Seal On Love, New LP ‘7’ & Reuniting With Trevor Horn: Idolator Interview And “Padded Cell” Premiere
Seal first worked with producer Trevor Horn on 1990 debut single/signature song “Crazy.” Their artistic chemistry was undeniable and the pair recorded four albums together, which spawned classic hits like “Kiss From A Rose” and “Prayer For The Dying.” After a lengthy break, they reunite for their first (non-covers) LP since 2003. 7 is an impressive return to form for the British hitmaker, tapping into the darkness and deep well of emotion that set his early work apart.
I recently caught up with the 52-year-old in Los Angeles and asked him about working with Trevor again. Seal explained their symbiotic relationship and opened up about the overarching theme of 7 — the many different facets of love. He also spoke about staying true to his sound and dissected album highlights “Let Yourself” and “Every Time I’m With You.” Find out more about the veteran’s return below and listen to the premiere of new track “Padded Cell” at the bottom of the post.
What inspired your musical reunion with Trevor Horn?
We’ve always been tight. We’ve always been a strong part of each other’s lives. I’ve known him for 25 years. He’s also, as well as being my producer, he’s also been my music partner. He owns the studios where I’ve recorded a great deal of my albums. He’s been a mentor to me like an elder brother, so he was never really out of the picture. He has always been there. Even when I worked with other producers.
We didn’t even discuss making this record together. We kind of just ended up doing it. I look back on it now and I realize it’s largely because we just enjoy each other’s company so much. I really like him. I know that sounds like an odd thing to say, but I really love him. We share the same sort of ridiculous sense of humor. I just like him. I like being around him. He’s fun.
I think whenever you’re fortunate enough to have someone like that around you and then to be able to work with somebody like that, the creativity will come. It will take care of itself. It’s all about being free and being comfortable with someone and trusting someone and being vulnerable in front of that person. When you can do that you can do anything. Trevor’s just remarkable. He’s an incredible human being, apart from being a genius producer, he’s just one of the most amazing human beings I know.
He seems to know what to do with your voice better than anyone else you’ve worked with.
Yes. Honestly, it’s something I say all the time. Without a question. It’s not even close. I don’t trust anyone with my voice as much as I do with Trevor. I just always know that I’m going to be taken care of. He doesn’t let anything get in the way of the narrative. He will never sacrifice the narrative for a cool guitar line or a nice bit of orchestration. He just won’t do it. He’s not interested in that.
The overarching theme of the album is love. Is it a concept album of sorts?
You know, I didn’t actually sit down and say, “Okay, I’m going to write an album about love.” I didn’t do that. As a songwriter you just write. You write about things you feel compelled to write about. It’s always been that way with me. I guess, also, as a songwriter you’re writing this never-ending book. An album is kind of like a chapter of that book. Perhaps this chapter is just more specifically dealing with love.
I mean, there’s always love in pretty much everything I write about, but I think this chapter is dealing more specifically with the romantic side of love and the loss thereof. Why is that? Well, I guess it’s partly autobiographical and partly biographical. From a lyrical and emotional standpoint, Trevor is quite a big part of this album. Perhaps more so than he has been of other records and that’s largely because he and I were going through a set of emotions that were quite similar.
I mentioned before that that some of that is autobiographical but some of it is biographical. A lot of the time I will write about someone else’s life and my perception of how whatever it is they’re going through is affecting them and how, in turn, that affects me. The whole thing is quite personal, and in any case, ends up being personal.
You mentioned “Let Yourself” on social media a while ago now. Is that a special song for you?
“Let Yourself” was written after my first season on The Voice Australia. Do you remember Karise Eden? The song is a direct result of my tenure with Karise. It is about letting yourself be great. She was very distrusting. You know, she didn’t trust anyone. She’s bi-polar. She wouldn’t trust anyone, but she ended up trusting me. She served as the catalyst, let’s say. It’s not entirely about her.
I feel that as is the case with most of the things I write, or most of the things that we deem to be kind of personal, I feel that there’s a lot of Karise in everyone. Quite often the only thing standing in the way between you and your goal is you. “Let Yourself” was me trying to say, “Look, you’re almost there. Just let yourself be great. Everyone else believes that you can do it. The only person who doesn’t quite believe that is you. Let yourself. Let yourself be great. Don’t force it. Just trust that you are more than good enough.”
You’re nine albums into a very successful career. Do you find it difficult to strike the balance between staying true to your sound and being “contemporary”?
