Pittsburgh's independent music source
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Pittsburgh Artist of the Week: The Real Sea

The Real Sea craft a unique blend of modern and vintage-sounding music capable of nestling right into the coziest corners of your mind. Their latest single “Fall/Awake” is brimming with romance, moonlight, and lilting vocals from singer Sharon Mok. The band recently spoke with WYEP’s Joey Spehar about figuring out song structures, cow hoof trimming, and more.

The Real Sea are:

Sharon Mok: Vocals / Guitars
Christopher James: Guitars
Eric Sakmar: Bass
Sean Finn: Drums

This conversation may be lightly edited for content, clarity, or length.

What’s your musical history up to this point?

Chris, Eric and Sean started getting together in late 2018 to try and write some music together in the hopes of starting a new musical project. Chris and Sean had played together in their former band, Life in Bed, but Chris was now moving back to guitar and Eric would take on bass duties. We experienced a long, difficult search for a vocalist / guitarist and finally, serendipitously met Sharon through a mutual friend. Sharon, who had recently relocated to Pittsburgh from Buffalo (by way of Canada) proved to be the missing ingredient to The Real Sea sound.

With the lineup settled, we started writing and rehearsing. As we grew tighter as a band we started playing live and eventually made the leap to recording some music, first, 2 demos with Dave Klug at his Pittsburgh studio and then at Miner Street in Philadelphia with Brian McTear and Matthew Poirier where we recorded 4 new songs. Unfortunately, that session took place in February 2020 and proved to be the last time we would physically work together for quite some time due to the world shutting down.

During the pandemic we honed our remote collaboration skills and were able to release a new song, a cover version of The Flaming Lips’ “Waiting For A Superman.” After some delay, the original 4 songs we recorded at Miner Street were finally mixed, mastered and ready to be introduced to the world. Our first single, "Paper Machete," was released in June of 2021 with subsequent release of "Jeong Kwan" following in September. 2021 also brought some exciting changes with Sharon announcing that she was expecting her first child as well as returning to school to become a nurse. Before going on hiatus, the band were able to make the trip back to Miner Street in August of 2021 to record 2 more songs one of which, “Ceiling Lines” was released in June of 2022 along with “Lodi” from the previous Miner Street session.

The band’s newest single, “Fall/Awake” is scheduled to release on 4/20/23 in conjunction with the release of a video performance of 2 songs at The Andy Warhol Museum’s famous Silver Clouds gallery. Our goal in 2023 is to increase our output of new material and hopefully play a few live shows.

How do you describe your sound?

Chris: As a band, we have a lot of both shared, and unique influences (some obvious, others not so much) that all translates to and plays a part in who we are and what we sound like collectively as a band. Often, the working titles of songs in early development are named after bands or songs they are inspired by. We get the dream pop and shoegaze labels often, but I think there is a lot more depth to our sound and style than just those 2 genres. I think we are a good mix of vintage and modern… sometimes quiet, sometimes loud. A balance. But I believe our “sound” is an ever-evolving process with each song we write.

Tell us more about the song “Fall/Awake.” What inspired you to write it?

Chris: We first started working on this song in rehearsals at the end of 2019. The intro/chorus part is a group of riffs that I had written quite a few years ago, and decided to bring in to try to develop. We messed around with it for a long time initially imagining it as a verse, and tried (unsuccessfully) to come up with several transitions out of it into another part.

Months later (late Feb 2020) we went to Miner Street Recordings in Philly to track 4 songs that were already well developed. The weeks following that Miner St sessions, the pandemic happened and obviously turned everything upside down. After working on material remotely for awhile and as restrictions finally lifted we started rehearsing in person again and revisited the track. We came up with the idea to use the initial riff as an intro/ chorus instead of a verse and also discovered it paired nicely with a bass riff idea that Eric had been working on, and that eventually became the verses of the song.

In August of 2021, we went back to Miner Street to record 2 more songs. “Fall/Awake” was still not really close to being finished at the time, and with the help of engineers Brian McTear & Matt Poirier, we ended up doing a good amount of experimentation with lyrics, vocals, guitars along with some studio production (re-amping tracks through a lot of outboard gear/effects) to layer the finishing touches & complete the song.

Sharon: After we settled on the song structure, I wrote lyrics that tried to reflect the dreamy quality of the music. Usually, I stick to a personal songwriting style and this was no exception. I wanted the song to have romance, moonlight, and lilting vocals to match our usual guitar harmonies and arpeggiated melodic lines.

What was the first album that really changed your life? 

Sean: Probably U2's "The Unforgettable Fire." I had heard U2’s music before that record, but that album, with the introduction of Brian Eno’s production, proved to be a lynchpin to what I wanted to hear in music both sonically and mood-wise going forward.

Chris: Depeche Mode's "People are People"

Sharon: Pink Floyd’s "Dark Side of the Moon"

Which Pittsburgh artist(s) do you wish more people knew about?

Sean: I’ve been really digging a lot of the newer bands in the dream pop / shoegaze / atmospheric indie vein: Feeble Little Horse, Eyewash, Ex-Pilots, Sad Girls Aquatics Club to name a few. Eric’s new project, Crush Curl is great. I’m also excited for the new music my other band, Forestry Division, is getting ready to release.

Any other super interesting things we should know about you?

Sharon: I’m a professional concert piano technician that went to grad school for rebuilding, tuning, and voicing pianos, which is now a part time gig for me. I like woodworking and tinkering and am currently reconditioning my Fender Rhodes. After some soul searching, I went back to school to be a nurse and just started a job at Children’s Hospital this week!

Sean: I spend an inordinate amount of time watching YouTube videos on cow hoof trimming in the UK for some reason.

Chris: Sean… Wow.

Learn more about The Real Sea here:


Check out previous Pittsburgh Artists of the Week here.

Joey Spehar is a Pittsburgh native who started as a volunteer D.J. at WYEP, fresh out of college in 2006. He took on any job they’d let him do like editing audio, engineering remote broadcasts, and shoveling snow.