Interview: Seekae

Seekae have released a record this year that, in my opinion, is in the running for best of the year. The addition of vocals to an otherwise instrumental group was somewhat surprising to the devout Seekae fans, but whatever concern we had quickly slipped away after hearing first single, Another. Their already intense live show has stepped up in precision and captivating sequencing, and now-singer Alex Cameron has come into his own as a vocalist. It’s no coincidence that they’ve been booked on the lineup for OutsideIn Festival in Sydney later this month; a considered and extremely well put together lineup curated by ASTRAL PEOPLE. Playing alongside Pantha Du Prince, The Pharcyde and so many others, OutsideIn is guaranteed to be not only a gamechanger in boutique festivals that it’s known for after last year’s success, but proof that it’s quality over quantity.
We recently chatted with Alex Cameron ahead of what is looking like a pretty huge 12 months next year!

You’ve recently finished a string of Australian shows as well as a BIGSOUND appearance, which I saw and it was incredible! Your set was my favourite!

Oh, thank you very much!

How do you think this new material is being received, especially because it’s been a while since you last toured Australia?

It’s a little surprising. When we release records, we kind of always change our style so much that we always anticipate backlash! Maybe it’s like a personal thing, I don’t know. Maybe I’ve got some insecurity, but it’s been so nice to have such a warm response! It’s been pretty overwhelmingly warm, and I think that’s really positive. I’m excited by the fact that people are willing to let us explore and find new things that excite us, and if that excites anyone then obviously that’s a bonus. It’s been really warm so far though, and that’s a surprise. Maybe I’m just being self-deprecating but we change so much, and we do weird and odd things that excite us, and it seems to be exciting other people so that’s been positive.

It was kind of unconventional touring with just two singles from a then unreleased album – was that a deliberate decision or just coincidental timing?

It was a little bit coincidental, and it was a little bit “stab in the dark” but, at the same time, we wanted to give people a chance to hear the songs live first and see how powerful the songs could be and see if they could make a connection. It was nice for us to play three or four tracks nobody had heard before.

Was The Worry a long time coming? In between your previous album and The Worry, there were a few side projects and a fair bit of time in between the releases too – was that time spent working on the new material, or was there a bit of time to rejuvenate?

Yeah there was a little break, and then there was maybe two years of writing. Some of those songs have changed three or four times. It was a long time coming, but there were some breaks – tours and stuff. We ended up doing like four national tours off that one record in two years. We were really surprised we could keep selling our shows and packing people in. By the end of it, we were like “Let’s make sure we nail this next one. Let’s do something that really means something to people, because everyone has been so kind.” That was one of the goals.

You would have been asked about this a million times by now – but I’m curious: with the introduction of lyrics and vocals, was it a natural progression to that point for you? Was that something you were always interested in doing with Seekae?

Yeah, to me, I love songs. I mean, I love instrumental and I love tunes – but I really, really love songs. I always have, all of us do. There is something about the freedom of an instrumental track that’s really beautiful, and there’s this space and it can be super emotive because it’s quite broad.

More open to your own interpretation…

Exactly! I think the same goes for songs with lyrics, but there is just something about a strong lyric that actually moves things for me. It shifts the way I see something. It’s just this magical thing. When you want to really try and express something, the highest form is to sing it and I think I always wanted to explore that. We all have. So yeah, it was completely natural, but something I’ve wanted to do for a while. It just sort of happened – I just wrote a couple of songs and showed them to the guys, and they were right behind it.

I find that Seekae songs prior to this were always quite full and complete with the absence of vocals, so has that now changed the songwriting process?

There were some times where we would have the song finished, and we’d try to fit the synthesiser parts on there, or new leads, and we’d have to stop ourselves and think, “Well, there’s lyrics now, so there’s no need to add in this synth part!” It’s a certain step back; it’s a little bit of restraint I suppose, but it’s also something entirely new. There wasn’t really a process to it, it was more just like, “Oh, that’s finished now!” It was a bit like unchartered territory.

There are some pretty heavy themes in The Worry, and it’s quite dark and mysterious I find – especially Test & Recognise which has quite an eerie feeling… Was there any specific inspirations or influences for these songs? Are you okay?!

