Already lauded by the likes of Planet Rock magazine, renowned DJs Johnnie Walker and Billy Sloan, Into Music caught up with Marie Claire, the artist and creative force behind SEIL LIEN, who release debut album Shatter on 17 April 2020 to get the lowdown on the upcoming release.
Your album Shatter is due out on 17 April 2020. Can you tell Into Music a little bit about the story of the record, the journey you’ve been on to get to this point and the support you’ve had along the way?
The journey began after seeing a collaboration between Akram Khan and Nitin Sawhney, I was so inspired by it, from that moment I wanted to explore making music that would be the foundation for something visual. When I met percussionist Signy Jakobsdoitter she invited me to do some improvisation music for Scottish Dance Theatre which took me on an exploration of improv for a few years.
Concurrently I was introduced to the Glasgow Noise scene by Noise musician and friend Noma, those two things, improvisation and noise music changed the way I approached writing. Noma, who would use hair dryers, electrical tooth brushes and toys through guitar pic ups to make music taught me to see that my voice was an expressive instrument and not just a vehicle for words and melody created on a different instrument i.e guitar and improvisation helped me use the instrument, not overthinking and connecting to how I felt emotionally. So the record was really about creating atmospheres, the way I’d seen and learned through Noma and improv. I wanted it to transcend language so that you don’t have to even hear or understand the lyrics, that you can connect to and understand the music on a basic emotional level. That was the goal.
Signy was key in helping me realise the music. She specialises in gamelan (traditional ensemble music of the Javanese, Sundanese, and Balinese peoples of Indonesia, made up predominantly of percussive instruments) and in the early days we used a lot of her dark expressive percussion with lots of layers of heavily reverbed guitar. We were initially taken on by a commercial producer with major label interest. However they wanted to fire Signy and make a more pop album and that wasn’t what I was looking for. So I searched for other means to make the album, eventually we were supported by Creative Scotland with a small grant to get the record going and our main support was Glasgow artist/ producer Rico who would go on to spend 3 years producing it in his spare time. The engineer was Gerry Gregory, and Glasgow band Kick to Kill front man Dave Cook came on board playing guitar.
How important is it to get the vibe right in the studio/live with the band/musicians in terms of the musical direction you want?
Musical direction was so important to me, I had spent time creating quite a specific sound with a live band and I needed the right person to be able to put it down. Rico was a friend, we’d met at a party years before and I’d sang on his album, Violent Silences. I knew I wanted him to produce it, he knew what I was trying to achieve and I knew he would bring his signature industrial weight to the table.
‘Vibe’ was massively important to both of us. The vocal booth would be dark, and often we’d do the vocals at night. For some reason at night it just feels easier to go to those hidden places inside yourself and let rip! We recorded everything separately and I did most of the vocals alone with Rico. I trusted him and felt safe to really go to places I’m not sure I could have if someone else had been at the wheel. I could scream, shout, cry, laugh in the booth and I felt I was in a safe space to do that.
How involved were you in the album art work and can you tell us about that?
I’m an artist. When I’m not in music mode I’m at my studio painting, drawing or making digital art. For years I’ve always made my own artwork and art directed the videos, I’m a bit of a visual control freak. For the album I’ve actually handed the reins over for the first time. I had been commissioned to make short films of artists, a kind of peering into what artists get up to in their daily studio lives. It was then that I met fine art photographer Samantha Johnston. I love her work and her process. So we come up with ideas and then I let her do her thing. She also did the artwork for the single, Kiss Me Like I’m Somebody Else where I had this idea to shoot different sides of my personality and then people could choose their own artwork which are beautifully printed by Samantha and numbered and signed. It’s been great to let go.
You’ve been described as Nine Inch Nails meets Kate Bush (which is pretty cool). What and who influences your life, music and lyrics?
My life – my husband, Matt, has been a massive influence on me. He’s an incredible musician, humble yet has a commanding presence. I’m a bit more hot-headed, he’s very patient with me and helps me move my creative ideas forward and doesn’t take any bullshit. He’s northern and typically straight as an arrow and that’s what I need. I had a really dark year soon after we met and he really showed me how to be the best version of myself. I’ve never had that before and I feel really lucky and honoured not only to share my life with him but also my creative work and space.
