PHOTO CREDIT: Jimi Rae
THE majestic and wonderful…
SEIL LIEN has been telling me about the single, I Am Fire, and her fantastic new E.P., A Little While More. She talks to me about getting into music and the sort of influences, musical and parental, that helped guide her career – I ask which songs from the E.P. SEIL LIEN responds to hardest.
The songwriter discusses touring and explains the importance of being up on the stage; a new artist we should follow and watch closely; whether there is much time to relax away from music – she ends the interview by selecting a rather good song.
Hi, SEIL LIEN. How are you? How has your week been?
Hwat! This weather! Just back from Glasgow, caught Mr Matt White (our bass/guitar player) playing with The Temperance Movement at Trnsmt Festival; I then hung back to see the folks and get things organised for our Scottish dates at the end of the month.
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
I’m SEIL LIEN (pronounced Seal lee-in). It's my Chinese name: my mother's Scottish and my dad’s Chinese. It means ‘little lotus’.
It started as a little underground arts band creating live ambient landscapes, improvising and collaborating with different types of artists. It eventually mutated into a more structured band format but I have tried to stay true to its roots, placing a lot of importance on creating atmosphere.
I am interested in I Am Fire. How did that song come together and what does it mean to you?
I had written the main guitar riff and had penned a couple of variations of the song. When I took it to the producer (and artist in the same name) Rico he got it; he could feel what I wanted to put across. We did a fifteen-hour session. It was a cold, dark Christmas night and we ripped it apart and put it back together again.
It’s not a blow-by-blow true story but certainly relatable. It’s kind of about admitting that you're sabotaging a relationship - it’s not my story but it’s a narrative I've certainly danced with on more than one occasion.
IN THIS PHOTO: Frank To (who designed the artwork for I Am Fire)
Can you tell me about the cover art for the single and how that was put together?
An old school acquaintance was making incredible artwork and he is being hailed as one of Scotland's most exciting contemporary artists. In his current work and the piece he did for I Am Fire, he manipulates and sets fire to gunpowder. It's really special!
The E.P., A Little While More, is out. Do you think there are particular themes and stories that go into the songs?
It’s all true in one way or another...
I wanted the songs to create a mood rather than just the words painting a picture. It's important to me that music is emotionally tangible. I worked really hard on that and really hope it comes across.
Is there a song from the E.P. that stands as a favourite? Which tracks means the most?
Hmmm; not really. Although, if you had a gun to my head: I Am Fire is my favourite to play; Chase the Devil is my favourite to sing and A Little While More is my favourite to hear back.
Do you recall when music came into your life? Was there a moment or artist that lit that fuse?
My dad plays classical Spanish guitar. I have memories of sitting by his feet watching him play things like Suite Española No. 5 Asturias. This passion for Spanish and Latin American guitar was passed down from his father. I’ve inherited the most phenomenal record collection and I’m very much influenced by it.
I was a teenager in the '90s; I was into all the typical grungy stuff – Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Alice in Chains. I'm not sure who lit what to be honest…
PHOTO CREDIT: Jimi Rae
The moment that lit the fuse for this particular project I can actually pinpoint. It was seeing a music and dance collaboration between Nitin Sawhney and Akram Khan. I was so blown away, I came out of the theatre and said: “I want to do that”. That’s when I started working with dancers and started creating 'atmospheric' music. It was the beginning of SEIL LIEN.
Where are you heading on tour? Where can we catch you?
I’m playing at the Hope and Anchor in Islington on 18th July and I’m very privileged to be opening for Sylvain Sylvain from the New York Dolls at his book launch in Glasgow and Edinburgh on 26th and 27th July respectively.
IN THIS PHOTO: SEIL LIEN at Bush Hall supporting Sophie Barker (Zero 7 singer)
Is the stage the place you feel the strongest and most free? How important is it being up there and performing to the crowd?
Ha, well. I was always a reluctant performer: I’m naturally shy but the need is greater; it’s the strangest thing and I’m sure that’s a common story in the history of performers. I dropped out of art school so had to find another artform to express myself….
I didn’t really think about the consequences until the love for songwriting was greater than my fear of the stage. It's a pretty special way to connect with people, which is ultimately why you do it...so, very important!
What do you hope to achieve in 2018?
I want the album to come out and for the people who get it to have the opportunity to get it and then we can all hook up and have a…party?
IN THIS IMAGE: The limited edition version of the single is available here
Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music – the one that sticks in the mind?
Getting the funding from Creative Scotland to make the record. I felt free!
If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?
Nick Cave - and vodka martinis.
IN THIS PHOTO: SEIL LIEN and band setting up at the National Portrait Gallery, London/PHOTO CREDIT: Talya Jacoby
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
Find your voice, get a mentor and carve your own path.
Some years ago, dealing with different commercial producers and major labels, I was always told to try and write ‘happy tunes'....which I'm not very good at! One of these times, I went to Rico and he said something that has always stayed with me and influenced a lot of my later choices: “Everyone. Everyone gets spat out the other side. The most important thing is that you can live with what you put out into the world. That you can look back and be proud of whatever happens”…
For me, that nailed it. Integrity is everything and, if no one likes it, so fuc*ing what. You made a bit of art that was good for you at the time...
Hey; well done you!
IN THIS PHOTO: La Luz/PHOTO CREDIT: @sub_lation
Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?
Well; it’s probably not new but it was new to me. I was painting in my studio the other day, the sun was streaming through the window and it came on BBC Radio 6 Music: La Luz - California Finally. It was perfect: I wanted it to last for at least ten minutes.
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
When you work in the arts, it’s tricky because it’s not a job you can put away at 6 P.M. and go home - and now you have to smear your every move over the socials it’s now even harder to separate your home life from your ‘work’. In the moments in-between, I walk my dog; I paint, I sketch; I write, I listen to records...
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Well. The sun's still shining and I'm off to the studio so, hey, La Luz - California Finally!
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