Originally published on September 25, 2001 at Ticketmaster’s LiveDaily.com
A decade ago, Seal broke through on the American music scene with the hit single “Crazy,” a song that helped propel the British singer’s self-titled debut to sales of over 1 million copies in the U.S. alone. Even greater success followed with his 1994 release, also titled “Seal,” which spawned the massive hit “Kiss from a Rose” and went on to ship over 4 million copies in the U.S.
Four years passed before a third album, “Human Being,” surfaced. A highly publicized split in 1997 with producer Trevor Horn–who produced Seal’s first two albums–marred the recording process, but Seal eventually reconciled with Horn in the summer of 1998, and “Human Being” hit stores in November. The album failed to realize the success of its predecessors, however, and has only been gold certified for shipping 500,000 copies in the states.
Almost three years after that disappointment, Seal has finished recording the follow-up to “Human Being,” and, next month, will give his first live performance in some time at the Oct. 27 Breathe breast-cancer benefit in Los Angeles, an event co-founded by Third Eye Blind frontman Stephan Jenkins.
On Sept. 18, Seal spoke to LiveDaily about the Breathe benefit, the trouble with “Human Being,” his forthcoming album and life following the recent terrorist attacks.
JZ: How did you become involved in the Breathe benefit?
I met Stephan about six months ago at Tiger Jam III, which is a benefit that Tiger Woods stages in Las Vegas. Stephan was performing there. We became very good friends and we stayed in touch. He said, “Look, I’m doing this thing called Breathe to raise money for hospitals in under-privileged areas of America and for women to go and get tested for breast cancer.” I thought it was a great cause, and I liked his vibe and conviction.
Are all of the performances at the benefit going to be duets?
Sort of. I think the way that Stephan’s got it planned is that one person will go on and do their own set, and when that person gets to the end of their set, [the next artist] will come on and do a duet with them, and so on and so forth. I was supposed to come on at the end of Stephan’s set–which we still may do–and do my set, and then Aaliyah was coming on at the end of my set. Obviously, that’s another tragedy that … God, so much has happened, hasn’t it? So, obviously, we’ve had to change that around. But it’s really something I’m looking forward to. I’m just really happy and honored that Stephan asked me to do it.
You haven’t given any live performances in quite a while, correct?
No, I haven’t been doing any. I haven’t been doing any at all.
And it’s been about three years since your last album, “Human Being,” was released. When will we be seeing a new record from you?
Well, it’s finished. It’s called “Togetherland” and it’ll be released in February. I’m very excited. I produced this one myself. I thought [the concept and title of the album] was pretty poignant when I was recording it–or conceiving it, as it were–but I think it is even more so now, given recent events. It’s an album that tries to promote the concept of togetherness and love and acceptance, the elimination of pointless barriers, the elimination of prejudice. I’m mixing at the moment, I’m mixing the last two tracks, but it’s pretty much finished.
I recently read that much of the album has been finished for some time, but that you have been holding it back because you weren’t happy with how Warner Bros. handled “Human Being,” and you wanted to make sure that wasn’t going to happen again.
Yeah, that’s partly true. Not entirely true, because I’m always tweaking. But, yes, I could have been finished a while ago. Warner Bros. seems to have gotten their act together now. Tom Whalley, who was at Interscope and who was really successful there, is now the man in charge of the music division of Warner Bros., and someone who I absolutely adore is his second in command, a gentleman by the name of Jeff Ayeroff. Jeff is an amazing person, a true music lover, and is someone who is extremely intelligent, one of the most intelligent people in the business. He has a great understanding of how to work with artists and get the most out of them. I consider both of those people to be allies. And I have great management at the moment, which always helps. I had different management last time. And, yeah, I think we have a good crew at Warner’s. Everyone is excited about this record.
I think that your first two albums are very upbeat and jubilant, while “Human Being” seems to have a much darker mood about it.
Yeah, I would definitely agree with you. I think the essence of what I was trying to portray with “Human Being” was positive, but I think that the actual circumstances that I was going through at the time were considerably darker, and that inevitably had some reflection on the overall sound of the record. The essence of what I’m about or what I’ve always tried to say is always, I think, positive. Perhaps I haven’t always communicated that essence in a positive way. But I think, in hindsight, that you are correct in saying that it was a very dark album.
However, I am proud of the album. I don’t play it much, but I don’t play it much for other reasons. I think it had some good songs on it–some, I underline–but I didn’t like the sound of it. I thought that it suffered from having too many cooks to spoil the broth–too many producers–and from me not retaining my focus. I think it had some good ideas, and quite possibly some of the best lyrics I have written, but it takes more than that to make a great album. And it is not a great album. It’s an OK album.
You said that you produced “Togetherland” by yourself. Was that because of the lessons that you learned from the difficult process of making “Human Being”?
Yes. I hope so. I hope that the lack of success and the somewhat arduous process of making “Human Being” served as a lesson and a catalyst for “Togetherland.” “Togetherland” is a lot more positive and a lot more upbeat. I think it’s a lot more positive.
You were supposed to be involved with the John Lennon tribute that was originally scheduled to take place Sept. 20, is that correct?
Yes, I was going to be involved in that, and I was supposed to be in New York now, actually, but it got postponed until Oct. 2 [following the terrorist attacks], and it’s impossible for me to be there.
I actually just did a cover of “Imagine.” I just went ahead and recorded it at home, because–first of all, “Imagine” is the greatest song ever written, in my humble opinion–I listened to the lyrics, and they are so profound, and more poignant now than ever before. So I went ahead and recorded it and I’m going to try to submit it to see whether or not they can [sell] it and [have] all the proceeds go to the relief fund. I did it really quickly, and I don’t know whether or not they will, but it’s my offering, in any case.
I think it’s really important that everyone–not just artists, but everyone–does as much as they can, especially in these times, for any worthy cause. Anything that sort of proliferates unity and coming together, I think people need to make an extra effort to get involved in. With regard to artists, musicians, it’s not just about being a rock star. In fact, that whole concept is dead. It’s not about being on MTV and who’s got the hippest, brightest, most expensive video. That’s done. That’s over.
I think that, in light of all that’s happened recently, people’s priorities are going to change.
Yeah. It is about stepping up. If you are a musician, and you do have a voice that people are willing to listen to, it’s about stepping up there and choosing. In this global war between love and hate, and good and evil, it’s really about choosing. It’s as simple as that. I think it’s the moral duty of a lot of artists and people who have a voice to take a stand now so that everyone shows their true colors and we know where we are.
I assume that you’ll be mounting a tour in support of “Togetherland”?
You know something? It’s funny you should mention that. My guitarist called me from England the other day, and he asked me about the tour, and I said, “Of course. What are you talking about?” But then I suddenly started to think, “Who knows what’s gonna happen?”
Who knows where we will be four or five months from now? Who knows whether we’ll be at war, whether we’ll be able to fly, whether we’ll be able to commute in our country in the same way ever again? Who knows? I guess I’m taking it for granted that I’ll be able to tour. I mean, I have all my band members in place, but who the hell knows? My plan is to tour and to get out there and play and to try to promote unity. That’s what I feel is my main obligation–my raison d’etre, as it were–at the moment, and I will find some way of doing that, but I don’t know what’s going to happen. I think, however, in my heart of hearts, that it’s going to be OK.