Music – I’m influenced by life, I write when I need to say something or express something. Sometimes if I see something visually inspiring it stirs me to write. It can leave an impression that I want to spend time exploring and recreating through music.
Lyrics – It really just flows, I’ve not yet tried any Bowie-type techniques. Michealangelo once said “ The Sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.” I relate to that, in a way it’s like the words are already there and you just have to practise being quiet and listen, you already know what to say, however it’s often hard to hear it … that’s the challenge.
Your song A Little While More was used in a Boots Inspirational Women campaign in 2018. How did that come about?
I had a random encounter with a chap in Glastonbury, knee deep in mud. I was enthusiastically telling him all about the album I’d just made…turned out he was the Head of Publishing at Ninja Tune. I sent him the music, his team loved it and put me up for it the rest is history!
International Women’s Day was in March with this year’s theme on generation equality. How does that impact you in the music industry and life in general – is enough being done to challenge and break down barriers?
I passionately support the celebration of women of any age. The Boots advert was in fact specifically about this and I was really honoured to be a part of that. As women in the music industry we need every ally that we can get, especially as the industry can be blind to unique talent outside a certain age bracket. They are obviously doing great work but there’s still so much to be done! It’s great that Emily Eavis (co-organiser of the annual Glastonbury Festival) has pledged to working towards a 50/50 gender balanced Glastonbury. Change will only come as more women acquire seats of power within the industry which was made evident in a startling contrast when Geoff Ellis, head of TRNSMT, blamed his male heavy festival on girls not picking up guitars and forming bands. Mon the girls!
You played with Goodbye Mr MacKenzie last year (Into Music’s review), stepping into Shirley Manson’s position for the tour. Can you tell Into Music how that came about and what you took from the experience.
A couple of the original members had gone on to form the band The Filthy Tongues, they’d been really supportive of my music even back in the more experimental days and I’ve opened for them a few times. I think Fin was the one to suggested bringing me into the Mackenzie fold.
What did I take from it? It was a really new experience for me. Martin and Derek who wrote a lot of the songs are very prolific so there was a lot to learn. Jim Brady (Rezillos) was the other ‘outsider’ asked in, he was my real partner in crime and really dispersed any nerves and helped me learn songs that were thrown in last minute. The first time we played the cover The Way I Walk, on the encore (a song Big John the guitarist sings and plays) I was asked to play guitar too. Jim taught me the song/chords at the side of the stage in-between the last song of the show and the encore. Still can’t believe we pulled that off, lol.
Martin is a really interesting fellow, a thoughtful wordsmith with a hearty gallows humour. His stories of recording with Tina Weymouth and Chis Franz (Talking Heads) in the US are book-worthy tales. I had the honour of Martin singing on a cover song with me for the bonus track on Kiss Me Like I’m Somebody Else. He’s an inspiring chap to be around. Derek also tells a good story, he fondly retells the time in Berlin, they were there the night the wall came down, his accounts are also book-worthy. Big John made me a beautiful guitar strap. He makes them by hand, they are nothing like I’ve ever seen before, they’re like works of art (John is also an artist). He has specific straps for specific guitars. He’s a particular man, mixing and matching, I’m told … is not an option! Big John is pure joy and sheer mischief. I could go on and on, they are all really easy and interesting people to be around. I have a lot of love for them all.
The experience itself was part terrifying but mostly good fun. Stepping in for Shirley Manson is no small task especially with their die hard following. But you just do what you do and hope for the best, it all seemed to work out swell in the end!
Thinking back to all the gigs you’ve attended, which one stands out the most as really memorable and why (this is a staple question we are using for all interviews).
It’s hard to choose one great gig over another because often they are special for very different reasons. But I’d have to say at the Hammersmith Apollo, David Byrne’s American Utopia. It was a visual feast, beautifully choreographed and staged. It almost wasn’t a gig, it was theatre, it was immense.
While the immediate focus will be on the album launch, what’s next for SEIL LIEN/ Marie-Claire?
This year is all about being in my studio painting and writing/recording the new album. I’m desperate to get out and gig the album but I’ve had to cancel my gigs like everyone else due to the COVID-19 virus. It’s hard to know when we’ll get a chance to bring it to the fans but I’m not worried I know we will and it’ll be bloody brilliant!!
Shatter by SEIL LIEN is released on 17 April 2020.
You can pre-order Shatter on the WEBSITE