Four years ago, Sasha Bell wrote the song “Slanted By Six,” a song about her sadness regarding the loss of her band the Essex Green, which played its last show in 2008.
“It felt like a death. It really did. It had been my life for so long. Every major life decision I made, I factored the band into it. Suddenly, that was gone,” Bell says. “There was no decision to stop. This is like ending a relationship with no closure. And I didn’t want closure.”
What happened a decade ago was that the main three members, who’d been living in New York together up to that point, all moved to different states. They figured they’d continue to work on the band remotely. But that just didn’t work out.
“We’re used to being in each other’s physical space all the time. The issue was we couldn’t function as a band electronically. The distance and the space and the way you communicate is through electronics—you’re on a phone, you’re emailing. It just doesn’t hold up as well. It didn’t work,” Bell says.
A few years later, the trio did manage to start working again. The result of their efforts, Hardly Electric—a phrase from “Slanted By Six” that expresses their inability to be a long-distance band, was released in June. Now the group is back to touring and promoting an album, which comes 12 years after their last record, the highly successful Cannibal Sea.
Before the release of Cannibal Sea, they were one of the lesser-known Elephant Six Collective bands (compared to the likes of Neutral Milk Hotel, The Olivia Tremor Control, etc.), but the expertly written, bittersweet indie-pop songs on that album won them a new legion of fans.
Part of what resonated for many listeners was that the record really captured the feeling of not knowing what one is going to do with one’s life in his or her 30s.
“There’s a lot of existential crisis going on in those songs. I think it manifested itself for real in 2008 when we all decided to leave New York for our various reasons,” Bell says.
No one in the Essex Green knew if or when the band would ever play again, but they all continued to write music. Then a couple of years ago, everything lined up so that they could start working on what would be Hardly Electronic. One of those things was that both Jeff Baron and Chris Ziter are now living in Burlington, Vermont.
The band took the basic tracks of the songs they’d individually been writing, passed them back and forth, and set up some time to work on overdubs and mix the songs together.
“If you look at it from a narrative perspective, it’s an interesting window into what we’ve been up to in the last 10 years personally, from three different perspectives,” Bell says. “We get together and have these super focused sessions. I thought it was cool. You treat it like your artistic vacation. We just felt so psyched that we got together.”
The process took so long to complete in part because of how meticulous the band members were. One of the things that they’d picked up during their hiatus was a lot more knowledge about how to properly record a record, which they applied to the album.
“It can feel super painstaking and awful as it’s happening. But the end result is always worth all of that,” Bell says. “Revisiting a song 500 times, that drives some people crazy. A lot of people won’t do it. We spent 10 hours on this, we’re done. We don’t operate that way. We see it through to the end to make it sound like what we want.”
It’s been a long time since the Essex Green were on the scene, and there isn’t quite the energy behind indie-pop now like there was in 2006, but the band is seeing not just their old fans coming to their shows, but also new ones.
“We started playing back in 2016, and then didn’t really do anything until the record came out,” Bells says. “It was a little tricky. We didn’t want to be a nostalgia act, like ‘Hey we’re back, nothing’s new.’ We wanted to totally wait until we had something new to say.”
The Essex Green performs at 9 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 30, at the Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. $12. 429-6994.