Posted on Feb 1st 2011 10:15 pm
At the beginning of the nineties, Seefeel, originally formed of Mark Clifford, Sarah Peacock, Justin Fletcher and Mark Van Hoen, who was later replaced with Darren Seymour, found themselves treading the boundary between shoegaze, then in its dying days, and the rising electronica movement, releasing three seminal albums and a handful of EPs between 1993 and 1996. Then, although the four never officially split up, Seefeel was put on an indefinite hold. Now back, with two new members, a new album and a forthcoming tour, we took the opportunity to speak with Mark Clifford and Sarah Peacock about the very idea of Seefeel, their renewed focus and what may be the beginning of a new era for the band.
When you started Seefeel, did you already have the idea of mixing acoustic instrumentation and electronics?
Mark Clifford: It was never a conscious decision. It was based on my influences and on necessity. I grew up listening to Cocteau Twins, Joy Division, New Order and the like who all had elements of electronic rhythm in their music, so it was always something that I found interesting – the tension between the human and the machine. So when I started making music, it seemed the logical way to record beats, not having access to the necessary resources to properly record a drum kit. So naturally, these ideas filtered into Seefeel. Likewise with guitars – I was never a very technically good guitarist (and to be honest had no real desire or drive to be) so effects were a way to compensate.
This is something that has since been influencing quite a lot of artists. Did you have any idea that your sound would be assimilated in such way, and how do you feel about it?
MC: It’s not something I ever thought about and it’s not something I really think about now since I really don’t know who has or has not been influenced by us. It’s flattering if people have, but I am also aware that these developments in music were happening before us and would have happened without us.
Who has influenced your work as Seefeel?
MC: Well Cocteau Twins were really the first music that I heard that triggered something in my head to the effect that I wanted to make music. before then I had really just listened to music but never saw myself making it. Subsequently so much has influenced me because I feel that all music I hear has some bearing in the way I make music, in either a negative or positive way. By that, I mean that the sounds I hear are either something I like and stick in my subconscious or that I don’t like and I’m pushed away from those places
When Too Pure re-released Quique a few years ago, did you have any input in the Redux version?
MC: Yes, they left it to me to collate the tracks and oversee the orders etc. as I had the unreleased masters. It was quite strange digging through so many old tapes and so forth. Like revisiting a place that meant something special to you once.
Sarah Peacock: I helped with the artwork (digging out the originals from a dusty pile in the spare room!), and Justin provided the flyers etc. for the sleeve collage.
I was at the ICA gig you played last year, which was your first UK performance in some years. What made you decide to get back performing live once again a couple of years ago after such a long time, and why did you stop after Succour?
MC: It was really because after the re-issue Sarah and I had decided to exchange some ideas and coincidently it was Warp’s 20th and they asked if we would play one of the shows. It was really just beautiful timing. It felt comfortable for the first time in a long time so we ran with it. After Succour touring had become a real grind for us and really quite frustrating and dispiriting because we felt the optimism of the previous four or five years had been crushed brutally by the onset of Brit Pop.
SP: We decided to take six months off in 1995 and…
Have your respective projects outside of Seefeel fed into your sound with the band now do you think, and if yes, in what way?
MC: Everything I have done, both released and unreleased, has had a bearing in some way. Making music for me is a continuous process. I don’t see stop or start points. It’s a constant journey for want of a cleverer word.
SP: Not directly, as the music I’ve been involved with making has been quite different from Seefeel. I think the main things that have changed for me is that I’ve matured and grown in confidence, and am a lot less precious about my contribution.
Steve Beckett from Warp apparently asked you to record a new album following your performance at the Warp20 party in Paris a couple of years ago. Did it really happen, and was it something you’d talked amongst yourselves before?
MC: Yes, Steve was so pleased with our performance he was beaming ear to ear. It was amazing for us. He asked us to get in touch once we were back in England I think which we did. I think we would have started new recordings anyway but I don’t think it would have been such an easy or confident ride for us without Warp’s backing.
Mark, in the press release for your new album, you’re quoted saying that the arrival of Shigery Ishihara and Ilda ‘E-Da’ Kazuhisa had changed the dynamic of the band. In what way would you say this has happened?
MC: In the early days of Seefeel I felt very much burdened with the responsibility of overseeing every element, every instrument, of the recording process with the exception of the vocals. It was very stressful for me. E-Da and Shige help alleviate some of that pressure. Shige especially is someone I can trust because he understands me very well and he understands the music. So I can give him a demo and he will inevitably come up with a bass line that I not only like but which can also further inspire me. This is more and more the case and in the new material we have written since we finished recording Seefeel there is an easiness that started to come at the end of the album sessions as we started to find our feet as a band.
