In Session: Seekae talk ‘accessible’ new record

“I’ve just had my headphones on for three hours so I’m a little disoriented,” admits Seekae’s George Nicholas. The multi-instrumentalist is at home in Sydney revisiting a new song called ‘Yech’, which made its live debut in an intimate sunrise session at the Utzon Room in Sydney’s Opera House. “It’s going in a bit of a different direction now than what the live version was,” says Nicholas. “They was one of our first forays into the whole vocal thing.”

While Nicholas is attempting to make the track “perfectly perfect” for some upcoming live shows (see below for dates), his bandmates Alex Cameron and John Hassell are at a studio across town working with a string section for their third album, the follow-up to last year’s well-received +DOME. While the as-yet-untitled album is still very much in its infancy, Nicholas is adamant about one thing: It’ll be very different from both +DOME and the band’s 2008 debut The Sound Of Trees Falling On People, which introduced their intricate electronica to the world.

What are you recording?

We’re recording a string section: double bass, a cellist, two violinists and a violist. It’s going well. It’s our second day of strings. We did our brass and woodwind section last week.

Is that a product of [your Opera House] show at Vivid?

Yeah. We really enjoyed working with strings at Vivid … It worked really well at Vivid, so we thought, “Why not do it for the record?”

And you’re using the same players?

A few of the same, but not entirely. About half-half. There’s two or three of the same.

How many sessions all up with them?

Five sessions. We wrote it all as midi data, scored it up and send it off to them a couple days before. They hopefully practiced it before they came in to record. It’s a pretty fluid process, which is good.

So you didn’t have to write sheet music?

Thanks to the wonders of technology we were able to export the midi files and import them into a program that converts the date into musical score. There’s a little bit of touching up to do – adding in notation for dynamics – but thankfully there’s stuff like that available because we’re certainly not well-versed in scoring for classical instruments.

Is it going to be on every track?

Not sure at the moment … The idea is to use it on every track, but we can’t tell at the moment.

So how far along is the record. Has it started taking shape?

I think it has. There’s 14 tracks so far that we’ve written. We’re aiming to get 20 or so and then cull it down. I think we’re getting more and more of an idea of what it’s going to sound like. It’ll be fairly different from the last two records, but that’s what we always set out to do.

*Is ‘Yech’ indicative of the new record?

No, not entirely. There are elements which do flow onto other tracks we’ve written onto the record. But I wouldn’t say it’s a fair summation … I haven’t thought all that much about how the tracks are going to fit together in global terms. I think they have a lo-fi element that runs through them. From an aesthetic perspective they have a crunchy sound that comes from a number of effects processors which we’ve been using.

Are the vocals going to be shared around a bit on the record?

Well, I haven’t sung since I was in church choir since I was 13. [Laughs] And I don’t really plan on singing except for some backing vocals here and there. Alex and John have taken the reins on that, which is good.

Are vocals going to be more of a feature of this record?

Yeah, it just kind of happened like that. The suggestion was always there to incorporate vocals more and more on the last album [ +DOME ], but that didn’t work with the material that we had. On this record we noticed that the instrumentals were a lot more simple and stripped-back, which left room for vocals, so it was just a product of that.

Any records or sounds that you’ve been particularly inspired by for this one?

We always try and channel a bit of Burial.

And you can really hear that on ‘Yech’.

That was the direct one. We were listening to lots of electronic stuff like Chris Clark. Even though the album isn’t all-in-the-box computer music, our inspiration comes from that.

Is there an overriding concept or theme?

Not really. What’s been a relief with this record is that John’s been living in London for the past four months and now he’s back, so we haven’t had four months of sitting around and talking about what kind of direction we were going to go in, or conceptualising the whole thing. It’s been refreshing all getting together with no real pre-conceived idea of what we want to do, and just showing each other the material we’ve worked on, and just jamming out sections. So, no, we haven’t put a huge amount of thought into what “direction” we want to go in.

It seems the human element has been creeping in more and more.

Yeah, definitely. That’s always been an interest of ours: Making synthetic sounds sound more human and vice versa, blurring the lines between what’s digitally generated and what’s organic. That’s definitely something that’s come through on this record.

With so many options and variables, is it hard to know when to stop?

It can be a bit overwhelming at times, but once you make more and more music you build up a solid workflow you don’t get distracted by new instruments, or plug-ins or techniques. You already have that wealth of knowledge and you can quickly incorporate that into your workflow.

And I guess working with the other guys for so many years, I guess it becomes intuitive?

Definitely. We acknowledge that we each have our strengths and weaknesses: Some are better at melody, others are better at drums and mix-downs. It’s good to know where everyone stands. We all have different stylistic tendencies as well. It could be a burden, but it’s actually a really good thing for us.

Do you have a working title yet?

I can’t think of anything on the spot! [Laughs]

Are there any particular words that describe the sound?

It’s a bit more accessible, I guess. It’s probably not that hard to put these things into words, but I’m not the best at it. [Laughs]

“Even though the album isn’t all-in-the-box computer music, our inspiration comes from that.”

Will you be playing much more new material on the upcoming tour?

The plan is to have about a 50-50 split between new and old. Fifty per cent will be from +DOME and The Sound of Trees Falling On People, and 50 will be unreleased stuff. I’m pretty excited about doing that, because it feels like we’ve been playing the tracks off those two albums for year and years.

It’s a great run of shows. I think you have three at The Basement and two at The Corner.

The idea with The Basement was to have more intimate shows. We like playing larger venues like The Metro, but this time it felt like a step in the right direction to play a more intimate, showcase-style show.

I think the Opera House proved that you can tackle the big shows as well. What was it like for you?

It was really good. I was absolutely shitting myself before, I was petrified, but it was good to have that pressure because it forces you to pay attention to the little minute details in the live sets. Usually when you’re playing to a crowd at a venue, everyone’s pissed up and the PA sounds like a big iPod speaker, whereas at the Opera House, everyone’s sitting down, relatively sober and picking out all the little problems in the set – or at least I thought they were. We were really able to hone our live set and make it as polished as people … Every show after the Opera House show has been a piece of piss. [Laughs]

Seekae tour dates

Wednesday 29th August – Corner Hotel, Melbourne

Friday 31st August – Corner Hotel, Melbourne

Saturday 1st September – The Zoo, Brisbane

Thursday 6th September – The Basement, Sydney

Friday 7th September – The Basement, Sydney

Saturday 8th September – The Basement, Sydney