"If you’re writing music for the fans, and not for yourself, you’ve got the wrong idea."

John Hassell of SEEKAE talks progression, Australia and the inevitable trappings of the mainstream alongside their latest release.

Words by Liam Arrowsmith

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Approx reading time: 5 mins

At a wet t-shirt contest somewhere in the wild abyss of Northern Australia, Alex Cameron, George Nichols and John Hassell sit at the back of the bar, excitedly talking about the Akai MPC. “Everyone was holding their pint glasses up shouting ‘tits, tits tits!’. We very quickly realised we wouldn’t fit in with the jocks.”

Formed originally as an electronic music band, the trio’s initial assemblies were more a creative outlet to soundboard ideas before they began to take the notion of live performance seriously. Their latest release, Turbine Blue, is an electro-pop ballad, and, as a testament to the group’s progression, a far cry from their early experimental days. “It’s given far more of a challenge, and far more of a direction too. We have to think ‘Alex is going to sing over this part’, what can we do with the other elements that doesn’t necessarily overwhelm the singing?”

As Hassell explains, “the subtleties in the music are becoming more and more apparent now. Introducing singing, once you add that element, it restricts you in a way. But at the same time, it directs you.”

The recent change of tack can be seen in the track Test and Recognise, from the bands third record The Worry. The song came about after Alex and John attended a New Year’s Eve party that descended into an alcohol fuelled “nightmare”.

“I think that’s where Alex began to get the lyrical inspiration for it. So once he had that down, we thought the instrumentation should go the same way. It became quite a lot of oscillation, and a lot of chaotic stuff, and then we have this point where it all comes together. And that’s essentially where the breakdown came from.” 

John is the first to admit that in the early days the band were disorganised and without structure. “The first album felt more like a mixtape. We were cramming on songs like ‘that’ll do, yeah why not’. We hadn’t even altogether as a band listened to certain songs.”

Even now, Seekae find it hard to find the time to spend together, but instead resort to sharing their work online. Whilst Alex tours the world pursuing his solo career, George has remained in Australia and John went to England to study in 2012.

“There’s something about England that I love very much,” he says. “It’s a very small country, but it’s dense in terms of what it’s got. I love the amount of football they play here.”

Hassell frequently returns to Australia and reminisces fondly on his time spent there. He is particularly enthralled by Australian producer and artist Flume (who has released a reworked version of Test and Recognise). “He got Ableton (software) because he got [a demo] in a packet of cereal. I don’t know him, but he seems like a really nice guy, and he seems to be someone who makes music he likes, which happens to be music that millions of people like.”

He does worry however, that the laid back image that the rest of the world has of Australia isn’t in tune with the reality. “If you look at Kevin Parker’s (Tame Impala) lyrics, he’s talking about ‘why do these people hate me, and why is she leaving me?’ There seems to be a lot of anxiety in Australia. England is famous for being the nation of politeness and the stiff upper lip. I feel like that exists in Australia, but in a different form. This sort of tall poppy syndrome, they call it. That anybody who stands out needs to be cut down.”

Though fully conscious of this depressing reality, Hassell’s fondness for his home endures.

Just as the band members have dispersed from their respective parts, Seekae too have moved away from their musical roots, adopting a more pop-based sound. “You’ll go onto Soundcloud, and you’ll see the top comments, and it’s safe to say, I’ve spotted the odd fuck, the occasional asterisks and an unhappy face. But that’s all part of it.”

Though he is adamant they are not selling out. “If you’re writing music for the fans, and not for yourself, you’ve got the wrong idea. I look at someone like Rihanna, there are elements of the music that I think are cool, but I don’t really think they’re musicians. They’re just vessels.”

Hassell likens modern day radio to a David Firth sketch, as he vents about the insistence on repeating ‘hit’ tracks and its inability to showcase actual talent: “It’s nothing to do with ‘we’ve found some quality’, it’s like, ‘we’re telling you this is quality’”.

I ask John if he would ever take a record deal that involved ‘selling out’. He thinks for a few seconds.

“It would be a very wise business move. But you have to subscribe to the idea that you’re not really going to be a musician anymore. When I was younger, I thought Coldplay were great. Now it just seems so tacky and refined. They perfectly represent what you hypothetically presented to me.”

As Seekae work on new music with a view to release next year, there is a bravery in their move to a mainstream sound. They’re making the music they want to make, and whether you enjoy it or not, it seems there is still a level of integrity driving the trio.

“I’m guessing Chris Martin got approached by some guy who wants to make them the biggest band in the world. But, unbearable to listen to. But it’s a strange world, isn’t it? If you’re going to become a really successful musician and make a lot of money, you’re inevitably going to get a load of people who may have liked your music before saying ‘you’re a sell-out’.”