Alex Cameron, George Nicholas and John Hassell are the masterminds behind the Australian electronic group, Seekae. They flipped the ideals of Australian electronic music on its head back in 2008 when they released their debut album, The Sound of Trees Falling on People, which made its mark on listeners by mixing 8-bit electronica with IDM and ambience. Since they debuted 6 years ago, the trio have released two more stylistically unique albums, and recently wrapped up their ‘Test and Recognise’ tour around Australia. The man behind drums and synth, Alex Cameron, had a chat to us about their most recent album, The Worry.
You just finished your ‘Test and Recognise’ tour where you played some tracks from The Worry for the first time, did you have any expectations about how the audience would react?
I didn’t hold any specific expectations, I suppose. It’s more just about focusing on getting energy when we perform. If we can perform a brand new song live that not many people have heard or not many people are familiar with, then we just try to make sure that there’s an energy that we’re bringing to each track and try to make sure that it sound as best as it can. It’s like a pitch to an audience, you know? You’re pitching something. This is something you’ve made and created and it’s something you love, and you’re showing it to them for the first time. I didn’t have any specific expectations; expectations are more on us and what we expect of ourselves. And the result was really surprising, people were singing along to our new tracks, obviously we’ve done something right; people seemed to be really into it.
How come you guys decided to tour before releasing the album?
We like to do it in a bit of a different way than usual. We like to play the songs first before people have had a chance to hear them… At least some of the songs. Then the record comes out and we hope to be able to tour a more extensive set of the record. Maybe play a set where it’s basically the whole album. And when we do that, we wanna make sure people have really had a chance to hear it and let it sink in. There’s gonna be lots of opportunities for people to see us, so we figured let’s just get on the road and play some of our new songs and see where we end up. That’s kind of our thought process behind it.
Lyrics are obviously a new element to your music. Is it something you guys have always wanted to do?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s been like a weird sort of fantasy, I suppose. I was raised with music, like a lot of people. For me it’s always been there. It’s just about finding the moment to do it and making sure I have something to say when I sing. That’s kind of the main focus, that’s what we were waiting for.
Do you think you were taking a risk by adding vocals, since +Dome and The Sound of Trees Falling on People were very instrumental-heavy?
Yeah, absolutely. It was a very big risk. But, at the same time, we thought of the consequences. It’s not like we’re going back and changing our old music and trying to reinterpret those songs, which would be a stupid risk. It felt like a good kind of risk. It felt like it was nerve racking, but it was also something that just needed to happen. You gotta spice things up.
Is anyone more involved in lyric writing than the rest, or is it an equal effort?
It’s pretty equal. It’s sort of like one of us will have a hook or an idea for a song, and then there are just moments in the studio, where everyone was writing at the same time on a big piece of paper and seeing if we could just find the right rhythms for the words. It was kind of a bit of everyone, really.
Test and Recognise is a bit of a dark song, what’s the story behind that?
Yeah that is a dark one. We were in London, and we went to a nightclub. It was busy, and things got real out of control. There was something super twisted about it, and thats kind where it came from. It’s this cool track. I was kinda blown away by it. It has lots of rhythm, and the groove didn’t really sound like much else. It sort of had this weird like Aphex Twin kind of thing, where it was more up-tempo and more harsh, alongside these lovely melodies running through it. And I thought “god, this is beautiful”, maybe it was my scattered brain or being away from home, but it just made a lot of sense to me. Being in a foreign city and listening to music like that. I really wanted to just push it and make sure it got onto the record.
Did the rest of the album come from that same place?
A lot of it was done in London. We were making these odd pop songs. We wanted to make sure we had this really simple song with a dark twist to it. Something that was sinister or unnerving, but also trying to find those moments of beauty amongst the sinister, amongst the cold. Also sort of technology focused. It’s a real glimpse of something that reminds you that you’re human, or that you’re imperfect. Unlike the phone you’re being sold.
How has the addition of lyrics changed the way you guys perform live?
With singing, I do a bit of backing. For me it’s about whatever I’m doing, I have to do it really well. I don’t wanna half ass it. I don’t wanna spread myself too thin and try and do too many things at once just for the sake of compensating. I was nervous about singing, but I just wanted to do it well. When the songs have vocal, I’m playing the sequencing drums, but I’m mostly focusing on just singing and making sure it sounds good. The setup is a little different. The live set up is always changing. John has a couple more keyboards and George has a few more sequences. Because rhythmically the music is quite intense, we needed more gear.
