The relative importance of ocean and atmospheric dynamics in generating Atlantic Multidecadal Variability (AMV) remains an open question. Comparisons between climate models with SLAB and fully dynamic (FULL) ocean components are often used to explore this question, but cannot reveal how individual ocean processes generate these differences. We build a hierarchy of physically interpretable stochastic models to investigate the contribution of two upper-ocean processes to AMV: the role of seasonal variation and mixed-layer entrainment. This interpretability arises from the stochastic model’s simplified representation of sea surface temperature (SST), considering only the local upper ocean response to white-noise atmospheric forcing and its impact on surface heat exchange. We focus on understanding differences between SLAB and FULL non-eddy resolving pre-industrial control simulations of the Community Earth System Model 1 (CESM), and estimate the stochastic model parameters from each respective simulation. Despite its simplicity, the stochastic model reproduces temporal characteristics of SST variability in the SPG, including reemergence, seasonal-to-interannual persistence, and power spectra. Furthermore, unrealistically persistent SST of the CESM-SLAB ocean simulation is reproduced in the equivalent stochastic model configuration where the mixed-layer depth (MLD) is constant. The stochastic model also reveals that vertical entrainment primarily damps SST variability, thus explaining why SLAB exhibits larger SST variance than FULL. The stochastic model driven by temporally stochastic, spatially coherent forcing patterns reproduces the canonical AMV pattern. However, the amplitude of low-frequency variability remains underestimated, suggesting a role for ocean dynamics beyond entrainment.