I feel like relating to anything in a present lens is really hard to understand,” he said. “I have to remove myself from it. I can’t make songs about emotional heavy stuff while I’m in the midst of going through it. I don’t have the perspective and I need more distance to understand what is actually happening.”
Each piece in the band’s catalog is a “milestone marker” for Cordes, serving as written representations of the impactful memories and emotions in his life. Songwriting is a craft, not just rushed emotional vomit, Cordes said. Putting his memories to record was an important part of the Brokenlegged process, and correctly representing them didn't come without struggle.
Throughout 2014 and early 2015, the band set to work on recording the first version of Brokenlegged. After it was completed, they felt something was missing, and knew the record wasn’t what they envisioned.
“We had the constraints of not being at home for recording and we weren’t with people we knew and it wasn’t translating,” Cordes said. “We knew pretty early on it wasn’t what we wanted but we just kept pretending until we reached that realization. Music is our art and if it isn’t right… that’s all we have.”
On their second recording take, the band stayed in their home state of North Carolina and after a “deliberate and careful run of mixing”, Brokenlegged was complete.
While Cordes admits his keen awareness as a creator will prevent him from ever reaching complete satisfaction with the record, it’s the idea of someone else having a piece of his past that’s one of the most surreal parts.
“It’s a totally otherworldly thing to create and be emphatic and attentive enough to give the listener the best experience,” he said. “I just hope the album doesn’t fuck up their life or something.”
For someone who grew up listening to tapes in a car with their father, letting the music settle in their souls, it’s crucial for Cordes to create something that matters.
“I can remember watching my dad become overcome with emotions. He would rewind tapes to listen again and again,” he said. “It’s through him that I came around to the importance of songwriting and storytelling quality. Music was a way for my dad to make sense of the world around him, and I learned to feel that way, too. It’s a fulcrum of how I understand things.”