Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Seal: Soul to Soul

Seal talks to Blues and Soul - November 2008
Seal talks to Blues and Soul - November 2008 Seal talks to Blues and Soul - November 2008 Seal talks to Blues and Soul -  November 2008 Seal talks to Blues and Soul - November 2008

Born in Nigeria as Seal Henry Olusegun Kwassi Olumide Adeola Samuel, but known to you and I as 'Seal.' Famed for his multi award winning voice (inc. two Grammys) and his marriage to super-model Heidi Klum.

Seal burst on the scene in 1990 with Adamski as he featured on the number one song, (and soon to be re-released) minus Adamski version of 'Killer.' Leather trousered (well, it was the end of the 80's), dread-locked, tall, almost new romantic, gravely voiced and with very distinctive facial scars (discoid lupus) - this artist was here to stay! And we are so glad he did. He Signed to ZTT Records and recorded hit after hit with producer and ex-Buggles ('Video Killed The Radio Star' singer) Trevor Horn.

Racking up five studio albums Seal (1991), Seal (1994), Human Being (1998), Seal (2003), System (2007) as well as various Live albums, Ep and of course a best of. Seal alters direction slighty with his latest release - a covers album which is simply called 'Soul.' First single released from the album, Sam Cooke's aptly named title 'A Change Is Gonna Come.' A project that he shares with prolific producer David Foster.

We join Lee Tyler at the swanky Soho Hotel in London's West End after catching an exclusive preview of Seal's latest album - a live event at London's Ronnie Scotts. Showcasing an album packed full of some of the most iconic soul tracks on earth, and covered in pure Seal fashion. As we share the first twenty minutes talking about the difference between Iphone, Blackberry Storm and Google's Android phones - of which he has all three (it's good to talk!) the matter turns to the album and where Seal feels he is right now spiritually. You do feel he certainly has a point to prove as it's been all quiet on the Seal front for a while...

Lee: I was Ronnie's for the preview of the new album and I was really impressed by the song choice and your take on them.

Seal: Thank you mate.

Lee: What defined the final songs that were chosen. Was there a criteria?

Seal: Well the criteria was always what did David and myself feel that we could offer the most to - in terms of arrangement skills and my ability to sing the songs. That was always the trick you see. These are great songs and to offer any type of justification for doing them, you really had to bring something to them. It’s a tricky thing to say bring something to them, and what you don’t want to do is to re-invent the wheel. I don’t believe in changing songs for the sake of doing them and they ARE great songs, great arrangements. You try and do them so that they are modernized but true to the spirit of the song, and also you try and pick a song that you really FEEL. There is no point picking a song that you don’t feel. You try and pick it because you can sing it well and bring enough of your own identity to it. So that’s pretty much what we did. The process was sitting round a piano with about forty songs and just going through them.

Lee: Did you pick them all. Or did David say "Look Seal I think we should do that one and that one?".......

Seal: Collectively. We both arrived at the choice of songs. And I wanted to do 'Free' and 'I'm Still In Love With You.'

Lee: Yeah I noticed that 'Free' (Denise Williams) was on to the album, not a usual cover for a man to do?

Seal: Yeah I kinda snuck that one in. I think it was one of those ones that growing up - like you and I did over here - it was one of the ones that I think we would remember. We would remember that track first time round - It’s one of those you stuck on when you had the bird round and you had your hopes up!? It was one of THOSE songs (as he raises his eyebrows). I remember that song being a distinctive part of my teenage youth, and I thought it would be quite unusual to sing it in a really low register. She has obviously got a much higher voice than I, but I thought it would be an interesting approach to sing it in a low register, bring something new to it – open it up in the third verse and make it our own. That was pretty much the criteria, which was to bring something relatively new to it - but without just change it and say "Look what we have done!"

Lee : I agree, you have stamped Seal on the song. Infact you've given all those chosen songs a different slant... I have listened to your music over the years and a question that probably everyone is asking you – why now? Has it been a natural progression for you, are you at a stage in your life where you wanted to do this - have you always wanted to do it?

