Title: My bus came around the corner at the right time, and I hopped on it!
Author: Andy Gill
“AAAH, it’s just been non-stop,” says Seal of his virtual year-long bout of promotional chores. “I just wanna get out and play. I’m not interested in any of the rest of it.”
Judging by the way he constantly strums a big acoustic guitar throughout our chat, he can’t wait till October, when he takes a five-piece outfit on tour. “Just a hard-core rock’n’roll band,” he explains. “Guitarist, bass player, drummer, keyboard player and myself. None of the fancy light stuff, none of that bollocks, just get up there and give it some. There’ll be a lot more rock in it than on the album.”
This comes as something as a surprise, as Seal’s debut LP album suggests the singer might be in the forefront of the latest Brit-soul revival. Seal doesn’t see it that way. “The way dance music has exploded provided the right sort of idiom for my music, which I suppose is just a reflection of all my different influences, which are really broad, ranging from folk music to punk. I’ve got quite an eclectic record collection. I don’t have that many records, but they’re very varied.” Musically, he cites such as Christy Moore, Crosby Stills & Nash and especially Joni Mitchell as influences, whilst vocally the names Sly Stone, Hendrix, Dionne Warwick and Stevie Wonder crop up, along with the perhaps unusual choice of Tracey Thorn, from whom he learnt about breathing. “She’s got amazing control,” he testifies. Plus, of course, Marvin Gaye. “Marvin Gaye could deliver a song, bang! Didn’t sing any more notes than he needed to,” enthuses Seal. “Connected every time. There’s not a lot of people that can do that. That’s what I strive towards, to be in complete harmony with the track.”
His initial collaboration with Adamski, whom he met through the warehouse rave scene, might seem an odd way of aiming for “complete harmony”, but for Seal it offered a way out of demo hell, which he’d been in for some while, searching for a deal. And it provided instant success, much to his surprise. “I thought Killer was too much of a song to make it into a house-orientated chart of the time — and a weird song at that. But once it got into the Top 10 I thought it would go all the way. I thought it was a good enough song to make it if enough people heard it. “I had no doubts about Crazy, though,” he adds. “I always thought in my heart of hearts it was a potential Number 1 — even though it never was! It’s the first song I wrote on the guitar, and the first song I’d done where I said everything I wanted to say in a concise way. Before that my songs had been too long. Still are, sometimes. But as soon as I wrote the hook, I knew it was a potential hit.”
The production switch from Adamski to Trevor Horn, who signed Seal to his ZTT label after the success of Killer, might seem odd, and indeed Seal characterises the two producers as being as different as chalk and cheese. “One’s very thorough, and one isn’t, in a nutshell,” he says. “Adamski records in an unusual way — he’s more of an if-the-cap-fits merchant, which I respect totally: if it sounds right, bosh-bash-bosh, get it down. Trevor, on the other hand, is much more thorough: he’ll consider every possible permutation before he arrives at the final thing. Trevor makes things more coherent.”
It’s typical of this likable giant — Seal stands well clear of the six-foot mark — that he should so freely credit others for much of his own success, and in a pop arena habitually populated by the most fragile of egos, it’s still strange to hear a star, especially one as obviously talented as Seal, ascribe his success, to good timing. “My bus just came around the corner at the right time, and I hopped on it! It was just luck. That’s all.”