SP: We’ve discovered a new capacity for improvisation – in playing, and effects manipulation (especially useful for filling the gaps between tracks in the live set!).
On the new album, the guitars sound much sharper than on previous records, with distortions being used quite extensively, and the drums also appear very prominent. Was that a conscious effort?
MC: I think it was only conscious in that I did not want to use any of my own sounds from previous work I had done. I tried to expand what I do with the guitar. It’s been a good exercise for me. The rhythms are purposefully very dry because that was something I liked at the time and this makes them feel more stark I think.
Sarah, although your voice still has a lot of effects applied to it, it is, at least at times, especially on Faults, much clearer and at the front of the mix. Is it a way for you to reclaim your position as vocalist within the band?
SP: That’s not my doing really; Mark produced the album without me hovering over the fader! I think it’s because I had much better formed ideas for this new album, some of which Mark said actually inspired the direction of the tracks… When we did Succour and (Ch-Vox) the vocals weren’t necessarily recognisable as they were so processed, but they sounded absolutely right in those contexts.
The album is also much less atmospheric than Succour or (Ch-Vox), returning in some ways to the more structured forms of your earlier records. Did you feel you had reached a point with these two albums which you couldn’t pursue?
MC: Not really no. Again I think it was just wanting to explore something different. We have not abandoned those territories. I think the next recordings you’ll find will draw in some of those more sonic aspects again.
After such a long time, there are quite a lot of expectations from fans I guess. As the new album is just about to be released, do you feel any pressure or excitement about how it will be received?
MC: Of course yes now that it is done and out there. During the recording process not so much, we just enjoyed making it. I’m sure some people will like it and some will be disappointed but I think whatever record we made that would be the case. It’s the nature of making music I think. All we can do is make music to the best of our ability and hope that people find something good in it.
You have worked with quite a few different labels over the years, from Too Pure to Warp and Rephlex. How do you choose the labels you work with, and is there a particular reason why you have kept on changing?
MC: Well the only real change was from Too Pure to Warp which really happened because I felt Warp were able to offer us more at that time. I felt slightly like the odd child on Too Pure whereas Warp seemed a more natural home for us. Maybe that’s not right so much in retrospect but I don’t regret it at all and Warp have been very supportive of us I think. The album for Rephlex was really just a thank you to Richard for having done such exquisite remixes of Time To Find Me. We didn’t ever ‘join’ that label.
Mark, you also set up your own label, Polyfusia, a few years ago. Is the label still active, and did you consider releasing this new album yourself?
MC: I think if no-one else had shown any interest and if we had something worthy of releasing I/we probably would have released it but not on Polyfusia as I really wrapped that up a while ago as it’s not something I was getting much pleasure from at the time. I do plan to start something afresh this year though.
You are playing a date at Kings Place next week, then you have a few dates in March and April which are going to take you the UK, Europe and Japan. What can people expect from Seefeel live?
MC: Well, there will be loud bits and quiet bits, new parts and old parts. Probably more improvisation within tracks because that’s something we are more able to do, so hopefully each gig will offer something unique.
You recently opened for Michael Rother, who was playing the music of Neu! at Barbican. How did you get involved in this event? Was Neu! an influence for you?
MC: Neu! were not really an influence no as I did not hear them until well after Seefeel had recorded well, certainly Quique. I wasn’t really up on that scene except of course for Kraftwerk. I had a Holger Czukay album or two but didn’t even know Can really. In fact when we signed to Warp, Steve actually bought me Tago Mago and Future Days because I don’t think he could quite believe my blank expression when he mentioned these records. Anyway, Michael had seen Seefeel play in Cologne in 1994 and wrote some really great things about us. I think he had heard that we had played a few weeks earlier at the ICA and we were asked to support.
It might be a bit early to talk about the future, but how do you see Seefeel evolve in the coming years, and do you think this new dynamic is going to lead to more records?
MC: I think we are oozing new material right now to the point that the new album already feels quite old to us. We started to come together as a band more and more during the recording of the album and I think we can achieve so much more.
Could you name 5 records, films or books that have been very influential in your life?
MC: That’s too difficult to do because whichever five I give there will be another five that could have been and another five beyond that etc., etc.
SP: Me too! Can we have 50 instead?
Email interview January 2011. Thank you to Mark Clifford, Sarah Peacock and Debbie Ball.