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Interviews : “Music is design, and much like great design, the power of the graphic is in the colour palette” – an interview with SEIMS

By on July 15, 2013

We had a bit of a laugh the other day after we reviewed the debut album from solo project SEIMS, and the artist involved, Simeon, reviewed our review on his blog. We figured that was good enough reason to look inside his brain so Gilbert Potts asked him a few questions and the responses provide a revealing insight into the world of music design and dynamics.

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1)    Can you tell us a bit about who you are and what SEIMS is?

My name is Simeon Bartholomew, and I’m the bass player / composer for SEIMS. I also play bass in Godswounds and Violence In Action, and during the day, I make pretty things you see on television. I’ve won numerous awards for my music on television, scored a full length documentary, and even shortlisted for the APRA PDA 2013 for SEIMS. SEIMS started at the beginning of 2012, and is the solo project which I entirely write, perform, and produce. It sits comfortably between the math-rock and post-rock genres, is purely instrumental, and currently has one album under it’s belt (self-titled, December 2012). People seem to dig it – and that’s a good thing.

2)    What is the most beautiful sound you’ve ever heard?

The most beautiful sound I’d ever heard occurred 3 years ago when I needed an MRI on my knee. I had to lie still for 15 minutes in an enormously large and daunting machine, and the only thing I could hear was the circular, robotic motion of the scanner. Because of it’s repetitive movements, it developed patterns that became quite musical, and I absolutely loved the minimalism of it.

3)    Is music an escape from, or a supplement to your day job?

I’ll preface this by saying that I think I’m one of the very few people in the world that loves their day job. I work in music television; I go to festivals, get to interview my favourite artists, conceptualise and produce shoots, edit some amazing content, and have the opportunity to write music for broadcast. If anything, being in this environment fuels my creativity. I’m always switched on.

4)    Tell us about the relationship between design and your music. What elemental relationships do you seek to explore in your music?  (Please feel free to write as much as you want about this. I’m interested in the way you visualise music and to what degree you see it as something other than music, like shapes, emotions, textures, temperature – that sort of thing.)

I really like this question. Music is design, and much like great design, the power of the graphic is in the colour palette, the negative space, and the lines that define and separate. I love minimalism, and I’ve always loved abstract and geometric art – they’re a huge impact on the whole album texturally, from start to finish. I’m a huge fan of Rothko – his use of space and contrast is amazing. I’m also a huge fan of Dieter Rams – a man known for shaping a whole era of design based on straight lines, and minimalism. The principles that these two use in their art, I think, is key to the success of any art form. You don’t need a million colours to paint a rainforest. You don’t need a million lines to draw a city skyline. You can do it with one. It’s how you use it, and how it’s defined in the context of its relative space.

In music, I think this is a huge definer in whether an album is successful or not. I never listen to singles, and I despise playlists. The album is the artist’s context. I’m here for the whole exhibition, not just your best work. Whether it’s the The Mars Volta’s Deloused in the Comatorium, Adebisi Shank’s This is the Second Album by a Band Called Adebisi Shank, Battles’ Mirrored, Grizzly Bear’s Shields, or Dillinger Escape Plan’s Ire Works – they all exude this. Every track has a purpose – whether it’s to feature itself, setup the next, or to bring down the previous.

5)    How does all this come together in your debut album? What are you presenting to the listener?

What I wanted to achieve with this album, is to take the listener through various forms of disruption and solace, and the harmony between these two themes. I’m a huge fan of creating contrast, and I absolutely love silence in music. These two go hand in hand. One doesn’t exist without the other. If there’s no disruption – then there’s no resolve; it becomes flat. When writing this album – a lot of it was written out of sequence, but I new what I wanted to achieve with the overall dynamic/narrative. Visualise fourteen blank A5 cards, and line them up. To create coherency throughout, they all need to use the same colour palette, but not all at once. Grab your six favourite Derwent pencils (Prussian Blue, anyone?) and go to town. Some cards would have much more definition/contrast in their colours and shapes (IVDE, HHJJF), some would have a softer palette with more blending (DROPLET, CRYBBY) some would use much more dominating colours with hard lines (4444 444), some cards would have only one colour (CARDIAC, OUTOUT), and some would be extremely minimal (\\, \). Each card has its own identity. If you only saw the card for CARDIAC, you’d say “What the fuck is this? It looks like some child with a brown crayon just scribbled back and forth over this whole thing”, however, pair it up with the cards for 4444 444, DROPLET, and then the card for OUTOUT – and you can visually see a narrative strung between these four pieces.

6)    Could you (do you, have you) write music with someone else or do you feel you can only express what you need to by composing alone?

I did the whole band thing for years. It was great, and it was hard work. The success of composing in a band really depends on the company you’re surrounded by, and how mentally connected you are (or domineering you are) to your other members. I reached a point in my life where I was happy playing for other bands and not having any creative input (purely because their music was amazing and I just wanted to play it live), and I’d focus on my own writing in my own time. I don’t think SEIMS could be what it is now, if it was co-written. To create something different, there needs to be a stubbornness with oneself. You need to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. You need to throw yourself in the deep end. By blending voices, you’re diluting your own, and you end up with compromise. That’s something that my previous endeavours resulted in, and that’s something I’ve purposely tried to avoid.

