“Quiet bros stick together,” is how local singer-songwriter and producer Seth Kauffman sums up working with musician Ray LaMontagne. Kauffman played guitar on LaMontagne’s recent, Dan Auerbach-produced Supernova and says that LaMontagne asked him to work on his next album as well. In fact, Kauffman has been spending a lot of time working on other people’s projects. With Auerbach, of drum-and-guitar duo The Black Keys, he also contributed to Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence, which he says “turned out great — a cool record” despite label drama. “Both the Ray and Lana albums were No. 1 on Billboard at one point — proud of that.”
Plus, he’ll need to cut his own tour short because Jim James of My Morning Jacket is producing a record by Canadian folk artist Basia Bulat. “He wants me to play bass on that,” says Kauffman. “You can’t say no to that guy.” James told Rolling Stone that Kauffman is “the most underrated person in music right now,” and he put out Floating Action’s 2012 Fake Blood on his boutique imprint, Removador Recordings and Solutions.
The takeaway here is less about star connections and more about Kauffman’s newest effort, Body Questions — released locally at two free shows: The Grey Eagle on Saturday, Aug. 23, and Big Love on Sunday, Aug. 24. “Forgive me if it’s taking me a little while,” he sings on the opening track — an apt sentiment since the album was recorded in late 2012. The delay in release had to do with finding a label; eventually Kauffman connected with New West Records.
While not exactly a departure from the previous three Floating Action albums, it’s the least Caribbean-inspired and most polished to date. “No Surprise There” is all coiled tension and shimmery percussion, “Hide Away Too Long” builds on garage-y thump and creep to open into a chorus embellished with breezy “Ooh-la-la” background vocals. The title track hints at Floating Action’s beloved island settings, with obscured lyrics and distorted melodies that bob and pulse.
“People are always like, ‘Floating Action is low-fi,’ so this one is specifically not lo-fi,” says Kauffman. “But it’s not really a crazy-clean album or anything. And I’m already thinking the next album is going to be way dirtier than anything yet.”
Not that he goes into a project with a definitive vision, he says. “My mind is always working. There’ll be something I’ll hear in an oldie, in one little measure, where the drums did this one thing. You start with a concept, and then you do it, and it’s not like that at all. But once that happens, you know it’s totally fine.”
Kauffman’s recordings are planned less around a temperamental muse and more on what his busy schedule — including shows with his current band, which includes locals Josh Carpenter and Evan Martin, and Nick Jaeger of Chapel Hill’s Roman Candle — allows. But even when he’s not in the studio, he tracks musical fads around the world. “I hate it when stuff becomes too much of a trend and everybody latches onto it,” he says.
Despite being a sought-after producer and contributor, Kauffman’s Floating Action projects are a solo affair. “When it’s just you, you enter this totally different zone. There’s some magic there,” he says. “And it’s about the music. People are always trying to write better songs — it’s this hunt that’s never going to end. There are no perfect songs, but people keep trying. That’s what inspired me to keep kicking it up a notch on all levels.”
Kauffman says that, these days, he’s already amassing concepts for the next album but he’s purposely not recording yet: “I’ve just been playing with weird Indian beats and trying to go somewhere else.”