Wales' Seazoo have a valid claim to being one of the purest, most authentic indie-pop bands around at the moment.
3 April 2020
Wales' Seazoo may well have a valid claim to being one of the purest, most authentic indie-pop bands around at the moment. Their fantastic debut album, 2018's Trunks, mixed Gorky's Zygotic Mynci influenced psychedelic indie-pop with the lo-fi sensibilities of Grandaddy, earning them a sizeable fan base, international exposure, and widespread critical acclaim. All of which culminated in a much deserved Welsh Music Prize nomination.
From sharp, fizzing opener "The Pleasure" to lilting closer "Impossible Sound", every song on their appropriately titled, second album, Joy, is a life-affirming indie-pop anthem imbued with a relatable small-town spirit. However, Not a band to repeat themselves, Joy also finds the band painting with a fresh, deeper palette as they layer on new shades to their indie-pop canvas with infectious glee. Whether it be the staccato indie-funk of "Honey Bee", the dirty synthpop of "We Return" or the glorious new wave of "I See Beauty", Joy is chock full of surprises whilst magnifying the uplifting melodies and breezy pop hooks which made Trunks such an enjoyable listen.
PopMatters talks with frontman Ben Trow about how Seazoo have developed since the release of Trunks, how he approached the writing of Joy, and of course, how he copes in hot weather.
Who were your musical heroes growing up?
When I was in school I got really into Hendrix, blues and older, '60s music first. Beatles, Kinks, that kind of thing. Thanks to my friend and long-time bandmate Matt Nicholls and his family. Nick drake, Neil Young, Velvet Underground. Then when I got a bit older I got massively into Gorky's and stuff like Pavement, Grandaddy and got into more left-field things -- Stereolab, Broadcast. I also love kitsch stuff, '60s bossa nova, Herb Alpert that kind of thing.
When did you know you wanted to be in a band?
We formed a band in school, and it's kind of all I've ever wanted to do since then.
When did you guys know that you were onto something with Seazoo?
Erm, not sure! There's never really been any pressure to do anything with Seazoo -- I had a load of tunes that needed recording and have carried on in that spirit ever since. It's a bonus that some people like our music, and we do enjoy putting it all together, but ultimately it's a love of songwriting that I need to do.
How would you describe Seazoo to someone who didn't know you?
Welsh Wizard Pop.
How do you look back on Trunks?
Fondly. It was a culmination of a few years self-recording and learning how to put things out there. Think we did three EPs and a single before the album. But most of the EP songs and album songs are from a batch I had at the beginning. We started in the spare room and gradually elaborated. With Trunks, we took our equipment to a friends studio space in Radnorshire and did the drums. Then finished it off between a hired room at a local studio and our home. It was hard work but really enjoyable -- I learned a lot. I got a bit bogged down with it all so got a friend Mike Collins to mix most of it, which helped. It's helpful to look back on a learn from things.
How do you feel you've developed in the two years since releasing Trunks?
There are two distinct parts to the band, the recordings and the live show. I do quite a lot of playing on the recordings, and I've learned a great deal. I'm currently working on album three and I feel I've got much better at songwriting. Guess that only comes after doing it for a while and learning from mistakes. We recorded most of Joy in an amazing studio and think it sounds better than anything we've ever done. I think the live show has also developed, too. We've played quite a lot, and also played a few larger festival slots to lots of people -- think we've more comfortable on stage, I know I am. I love playing live!
With Trunks being the critical success that it was, did you feel any pressure going into this one?
No real pressure at all. It was nice to write a bunch of songs in one go after drawing a line under the older batch of EPs and Trunks. It seemed like a fresh start and was an enjoyable process.
How was your approach to making Joy different from Trunks?
We got help in! I really enjoy recording but it's sometimes hard to do everything yourself and stay sane. So we asked Mike Collins, who mixed most of the first record. We went to his studio (Big Jelly) and spent five days tracking drums, bass, guitars, and keys. We then brought it home and finished it off here.
Did you start off with a clear idea of how you wanted the album to sound?
Not really. I mean, I definitely prefer more natural sounding recordings but I was happy for the sound to come together in the studio. That's one thing that I'm looking at for the recording of album three -- we'll go back to Big Jelly with a definite sound we'd like - currently writing and listening to lots of things for inspiration.
How much of the album was written before recording?
Good question - and something I'm looking back at and learning from. We took 16 songs/ideas into the studio and recorded the backing tracks in five days. We had Steff the drummer for two and a half days, so put in an immense amount of work in! The songs were mostly finished I'd say, but not totally. There was still lots to do with them when I brought them back home. I edited them quite a bit and changed structures and finished off the lyrics here.
What was the first song you wrote for the album?
Oh, I can't remember! I was sent a guitar by the amazing Odessa guitars! And got a couple of sketches down straight away - early ideas for "Throw It Up" and "Honey Bee" I think! They were probably the first ideas that made the album.
Can you describe the typical journey of a song from the idea in your head to the finished product?
It's something I'm trying to streamline right now as I write the third album. It gets easier the more I do it. For the next record, we'll have a clearer idea of the songs that will make the album before going to the studio. We are pretty limited with our budget so can't spend large amounts of time in the studio. But the writing process is usually very similar. Songs start with a guitar and vocal sketch. Then I'll make a very quick demo. In the past, I've then tried to get some real drums on the demos, which I do (badly) -- and then take that demo into the studio.
