Distortion is fine
The tension was great. What could there be after the Stone Roses? Many were guessing that guitar-player John would be the only one with enough creativity to pull something off on his own. The debut album of the Seahorses proves them right so far. Without dwelling on the matter of the Stone Roses too much, I wanted to know, how the Seahorses happened.
John: Right after I left the Stone Roses I wanted to go on musically. I knew Stuart, the bassplayer from earlier on. When it came to looking for a singer, our manager suggested placing an advert in all the suitable magazines. So we did and the tapes came coming in. But there was nothing really impressive. So later I got a call from a friend in York who had seen Chris busking outside before a store in the town center.
Chris: Woolworths. Anyway, this bloke came passing by and he said he liked what I was singing and liked the way I looked and all that. And he asked me for a tape and I got a tape to him. I did - but then I didn't hear from him in a while. Then John came down to my gigs - I was doing a lot of gigs at that time. The last one was in Manchester Road and he asked me to join the band and I said "yeah". It was a bit funny because John was worried because I used to sing with my eyes shut. And I used to sit - but that was just because of the nature of playing acoustic. But I quit this now. I've been in bands before and we'd done demos and stuff. I also got some experience in studios also.
How does the songwriting process work?
Chris: John has got his songs and I've got mine. And when it was time to record them we just brought them to the table and saw what songs would work best. And that was just what ended up on the record.
Did they start working right away when they met or did they rehearse?
John: We rehearsed for quite a while without a drummer. For five or six months. We rented a couple of houses in the North of England. We basically lived together and tried to get to know each other, to know the music, write a few more songs. The whole process has been very quick for me. Things used to move a lot faster than I was used to. We've only started to write songs together as a collaboration now.
Did they play live before recording and is that important?
John: Yes. We didn't know how important that was until we've done it. We met two producers before we met Tony Visconti and they both said that it was important that we'd play live before we'd record. It became apparent when we were rehearsing for the shows that we would play. Because the idea of performing before an audience forces you to work on little details like endings and intros and it was getting the band to a level of fitness that is needed for playing live. We rehearsed in quite a casual manner in the Lake district. We could play a song and then sit around and drink a beer or play a video game - no real pressure. The prospect of playing live speeded things up. We've only played three shows though, and they were all secret. I thought it would be unfair to focus too much attention on such a new group. I think it would have shrivelled under the microscope. So we've got them pretty quiet. There were people who found out about them but largely unobserved by the British media.
I would be interested whether they had a certain plan - soundwise - before starting to record?
Chris: It all happened during the process. We didn't have any plan. It sounds how it sounds.
John: I wanted it to sound dry. I remember thinking that before we went in. I didn't want the whole thing to be bathed in reverb.
Chris. Distortion is fine. In fact I think it's the best bit. But reverb and echo and stuff had to go.
One thing one notices is that John's guitar sound is very prominent. Almost isolated from the band sound. What's the idea behind that? They could have tried to integrate it more into the band-sound.
John: I like to hear what I'm doing. It was my ego at work probably.
Chris: But I don't think he overrides what he's doing. My acoustic's quite in the mix but I like it that way. The more you listen to it the more you hear bits. Sublime at times. The acoustic guitar is there. If you took it out you'd really know it.
I was under the impression that they carefully crafted their intros, outros and solos. Some of the intro's however, promise things which are not delivered. For instance: If there's a blues intro, there's most likely not a blues song following.
John: No, that was a thing that we did when we rehearsed for the live-shows, before we started recording. I like to change keys and styles. If it's possible to do that within a song, it should be done. Also across the record it's important to keep it varied. It kind of reflects the human state. Instead of sticking to one particular theme or style. I'd rather go for variety. That's the bands I listen to and that's the kind of band I want to play in.
There's also a variety of instruments. There's mellotrons and a theremin...
John: The theremin came about as a result for a video that we were all passing around between each other the history of the Theremin. I found it fascinating and basically wanted to have a go at the theremin. I wasn't even sure if we should use it on the record. It turned up that Tony was the most naturally gifted to play it, though. You have to use your hands - one for the volume and one for the pitch. It's quite tricky.
Is there a special interest in unusual sounds?
John: Our record on the one hand is quite varied, on the other it's fairly basic. We wanted to capture the sound of a new band and essentially the things we were hearing in rehearsal. Basically the live sound of the band enhanced with a few overdubs and the strings, which Tony Visconti did. He wrote them on the keyboard and put them in the computer until the string section arrived. They have very strict union regulations. They could only work on three tracks in a row and for a certain amount of time.
Chris: We criticised the arrangements however and had our input there. It was a little bit overdone in the beginning actually.
How will they compensate for the string section when playing live? Use keyboards?
Chris: No, no keyboards. Hopefully when we will get big enough we will at some time be able to afford a string section. I don't like the idea of trying to copy string sections. Even if you got a mellotron in the background it's cheesy as well.
John: The songs work without strings in the first place.
How will the songs change when being played live?
Chris: There's so many introductions which work on the record that don't work live because of the length of it. We do a jam a bit when we play live.
There's "Love Is The Law" on the record which has got some sort of jam section in it.
John: It grew out of a jam, yeah. But when we went into the studio we only had a rough idea of how it would turn out.
The Seahorses songs are quite complex - though they might seem simple.
Chris: They are interesting to play.
John: We didn't try to make it difficult, just interesting. For instance: I used to use reverb as a cloak. But I found that it was getting in the way, a hinderance. Maybe that was got to do with becoming a better player - I don't know. I got bored with endless layers and reverb and stuff like that. I used different guitars, though. I think I have become more flexible. That maybe to do with the fact that I'm meeting different musicians. When I played with the Stone Roses, it was them exclusively. And it broadens your horizon to work with other people.
Chris: John's songs are quite hard to sing, though, because he writes as a guitar player. It's difficult breathing in between them, because there's so many words and although you have to be quite gymnastic with the vocal chords because he writes the melodies on the guitar and a guitar has got a fretboard like this. I like it though, because it's challenging. He's made me a better singer than I'd ever been.
What exactly is their aim as musicians?
John: I would like to be the biggest and the best. Conquer America and reconquer England.
Chris: I want to be as successful as I possibly can get.
Wow. And earn a decent amount of cash on the way?
Chris: It's got nothing to do with money. I'm an applause junkie. And I think that's what counts.
Fair enough. The Seahorses will play a small club tour in autumn and some festivals. And it is fair to assume that they will reach their goals - within the limitations that the current situation allows. After all there's a new Oasis-album coming and with their style of music The Seahorses rival Oasis more than any other band...
Interview: -Ullrich Maurer-
Fotos: -Ullrich Maurer-
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