Hailing from Plymouth, Mass., critically acclaimed singer-songwriters Jake Hill and Hayley Sabella have joined forces on a new project called Billington Sea. The duo recently recorded a self-titled E.P. that draws from the sensible musicality of Sabella threaded with the raw lyrical style of songwriting storyteller Hill. Swooning and introspective, the twosome use thoughtful wordplay, mindful, panoramic imagery and nostalgic folk melodies to comment on the good and evil of the eternal human condition. Seamlessly melded vocals evoke the feeling of eras past while crafting it together with memorable stories of the modern age. The duo have a CD release party for their premiere album on Saturday, January 31, at 8 p.m. at the Spire Center for Performing Arts, located at 25 ½ Court Street in Plymouth, with Cape Cod singer-songwriter, Monica Rizzio, opening the show. We recently caught up with Hill and Sabella to discuss their exciting new project.
Limelight Magazine (LM): You’re both established musicians on the South Shore, why did you decide to collaborate and form Billington Sea?
Hayley Sabella (Sabella): Cause it’s fun! We have good creative chemistry and have helped each other develop as writers. “Iron sharpens iron” is the metaphor I like to use for it.
Jake Hill (Hill): We decided we should write together because we live about 10 minutes away from one another. And, once I heard her Farm Fingers EP, I knew she had the same sickness that I have, and that is the unbreakable bond to the language and music.
LM: Why did you decide to name yourselves Billington Sea?
Sabella: Being Plymouth natives who spend a lot of time outside (I’m a farmer, Jake’s big into fishing) we looked at local pond names for inspiration. Originally we just liked the ring of the name, but finding out the story behind its namesake won us over.
Hill: You have to name the band something, or else you will be stuck with an acronym or something cheesy.
LM: In a press release, your music is described as “a spellbinding blend of rootsy folk with country undertones.” Can you elaborate on this?
Sabella: We found that once we hit the studio, the songs developed pretty effortlessly and the collection of songs took on its own distinctive sound. As an individual writer, I tend to be a bit unfocused and enamored by all kinds of possibilities, so I was intrigued by the fact that the Billington Sea songs fit so naturally within the parameters of what people classify as “folk” music. It’s relaxing to be a part of something that has an easy identity. (Not that the identity matters a whole lot). But the instrumentation and production styles support what people think of as a folk/country genre—upright bass, country shuffle percussion, finger-style picking, simple but polished.
Hill: I’m not sure why people need to describe music at all, but it needs to be done I guess. Hayley’s a much better guitar player than I am, so anything that is described musically is her fault. We’re folk singers. We both are obsessed with the artistic side of rap music. We’re totally weirdos. I’m surprised we made anything palatable at all.
LM: How long did it take to record your debut EP? Can you discuss your songwriting process?
Sabella: We were in the studio for four days total, but there was careful pre- and post-production that really made the outcome something we’re proud to share, even with a limited amount of time. The songwriting process all happens in the music room at Jake’s residence. I don’t want to unveil the creative process entirely because I hear its bad luck. But there’s usually a healthy combination of unfocused play and hyper-focused, nitty-gritty, “that song will be finished today” style writing. I will say that while we each do both, I tend to have a more musical approach, and Jake tends to come at songs from a literary perspective.
Hill: We were prepared, we were professional (kind of), and we were in amazing hands at the Anchour Studio. I wish we could have done seven more songs, but alas the cost of making professional records is a serious investment, and in this economy, we could only do five.
LM: The album also features Cameron Lopez and Danny McKellick on percussion, Karl Anderson on keys, Mike Burd on upright bass and Josh Ray on bass guitar. Why were these musicians selected and will they be performing with you at your CD release concert at the Spire on Jan. 31st?
Sabella: These are all players who are fairly local to Anchour Studio, the place we recorded at. We selected [them] because they’re good at what they do and we knew they’d enhance the project. They won’t make it for the CD release. Jake’s Deep Creek band will be backing us.
Hill: It was amazing to work with all those cats. Mike Burd is in my opinion the best roots/folk bassman to ever live. Having him in the studio was a treat. He’s been playing with David Mallett for like 30-something years and those records have shaped me as a writer and a singer. Also, Karl and Josh were amazing producers [who have] wonderful execution and beautiful ideas. Cameron Lopez was a hot shot too. Like a drum machine, that new a little Spanish….My boys will be backing us. They’re amazing. Some of the best musicians I’ve ever been around.
LM: Speaking of your CD release concert, what can your fans expect at this show?
Sabella: A grand ol’ time! A sprinkle of songs, new and old, combined with a big heaping pile of goofing off. We like to entertain ourselves with good banter, and hope it entertains the audience too.
Hill: They can expect the best show that either of us has ever performed. Maybe even a headstand.
LM: Monica Rizzio is opening the show. She’s also built a loyal following throughout the region, especially Cape Cod. For people coming to your show who may not know her, why was she selected to open the show and what does she add to the bill?
Sabella: Monica is super talented and a good friend of ours. We thought her style and personality would fit the vibe.
Hill: Monica is a doll. She does amazing things in the musical community, especially on the Cape, and is revered for her fiddle skills and songwriting abilities. We picked her because she promised to play some fiddle with us, and because she rules.
LM: As a singer/songwriter duo, what do you admire most musically about your colleague?
Sabella: Jake is a lyrics genius. He’s studied the greats in both songwriting and literature and it shows. He has a knack for communicating layered concepts using the smallest possible words. In doing so, he’s able to stir up all kinds of feelings, but he’s never self-indulgent or gratuitous.
Hill: Hayley’s one of the best singer/songwriters I’ve ever heard. I admire everything that it has taken to become that.
LM: Do you expect this collaboration to continue into the foreseeable future?
Sabella: So long as we’re both in Plymouth writing songs, I don’t see why we’d end it. I just know we’ve stumbled upon something special that both of us have grown from and it’s hard to imagine writing a song now without at least getting Jake’s feedback.
Hill: I would assume yes. We have a wonderful time creating with one another. It is my life’s joy to make beautiful music with wonderful people.
LM: How can our readers purchase your music?
Sabella: The usual online markets (Bandcamp, iTunes, Amazon, etc.) and in person at our merchandise table.
LM: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Sabella: One of the songs on the record, “Let It Pass,” is actually also a video. We recorded the audio live, and shot the visuals at the same time. Thought that was a unique way to do things, and it’s available for a preview as of January 13th.
Hill: Viva la Billington Sea!!!