Seal

The Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter talks about his highly anticipated new ablum, 7.

Since his debut release in '91, singer-songwriter Seal's fusion of various musical genres has brought him success on both sides of the pond. The four-time Grammy winner has had a series of award-winning singles and top-selling albums, including "Kiss from a Rose," which was featured on the Batman Forever soundtrack, and his '08 CD release "Soul." Raised in England, Seal sang in local clubs after earning a degree in architecture. He later joined an English funk band and a Thailand-based blues band. The new disc -- which is Seal's ninth studio album -- is titled 7.

TRANSCRIPT

Tavis Smiley: Good evening from Los Angeles. I’m Tavis Smiley.

Tonight, a conversation with multiple Grammy-winning music artist, Seal. The celebrated singer-songwriter whose worldwide album sales now exceed 30 million joins us to talk about his highly anticipated new project. It’s called “7”, out November 6.

We’re glad you’ve joined us. A conversation with Seal coming up right now.

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Announcer: And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

Tavis: So pleased to welcome Seal back to this program. On November 6, the multiple platinum-selling artist and three-time Grammy winner will release his highly anticipated seventh full-length album. What else would he call it? “7”. On the project, Seal reteams with his long-time collaborator-producer, Trevor Horn, and they are quite a team.

They bring about a dynamic exploration of love and all of its implications, idiosyncrasies, and intricacies. We’ll talk about all that in a moment, but first before we start our conversation, a look at the music video for one of the songs off this beautiful project. It’s called “Every Time I’m With You”.

[Clip]

Tavis: I saw you looking at that pretty intently.

Seal: Critiquing [laugh].

Tavis: I was about to ask. It’s too late now, but are you second-guessing anything?

Seal: No. That’s one of the things that I was actually quite pleased with on this record. You know, when we set out, Trevor and I, my producer, Trevor Horn, to mint the record, we promised ourselves three things. Tell the truth, commit, and don’t compromise.

And I think anytime you achieve those three things or if you set out to achieve those three things, and if you’re lucky enough that you achieve them, then the second-guessing thing takes it out of the analogy, you know, out of the equation.

Tavis: To be sure, time has proven that love is an inexhaustible subject when it comes to artists, certainly music artists.

Seal: Certainly is.

Tavis: And yet, to your point, telling the truth about love and what you’ve endured and what you’ve learned about love, isn’t always easy. So how, for this project, did you get comfortable with telling the truth about whatever it is you’ve learned about love?

Seal: Well, show me a person who says they understand everything about love…

Tavis: I’ll show you a liar [laugh].

Seal: He’s certainly being disingenuous at the very least. I don’t know. You know, it’s tough. It’s such a small word with big connotations and big implications. You set out to tell the truth because, by saying that and by doing that, you’re coming from your heart, you know.

And therein lies the problem. Like when you’re trying to come from your heart, when you’re trying to be truthful, and that invariably involves a lot of digging and sometimes you dig in places that are not that comfortable.

But I guess, you know, you try not to compromise and you try to commit and it’s the trying not to compromise bit that comes into play there. That’s where you say, okay, well, no matter how much it hurts or no matter how uncomfortable it feels, I am going to do it. I’m going to tell the truth. But then you have to try and be less subjective and more objective about it.

You have to let a period of time pass so that you can look at the situation more broadly and almost take yourself out of it, as contradictive as that sounds. Take yourself out of the equation and look at it from a broader view, and then you find that you more compassionate. You are actually more truthful and you’re also considerate of other peoples’ feelings and other peoples’ position.

Tavis: Let me ask this question this way. What have you learned about love? Because it comes through in the project in some ways. Since you were last on this program, what have you learned about love at this point in your life?

Seal: Well, you know–well, what have I learned? I mean, I don’t know if I’ve learned, but I definitely understand now that trying to hold love in your hand is like trying to hold sand or water in your hand. You can’t. It’s impossible. You can’t…

Tavis: That sounds like a great song lyric, by the way. You just wrote a lyric [laugh].

Seal: But you can’t control it. It’s one of those things, you know, it’s weird, it’s wonderful, it’s up, it’s down, it’s left, it’s right. One minute you’re over here, you’re filled with elation. The next minute, you’re down in the deepest of lows.

