POSTED ON JULY 25, 2012:
Hitmaker with the Voice
Another wave of British soul invasion
When Seal's first big hit, "Crazy," hit the airwaves in the early days of the '90s, there were a lot of people who knew the song, and that was about it. Then people saw the video, and then Seal was The Guy That Plays Bass Left-Handed And Has Those Scars On His Face. And to a lot of people, that's all he was.
Then came "Killer," a smash hit, and Seal was on the map in the music world. A few years later came "Kiss from a Rose," a modest hit until it got connected to Batman Forever. There was no arguing at that point that Seal was a star. Far from being content to just keep things as is, he continues in his evolution even now, more than two decades after we first saw those scars (and since I know you're wondering, they are the result of a type of lupus called discoid lupus erythematosus).
And now, Seal is, hands-down, the coolest mothergrabber on planet earth. He looks cool, he acts cool, his voice is cool, and he freaking married Heidi Klum.
Growing up in a foster home in London, Seal's early life was a tough one, but he was one of those lucky people who found his calling relatively early.
"Ever since I discovered my singing voice as a child, I knew that I wanted to make music my career," he said. "Music has always been a big love of mine, and I was lucky to discover that I had a voice that I could make a career out of. "
Taking that voice and using it to eschew a career in architecture (he actually holds a degree in that field), he made hay with it, though he downplays anything but dumb luck in the universe giving him that raspy, distinctive sound.
"It got to a stage where a lot of people were telling me I had a unique voice," he said. "Once you realize you have something that a lot of other people don't, you eventually work out how to use it to your advantage. I was simply lucky that there's something in my voice that people like to hear."
He's right, too--or at least, the people who told him they wanted to hear him were right. His songs are catchy, or thoughtful, or both, and his albums are emminently listenable. This, again, is not due to any concerted effort to create an opus. At least not according to him.
"To be honest, when I'm writing, I don't necessarily think about the end result as such, I simply try to make every single song the best it can possibly be," he said. "However, I personally like listening to albums that work as a body of work from start to finish, so I suppose I naturally make albums in that way." So there's at least one instance where the man will sort of take credit for something awesome that he does, and it is truly awesome to find a full-length album these days that stands as a whole--and I'm not talking about concept albums, either. Ugh.
Even 1998's critically-panned Human Being is a terrific listen from start to finish, prompting people like me (admittedly a Seal fan) to argue that critics don't know shit.
At any rate, Seal continues crafting these albums as start-to-finish works, and not just a few hits with a bunch of filler thrown in to reach the 12-, 15-, or 18-song quota consumers demanded when they stopped charging us $8.99 for a cassette and decided to hit us for $14.99 for those new-fangled CDs. This desire to eschew writing a few hits and a bunch of crap is something few artists seem to worry about in this day and age of digitally-downloaded singles and Frostwire and your friend's CD burner.
"I think there's no doubt that the different ways people are now consuming music has led to a change in the way many artists approach the writing and production of their album," he said. "Personally, I just try to write the best songs and make the best music I can."
Currently on tour (and coming to Tulsa August 1, which is why you're reading this article) supporting his latest studio effort, Commitment, the singer compares this one to his first two albums, both self-titled--and these are the ones that gave the world the aforementioned huge hits.
"I really feel I approached [recording the album] in the same, pure way that I approached my first two albums. And by that, I mean, while I've always had lots of different styles and genres of music on my albums, I feel there is always a thread throughout them," he said. "Ultimately, my voice seems to provide the continuity across the album regardless of the style of music the song happens to be." There it is again. The voice.
While his songs are loved rabidly by his fans, and casual listeners know and love the hits, it's that voice of his that brings the magic for a lot of people.
He'll bring that magic to the Brady Theater this week, much to the delight of a great many people. While Seal loves studio work, he is equally passionate about playing live, and he spoke fondly of his band, as well.
"We have a great time on the road, and my band really become my extended family when we're touring," he said. "Every night feels special. It really does. The venue makes no difference to me at all. It's all about the people standing there in front of me."
Granted, he's never played the Brady, or anywhere else in Tulsa, so it's not like he's talking smack about us. Still, he goes back to the fans.
"There really isn't one place that stands out [as a favorite venue]," he said. "If the audience is great--and they generally always are -- it's just great to be playing."
There are those artists out there -- Prince comes to mind -- who everything short of refuse to play the old hits. Sure, you want people to hear your new stuff, but we all know there are tunes we buy the tickets to hear. The setlist Seal will bring to us this week is rife with his hits, so new fans, casual fans, and diehards alike will probably be in heaven.
"I'm pleased to say we play stuff from all the albums," he said. "It's a setlist I'm incredibly proud of, and perhaps my favorite set I've ever played."
So that's exciting. Did I mention I love this guy?
Seal, along with special guest Macy Gray, plays the Brady Theater Wednesday, August 1. There is a myriad of ways to get to this show, as tickets are available through Reasor's and Starship Records, by phone at 866-977-6849, or online at protix.com. Prices start at $59.50, and the doors open at 7pm.
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