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Seth Frightening

Seth Frightening

Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Monday 12th November, 2012 10:37AM

Wellington singer-songwriter Sean Kelly A.K.A Seth Frightening will follow up his beautiful debut album - The Prince and His Madness - with the release of a sophomore, Don't You Worry (Heat / Death) this Saturday (November 17th). We caught up with Kelly to discuss his song writing process, how he feels about both his latest output and nabbing the opening slot for Grizzly Bears two New Zealand tour dates.

Hey Sean, what are you up to at the moment?

I'm just having a coffee because I drank some cider for lunch so I'm feeling a bit tired.

You're going to release your new album next week: are you excited?

Yes very much so it's about time because I think I started recording it about three years ago. I worked on it, ignored it, worked on it, ignored it and then finally worked on it until it was ready.

Awesome, why did it take so long? Was it a frustrating process?

It wasn't really frustrating. In my recording process I hadn't really labelled tracks or anything so that was a bit of a mess. But it just kind of got away with us and having full time jobs and annoying things like that meant it just got a bit lost. We were also playing lots of shows and I don't know, time flies, which is annoying.

You recorded it over such a long period of time: what content made it onto the album, and when is it from?

All of the songs but one were written while recording so I was just experimenting with sounds and kind of, you could say "having a jam" and then layering over the top of that: expressing myself and then working on those expressions. One song was made last year and that's pretty much it. Half of it's improvised and the other half is rehearsed and pre-planned.

You say that half of it was improvised but going into it did you have an idea of the shape you wanted it to take?

I had no idea at the beginning and then it became a hangover from the first album. It's just the next step I think which is normal for releasing albums.

Reflecting on it as a finished product: how would you describe it and are there any themes that you can pull out of it?

Yeah I see it as myself contemplating on things like death and sex and just having the weight of the world on my shoulders: first world problems haha. If I was going to compare it to a popular record it would be like a Neil Young On the Beach album really which was definitely a hangover. It's more influenced by noise music and improvised music, and a lot of the things are quite repetitive and have a mantra for me, personally. Not a lot of other people have listened to it so I'm not sure what they'd say.

You called it a hangover from the first album: how would you say you have progressed as a songwriter since that album?

This album is definitely less song-y than the first album but there are still songs; they just have a little less structure. When I started the first album there were particular songs I wanted to write whereas with this second album the songs have come from particular sounds and from how I was feeling at the time. I took those experiences and emotions and turned them into songs.

Your music more generally is pretty honest and raw. Is writing music a cathartic process for you?

Yeah that's spot on, I like to be as honest as I can be. I think the best music is completely honest and raw. You can find yourself when you're making music; you can do something original and from your own perspective. I like to not hold back and say what should be said in a song. If a horrible noise needs to be used you should use it but at the same time there are some terrible things going on in the world that you want to put into your music but you can't be dark and horrible all the time so you need to look at the pretty things too. That's my process.

It must be difficult going from writing these honest songs in an insular environment to playing them live?

It's definitely one of the biggest challenges I face so when it comes to playing a song live I use the live setting as an excuse for a good jam. If I'm playing by myself I can do it but if I'm playing with other musicians it's like "we've got this song here, we should see what we can do to make it awesome". Sometimes it'll sound how the song should sound and sometimes it'll sound like an engaging live performance.

You've been part of the Wellington music scene for quite a while now: it seems to have gone through some pretty intense changes lately...

It's definitely been a weird place for live venues because there's not many and most of the places are bars and so the focus has shifted to putting on house party shows. There was a great venue called Freds which is a really good example of the Wellington music scene's spirit. It was a place that was all ages and everyone could do what they wanted and it wasn't about the bar and you didn't have to have four drink tokens and then play at a particular time: the music was the focus and it was for anyone and everyone.

Compared to Auckland there's more of a community here when it comes to the live gig scene which can also make it quite incestuous. I think that's a good thing though because Wellington's quite small so we can work around the fact that there aren't many venues. Also Wellington has lots of nice, random forests and houses and things that you can get a hold of because you know the right person.

There definitely needs to be more actual venues, but Puppies looks like it'll be cool for a while. Ian(Jorgenson) has made it awesome.

Speaking of live performances: you just got the opening slot for Grizzly Bear! How did that come about?

Yeah I'm really, really excited, they're definitely one of my favourites - I was actually listening to their music before you called. I've done lots of opening slots for Jim Rush who does Rushmore promotions and he just put my name forward and then they said "yep, this guy!" I look forward to playing and not only are we playing with Grizzly Bear but we're playing in some really cool theatres which you don't get to do everyday. I played a tour in Australia in some great theatres and you could definitely get used to that but it doesn't come around that often.

So you've got a new album out and you're opening for Grizzly Bear: what are the future plans for the Seth Frightening project?

Well as soon as we finish this album I've got another one to start so I'll do that whenever I can. We're also doing music for a play. A friend of mine from high school is doing her masters in theatre and for her final production she's doing a play about the end of the world. She asked us to do the music and I think it's going to be pretty cool. The last show is on the 21.12.12 and it starts on the 17th December in Wellington but it's going to be an extravaganza of what people think the end of the world is. We're doing everything really from full songs to glitchy noises: I'm really looking forward to that.

Do you have any tour plans or overseas travel plans?

We definitely plan to travel overseas we're just trying to figure out how to do that at the moment. A friend of mine has just finished building a boat so we talked to him about doing a port-town boat tour which would be awesome! It would be a pretty long tour but we could definitely get a documentary out of it too - or just drown, one of the two. So yeah, that's on the mind-plan.


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