Seal: (LOL) That is a very diplomatic and nice way of asking "Are you in the twilight of your career. Have you run out of some ideas and thought I will do some cover albums?" It’s not meant to come across like that - it CAN come across like that. Some people would think that, and some people would say have you always wanted to do it - Doing a Rod Stewart American Songbook sort of thing? I can see that there might be some discerning initial reactions to that, and "Why now?" is your question. The answer to that is.... its two fold, well three fold actually. First of all cause I can. And secondly because it didn’t really start off as me wanting to do an album. It started off as I was captivated by hearing that song ('A Change is Gonna Come') for the umpteenth time in a different situation. I was in the car coming back from the wine country with my wife - because of being aware of the social climate in America and everything that was going on globally. Particularly what was going on in amongst the young people and people of our sort of age group, who have seen to be so let down and disappointed by the antics of the previous administration in America. The fact that we were still living in a dismissive and polarized society in 2008 and that we were in a needless war - England too. The future of America made you feel helpless, it was the same as it ever was. And always being dictated to, governed and manipulated by the same old political pandering type of politics and thinking that they can’t change it. Hearing that song this summer - it felt more poignant than it had ever been. You listen to the lyrics, you hear Sam Cooke going "It’s been too hard living, but I am afraid to die." Honestly it brought me to tears because to hear a man saying that with such a plea, it’s almost a plea for help. The honesty in that statement cause I don’t know what’s up there (as he looks to the sky) - If up there even exists! It’s been a long time coming, but do you know what. I am going to hold on cause I know a change is going to come - and without sounding to mellow dramatic - it echoed the sentiment of society at large.

Lee: So do you feel that this is a tuning point in history?

Seal: Yes I do... I felt a lot of people, particularly young people were feeling that they didn’t have anyone to voice that. I felt that people for the first time really wanted to change, as opposed to talking about this word change because it’s fashionable. For the first time people were thinking "Do you know what, We are heading for a car crash - we are heading for a great crash... We’re reckless, and there’s a massive decline of family values." We are caught up in this new age, new media and it’s now fashionable to face people we formally aspire to. It’s now fashionable to knock them down as it makes us feel more comfortable with our own inadequacies, abilities and lack of desire to really succeed. So this song really resonates for all those reasons, in a way that it never resonated before. More now even, than perhaps when it was first written. I ended up with this crazy notion to record it, and I called up David Foster and did it in a couple of days. I found this film maker/photographer by the name of Nabil and explained my concept to him for the video. Which he totally got, and took the ball and ran with it. Two weeks later we had this thing, this song with this clip attached to it. David saw it and just said “Man I don’t know about you, but I am not stopping here you have got to sing these songs - you were made for it!” Three weeks later we had an album.

Lee: What made you choose Nabil Echeland to do the video for 'A Change Is Gonna Come?"

Seal: His photographs - I am really into photography and his photos were excellent. I also saw some videos that he had done. His understanding of visuals and movement, I thought was quite cool and I called him. He’s not very well known at all, I called him up and we did it on a whim - eight thousand dollars. Which was used to hire the camera, we shot it in a studio downtown - right in the hood. He then did his thing and it was one of the best videos I had ever made, and by far the cheapest! And that’s really how the album took on a life of its own, via this song and that video.

Lee: Would you say it’s a better video than say 'Crazy?' (You might remember a younger 90's Seal with deadlocks sitting on a sofa with leather trousers, a white dove and of course a few scantly clad girls)

Seal: No.... It’s not a better video than 'Crazy.' 'Crazy' if I may say so; I think 'Crazy' is the best video I have done. I think it was one of those things whereby the whole thing was fresh. If you take what I believe to be an equally good video - the Massive Attack 'Teardrop' video with the baby in the womb; Conceptually it’s a really good video. I really like it because of what it stands for. It’s kind of about life and awakening, and it’s a bit more existential than Crazy. In terms of its approach its left open to interpretation, but it’s beautiful in a way; It’s something that really suits the song. Crazy was driven, we knew we had something special and the video was driven by that - and I was fortunate in that I made a good choice with the Director.

Lee: Crazy was a superb song. No matter what video you put with it, the song would have transcended....

Seal: You never know, you need a lot of luck. And the thing with video; I have got to be honest with you, I can’t stand them! They cost so much money, and you are at the mercy of someone - of the most part - has a different agenda. "Yeah you don’t want to keep making music videos, you wanna make movies and be a film Director instead. Making music videos with inflated budgets and spending people’s money, and shooting not the concept of what you said you would shoot!?" So it really is a crap-shoot all the time - that said - the video that Nabil made for “A Change Is Gonna Come” is one of my favourite videos. I would put that up there with 'Crazy,' it's a different type of video: it’s a video I had a vision for and I had a lot of control over. I love the way it portrays me, it’s gritty. It also is where I belong - like Crazy - where I belonged at that point. This is where I am now, it's classic but it’s theatrical and gritty. I showed that video to David and he said we need to make this album, and that’s pretty much how we got into it.