But you realize that, with love, or certainly the love between two people, a relationship, you know, the romantic kind of love, certainly with that love, you realize that all you can do is–it’s almost like you make a bed as comfortable as you can make it and, with a bit of luck, it kind of hangs around, but you can’t control it.

And you can only sort of make the situation for it to kind of come into your life or bless you with its presence. You know, you try not to control it. You try and appreciate it for the time that it’s around you. With a bit of luck, you know, it will stay forever, but there’s no way to control that.

Tavis: One never knows, especially these days, exactly what to believe when one is researching for a conversation like the one we’re having tonight. So I don’t know where the truth lies all the time, so let me just ask you. I read somewhere that, when you started working on this–first of all, it took a minute to do this, I read, number one.

Number two, I read that, when you started working on the lyrical content of this stuff, you at one point sort of scrapped what you had and kind of started all over again. If that part of the story is true, what led to the scrapping of what you had and just starting all over again to get this project right?

Seal: Well, firstly, it is true. And I guess, you know, a post–let me start by saying a lot of people will see this album as being autobiographical and they will say that, okay, well, a lot of it was to do with my relationship with my ex-wife over the past 10 years or so.

Whilst that’s partly true, I would say probably about 40% of the album is autobiographical when it comes to actually dealing directly with my relationship. And about the other 60% is other peoples’ lives, other people that were in my life and how they affected my life.

For example, there’s a lot of my producer in that. We are very, very close. So with the lyrics, I felt that post my relationship, post my marriage, I was perhaps the most prolific in terms of lyric writing than I’d ever been. It was just literally pouring out, as events like that can sometimes have an effect. The lyrics were pouring out and I’d wrote the most lyrics in that period of time than I’d ever written in my entire life.

And I felt also that they were perhaps some of the best lyrics that I’d ever written, but I have a certain way that I like to kind of write and it’s in a very broad sense. I like the lyrics in the songs to be relatable and the only problem with the lyrics that I was writing at that point, and in spite of the fact that they were very prolific, I felt that they were very subjective.

I felt that they didn’t express what I was trying to express with the necessary amount of objectivity in the way that I like to write. You know, I mentioned before about, when you’re telling the truth, you have to kind of be–the tricky thing about it is that you have to be honest, first and foremost, to yourself, but you have to be considerate of everyone’s feelings.

You know, I have four children, for example, and, you know, as much as the artist in me would like to kind of wax endlessly and like pour my heart out and be as raw and as truthful as possible, I have to be conscious of the fact that I have four children and also somebody who is the mother of my children, irrespective of what the situation is now.

So I felt that I had to be mindful of that and therefore allow an amount of time to pass before I actually put pen to paper again and started to write the songs in the way that I needed to write them.

Tavis: I’m listening to you so intently–there’s that word again–because it seems to me–I’m not a songwriter–but it seems to me that writing about anything, certainly about love, in an objective way is awfully difficult to do because love is so subjective.

Seal: It is, but the thing that you remember is, whilst it is subjective, it is possible to write about it objectively because you quickly realize that whatever it is you’re going through, it’s not unique. It’s not like you’re not the only person in the world to write that, or I’m not the only person in the world that has ever been through kind of, you know, any kind of emotional or romantic turmoil.

You know, the principal characters are all the same. The faces change, but we’re all the same, you know, and that’s what makes it so relatable and that’s what makes it such a great muse. There’s a song that you mentioned whilst the video was playing. I think it was “The Big Love Has Died”. I think it was you that mentioned it.

You know, I quite often, when I’ve been asked about that record, about that song, because it does have quite a kind of poignant song title, I always see it as being kind of like a Chekov play, like the third act in a Chekov play where the tragedy comes. That’s a kind of funny way or maybe perhaps a dramatic way to look at the end of an affair or a romance or what have you, but you find that it’s like that. It’s quite often like that, you know.

