British-born singer songwriter Orlando Seale was living and working as an actor in LA when his girlfriend lent him Elliot Smith’s old guitar. Then she left him. He made his way home to London and was struck by the rapidly changing capital, staggering along in the wake of the financial crash. A new menace, and a keen sense of mortality shot through his songs. A collaboration with an orchestra for The Old Vic Tunnels gave birth to ‘The Swell’, and a more ambitious sound that sought to capture the epic sweep of the ‘unreal city’, its caffeinated highs and gin-street lows. New single ‘Wrestling’ is launched at Oslo Hackney on Dec 11th. Mark Millar recently caught up with Orlando for a chat.
Hi Orlando what have you been up to recently?
We have been touring in Wales and we have been working on a new EP of tracks, ‘Wrestling’ is the first track of that EP and there is a bunch of others that we are really excited about. I think they are probably less lyrical, with a harsher stripped back sound that we have been working on. We’ve been gigging and working on recording the new tracks. I’ve been writing a lot of new stuff as well and getting ready for the big gig in Oslo in Hackney.
You initially started out as an actor over in LA, did you get many roles and was it a good experience?
It was a fantastic experience, I did get a lot of really interesting roles and I met some amazing people. LA is a fascinating place and it was a very important experience for me, first of all I discovered a lot of music there that really changed my direction: the upside of being stuck in mad LA traffic for hours is that I got to listen to tons of new music over the radio and stuff friends introduced me to. Because you have to drive all the time there, I would be listening to stuff and singing a long in my car, that had a big influence. I was really lucky to meet a friend of mine who was a good friend of Elliott Smith, she got me started on that song-writing journey lending me that guitar that he played and introducing me to his music, that was huge. I think the acting side of it was also very interesting and nourishing. Obviously as an actor you are playing other people’s lives and you are starting to get yourself into imagining what it’s like to be this other person, that is a great thing for a song-writer to do because it is easy to get lost In telling your own stories, not that that’s bad, it’s great, I love confessional song writing and obviously this new track is pretty personal.
It’s also a very exciting and fruitful experience to try and imagine other people’s lives. As you do that you always learn something about your own life. Obviously when you embody another character you inevitably use parts of yourself, often aspects that don’t necessarily share in your daily life. I feel very fortunate to get spend time thinking about how other people live and what makes them tick, it’s also a great opportunity to learn about yourself. I was also very lucky in LA to meet some teachers who were a huge inspiration to me, particularly introducing to me ways that I could use my unconscious and dreams for creativity. I use these creative dream-work techniques a lot in my work both as an actor and a songwriter. I guess what I’m saying is that the things that really made LA important to me were not just the acting gigs, though they were obviously great, it was the many other things, the people that I met and the learning and the music. It was great, it as was a very interesting experience.
When you went over to LA to be some an actor, did you ever think you would end up making music in a a band?
(Laughs) certainly not when I went over, I had absolutely no intention of that… Songs started popping into my head, I had always written poems but it certainly wasn’t my plan at all for music to become such a big part of my life.
So how did the band come together?
It’s kind of evolved, I guess as all these things do, as I said I started out writing the songs by myself in LA and when I came back to London I collaborated with lots of different people then started to put together a band. The Old Vic Theatre in London very kindly invited me to do something; they had this special experiment, a space that they used to do events in and we got invited to do a special version of our songs with an orchestra, so I started to work on these arrangements of the songs with some orchestral players and the after that experience we kept collaborating together for quite a while, and that was fantastic and then some of their players became the band.
I met Patty and Becky, who play violas in the band, back then and they are now at the core of our sound. I met Andrew the drummer and Micky more recently. In the last year the band took quite an important shift in direction, sometimes we used to perform with ten people and of course I loved the incredible possibilities that working with so many musicians allowed but with the five of us now it’s kind of condensed and clarified what we are doing. It’s actually been a very positive change. The new sound also reflects a time in my life that feels very different, it’s been a much harsher time and a much more intense period and we have been trying to find that in the sound. It’s kind of solidified and I feel the line up that it is now feels the most coherent and powerful that it’s ever been, I’m really excited to make it stronger and stronger. I feel that we are on a great path and there is loads more to come, it’s exciting.
You recorded your album live, is this a trend that will continue with your future recordings?