Recently I've re-discovered GarageBand, which is making this process much quicker. I can add rough drums and pretty much anything to see how a song could turn out, and it's a really quick process. I'm in a routine right now of writing every day. I get up around 6:00 am, quietly record an idea on my phone, and then record a quick demo in GarageBand. I usually have a pretty decent demo by the end of the day.
Which songs were the easy ones to come together and which were the most frustrating?
They all took a bit of time to finish off -- partly because I didn't have a clear idea of how I wanted them to be before starting the recording process. It's kind of how I've always worked -- finishing the writing as I record. It's a fun way of doing it but it takes a bit of time.
Was the writing and recording of the album always harmonious?
The writing was fun, as was the session at Big Jelly. The editing and finishing off at home was sometimes a bit of a slog. We didn't really have a strict deadline to start with, and it took quite a bit of time.
How would you describe your individual approaches to making music?
It differs from band to band, I guess. In the past, I've been in bands where it's a proper collaborative process, where we did a lot of the writing in the practice room. That's always fun, and can be really quick too. With Seazoo, it's always been a way to get my ideas down. It's much more a way to express myself and work on at home with Llinos. But it can also be more time-consuming. If I want to change a song structure or try new ideas out, I often have to make a whole new demo.
Why do you think you complement each other musically?
Me and Steff (the drummer), have played in bands together forever. I'm a bass player really, and I think over the years, we've developed a real understanding. All the bass and drums on the album were recorded live by us- partly because we wanted a live feel, but also that was the only way we could get some much done in the studio with relatively little time and a small budget. So yeah, me and Steff play well together. When we play live, it's totally different. Everyone can interpret the songs however they want. It's quite a fun live show, so there's no pressure at all to try and recreate the recordings. I think we work together well when we play live.
What was it like recording at Big Jelly Studios?
It was really good! We've slowly made the progression from proper bedroom recording into going into the studio over the last few years. I felt privileged! There was a real sense of escapism to it all. I mean Ramsgate is six to seven hours away from North Wales. It was like a working holiday! It's a residential studio, so I loved being there 24 hours a day. We were properly immersed in it!
How do you think affected the sound of the album?
It just made it so easy to make things sound amazing! It was always a struggle when I recorded it myself. I haven't got the best equipment and couldn't really afford to upgrade, so Big Jelly just made everything really easy! It took the pressure off, and I could focus on playing, which was nice.
Were there any tracks that didn't quite make the cut that you may revisit in the future?
Lots of tracks. I think there were six that didn't make it. Yes, I'd like to go back to them in the future. Some really nice songs but didn't quite fit. I hope I get to go back to them. I'm not sure if they'll fit with what I currently have for the third album, though, so who knows!
Do you think you have fully realized your vision of what this collection of songs should be?
I've never been totally happy with anything I do. I don't think I ever will. I'm always trying to learn and make things better. I can always see how I can improve. But yeah, I am kind of happy with how it turned out, especially with the time and money constraints, and still doing a lot of it here at home. What is exciting though, is that I can see how we can make it better for the next record. It's really exciting!
What lessons do you think you have learned to take into the making of the next EP/album?
I need to work harder, which I'm currently doing. I need to spend more time with the songs before we go to the studio. I've always enjoyed finishing the songs off as I record, and experiment at home. But I think for the next one, I'm going to experiment before going into the studio. We'll have the same time pressure, so I'm going to hopefully select which songs will make the record before going down. For Joy we took 16 ideas in, and I'm not saying it was rushed, but I think if we tried to do a bit less a be more focused for the next one, it'll help. So, yeah. I need to work harder before going to the studio. Think there's room for a stronger theme too, maybe more personal, intimate.
How does it feel to be releasing an album in the current climate?
Part of me doesn't want to, I mean there are so many bigger things happening in the world right now. But then, we need to carry on and look to the future. We need music now more than ever. It can help. We had a doctor from Italy contact us thanking us for making music! He called the album 'wonderful medicine', which was surprising. We've also put so much time and effort into this that it'd be such a waste!
How are you managing to promote the album and connect with your fans during lockdown?
It's tough because we'd anticipated selling most of our merch on tour, which has been postponed. But online sales have been much better than expected. We've sold more than we ever have at this early stage, think it's helped putting the record on vinyl. It's also in most record shops, and I think they've been selling a few online too. We're trying to do some live videos from home - I live with Llinos, so it's quite easy for us.
How are you coping personally?
Ok. I'm trying to use this as an opportunity to do as much as I can and work as hard as I can. So I'm keeping really busy!
What are your thoughts on the state of Welsh music at the moment?
I think it's really good! There has been a rise in funding opportunities for emerging artists that have really helped. People can buy equipment or record; it's energized the whole thing.
Which Welsh artists would you recommend to our readers?
What would be your three desert island records?
That's tough! Maybe The Sophtware Slump by Grandaddy, Village Green by the Kinks and something Welsh, probably Mwng by Super Furry Animals.
If you could only keep one song from your career so far, which song would it be and why?
Maybe Roy's Word. It's a fun one to play. And the characters are set in a pub that I used to go to with my dad, so I always go back there when I sing it. It's also being used by Chris Hawkins in six music as a bed on his show, which is ace!
How do you cope in hot weather?
I love the hot weather, which is weird as I burn so easily. Just get some shorts on.