*laughs* I guess it’s just about the life we’ve been thrust into and trying to find moments of beauty. I feel like a decrepitly imperfect being, and I compare myself to a flat screen TV or a tablet: these things are designed for perfection. We expect them to be perfect even though they’re obsolete, or they’re designed to be obsolete eventually, and so are we. We’re so fragile, and we die, and that’s a concern. I think the main influence was trying to create something as concerning as our own mortality, in a world filled with what is sold to us as being perfect technology. Trying to find something as concerning as that, but trying to let it free, and for the sounds to be an exploration almost, and to see if we could find something beautiful about it. To see if we could write a record about an overwhelming concern that defines closure and beauty.

That’s beautiful! You’ve now got yourselves a slot on the OutsideIn Festival – how do you see your music in the now burgeoning electronic scene? I feel like it’s still quite different to the “Australian Sound” going around at the moment – would you attribute that to your move away from Sydney prior to that really taking off?

No, I don’t think so. Oh, maybe, I don’t know. We were never part of any scenes – that’s kind of why we didn’t make indie rock or garage rock when we started. That’s why we’re not doing big hip hop instrumental music. We almost went there; we were listening to a lot of that years and years ago, but once it’s everywhere it can’t possibly be exciting anymore. Once it’s hugely successful, how can you be turned on by it? It’s the small things – and I don’t mean that in a snobbish way because we love pop music and successful pop music – but to make it ourselves would be a step back for us. I think we’re always trying to make something twisted. Whether or not we’re successful in that is irrelevant, our intention is always to do something that’s a bit “new” to us.

I was completely hypnotized when I saw you perform at BIGSOUND – how do you guys recreate your sound live? It looks like a lot goes on, and that would certainly evolve and develop as each tour occurs.

Thanks for saying that! For us, it’s making sure we can sequence everything; so it’s grooves, rhythms and basslines, and it’s making sure we can have this clarity in the sound. George does a lot of the percussion sequencing, and John handles the melody with his samples and percussion, and he plays a lot of keyboard so he’s quite busy. Then I am doing some sequencing with a drum pattern and playing grooves, and making sure I’m trying to sing as clear as possible. For us, that sound is the reason people are there. That’s our concern. What we do is we have a really strong crew that we love working with. We’ve gone over it and rehearsed it and we know what to expect from them. There are more members than what you can see. We just want to make sure the music comes across because it’s become this big monster that’s in front of people and we want to try and make it as overwhelming as possible in a really positive way.

Yeah, I was standing next to the lighting guy at BIGSOUND and he was as captivating as you guys were the way he was working!

Yeah he’s great, he’s really fantastic. He doesn’t like to be harped on, but we’ve been working with him for a while and the most important thing about working with him is he’s evolved with us. It’s not the same thing; he’s clearly an artist himself. That’s what really hits it home for us – I want to see people change, I want to see evolution.

The album art for The Worry is quite stunning, with all your faces morphed into one – can you tell me a bit about that?

We wanted to do something that was a bit “foul” I suppose; something that was so delicately ugly but beautiful at the same time. We found this artist in China that was doing bizarrely earnest portraits, so we got in touch with them and they painted it for us. We just wanted something earnest and off-putting. It was trying to explore a bad idea, and seeing if we can make a bad idea work. A lot of the record is, I think, concerning ideas or bad ideas that we’re trying to turn into a good thing. That was one of the challenges of this record: is it such a good idea for us to be singing? Well, it feels right so we will. We were exploring those challenges and there was zero safety with any decisions made on the record. It’s all risk taking. It’s kind of maybe given me an anxiety disorder, but it was also a bit of fun. That’s what it’s all been about.

What’s next for Seekae after OutsideIn?

Well, we’ve got a really busy 2015 already. It’s nice to have work coming in and to be able to play the music live. I do a lot of travelling and a lot fo tours around the world. 2015 is going to be pretty jam-packed, so right now I’m trying to get healthy so I’m ready to do it. I think we’ll be playing a lot of shows in Australia and overseas as well!

Seekae perform at OutsideIn Festival November 29th at Manning House, Sydney University. Get one of the few remaining tickets HERE.