Interview: Old Sea Brigade Captures Love’s Tender Weight in “Nothing Clever” Off New Album ‘Motivational Speaking’

Old Sea Brigade © Laura E. Partain
Old Sea Brigade © Laura E. Partain
Soft and tender, folk songwriter Old Sea Brigade’s stirring new single “Nothing Clever” off his upcoming sophomore LP ‘Motivational Speaking’ captures the intimate intensity of love, without ever using that magic word.
for fans of Iron & Wine, Gregory Alan Isakov, Henry Jamison
Stream: “Nothing Clever” – Old Sea Brigade




We set out to write a song about the first time you tell another person you love them, but we didn’t want to mention “love” or “I love you” in the song.

Three words, eight letters. It’s the most popular phrase ever spoken, and yet it can be so hard to say. It carries a weight unlike any other, and within its walls is a depth of feeling and connection unlike any other.

How do you say “I love you,” without saying, “I love you”?

For Old Sea Brigade, it’s through a story of first touch; of discovery and innocence; of physical expression and experience. Soft and tender, the folk songwriter’s stirring new single “Nothing Clever” off his upcoming sophomore LP Motivational Speaking captures the intimate intensity of love, without ever using that magic word.

Motivational Speaking - Old Sea Brigade
Motivational Speaking – Old Sea Brigade
Your house near 8 South
I don’t remember right
but I think that we were high

My mouth near your mouth
Working out if we’re allowed
to say the things we feel out loud

You wanted me to go first
You waited for me to speak

Atwood Magazine is proud to be premiering “Nothing Clever,” the third single taken off Old Sea Brigade’s forthcoming sophomore album Motivational Speaking (out May 14, 2021 via Nettwerk Music Group).

The moniker for Nashville songwriter Ben Cramer, Old Sea Brigade has emerged as a voice of folk music’s future over the past five years – drawing comparison to contemporary singer/songwriters Iron & Wine, Gregory Alan Isakov, and Henry Jamison.

Following 2019’s heartfelt debut album Ode to a Friend, Cramer collaborated with fellow songwriter Luke Sital-Singh on August 2020’s All the Ways You Sing in the Dark EP – a perfectly-timed release that helped soothe the day-to-day anxieties of the COVID-19 global pandemic. In our late summer feature, Atwood praised the EP as a beacon of “light and positive energy that wants nothing more than for its listeners to feel good, and take a moment for themselves”:

“Old Sea Brigade and Luke Sital-Singh have struck gold on their soulfully soothing new EP All the Ways You Sing in the Dark, lighting sparks of warmth with a tender and cinematic display of connection, togetherness, and the human spirit.”

OLD SEA BRIGADE & LUKE SITAL-SINGH LIGHT A PEACEFUL, EASY FIRE IN ‘ALL THE WAYS YOU SING IN THE DARK’ EP

:: FEATURE ::

Old Sea Brigade maintained a strong presence last fall with October’s soulful and dreamy “Detour,” a duet with Melbourne singer/songwriter Ainslie Wills whose passionate grooves recalled the likes of Leif Vollebekk, Angie McMahon, and Laura Stevenson. “It’s a beautiful, harmony-rich indulgence of deep emotions brought to the surface.”

A month later, Old Sea Brigade announced his sophomore LP through lead single (and opening track) “How It Works,” a hushed and smoldering folk song whose characteristic ethereal atmospherics were grounded by multiple hearty electric guitars, vocal layering, and an overall increased instrumental presence that injected a wealth fresh energy into the burgeoning Old Sea Brigade repertoire.

Following January’s driving second single “Day by Day,” “Nothing Clever” arrives as a seductive caress of visceral emotion. Written with Henry Brill, the song details love’s first tremors, as Cramer so softly sings in the chorus:

It’s nothing clever
It was the simplest thing
Just a terrified kid
Once he had what he needed
Your skin on my skin
Just feeling you breathing
That was five years ago
It was nearly the spring
That was five years ago
It was nearly the spring

Old Sea Brigade breathes new life into a universal emotion and timeless experience, recreating for many those first forays into romance and intimacy with his own delicate musical touch.

Stream “Nothing Clever” exclusively on Atwood Magazine, and dive deeper into Old Sea Brigade’s forthcoming LP Motivational Speaking in our interview below, where Ben Cramer discusses finding new sounds and stories. An ambient and evocative record perfect for 2021, Motivational Speaking is sure to be a welcome addition to any folk lover’s collection.