Lee: Was the process of making an album with David a lot different than what it would be working with Trevor Horn?

Seal: Absolutely. It was radically different; Trevor is a great producer, a phenomenal producer. I made some of best records with Trevor, and I have had some of my best years with Trevor. Best times!... David Foster - when you are around him - as a musician there are times in your life when you experience times of true greatness. I can count the times on one hand that it has happened with me. David Foster is one of those people; I mean whether you like or dislike what he does - or not. That’s actually irrelevant because you can’t help but be in ore of how he works. He is someone who wrote 'After The Love Has Gone' for Earth, Wind and Fire at sixteen!?! Once you start looking at his previous, and what he has put together; You look at the songs that he has written - it’s just amazing - so working with him was a different experience than working with Trevor. This is the guy that arranges in real-time while he is working. He works extremely quickly to the point where his engineer who has been working with him for years, is still an amazement how he does it. I can’t work out how he does it... This is the guy that is extremely straight forward, and at the same time very diplomatic, but just knows what he is doing at the same time - and incredible fun to be around. So making an album with someone like that you look forward to coming to the studio every day. This guy has got it, he’s a unique individual.

Lee: You sound as though you’re in ore of him....

Seal: It was amazing working with him, cause when you are working with somebody who is that fast. Somebody who is that good and somebody who has that kind of track record; what it does it commands respect from you as an artist and you surrender. You don’t contest things, you go with him and things move a lot quicker than what they usually would. He was brilliant to work with and before we knew it we had this album; it was the quickest album I had ever made.

Lee: What do you want people to take away from this album?

Seal: I want people to take away the very fundamentals of the purpose of what it is. The purpose I serve. I am an entertainer - and lots of other things too. Essentially being in this fortunate position that I am in; that people have put me in. I am an entertainer, I perform and I sing music. I am not a politician or a brain surgeon. I don’t do incredible missionary work; I don’t save people’s lives. And I'm certainly not going to change the world!? I am entertainment; I serve as relief from the everyday mundane reality of people - I am escapism. Ultimately I am in entertainment and I want people to listen to the album and enjoy or not?! If they do enjoy it and I make a difference - if only for the forty-five mins - then I have done my job.

Lee: I was going to ask you that next. One quote from you I believe is "You want to be someone who contributes to the happiness of others..."

Seal: Yeah. It’s one of the things being a musician; One of the great privileges you have afforded. Having this ability to get straight to the emotions - it’s almost like a intravenous drip. You get straight in there and you can affect people; transcend languages and bend all kinds of barriers, and if I can make people feel positive then I have done my job.

Lee: Some of your songs have been used in a very effectual way on soundtracks, a good example is 'Kiss From a Rose' which won two Grammys. Why do you feel you get asked to supply music to such projects... Are they still queuing round the block for you to soundtrack their movies?

Seal: Yeah... I am always being asked but I don’t always like the things I am being asked. The last thing I did was called the 'Pursuit Of Happiness' (film with Will Smith). I really like stories about one guy - this guy is trying to stick in there for his family and make things happen. I really like the idea of it and I wrote this song called 'The Father’s Way,' it was quite reflective of my own situation and my own family. It had quite similar references to my own life. It was all about how you do your best to put this fence around your children to keep out all the bad things, and then one day the fence isn’t so high for them as they grow up. They go out into the world and you hope that the skills you have given them, and the things you have taught them, will help them when they venture out into the real world.

Lee: What’s your greatest musical moment?

Seal: Performing 'A Change Is Gonna Come' for President Obama. Not because he is a great man, but because I felt a part of the change that people decided that they wanted. I felt that I was contributing, and the whole thing had come to flurishon. I was inspired to sing that song not by Senator Obama, but by the conscious collective that was going on around the social climate. The social awareness, the fact that I felt that people wanted to change. I wanted to cover this song to echo those sentiments, and the people needed to hear it again especially in young people who are the future. I felt that they would recognize it - I got to sing it again and had come full circle.

Lee: On that note, my interview has also come full circle - thank you Seal.

Seal: Cheers Mate.

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