You don’t have to look far to find the recurring theme of Laura Veirs’s latest release, Saltbreakers. There’s the title of the album, which is the same as the seventh track, which is the same as the band name. “Saltbreakers,” Veirs’s eloquent name for waves, are clearly very important to this Seattle-based songstress.
From the opening track, “Pink Light,” and its buccaneering images of flying swords and sails to the finale, “Wrecking,” Veirs dwells in a world of constant flux, alternating between tranquil beauty and gale-force catastrophe on the ocean waves.
“In this case, I didn’t really see it coming,” says Veirs of the prevalent theme. “I don’t like a theme ahead of time, but I saw salt coming into it a lot.”
There’s no doubting that. On Saltbreakers, Veirs not only repeatedly returns to her seascape metaphors, but also spins tales of blood, sweat and tears. They all tend to focus on a recent period of turbulence in her life — the end of a longstanding relationship and the first glimpses of another. In the process, Veirs explores herself, recording her findings in lyrical form on the album.
“I wrote it in a furious storm,” Veirs says, pun possibly intended. “I really had a lot to say, really questioning myself, my core. It was very much a soul searching time. It doesn’t come from a very intellectual place, but more of an emotional one.”
Along with her band, the recently re-christened “Saltbreakers” (they were formerly known as “The Tortured Souls,” a moniker that over the years drew all too many tiresome questions about the recipient and degree of said torture), Veirs sets the fruition of her soul searching to rhythms and melodies that recall west coast indie bands like Death Cab for Cutie.
Perhaps it’s simply Veirs’s vast lyrical visions, but there is a certain element that also reminds of The Decemberists, and not just because Decemberists drummer Tucker Martine similarly serves in the Saltbreakers. But rather than sea shanties and eight-minute allegories, Veirs balances her metaphors with a measure of directness. Such is the case with the first lines of “Pink Light”: “Sorry I was cruel / I was protecting myself / drifting along with my swords out flying / tattering my own sails / and I tattered yours, too.”
“I wanted to be direct because I felt such a charge of direct feeling,” Veirs says. “But I didn’t want to be overly explicit.”
With the constant motion of emotional swells and undertows that inspired the album starting to wane, Veirs began to find some measure of balance in recording Saltbreakers with Martine, particularly when the pair recorded a call-and-response segment with the Cedar Hill Choir in the studio at Johnny and June Carter Cash’s Tennessee cabin.
“Being in that cabin you could really feel their energy,” Veirs says. “All of their pictures are still there, you felt like you were in their living room. And it was stabilizing. It made me feel rooted in American folk and country.”
That gravity is what helps the listener avoid being swept away amid some of the grand fantasies of the sea that Veirs has crafted on Saltbreakers. For all of the sea creatures and mermen and disorienting waves, Veirs always gives listeners that one beacon to follow as she brings them along on her tumultuous travels.
Fans can share in Veirs’s journey on May 18, when she and her band play IOTA Club and Café in Arlington. The show starts at 9:30 p.m. with tickets at $12. Lake will open the show.
• For more on Laura Veirs, visit www.lauraveirs.com.