It’s a valid question, but I never do that. It’s a very precarious hole to kind of fall into. You know, I remember somebody asked Bono from U2, not comparing myself to Bono, but I remember somebody asked him, “You know, you’ve been doing this a really long time and you guys keep consistently finding ways to reinvent yourself. Do you ever worry that you might run out of ideas of ways of reinventing yourself?”
Bono looked at the journalist and said, “No, we never worry about that. Good ideas come and go but great songs last forever and we’ve got the songs.” It always resonated with me when he said that because it really is about songs. You take an album like 21? The Adele record. Is that contemporary sounding to you? No. What it is is an album. It literally has two things going for it. Two major things. Great songs and she sang her ass off.
You just believed her. They were great songs that resonated. Ed Sheeran is the same. Why does somebody like Ed Sheeran resonate? Because the songs are fucking great. The songs are great and he sings them really well and you believe him. Never fails. That’s what I try and do. I try to write great songs. Whether I achieve that is a different thing entirely but that’s what I’ve set out to do. I try and write the best songs that I can. Sometimes they’re good enough, sometimes they’re not.
I think you definitely achieved that with “Every Time I’m With You.” I can imagine people playing it at weddings.
Thank you. I’m glad you feel that. I tried to think of the most romantic thing that I could feel because there is a lot of dynamics of love on this record and some aren’t always pleasant. I came up with the sentiment, “I’m with you because every time I’m with you… I feel wanted. You make me feel wanted. I feel like I belong here.” That’s just it, isn’t it? That is the essence of a relationship. You just want to feel wanted.
“Do you love me? Well, yeah, I guess.” You could say that, you could tell a person that, you could tell your significant other that a million times a day and it could never be enough. Love is crazy, love is inconsistent, it’s all over the fucking shop. It’s up, it’s down, it’s left, it’s right, it’s like you’re on top of the world, you’re at the bottom of a cesspit. You roll over in bed one morning and you look at them and say, “fuck” but then another day you roll over and that person is just the most beautiful thing in the world. That’s love.
Ultimately what keeps you in a relationship is if you just feel wanted. If you feel like that person wants you. If you want that person. If you feel wanted by that person then it’s a feeling of validation because ultimately that equates to a kind of love that we can’t understand. It’s very simple. If I don’t want you, if I’m giving off a feeling or a vibe that I don’t want you, whether it’s in love or it’s in friendship, or whatever, ultimately it’s rejection. It’s not a good feeling. It’s uncomfortable.
Did you think you would still be here 25 years later?
I feel really fortunate to still be doing the thing that I love and that people are somewhat interested. I still feel fortunate that I’m contributing and that I’m still inspired and that I still love it. I didn’t think about it, to be quite honest. I mean, I always think that it’s something that I’ll do, no matter what. Even if it isn’t the first option. I could not stop making music. It’s just something that I love doing. It’s just such a great feeling when you’re able to express and communicate that.
Do I see myself doing it for another 25 years? In some capacity, you know? I don’t know. Will it be the only thing that I’m doing? Hell no. I like performing live but it is quite… I’m not somebody who mails it in when I perform. It takes a lot out of me. I love it. I do love it but it’s not without a price.
Do you ever listen to your old material? Is there a song or album you would do differently now?
I never put on my old music ever. It’s always like I hear it somewhere. One time I was in Mexico, I used to have a house down there and the people who used to look after my house, they had my first CD in the car and it was either that or Mexican radio, right? My girlfriend at the time and I, we listened to it and it was the first time that I had listened to it objectively. I listened to it like a punter would listen to it. Without criticism.
I really enjoyed it and I enjoyed it in a way that I never enjoyed it before. I was like, “Wow, I get it. I get what it is that people liked about it now.” With that record, no, there was nothing that I would want to change because you realize every thing is in its right place. You can’t go back and change it because it is what it is. Now Human Beings… There are technical problems all with that album. It was a very difficult record to make.
I love the cover of that album.
Yeah, I love that cover. That was Jean-Baptiste Mondino. Do you remember that Madonna video “Justify My Love”? He did that. He’s a really great photographer. I really love it. It’s really committed. It wasn’t popular at the time but I’m really fond of it because it was a concept that I had. I really committed to it. He actually elongated the fingers and lengthened my jaw.
You were saying it was a difficult album to record?
There were technical problems with it. I never quite achieved the rhythms I was going for and the best way to kind of articulate the song. Also, it got doubly compressed. It got compressed at the cutter. It was overly compressed. It’s one of those albums that Trevor and I always said that we would go back and remaster. I do like it. Some of my favorite songs are on it. There’s a song called “Still Love Remains,” which I really like. There’s also a song called “Color.” It’s quite a dark album but I like it.
We premiere 7 track “Padded Cell” below: