Interview: Seoul

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When I think of Montréal’s elusive new pop trio, Seoul, a few things come to mind: As I recall, the first piece I ever wrote here on Indie Current was a review of the band’s heavenly debut single, “Stay With Us.” That review—which made its way online near the end of summer—was an important milestone in my life because it marked the beginning of my long, and hopefully successful, journey into music journalism.

The second reason why this band is so special to me, is that they crept into my life around the same time my friends and I parted ways, each us moving onto our respective schools. Understandably so, “Stay With Us” was significant because it allowed me to reminisce on the times that I had spent with my friends during those warm summer nights—a time when we didn’t have to worry about the seemingly endless struggle of adulthood. So, in other words, I guess you could say that the group has a special place in my heart (cheesy, I know).

With my sentimental days behind me, I figured I’d reach out to the band—and lucky for me, they were kind enough to reply. I had the privilege of speaking with the trio about their mysterious online presence, the message behind their video for “Stay With Us,” and most importantly, got them to divulge a bit more information about their forthcoming album.

Indie Current: First off, can you guys tell me a bit more about yourselves and the background of your band? You all seem like a very mysterious bunch.

Seoul: Seoul is the latest and most refined work from many years of songwriting and experimenting in various musical configurations. The three of us spent a year together in Montréal putting together a record, after which Nigel and Dex had to return to the States to finish school. This summer we focused our vision into an aesthetic whole and decided to finally begin releasing the music we’d come up with under the name Seoul. All of us are currently based in Montréal.

As for the mysteriousness, there has been a lot made of this idea, but being mysterious was never something we were specifically pushing to portray. There are definitely people releasing music these days who have manifestos about music coming first and the personality of the creator being somewhat “erased,” and this is something we respect. But it’s not what we’re going for. No matter how you choose to portray or present yourself, you are always making a creative choice, and just as the artist creates the art, the artist also creates the artist. Our intent has been more to keep what we shared with the world as essential, pared-down, and “absolute” as possible. Sometimes a photograph of your own face isn’t an essential component to a release, sometimes it can be. There isn’t a desire to hide things from people, it’s more a desire to be patient and release what we feel is important in order to connect with an audience musically. If we thought that knowing the brand of peanut butter we prefer enriched the experience of listening to “Stay With Us,” you’d be the first to know!

IC: I read an interview in which you guys said you were looking for a label to release the upcoming record—how has that been going? Can we expect it to be released anytime soon?

SL: Yes, it’s been going well! We’re hoping for a release in 2014, but we’ll see how this year pans out.

IC: What has the reception been like in Montréal and other parts of Canada to your music?

SL: Although we haven’t traveled too far, the reception overall has been positive. There has definitely been an increasing presence at shows of people who have spent time with our music online, and who we’ve never met before which is encouraging.

IC: Were you surprised to see so many music blogs cover “Stay With Us”?

SL: It seems that the successful launch of a song online involves a couple things. Firstly, you have to stand behind the song itself as a strong idea and be confident that it will make tracks on its own terms. Kind of like dropping off your kid for their first day of school and feeling like the way you’ve raised them will help them to make friends. It’s also important to present the song in a way that draws people into a world that is evocative, rich, and ripe for dreaming. This often involves a visual component that heightens the music, and is felt in every accompanying detail visually. At that point, you can reach out to online outlets and work hard to get people aware of the music. The deliberateness of our approach makes “surprised” seem like the wrong word, we’re definitely honoured – but we did feel that what we were putting into the world would be exciting.

IC: Is there any message in particular that you hoped to convey in the music video for “Stay With Us”?

SL: Well, the great thing about music and film is that it is an abstract language, so messages, meanings and feelings often surface in ways outside the realm of pre-conceived ideas and expectations. When we’re coming up with ideas, we like to steer clear of insisting on overly-defined initial messages and try to have ideas begin from a more intuitive, felt place. Often it can feel in retrospect like there is some kind of unifying message, but looking retrospectively at what you’ve done is a separate creative act from the actual process of making the thing in the first place. That said, the video definitely evokes a particular feeling of disconnection that the song, and the album explore. People have asked if we’re dealing with the general theme of “urban alienation,” but we find this statement oversimplifies and categorizes without much nuance.

What we’re getting at definitely involves the urban environment as a backdrop, but is more about momentary losses of perspective than “alienation” per se. There are moments on the album where what is being expressed is a more pure, spiritual sort of alienation, but other times its sort of like a privileged kind of alienation, where the alienation you feel is more a “loss of perspective” and less of a truly disastrous thing. This sort of loss of perspective is really pervasive in the lives of a lot of people and deserves a place and voice in music. It’s kind of a shameful thing to feel—a shame for lapsing into negativity and isolation when you can suddenly remember that your life is really OK. That in the end, your friends are there and that things are gonna be fine.

IC: Are there any specific bands or artists that have had a profound influence on your music?

SL: Influence is a big ball of interconnected threads and sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint specific people who are really the ultimate catalysts. There are definitely people who have inspired the actual craft of recording where a lot of our best work happens. Artists who really embrace recording as a lifestyle and who find joy in a continual kind of chipping away, artists like Dan Snaith, Kevin Parker, Steely Dan, Brian Eno, Fleetwood Mac, Dirty Beaches, Drake… we’re definitely inspired by “studio hustlers.” That said, we are also infinitely influenced by our friends, our lovers, our city, film, weather, good poems… and by those who have encouraged us to pursue our visions and feel valid doing it.

IC: Tell us a bit about your recording process.

SL: We recorded this entire record in Nigel’s bedroom with a really minimal set-up of gear. The songwriting process is unusually democratic and we are always taking each others’ ideas and moulding them collectively. If one of us arrives with a song mostly sketched out, the other might sing a verse over it, while the guitarist could write a keyboard part and the bassist might program drums. We try to let the ideas be at the forefront of our workflow and we are usually all in agreement when something feels particularly good.

IC: The lyrics to “Stay With Us” sound very intimate. When writing music, is it your intent to create songs that sound (and feel) “intimate”?

SL: The details of one’s intimate life are usually the wellspring from which a lot of cool art is made. We’re not necessarily aiming to over-highlight intimacy or anything, but it definitely inspires the gut reactions that make a person want to write a song in the first place, or make sound at all. Beyond being lyrically intimate, we often begin songs with sounds and textures that feel intimate, and this can add a lot to the sense of an overall intimate tone.

IC: Lastly, any interesting facts you want the people to know about Seoul?

SL: We’ve spent a lot of time recently refining our live set. With Seoul, we’re exploring new territory for ourselves, particularly in terms of using all hardware on stage. Even though the music bears a lot of electronic ideas, we’re experimenting without the use of software to achieve a live set-up that gives us a different type of ownership over our sound. Rather than using a central engine, each performer exists as an independent module of a system, allowing for a strong feeling of collectiveness and shared mind.

Manuel Lemus

Professional bum. Musical connoisseur. I'm a Scorpio. View all post →