That was really because we felt we had an energy at our gigs that we hadn’t managed to capture when we tried to record in the conventional way, so we thought lets do it live for an audience. It was also quite a risk because you can’t edit things in the same way. Some of the tracks, the ones that we released as singles were the ones we were able to do a bit more work on in the studio and I have to give a lot of credit to Rob Wilks who was just an incredible producer and engineer, he also played the guitar, and also James Simpson, those guys did an amazing job. We also had a lot of our friends and fans supporting us who had all made it possible for us to do that. There was a lot at stake it felt like we were being buoyed up by some amazing people, so that was really helpful.
For the new recordings we’ve kind of gone somewhere between the two we wanted to be able to play with the sound a bit more so we didn’t want to record them entirely live but we also still really wanted to have that room feel, so ‘Wrestling’ is a studio recording but the drums and bass and everything obviously all that is very much recorded together. It’s a very interesting question of what you are trying to do in a recording, are you trying to capture the live experience or is it something completely it’s own. With the new recordings we are trying to get the best of both, we want to use some of the things that a studio can offer but we also want it to have a vigour that you get from live stuff. It’s difficult; recording is a very tricky thing, who knows how to do it? I certainly don’t, its work in progress. (Laughs)
Was it a no brainier to use Rob Wilks again to produce the new tracks?
Yeah I think so, he has worked with us for a while now and obviously he plays with us sometimes, he is a dear dear friend so I felt very confident and safe in his hands. We are so fortunate to be working with these great musicians and have friends like him around us, it’s exciting.
What is your song writing process?
It really changes, I’m writing much more now with the band than I used to. Basically it tends to be that I will get an idea for something which I will sketch out on my guitar and then we’ll explore that together and improvise around it and find things. When you’re playing something alone it tends to be in my case more lyric driven, but when we bring it to the band then I can unpack it and try and find where the really juicy areas of interest are, that’s how it tends to happen.
What is the new track ‘Wrestling’ about?
It’s about how you stay upright in times of adversity, what your struggle is and how you manage to stay afloat.
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Is it true that you are producing a chocolate bar to promote your new track Wrestling?
Yeah, (laughs) it’s crazy we are doing that, it’s a wonderful thing, we met this Welsh chocolate company called Nomnom Chocolate who are absolutely amazing. We played a gig in their factory; they are really joyful, playful people who we really like. We met them at a festival in Wales and we said “let’s make something together”. The chocolate has some sea salt in it because of the swell and also because the music it quite bitter sweet and we wanted something that had a bit of bite in it. I thought “how can you release music nowadays and make it a really fun, sensual experience? “So we thought “why don’t we make the single a chocolate bar? You can actually eat the single and it’s going to have artwork by Ohbones Illustration who is an amazing talented artist. Each bar will also have a lyric sheet and a download for the single. It’s a beautiful object, they’ve made such a cool thing, it tastes fantastic and of course you’ll be able to listen to the music as well. They will be on sale at the single launch on December 11th at Oslo in Hackney.
Have you had any interest from labels or are you still doing everything independently?
No we haven’t got a label, we have just been doing everything ourselves. Everything is changing so much in the creative world, how you distribute things, how you make things and how you get it out there. All I really care about is making new songs, working with these musicians, this is our life, we love doing it. if we can get people helping us, fantastic! Ultimately I really want our music to be heard by people, as an artist that’s what you want, you just want to share your work, so definitely that’s great priority. Being completely DIY there are a lot of challenges, having the support of a label and distribution and licensing is a great thing, as long as it doesn’t compromise the power and truth and passion of what you’re making. Which with the right people it shouldn’t!
What records have you been listening to this year that you really like?
I’m completely crazy about the Father John Misty album, I’m absolutely obsessed by it, he is my complete hero. Both his albums, his first one ‘Fear fun’ and his second one ‘I Love You Honey Bear’ it’s just staggeringly good. The other one that has really blown me away is the Sufjan Stevens album ‘Carrie & Lowell’. I couldn’t stop listening to it. I suppose those would be my top albums this year. I’m also a big fan of Nadine Shah, who is very talented and interesting.
So what’s next for Orlando Seale and the Swell?
We’ve got about 4-5 new tracks recorded, we are just figuring out how to get those out… and then we have a lot of new songs written, in an ideal world we would like to raise the money to record some of those.
Come and get a Sea-salt Chocolate Song-bar and watch Orlando Seale & the Swell live on Dec 11th at Oslo, Hackney! – TICKETS