The most original band
in the UK
returns after a 14-year hiatus with the album of its career.
BY RON HART
For Warp Records co-founder Steve Beckett, having pinched
the London-based electronic rock group Seefeel in 1994 from the beloved English
alternative label Too Pure (following the group’s 1993 breakout debut Quique), a new era dawned for the
thriving dance imprint. Seefeel were the first act on the label to use guitars,
and it was a bold move that helped usher Warp into the rock era, a strategy that
would eventually see the company go on to work with such digitally minded rock
acts as !!!, Battles, Gravenhurst and Grizzly Bear throughout the 2000s.
However, following the release of their groundbreaking
sophomore full-length for the label, 1995’s Succour, the group eventually ceased to exist as a live performance act, releasing
one more album in late 1996 on friend Richard D. James’ Rephlex label, the
drone-y, experimental (CH-VOX), as a promise to
the man behind Aphex Twin, before calling it quits altogether. That is, until
Beckett came calling again, 14 years later, to entice the band to reunite for
Warp’s 20th anniversary commemoration, playing the celebration in Paris in 2009.
The performance, which was hailed by Beckett as an
“unbelievable” experience, prompted the label honcho to ask Seefeel
if they would be willing to make another album together right as they were
walking off the stage. Seemingly unfazed by his kneejerk eagerness, they
responded to Beckett’s offer with their long-awaited eponymous follow-up to (CH-VOX),
an 11-song masterpiece that essentially sounds like the entire sum of the last
20 years of Warp Records. Seefeel is pureed in an oscillating blip-gaze
rhythm blender, creamed out through the instruments of founders guitarist Mark
Clifford and Sarah Peacock on guitars and vocals along with their new rhythm
section of bassist Shigeru
Ishihara and drummer Iida “E-da” Kazuhisa. BLURT recently
spoke with Mr. Clifford – how else, but via electronic mail – to catch up on a
decade and a half of geeky shop talk in reference to the past, present and
future of the band who undoubtedly helped inspire Radiohead to go glitch.
BLURT: Beyond the reunion
performance for the Warp20 shows, what inspired you, specifically, to enter the
studio to record a new Seefeel album?
MARK CLIFFORD: While compiling unreleased tracks for the
re-issue of Quique in 2007, I realized that actually we had
something good (I hadn’t really listened to that album for a long time). So when Sarah
and I got together at 4AD’s offices to do some interviews for the release, we
decided to exchange a few ideas to see if anything good might arise. We did
some decent tracks and it kind of gave us the bug for it really. The Warp20 show was a happy coincidence that really gave us the focus
and made us work harder at it.
Was there any particular artist, sound
or new style of creative music that came about in the last 14 years that
propelled the direction of the new album? Why or why not?
Nothing in particular, no. We all listen to a wide range of
music and we all bring different influences, but I couldn’t say any one
particular genre propelled us through the recording process. Every sound we
hear has some bearing on the music we make, I reckon.
Why didn’t original members Mark Van Hoen and Justin
Fletcher rejoin the fold?
Well, Mark was in the band right at the start but had pretty
much left the band by time we signed to Too Pure though he continued to help
out, contributing to our first two EP’s and doing our live sound. Daren
[Seymour] was our bass player after that, but he had moved to Malaysia and
though we tried to get him back to play the Warp20 show, it really wasn’t
likely to happen. It was a shame on a personal level, though Shige has added a
new angle to that part of the band so it really worked out well for us. Justin I’m
not really so much in touch with these days. When we played our last show in
1997, we played with a different drummer.
How do you feel the addition of Shigeru Ishihara and Iida “E-da” Kazuhisa enhanced the direction of Seefeel?
Shige, in particular, added a new and experimental edge, I
think, with his approach to bass. He’s very adventurous and a great person to
be around, as is E-da, though he wasn’t so involved creatively with the album
Did your work with Mira Calix bear any influence on the new material?
All music I make has some effect on what I do next, because
making music, to me, is an ongoing process; I’m always learning. I don’t think
there are any obvious parallels between this album and the one I did with
Chantal, but recording with her was a great experience because we had a great
time making those tracks. There was no real pressure, because we had no
commitments and we had been friends for a long time already. I have great
memories of all those sessions.