When, if you have been romantically or emotionally involved with someone where you’ve completely committed to that relationship and, for whatever reason, there is dysfunction, we’re taught or we try to be mature about the situation and view it objectively and look on the brighter side and go, okay, well, it didn’t work out, you know, but I wish you the best of luck. Quite often, I mean, a lot of the time, it’s not like that.

Quite often, the feeling that you’re left with, the emptiness that you’re left with, causes you to look at that situation in a very damning way, you know. It’s no, we’re not friends. No, it is dead. Whatever we had is dead. You know, the big love has died. And that’s what I mean about kind of trying to tell the truth. I wanted to capture that rawness because that is what a lot of people feel.

You know, you do feel like that is the end and you want to move on and you want to shut down that chapter and just move on. And I thought it was important. You know, I actually kind of played around with that song for a while and wrote it and kind of rewrote it and ended up kind of–that was one of the songs that I ended up coming back to.

And, in terms of its lyrical content, it’s pretty much as I wrote it when I first wrote it. And that was because I felt that it was important to capture that emotion, you know, because it’s a valid part of this kind of weird and wonderful journey that love takes us on.

Tavis: I could take, Seal, your earlier comment about the fact that you believe this is perhaps some of your best writing. I could take that comment to mean that your best stuff lyrically has come or will come from a place of pain.

I think now of the great comedians who will tell you that so much of their brilliance–Richard Pryor comes to mind immediately. Richard Pryor, the best there ever was, but there’s no denying that so much of that came from the pain of his life. So I could take your comment to mean that your best writing comes from a place of pain. Do you want me to take that to mean that?

Seal: Well, I don’t know, actually. I think you’re right, you know, but I don’t know if I would ever admit that because I think that there’s the old adage, to sing the blues, you have to pay your dues. I’ve tried to kind of–it’s a bit of a daunting prospect when you think, wow, my God, the only way I’m ever going to write anything good is if I’m screwed up [laugh].

Tavis: That’s life [laugh].

Seal: And right now, my life is fantastic romantically, so I would hate to think that, you know, I’m never going to write a song or even a note, for that matter, worth talking about unless I screw this up. But, yeah, I think–look, there were other songs. There’s a song–well, okay. I do feel that through great pain sometimes comes…

Tavis: Great art.

Seal: Sometimes. Not suggesting that this is any way, shape or form great art, we have to kind of keep perspective. I’m an entertainer. That’s what I do. I’m not performing open heart surgery or rocket science or indeed saving lives.

I’m a musician and what we do is–Smokey once said to me, you know, “We’re not the first and we won’t be the last” and I’ve never forgotten that, you know. Those were kind of real wise words. Yeah, ultimately, there were songs on this album like the video that you played, “Every Time I’m With You”.

Tavis: “Every Time I’m With You”, sure.

Seal: That was me trying to find–that was my attempt at being optimistic [laugh] and romantic and not tragic, you know. I try to think of the most romantic thing that someone would want to say and hear when they were in a relationship with someone. You know, why are you with me? Why do you stay with me? What is it you see in me? Well, because every time I’m with you, I feel wanted.

I think therein lies kind of the simplicity of love sometimes, you know, or why people are together. I mean, there are so many reasons. You could say, well, this person is this and, that one, they do this for me. But ultimately, it really boils down to feeling wanted and wanting to want someone. That’s the other thing, you know. Nobody wants to be in something where you don’t want the other person.

Tavis: I want to go back to your comment about Smokey. I’m listening to you, but I’m still noodling this comment in the back of my head because I was just saying in a conversation not long ago that I can’t imagine, Seal, my life without music. I know you certainly can’t.

But if there’s no music on the soundtrack of my life, it fundamentally changes everything. So I hear your point about not overstating the importance of good music and good songwriting.

On the other hand, the boundless and endless joy that we experience because of good music, the reveling and the humanity of other people that we come to appreciate because of good music, I want to just push back on that a little because I take your point.

But I just can’t imagine my life without a Seal soundtrack or a Smokey soundtrack. I mean, I want to take a moment to just kind of celebrate what music does mean in our lives.

