Q & A: Seeland
- Words: David Hemingway
Tim Felton and Billy Bainbridge on their former bands, Broadcast and Plone.
Uniting former members of Birmingham, U.K. retro-futurists Broadcast and Plone, Seeland frames the whir and clunk of vintage electronic instruments in the overt “pop song.” Drawing on ’60s library music, the studio experimentalism of Connie Plank, and the game-changing sonic adventures of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Timothy Felton and Billy Bainbridge create music in an undeniably similar lineage to their former bands but spiral upwards, downwards, outwards, and inwards to explore beguiling new tangents. Half a decade after its conception and following singles for Stereolab's Duophonic imprint, Seeland recently releasing their debut long-player, Tomorrow Today, on Lo Recordings.
Timothy Felton: We needed a name. We both wrote extensive lists of possibilities and both had this one written down. It comes from the Neu 75 LP, a great record for sure, but not something we slavishly worship. Hopefully the name doesn't get in the way of the music.
Billy Bainbridge: We all want to see, don’t we? But do we really see?
What are you trying to do with Seeland?
TF: Just to make an honest record, get sounds from our heads into the world. I suppose it’s like a bunch of blokes standing round an engine thinking they each know best how to fix it. This is our version of how you fix the engine.
BB: Trying to see what happens. I suppose at the core of what we do is the combination of “experimental” influences with pop songs or pop structures. I think both Tim and myself are looking for something similar but it’s hard to describe—it’s a mood or a feeling.
TF: It’s accumulated life experience, just a person’s point of view. Hopefully some of these experiences or observations will resonate with other people. There is no political manifesto. We have political parties to screw that one up.
What does "retro-futurism" mean to you?
TF: It literally means a past idea of what the future would be like. Futuristic ideas from the ’50s or any past era often have a naive charm. Retro-futurism was a term that was used to lump some Birmingham bands together in the late ’90s. These bands shared an interest in older, “exotic” technology and instruments and music. People have always looked back to create the future, anything else is impossible. Nothing just appears from thin air.
What did you imagine 2009 would look like 25 years ago?
TF: Well, I used to watch Space 1999 a fair bit and as time passed I began to realize that we were behind schedule on that one. The future is not giant rocket engines. I think the great changes that are happening are invisible, on a nano-technological level.
What did you imagine 2009 would sound like 25 years ago?
TF: Seeland .
BB: Futuristic. More instruments like laser harps.
Are you disappointed?
BB: Of course, but although computers are pretty boring, they have opened up some amazing possibilities.
TF: I'm optimistic.
What resonance does the BBC Radiophonic Workshop hold for you?
TF: Well, I grew up and was schooled in the presence of the sound of the Radiophonic Workshop, on television and radio. I can’t imagine it not being there. Of course, its time has passed now but every time I hear those sounds, a direct line opens to my childhood—a line to the possibility of imagination, of firing thoughts and images and emotion with sound. Intoxicating!
BB: I was entranced by the sounds coming out of the TV as a child. I think a lot of this music had an atmospheric quality that was quite affecting. I think that we try to capture some of that mood in our music.
Seeland seems to be overtly pop and more song-based than a lot of its contemporaries.
TF: Yes, that’s true. I don't see the need to separate the ideas of evocative or complex sound from a nice melody or simple lyric. I have many abstract or avant-garde records and very rarely you will find one that fuses these ideas with something approaching a pop song. I love these records, so I guess there is a desire to make the record I am trying to find.
BB: The first track we wrote together (“Wander”) ended up being a pop song and that seemed to set the formula for what followed. A lot of the songs on the album were written over a short period and that’s what came out. I think a lot of the time we are looking for a catchy chorus or melody or whatever because that is generally what we like to play and listen to.
Scott Walker or Syd Barrett?
TF: Depends on the job you want them to do, I suppose. Both are pretty dysfunctional characters. Having said that, I like them both. They both have a strange pop sensibility. I think perhaps because I sing in a lower register and the way some of the songs sound, it’s an easy comparison, but neither artist is something we are obsessed [with].
BB: I’m a fan of both but will go for Scott Walker. I like the fact that he has this crooning voice that you associate with MOR but then his lyrics can be very dark.
What's your favourite Warp group/artist, and why?
TF: Autechre. Scccccccccchhhhhhoooooooooooooooottttttttttttxzzzzzzzz blip.
BB: I can’t say Plone, can I? So I will go for Aphex Twin. I would say he is the most influential of the Warp artists to me, personally. Why? When I think about it, listening to his music in the early ’90s was probably what got me listening to, and making, electronic music. That said, as a kid, I was into anything involving synthesizers, whether it was Kraftwerk or Jean Michel Jarre.
What happened to Plone?
BB: Plone delivered their second album to Warp shortly after Rob Mitchell died. His death was a great blow to Warp and also to the band. Warp declined to put the LP out. We were effectively dropped by the label. Following that whole experience, the band basically ran out of steam. We didn’t decide to split but just do different things. That’s the short version, anyway.
Will the second album ever be released?
BB: It’s possible that it could be released if the circumstances are right. I don’t think any of us would rule it out, but we are not actively trying to release it.
Why aren't you in Broadcast anymore?
TF: There wasn't the space for my ideas and songs. We had been together a long time and I think relationships had stagnated. Leaving was something I had to do to secure my future. We are still friends though.
What did you think of Plone?
TF: I always liked Plone. We toured with them a bit. I found the contradiction that they had all this technology on stage but would then sometimes break down hilarious. They are great dry characters so it was a bit like an Ealing comedy. Plone would make a great cartoon I think—the electronic trio save the day with a giant sequencer brain or something. I think the fact that people still rave about them is a testament.
What did you/do you think of Broadcast?
BB: I loved/love them and also had the pleasure of playing keyboards with them for a while. Also, I got to know Tim a lot better while on tour and I guess that is how we ended up working together.
Describe Billy and what he brings to the group (emotionally, musically).
TF: He's a great pianist and synth freak. Also, his ideas are quite different to mine yet we share something. Passing ideas back and forth pushes the music to different or unexpected places. Emotionally it’s more difficult to say. I suppose we give each other confidence.
Describe Timothy and what he brings to the group (emotionally, musically).
BB: Gosh, people in bands don’t tend to do this sort of thing normally, do they? A dream to some, a nightmare to others. Nice melodies. We have never consciously defined any set roles when it comes to song writing and production and we like to mix it up a bit… He is my friend.
What do you argue about?
TF: Where the “one” of the beat is.
BB: Impedance and portamento .
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