Posted on Sep 23rd 2010 10:52 pm

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Formed by former members of Plone and Broadcast, Seeland first appeared in 2005 with a seven inch single released on Stereolab’s Duophonic, followed the year later by an EP. Both releases showcased the band’s beautiful electronic pop which would be developed further on Seeland’s debut album, Tomorrow Today, released last year. With a second album under their belt, themilkman caught up with ex-Broadcast Tim Felton to talk about starting from scratch and finding a label, writing songs, the retro-futuristic sound of Birmingham, the revival of Krautrock and taking the band to the next step.

It’s been a little bit over a year since the release of Tomorrow Today. What have you been up to since?
After the first LP came out we played a few shows and festivals and worked on the odd B side and remix. Other than that we pretty much went straight into writing new tracks and developing some existing tracks in preparation for a second LP. Our drummer Fuzz left around this time and that made us focus on writing and recording. We finished mixing in March of this year and the band line up stabilized at the start of the summer with the addition of Tom Fisher on drums. This line up has played just a handful of shows but that includes headlining a festival in Estonia and a radio session for Marc Riley.

Having been members of Broadcast and Plone in the past, how did the idea of Seeland come up? Was it difficult to start all over again and get noticed?
When Plone broke up Billy played keyboards on tour with Broadcast following Roj’s departure. We got on well and shared some musical influences. When I left Broadcast I wanted to continue writing music and it seemed natural for us to work together.

The act of writing and recording wasn’t that hard but we kind of existed in a vacuum as far as profile. We had no press (apart from Fact Magazine who gave us record of the month for the first 7”) profile whatsoever and no one really working on our behalf. It felt like we had potential but had no idea how to realise it or get it across to people.

Your first couple of releases came out on Duophonic, but you later joined the ranks of LoAF. How did you get to work with both labels?
Duophonic was Stereolab’s record label which was run by Martin Pike who managed Stereolab and Broadcast. When I left Broadcast we remained on good terms so when the first single was ready it seemed natural to approach Duophonic. Duophonic did a great job on the pressings etc but it is a tiny, part-time label with no PR/A&R, so making any one aware of the releases was difficult.

After the second Duophonic release which we had great hopes for but didn’t sell very well, we were kind of adrift. Some people seemed very depressed about the record industry so we went to ground and just focused on recording an LP even though we had no one to put it out. It’s hard to stay focused when there is no end in sight but in 2008 we started to send out CDRs to various record labels containing three or four tracks from the unfinished LP. People were very nice (those who got back) but the majority said that they weren’t signing anything.

LoAF’s was the most positive of the replies we got and eventually they came to see us play in London and we got on really well and they seemed to be music fans above all (which is a most important thing). The rest is history.

Seeland is a vocal-based project, and unlike in Broadcast or Plone, you both sing. How did you make the transition from musicians to musicians and singers? Was it quite a natural process for you?
I’m the lead vocalist in the band but Billy does contribute mainly as a backing vocalist. When we began working together, my demos contained vocals whereas Billy’s were instrumental. For this reason it seemed natural that I would take the role of lead vocalist.

Broadcast was a vocal based project as I would write songs with a vocal as the band progressed. This was something which I wanted to expand on so it was one of the starting points for Seeland. Having said that I had and still have a lot to learn vocally.

Seeland was originally a duo, but it is now a quartet, with the addition of Neil McAuley on bass, and Tom Fisher on drums. How has that changed the dynamic of the band?
It’s a lot more realised as a band and a lot more fun. Billy and myself are still the primary songwriters but the current line up is working really well and it feels like there is more potential. It can get a bit cabin feverish with just two people.

Your second album, How To Live, is due out very soon now. It seems slightly more purely pop-orientated record than Tomorrow Today, or perhaps it is that your sound is more confident this time round. Did you approach working on it in a different way? Was it a conscious choice to get ‘poppier’?
With Tomorrow Today we were isolated with no real plan for release so we would continually meddle with songs. There was no end point so it started to feel more laboured. Once that record was out it felt important to be more spontaneous, to have a feeling of movement. Writing songs isn’t really a problem so it felt it would be better to release more and try to define our selves through mistakes and successes rather than nothing at all.

All the Seeland releases have been pop records to a degree and a nice melody is something we both like so it has been quite natural. Being gloomy has its place and I think we have our moments of melancholy but doing this record quickly, has defined itself in a way.

Your songs seem rooted in everyday life. What inspires you to write? Where do you find the material for your songs?
I guess the first time you get the experience of empathy with a record or book or piece of art and you say that’s how I feel or it talks to you in some way its something you want to repeat and emulate and share with someone else. Of course there are no guarantees….

Inspiration comes from everything around. For instance, we have an EP of cover versions coming out and the lead song is Abraham, Martin and John by Dion. This came about from listening to a Jerry Springer ‘Inheritance Tracks’ interview on Radio 4.

As far as lyrics, I guess its part experience, part hope and part fantasy. Awake in a Dream.