I think making a record is the best education for me. It forces me to confront what I know and what I don’t, and most importantly, when to not overthink (even though I probably will).

Stream: “Nothing Clever” – Old Sea Brigade



NOTHING CLEVER

with Old Sea Brigade

Motivational Speaking - Old Sea Brigade

Atwood Magazine: First of all, “Nothing Clever” is a haunting song and I was enthralled the moment I heard it. Can you share a little about the story behind this song?

Old Sea Brigade: Thanks so much. I wrote “Nothing Clever” a few years back with one of my best friends and frequent collaborator, Henry Brill. We set out to write a song about the first time you tell another person you love them, but we didn’t want to mention “love” or “I love you” in the song.

Old Sea Brigade: With this song, along with the new record as a whole, I tried to explore new sonic landscapes. I wanted to try and challenge myself to break out of the “coffee house, singer songwriter” world (not that there is anything wrong with that). I wanted to grow as a storyteller / songwriter and a big part for me is to also support what I’m writing down lyrically with interesting musical arrangements.

Old Sea Brigade © Laura E. Partain
Old Sea Brigade © Laura E. Partain

Old Sea Brigade: This song came together fairly quickly because we had a general story / outline for the song from the start. That usually helps me write quicker (I’m really good a procrastinating so I need all the help I can get). Sound wise, the song was recorded and written on this old piano I had. It wasn’t in the best condition and made tons of random sounds, but I think that helped add to the seductive sound you mentioned.

And now we’ve calmed down
I guess we’re getting older
But I still want to hold you
You moved from 8 South
Now I don’t drive to see you
I could just whisper in your ear

Are we doing alright
Now we don’t say it all the time
We started this thing on fire
Now we’re a quiet glow
It’s not like there’s no desire
Just so much more we know

Old Sea Brigade: This album was much more collaborative than my last. Everything from the songwriting to production to mixing, I was lucky to be surrounded by so many talented friends. That by itself was very inspiring to me. The songs and stories seemed to come about fairly naturally. We took our time writing and recording this record (around 2 years I think), so naturally life happens, changes happen and that gives you stories to write about.

Old Sea Brigade: I want to try to keep always evolving as an artist. I like the idea of putting out something that isn’t necessarily expected. These songs are definitely part of that goal. They’re also not all about me as a singer/songwriter, the songs and recordings are about the community of friends and musicians I’m lucky to be surrounded by and have the opportunity to work with.

Old Sea Brigade: It definitely changed over time. Whether I’m working on a record for myself or for someone else, this is always the case. Records tend to take on a life of themselves once you deep dive in to them. For me, that’s where a lot of the magic and mystery is.

Old Sea Brigade: It was more collaborative. I feel like I got a chance to grow as writer as well from years of touring and the experience of putting out my first album. I tried to not overthink lyrics as much as I tended to in the past.

Old Sea Brigade: I’m proud of the lyrics, “Daylight come and save me from the 2 AM creeps.” I was trying to channel inner Springsteen / Tom Waits. I also like, “I’m learning to let go / I’m building a life / Now I can look at the scars / but not think of the knife.” That one was all Henry.

Time and time again I think I’m falling through space
And I wake up in my bed just sweating in sheets
Remembering my name but it don’t sound the same
Daylight come and save me from the 2 a.m. creeps
Then I think of you growing old and it breaks my heart
And I think of you growing old and it breaks my heart
Hold me up again or I can count on the wall
Just a temporary panic that I can’t seem to beat
Stranger in the mirror his smile makes me shiver
He wears my features and grinds my teeth
And I think of you growing old and it breaks my heart
And I think of you growing old
– “Day by Day,” Old Sea Brigade

Old Sea Brigade: Sounds simple, but I want people to connect with it and enjoy the record. Or maybe it makes their day a little bit better. I’ve definitely grown throughout this process. I think making a record is the best education for me. It forces me to confront what I know and what I don’t, and most importantly, when to not overthink (even though I probably will).

It’s nothing clever
Was the simplest thing
Just a terrified kid 
Once he had what he needed
Your skin on my skin
I miss the way you breathe
That was 5 years ago
It was nearly the spring
That was 5 years ago 
It was nearly the spring

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Motivational Speaking - Old Sea Brigade

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📸 © Laura E. Partain

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