What music in 2011 excites you most?
Every year has some great moments and many duff ones. I hear
so many different things, so many new sounds all the time. And so much of it is
so good it seems unfair to pick any particular albums or bands out. But right
now I’m listening to Nisennenmondai, who are not new but new to me; This Heat,
who are even older but again new to my ears (which seems remarkable to me);
I’ve heard things I like from Health, Factory Floor, MGMT… the list could go
on and on.
What are some of the different
approaches you took in regards to recording techniques and gear usage in the
making of this new album?
I made a very conscious decision to avoid using computers
except for editing/mixing. It wasn’t any kind of philosophical decision; it was
simply that I wanted to try to work in a more analogue way, partly because
I like the sound, but also really because it seemed more of a challenge. I also
wanted a drier sound which I realize might make the album less comfortable
listening to some people’s ears. I tend to rebound between electronic and live,
digital and analogue so that tracks we’ve done since the album sessions have
more electronic elements, more sonic elements.
Are most of the experiments you do for
guitar done by chance theory or through pre-determined composition?
I rarely sit down and write a song on the guitar. Sometimes I
might have a simple riff in my head and I will improvise around that, such as
on “Rip/Run”, where the guitar was all recorded in a 15 minute or so
session. Other times, I will record an array of sounds and gradually mix them
in and out until I achieve a blend I’m happy with, such as in the recording of Faults.
Where do you stand in the whole MP3 vs.
CD vs. vinyl debate?
released on vinyl and MP3 only. And although there were a few murmurs of
discontent from people wanting to buy it on CD, I really think the balance
between those two formats right now is the right one. Personally I think the CD
is a redundant format, particularly now that digital downloads can be
downloaded at such high quality.
How does dub still
factor into your sound in your opinion? Additionally, what is your favorite dub
album and why?
I don’t listen to dub as avidly as I did years back though
it still features heavily. Favourite album? Again, so difficult. Recently I’ve
had phases of listening The Upsetters’ Blackboard Jungle Dub on rotation.
Did the current climate of the music
industry make you nervous about releasing a new album?
I always get a little nervous as release date approaches
though more because of my own neuroses! I feel totally confident whilst making
a record but once its done and pressed i start questioning if I mixed it right,
if the choices I made were correct etc., etc. I’m not really interested in
competing with anyone else’s music so that part of it doesn’t bother me. None
of us ever have been worried about being current or ‘fitting in’. And we’ve
always had a love or hate reaction from critics so I’ve learned to deal with
that. When our first EP was released on Too Pure, the first review in Melody Maker was awful. We got absolutely slated. The music, the name, everything. The
journalist who reviewed it apologized to us a few months later saying that he
just didn’t get it, but that he subsequently loved it. That’s the way things
can be. If you try to do something new, you have to be open to all kinds of
reactions and I’m happy to deal with that if the alternative is playing it
I heard in an old interview
where you mention that your album Quique was
used therapeutically with autistic children. Do you feel the new material can
be utilized in the same manner?
It would be an interesting child that found
this album soothing. But then I might have thought the same of Quique at the time.
What is the story
behind the album cover?
We were really struggling for ideas until I was shown some
photographs by a Chinese photographer called Fenk Zhang. We all liked them but
weren’t completely sure but somehow kept going back to them. There’s no real
story in the sense that the picture ‘says’ anything about us. We just liked the
image. Katya, who did the design, is someone I’ve known for a few years now.
She makes incredible music also.
Do you have any plans to do any radio sessions or podcasts? Also, where do you stand
with people bootlegging your shows?
We have been asked to do a number of things if we can find
the time. As far as bootlegging goes I don’t really have much of a problem with
it. I used to buy bootlegs and the quality you get on a mobile phone now is positively
hi-fidelity compared to some of the atrocious, noisy tapes I bought and endured
as a kid.
Will you be taking another 14 years to
release a new album or will we be seeing more of Seefeel in the second decade
of the 21st century?
We have already done more recording. The album Seefeel is really quite old to us now.
We were finding our feet as a band while simultaneously recording it, so I
think the next record will be a lot more fluid and a lot more consistent. And
certainly won’t take 14 years.
[Photo Credit: Jonathan Hyde]