Seal: Well, you know, I was saying to my lady yesterday, I was talking about–we were in the car driving somewhere and I put on “Songs in the Key of Life”…

Tavis: Let’s just pause for a second. Let’s just take that in for a second. “Songs in the Key of Life”, by the way, written by Stevie Wonder when he was barely 25, started writing that. Can you imagine that project being written at 25, 26? One of the coldest albums ever made.

Seal: I can’t imagine writing that project now [laugh].

Tavis: I mean, Stevie was a kid when he wrote that.

Seal: That’s way beyond me.

Tavis: I’m sorry. Go ahead.

Seal: It’s way beyond me. So I put it on. We were driving, we were going out to eat, and I put it on and I was singing along. You know, she’s great. She was listening to it and she indulges me anytime I do–and celebrates me at the same time. I said, “God, this album. Have you listened to this album?” “No, not really, sweetie.” I was like, “God, this album. It’s amazing what music can do.”

You know, the last time I played this album, I was with my sister who I love dearly, my younger sister. She’s six years my junior. I was with our kids. You know, we’d been sightseeing London. I’d taken the kids to London and we were in this big people carrier on the way back and I was in the front seat with the driver and my kids were back and she was with her kids. It was a big family affair.

I was entrusted with the responsibility of being deejay, so I’m trying to think of something to find. I didn’t say anything and I just put on “Songs in the Key of Life”. Honestly, Tavis, it was just one and half, one hour, 45 minutes of pure emotion because my sister and I used to listen to that album.

I remember when I first discovered that album and when we were kids and that was when music was changing my life. You know, I was discovering who I was or what I wanted to be and, you know, just forming aspirations. I put on this record and both of us were singing to it. We didn’t say a word to each other. We were just singing, and the kids, they’d never heard the songs before.

But my sister and I were singing to every single song. We didn’t even look at each other. She was behind me. You know, honestly, it’s a good job that I actually had my sunglasses on because I was welling up inside because it took me right back to when we had no kids, when we were just living in the two up-two down, and she was my little sister and she used to look up to me as her big brother.

I’d say listen to this, listen to this and listen to this. You know, she thought everything I listened to, everything I did was great, and it was our way of bonding. And here we were, many, many years later, with our kids and we were feeling exactly the same thing. It was such an amazing moment, you know, and we didn’t have to say a word to each other.

So your point about music being a soundtrack or how life would somehow feel impossible without having that indelible bond, “Songs in the Key of Life”, “Inner Visions”, Crosby, Seals and Nash, Joni Mitchell’s “Court and Spark”, Hajira, Axis’ “Bold as Love”.

When I heard those albums, when I was getting my act together, when I heard those albums, those are the albums that made me stop wanting to be a singer and made me want to be a recording artist. I was writing songs before I heard those albums and they were fine, but I didn’t have like I didn’t have like identity. I didn’t have continuity. I didn’t have a sound.

I heard those records and I said that is what I want to do. I couldn’t believe that it was possible to take somebody on a 45 or 50-minute trip of pure escapism where you could completely leave all the woes and all the troubles, all the realities of your surroundings, and go on this trip, this beautiful trip. I said, wow, that’s what I want to do.

In order to do that, there has to be consistency from top to bottom. It has to be. There can be no fillers. And I don’t know whether I’ve always achieved that, but my producer and I, Trevor Horn and I, who is a genius in the true sense of the word, he really is the last of a breed of that type of producer.

He and I have always endeavored to do that, to have no fillers. So this album was no exception. You try to make an album like you would be writing a good book or a screenplay or a movie. There has to be a great beginning, an engaging middle, and a crescendo. There has to be a finale of some point, and that’s what we tried to do with making this record.

Tavis: I’ve heard it, and I can assure you that you will not lose interest in this one. Seal is being modest because that’s the kind of guy he is, but it’s a great project from top to bottom. It’s called “Seal 7”. What else would he call it, given the way he does his stuff? Seal, I’m always honored to have you on. Every time you come around, I don’t just enjoy talking to you. I learn something from you every time.

Seal: Likewise, Tavis.

Tavis: So thank you, my friend. It’s good to see you.

Seal: Thank you very much. Thank you, brother.

Tavis: Congratulations again. That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.

Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at pbs.org.

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Last modified: October 27, 2015 at 1:50 pm