Kevin Seal and Chris McGrew were born and bred in midwest USA, but both found themselves on California’s coast, where their upbringing of hard working has seen them work alongside many musical creatives. During the Covid-19 pandemic they were inspired to form Seal Party, with new single, ‘Maison’, leading the way for their debut album, ‘MMXXII’, set for release at the end of the month. Lisa is grateful to Kevin Seal for taking some time out to chat.
Your new single, ‘Maison’, takes the French word for “home”. What does home mean to you?
KS: Home can be anywhere you choose to feel at home. I’m a big fan of the idea of chosen family, and my friends have been family to me as long as I can remember. Chosen home is much like chosen family. I feel at home with my friends and my chosen family, wherever we are. This song’s lyrics follow a similar line of thinking. Do you think of those bright lights on the highway as menacing, as blinding? Or do you think of them as beacons helping you get home?
‘Maison’ is just an absolute joy, and I loved it from start to finish – with voices like those, why have you not released an album before this?
KS: Thank you! We’ve appeared on other people’s albums a lot over the past decade, so we’ve been out there, but more as harmony singers rather than lead. Now we get to write some lead parts for ourselves. Personality-wise, both of us like helping other musicians realize their goals in the studio. We’re collaborators by nature, and love being in support roles. We still work to assist other players and songwriters, but it’s refreshing to develop our own ideas when we can.
Over the past year or so I’ve been asking people how their music has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, but it’s really been quite a productive time for Seal Party, hasn’t it?
KS: The quarantine was a double-edged sword. For my son, who is 11 now, it was awful not getting to have recess with his buddies. But since his classes were all on a laptop screen, he could take that laptop anywhere. Sessions in the studio were getting cancelled, but these empty timeslots presented McGrew and me with an opportunity to hop in. My son would bring his laptop, and do his school lessons sitting in the vocal booth. Whenever we could, we’d invite friends over to add their contributions too. Thanks to McGrew’s hard work as a producer and engineer and session drummer, we kept getting pockets of time opening up in the HydeOut.
You’ve clearly been influenced by soul, but is it a case of your voices fitting the genre? If you had voices less appropriate for soul do you think you might have got into pop or some other style?
KS: I love Mike Patton’s voice. And when I first started singing on recordings, I think I tried to mimic him a bit. I couldn’t help it. But I don’t have any of that growl that he can get on harder material. I kept trying to sound like a hard rock singer, but my voice is way too smooth. It was never convincing, even to myself. Over time, I realized that I needed to write for my voice, not for what I wished my voice could do. Mike Patton, of course, sounds terrific crooning silky soul numbers too, but that guy can do anything, ha ha. I don’t have his range. Also, the older I got, the more appreciation I had for more soulful vocal tones, and more soulful types of songwriting.
How much fun was it making that music video! Who are all the people featured in it?
KS: We had a blast. Ben Torres, the director, runs a fun set. Ben had his kids running camera two and camera three, so it was all a big family affair. Those are our pals, though they were all from different friend-worlds, so they hadn’t yet met each other. Jason, in the faux-fur coat and skateboard, is from the band Close Companions. Tom, in the blazer, was the singer for a band I played keys in back in Indiana. Bradley is a songwriter and teacher who we’ve known for years. Valentina and Nate brought their baby, and we loved seeing that. Such a chill and sociable baby, too! My son was one of the dancers, and I’m thrilled – and relieved – that he was up for it.
‘Maison’ was written as an encouragement to your son during the isolation of the pandemic. What is the best and most encouraging advice you’ve been given in your lives?
KS: I had a piano recital when I was maybe nine years old. Those recitals drove me nuts. I got so nervous. After I played my piece, and didn’t screw it up too badly, my dad said, “I’m going to call you Clutch. You come through in clutch situations.” It wasn’t advice, really, but hugely encouraging, and transferable to other situations in the future. Whether he truly believed that or not, it certainly helped me to hear it.
Similarly, who do you consider to be the most inspirational people in your lives, and why? What about those who’ve been most inspiring to you in music?
KS: My cousin, Becky, is a neuroscientist, and she’s a hero of mine. What she’s working on – slow, deliberate work every day in the lab – could end up curing diseases or easing people’s pain. It’s such patient work, and it often gets no applause. We music people are spoiled. We get people listening, maybe clapping or dancing if we’re lucky. We get our egos stroked. Scientists, not so much. In terms of inspiration within music, my high school band director was a badass. Steve Strider. He’s a ripping jazz drummer who planted seeds in all of our ears – not just as players or improvisers, but as listeners. He got us asking questions about the music we admired, and got us reverse-engineering the sounds we were drawn to. Brilliant dude.
What is the songwriting process for you? How do you get in the mood?
KS: The chords are usually the first element to arrive, and the lyrics are usually the last. I’ve had instrumental ideas that have unsuccessfully sought words for years. Travelling often stokes ideas, for some reason. If I board a plane, I’ll often have a song idea by the time we land.
And finally, what question do you wish someone would ask you in an interview, but nobody ever does? And what’s the answer to that question?
I wish someone would ask me who my favourite stand-up comedians are. Almost every musician I know loves stand-up. Comics tend to be frustrated would-be musicians, and musicians tend to be frustrated would-be comics. For me, recently, I’ve been all about Hari Kondabolu, George Chen, Taylor Tomlinson, and Anthony Geselnik if I’m feeling like some 99% cacao.