The Frog King Returns

Sunny Day Real Estate's Jeremy Enigk, solo and more talkative than ever.

Dec 13, 2006 at 4:00 am

"I've been here before/Though there's something in the air this time /I don't want to give away what I've taken back/Run away with you toward the night." (Taken from "Been Here Before")

Jeremy Enigk has been here before. Literally. From 1992 to 1995, Enigk fronted Seattle's Sunny Day Real Estate — a rock band who, in true revisionist history tradition, have been christened as the founders of the modern "emo" movement alongside groups like Rites Of Spring and Jawbreaker (i.e. dissimilar acts whose only common musical is trait is that they used guitars).

However, a year after SDRE's 1994 breakthough disc, Diary, Enigk became a reborn Christian and the band quietly disbanded. (Throughout his tenure in the band he rarely conducted interviews, which added to the mystery of the band's demise.) Instead of doing missionary work, though, a year later he released his first solo debut on Sub Pop, Return Of The Frog Queen. Cinematic in sound and scope, the album featured a fourteen-piece orchestra and Enigk's soaring falsetto, which had a newfound vulnerability now that it wasn't competing with driving guitars and overdriven amps.

A lot has happened in the decade since Frog Queen's release. SDRE got back together (and broke up again), Enigk formed the prog-influenced outfit the Fire Theft and, most notably, like Weezer's Rivers Cuomo before him, he has become the mouthpiece for a genre he feels no association with.

"I feel pretty disconnected from it," Enigk answers when asked about the e-word. "Of course, it's flattering to hear these bands that were inspired by Sunny Day Real Estate, but we didn't create emo and we never considered ourselves emo. It was really just about singing and playing from the heart and just enjoying the music. I just consider myself a songwriter."

Last month Enigk released his second solo album, World Waits, a stunning collection of songs that's vaguely familiar yet difficult to place, a trait that Enigk credits to his development both musically and personally in the past decade.

"I'm far more accepting of myself as a human being now," he explains. "My quirks haven't changed, necessarily, but how I deal with them has changed. I'm typically a shy person, but I will actually go up to people and talk — and if I make a fool out of myself, who cares? Back then, I'd kick myself in the head for feeling like I said the wrong thing when I'm talking to a cute girl or whatever," he adds with a laugh. "That's just an example — but talking to cute girls is always the biggest challenge."

Thankfully, Enigk has no problems expressing himself on World Waits — which is possibly the most straightforward and, yes, uplifting release of his career.

"I definitely want the songs to carry enough wisdom in that they can reach all kinds of people and everyone can relate to them," he says. "But I do think the lyrics are very literal, actually, like 'World waits forever/Don't take the time/Don't break my heart' means that there's something wrong with the world and it's bugging me and it's breaking my heart — and I think everyone can relate to that on a general level."

Musically, World Waits is the logical culmination of Enigk's musical career. The ornate orchestral opener "A New Beginning" recalls Return of the Frog Queen (and maybe less intentionally, Guns N' Roses' "November Rain"); the synth-driven "City Tonight" hints at the Fire Theft's progressive sensibilities; and the acoustic "Dare A Smile" sounds like a stripped-down version of vintage SDRE.

Enigk admits that he made a "somewhat conscious" choice to not repeat Frog Queen, although the fact that Waits came out on his own label, Lewis Hollow, also contributed to its sound. ("I just didn't have the budget to afford a 21-piece orchestra," he says.) Moreover, Enigk is going the complete opposite route on his current tour by abandoning his band and playing completely solo, accompanied only by a guitar or piano.

"My whole live musical career, I've been nervous before every show, and the last tour with the full band was the first tour I've done where I was just having fun," he explains from a stop on a tour supporting Saddle Creek superstars Cursive. "On this tour, I start to get a little bit of that nervousness again because it's just me and if I screw up, everybody knows. But I'm definitely more comfortable than I was ten years ago; I love what I'm doing and I have to remind myself that I'm here to have fun."

Speaking of fun, anyone expecting any type of religious preaching on this tour will be disappointed.

"People have this tendency to assume because I said something ten years ago, I'm a certain kind of Christian," Enigk answers when asked about his religious beliefs. "People want to bring their own perceptions upon what it is, and they have their own idea of where I'm coming from.

"That can get really annoying because no one really asks me," he continues, echoing the sentiment of other openly Christian artists like David Bazan. "I never sat down with any of these people and had a really intense philosophical conversation about this stuff, and that's the only way anyone can really understand where I'm coming from."

Enigk may have been here before, but in a lot of ways this still feels like the first time — and he isn't going to squander that opportunity.

"It's a new audience and they're seeing me as a brand new person with no connection to anything I've done in the past, which is cool," he says of the younger fans coming out to the shows. "I want to be recognized for what I'm doing now."