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The Sea Ghouls take anchor in the Chicago music scene

Inside a garage in River Grove, a new Chicago-area band began practice by warming up. Combining surf rock with gothic elements, The Sea Ghouls hope to get listeners dancing and headbanging to their heavy basslines, beachy tones and mysterious synths. 

While spending time with the band, the not-so-glamorous moments stand out—from observing them navigate their first wobbly steps into the local music world and booking their first gigs to being squished in the back seat as they go on a Wendy’s run at the end of rehearsal. 

Sitting in a circle using amps as chairs and passing around a small, lavalier microphone, Sean Carroll, 20, the lead singer and guitar player of the band, better known as “The Captain,” spoke about both the small and big picture for the band. 

“[The Sea Ghouls] was a solo project of mine, ‘The Captain,’ which is my little pseudonym,” Carroll said. “It was originally under the name ‘Ghost Babe,’ which I thought was spooky and cool.” 

Feeling musically inspired but increasingly lonely in his solo pursuits, Carroll finally wanted to take a leap and form a band. He tapped his close friend Ian Garcia, 21, who plays keys and rhythm guitar, to help him bring his vision to life. Shortly after, Vince Lio, 21, who plays bass, joined after seeing a social media post made by Carroll, looking for people to jam with.

Ryan J. Lewis, 21, lead guitar player, saw his opportunity to join, and it wasn’t until the spring of 2023 that Lewis’ prior band broke up, leaving the door open for him to set sail with The Sea Ghouls. Lastly, Sean Moore, 20, the drummer, was introduced to the group when Carroll searched for a drummer as part of a class assignment at Columbia College Chicago — where Carroll and Lewis are also currently enrolled.

L to R: Sean Caroll strums a guitar as Vince Lio peers from behind. | Photo by Amelia Rodriguez.

With a mutual desire to find people to jam with after the end of the semester — and with a bit of help through a classroom connection — The Sea Ghouls finally reached its final form. “We got a little two-for-one deal,” Carroll said.

Carroll is the primary songwriter behind the band’s material. With a haunting voice, he sang close to the microphone and stiffly rocked forward and backward, letting his guitar guide his motions as he shook his head from side to side.

In the beginning, Carroll felt that his role in the group had been to focus more on mentoring each member separately as they learned the music and showed off their personalities. He said he feels lucky that the band is made up of good friends who share a bond over their love for music.

The Sea Ghouls’ stellar chemistry can be seen from afar. They crack jokes, share memories and can’t help but excitedly talk over each other at times — enthusiastically sharing their ideas about keeping a positive mindset and finding a balance between having fun and being serious musicians.

“In a band, you have to work together on a lot of songs, and you’re with each other for an extended period of time, trying to do something creative, and you have a set goal in mind,” Lio said. “It can be very stressful. I think it helps a lot to have humor to kind of break that tension in the room.” 

As the members began to laugh about the musical theme of the band, Carroll lowered his head and then threw his hands up in protest. “Okay, let’s get the pirate thing straight,” he said. “There are pirate references in there, but we’re not a fucking pirate band, alright?” 

The songs written by Carroll prior to the official formation of the band, as well as the sound and image, were recorded after the full lineup was solidified. 

“The name ‘Sea Ghouls’ comes from ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’… I think it’s Captain Barbossa who refers to the mermaids as ‘sea ghouls,’” Carroll said. “We always wanted something feminine, too. So once we learned that ‘sea ghouls’ was slang for ‘mermaids,’ that’s golden. I always wanted something like Queens of the Stone Age or Twisted Sister or something feminine — I think that’s pretty cool.”

Moore played multiple instruments through elementary to high school, including the piano, trumpet and drums. Lewis also played piano in elementary school while Garcia began playing guitar at 16. For the past nine years, Lio has been playing bass. 

“I’ve been playing music since freshman year of high school,” Carroll said. “When I failed the basketball tryouts I had to find something to do, so I picked up guitar, and I picked up bass and I picked up drums. Then I started writing songs around junior year.” 

When it comes to sound, The Sea Ghouls’ influences include Peach Pit, Queens of the Stone Age and The Growlers. “Their DNA is all over,” Carroll said. “We’ve melded all these very different sounding influences into one thing here. I think that’s what will differentiate us… We say beach goth is the genre, but it is so hard describing what kind of music it is.” 

The Sea Ghouls play an energetic set. | Photo by Amelia Rodriguez.

The Growlers were said to self-proclaim this genre, described as a psychedelic garage-punk rock.

Each member’s influences push the band to be independently creative. Garcia mentions that as a young guitar player, he looked up to David Bowie the most. “He had the first song and was the first [person] I wanted to play like. Now, I feel I take a lot of inspiration from Peach Pit. Their stage presence, the way they operate as a band,” Garcia said. “I love that whole feel, and I think we have that here.”  

Lewis cites Prince, Frank Zappa, and The Beach Boys as his own influences. “I draw inspiration from any lead who does all their own studio work,” he said. He references nostalgia from when he and his mom would listen to ‘80s music while he grew up. He looks up to Prince the most, admiring the fact that he had his own studio in his house. 

In the past, The Sea Ghouls have made promises on when music would be released. After having days that turned into weeks fly by, they soon realized that wasn’t the most important priority. Their plan to release a double-sided single last October and a full EP in this past January was quickly readjusted to allow more time to fine tune the music. 

The band released the double-sided single, “Dueling Ships” and “Babe Slayer” in March. With a small fanbase growing hungry for more and following each of their shows, you can catch them playing a basement show Saturday, April 27, at 5440 S. Ingleside Avenue. For more information, check out their Instagram account, @seaghoulsband.

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