I write down lots of things, fragments and phrases and have themes or ideas that may live with me for some time until they are ready to surface as songs

Do  you have a set way of working on songs? Are they the fruits of jam sessions, or do you sit down and work out how the song is going to sound before?
Generally Billy might write a piece of music and I will add the vocal melody and lyrics or I will write a song  and give it to Billy and he will develop it. Some things come out of jam sessions and it seems to happen with more frequency. Local Park is an example of this where the riff and the vocal melody happened almost immediately and it was quite straight forward to flesh it out. It’s quite light hearted really.

There is a certain naivety and innocence in your music, similar to what the music of Plone had, which seems to stem from what sounds like very simple melodies and arrangements. Do you intentionally keep things simple in your songs?
Simplicity is best in music I think and the temptation to over complicate things can be hard to fight. I think with the first LP, we had a tendency to do this because there was no time constraint. This was one of the reasons for wanting to do the new LP over a shorter period of time. So in a way there is knowing in the naivety.

This extends to the sounds you use, which once again sound pretty straightforward, but is this really the case?
All the sounds are carefully considered and with the new LP there was a sense of wanting to restrict the palette somewhat so as to be more direct. Hopefully with this LP there is a depth in the sounds that reveal themselves with each listen.

There is a very distinct Birmingham sound, which is often referred to as retro-futurism, which has been championed by many bands in the last fifteen years, including of course Broadcast, Pram or Plone. What makes Birmingham such a ‘retro-futuristic’ place?
Hmm, I’m not sure really. Certainly all the bands you mention happened around the same time so maybe something got into the water supply. Maybe because Birmingham was a major industrial town and so quite ugly we looked for the optimism that was behind all the mess. “It could have been like this” in a sense.

You named the band after a song from Neu!’s third album, Neu! ’75, and your sound is often described as Krautrock-infused. How has the genre in general, and bands such as Neu!, Cluster or Harmonia in particular, influenced you over the years, and what is it that attracts you about it?
Neu! are great and they remind us of the power of rhythm much in the same way as say the J.B.’s. It’s funny when people say Krautrock because what do they mean ? Kraftwerk certainly bare little resemblance to Amon Düül. I guess mainly people think of it as a kind of mechanical repetition. What I really like is the Cluster/Harmonia crossover. Specifically the influence of Rodelius because it feels as though he can realise a romantic sentimentality inside the machine of repetition.

It seems like there has been a renewed interest for Krautrock in recent years. Why do you think that is?
I guess the socio-political landscape has changed. In the seventies Kraftwerk/Faust/Can had some measure of success in the U.K. Years ago Jonny Rotten sited krautrock as an influence and there is a striking similarity between certain Neu! tracks and Mr Rotten’s vocal approach. But the public are now more European in a sense. I can remember being in Woolworth’s in the seventies and some kid wanting to buy some Airfix plastic german soldiers. His father replied ’what do you want bloody Germans for?’ Whatever. As time passes bones are picked over and the internet has made obscure things accessible.

Do you have any plans to take the new album on the road, and if yes, what can people expect from Seeland live?
We plan to play in the UK in October and then on to France. I think there is more energy live and I think this surprises people. In Estonia the crowd were very receptive and we had great feedback.
One chap saying after “You made me dance! I never dance at shows.” So who knows ?

Julian House has been responsible for all your record covers, and he has also worked on covers for many of the bands you are or have been associated with. Was that your choice to work with him again, and how important is it for you?
The covers for the Duophonic releases were done by myself and a chap called Rick Cooper but Julian has done everything since. Julian’s work is great and we were very happy when he agreed to do the artwork. His work lends an atmosphere that works well with the music I think.

Once again, there is a good synergy between your sound and that of his label, Ghost Box…
It’s nice that we have some involvement with Ghost Box like the Advisory Circle remix etc. We share some aesthetics and we respect their work so again all very natural.

How do you see Seeland evolve in the coming years?
Well I think we have plenty of ways in which we can develop so we will see. I am looking forward to playing more shows and developing as a live band a bit more. There is no shortage of songs at the moment so it would be good to have another LP out next year.

What kind of music do you listen to when you’re not working on music of your own? What is the last album you bought?
It varies, I have sort of habitual things I return to which is in a way comforting. Being skint I don’t buy that much but I still occasionally trawl charity shops for oddities.

What’s next in the Seeland diary?
We are trying to put UK shows together for October/November. We also have some dates in France in October and maybe a show in Greece. Hopefully then more shows into the New Year. Also we have the ‘Under Abraham’s Mind’ EP out soon and we also plan to release the earlier pre LoAF recordings as a compilation.

If you could take any combination of five records, books, films with you, which ones would they be?

It’s a bit random but here are five films.

1. Pick Pocket
2. The Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors
3. Nuts in May
4. Mein Krieg
5. Festen

Email interview, September 2010. Thank you to Tim Felton and Sean Newsham

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