You have a unique sound compared to most electronic artists, is that a conscious decision, or is that uniqueness natural?
I think I’d like to say it’s a conscious decision, but I think it just happens. We’re obviously very aware of music that’s trendy and music that’s apart of a fad, we always try and steer clear of that stuff. That doesn’t really excite us, I don’t get really excited by the idea. If I made a song and thought “oh that sounds really hip, I think everyone’s going to love it”, I’d probably be more turned off than anything else. That could be to our own detriment. We just like to make stuff in a way that sometimes we’re just laughing because it’s so bizarre and it’s just weird and we like that. That’s what made us start making music in the first place. If you listen to the music we were making when we were 18 and 19, it’s very odd for someone to be making that kind of music. It sort of stuck with us, that sense of fun and exploring weird sounds, and trying to make songs out of them. The challenge is to make music that is twisted but still connects with people.
Do you sample much non-instrumental stuff?
There’s some atmospheric stuff we have, but on this record, it’s mostly all just performed or sequenced, it’s all written by us. But there are a couple of atmospheric samples. We actually found a pile of old VHS one day on the street, and we had this VCR player but no TV screen. They were label-less, and we were putting them into the VCR and just listening to the sounds and sampling them and finding out what each one was about, whether they were home videos, or whatever they were. And a lot of those sounds made it onto the record… they’re scattered throughout.
It’s been a while since +Dome and your last tour, were you taking a break and working on side-projects, or was the writing happening the whole time?
The writing was happening the whole time. It just takes us a little while to get out. We sort of change modes, and we change as people. If the record happened really quickly then we would release it. But it just hadn’t happened, and in retrospect you realise that it’s because we are changing as people. 3 years is a long time just to deal with your own life. We were all working on separate things. I was working a job I really liked, and John moved overseas. He wanted to study more about sound, so he was doing that. George was really busy with his work separately outside of the band. It was nice to take a little bit of a break, because you wanna miss each other and come back and be excited by what everyone brings to the table.
Do you like performing live as much as recording? You must be pretty chuffed that all those people are there to experience something you put your heart into.
Yeah, I really like performing. It’s stressful, it takes it out of you. But its a good workout. You get to see if you actually like the songs individually, “does this song mean anything to me? I guess I’ll play it and find out.” And its really special when you have those moments with each track when you’re like “oh wait I actually really like this song”. So, I think that’s very important live. Recording is a blast. If you’re doing it right, it’s hilarious and frightening and wonderful. But it can be really stressful if you’re not enjoying it. Both have these elements of you not wanting it to become work. The goal in life for a musician is to stay young and have fun and love your work. But inevitably it becomes a job at some point. Both have its ups and downs, but it’s hard to say. There’s nothing quite like nailing a part when you’re writing in a studio, but there’s also nothing quite like nailing a part when you’re singing it live. I always get towards the point in a studio where I’m like “I’ve gotta play a show”, and then there’s always a point on the road where I wanna get back in the studio.
Your next confirmed show is at OutsideIn, which will be your first show since The Worry dropped. Are you excited to see how fans with interact with the new tracks after hearing the album?
Yeah, absolutely. When we come back in November, it’s going to be a little bit of a changed set from what we did last time. I’m excited. It’s always exciting to play in Sydney. Since day one, there’s something about Sydney that wanted us to succeed. It’s always lovely to come back and play. Just nice to know we got a solid date to play there and a solid festival when we come back from our overseas tour.
How does it feel to know that you are inspiring other young Australian artists?
It’s great. That’s the goal, you know? It’s all about the footprint for me. That’s the only reason I do things on a historical level. Hoping to impact music, hoping to change it for the best. Hoping that I’m doing something that has some sort of impact on the world. In a kind of naive childish way, it’s something that I wanna achieve. I want to achieve a positive influence on people’s minds or on the way people approach music, or listening. It’s the goal, in a way.
Do you have any words of wisdom for those people?
I suppose it would be “If you wanna do it, you gotta do it, and you gotta do it well.” The best advice I received was when I was 18, and a musician I really loved came to a Seekae show. He’s now a really good friend of mine. And I said “have you got any advice?” He said “well, if you wanna do something, you do it like you mean it”. That means in rehearsals, in performance, no matter where you are or what you’re doing… do it like you mean it. And that’s kind of stuck with me a lot.
You can catch Seekae at OutsideIn on November 29 at Manning Bar, Sydney.