7)    Do you perform solo or with a band? In what way does the experience differ from recording?

Live was a beast I was not expecting to encounter. SEIMS was never intended to be live. I wasn’t sure how to go about this considering the compositions of all the tracks. But it happened. The requests kept coming in, and I caved. Why not, right? I am extremely blessed to be accompanied by Gene White on drums (Serious Beak / Battle Pope), Paul Murchison on trumpet and synth (Godswounds / Pipedreamer), and Sam Sheumack on guitar (Godswounds / Aimee Francis) – three extremely talented and proficient musicians. It was challenging to rearrange these songs for a live setup, but that was part of the fun. Guitar riffs were transcribed for trumpet, cello arrangements were played on bass, and so on. The tonal palette changed, but there was no compromising on the soundscape. Having a whole band that can read charts is a gift in itself. It made the whole process of learning almost non-existent, and we could focus on soundscapes and textures.  You can download a live EP for free through http://store.seims.net/album/live – compare both the studio version and live version of IVDE and you’ll see what I mean.

8)    What did the recording and production process look like for the album?

It looked like me sitting in my living room, late at night, for a lot of nights, rolling into a lot of early mornings. There was an insane amount of writing and rewriting, and being a bass player, I purposely avoided writing anything on my bass. I needed to push my songwriting abilities, so to get out of my comfort zone, I started with a lot of guide tracks developed on a piano, or a 3/4 acoustic guitar tuned to standard flats. It helped me to explore different tonal patterns rather than sticking to the dominant standards that you hear in most guitar-written music. Most songs were written, recorded, and mixed in the space of a week. If you get the mojo – you have to roll with it. Don’t do it later. Do it now. Whilst writing this, it’s 6am on a Saturday and I’ve been up writing a new song. You can’t tell creativity to come back later – you’ll lose the mindset. The first song was recorded on New Year’s Day last year, and the album was practically finished in July that year. Most songs were recorded in two or three takes. IVDE was a late addition after the album was finished – that whole song happened over the course of a weekend. The final mix and mastering took me a while, only because I liked to leave long breaks in between mixes, and reset with a fresh pair of ears. I would always go back and remix little sections, and then bounce and master again. There was a coldness/sterility that I was trying to hone into – I’d regularly revisit my favourite albums and dissect their mixes and work out what elements crafted their overall tone.

9)    Do you watch video clips? Why?

It’s part of my day job to watch video clips – so the answers are “yes I do”, and “because I get paid to do it.” It’s not necessarily a choice.

10) Vinyl, MP3, CD or other?

CD. Vinyl is too large to store conveniently and deteriorates over time, and MP3 has no tangibility (and is normally devalued because of the ease of attainability). I love liner notes, and I’m a huge fan of the artwork involved. Having said that, I have had many requests for a vinyl pressing, and am considering a limited run for the second album.

11) You say that if everything is the same, then everything is boring. In the music world, which side is winning that battle between diversity and uniformity, and why? Will one side triumph eventually or is that fight eternal?

I hate monotony, and I hate mediocrity. I love a good kimchi ramen. It’s one of my favourite meals. I crave it. In fact, I’m craving it now. Though if I ate that kimchi ramen for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, every day, is it still special? Does it still maintain it’s uniqueness if it’s not contrasted with anything else? I strive to make my music different – even just for myself. My tastes are ridiculously broad, and when I listen to SEIMS, I still want it to sound fresh – especially as the album travels throughout each movement.

There’ll always be a divide in the music world – it’s still a business for most parties involved. For every Arrested Development, there’s a Two And A Half Men. For every 2001: A Space Odyssey, there’s a Battlefield Earth. There’s comfort in regularity, and there’s a greater excitement (and risk) in difference. I think it’s human nature to push your own boundaries, and to seek your individuality in whatever your mode is, whether it be music, art, film etc. I wouldn’t call it a fight – I see it as more of a balance. I’m not comparing myself to 2001: A Space Odyssey nor Battlefield Earth – I’m just acknowledging that they’re two different films made for two entirely different purposes.

12) If you were interviewing yourself, what question would you ask, and would you answer it truthfully?

“Was it worth it? Was it scary considering it’s all on your shoulders and you had no idea of what the response would be?”

Yes, it was worth it. When I started SEIMS, I didn’t care if people liked it – because that wasn’t it’s purpose. It was to push myself, and to create something unique. There’ll always be someone out there who doesn’t like what you do. Be it through envy, jealousy, or purely from their lack of understanding or skill. I’ve encountered all four throughout my various projects. I don’t care anymore – it’s pointless. And if you’re pushing your creative boundaries – you shouldn’t care either – because that’s the beauty of art in all its forms.

The risk factor was immense. I had written, recorded, performed, mixed, produced, and mastered every single thing you hear on the CD. Objectivity is one of the most important traits that you can have as an artist. Know yourself well enough to know what “sounds good” as opposed to what “you like to hear yourself do”. There’s a huge difference. That’s the reason why the album isn’t a 45 minute bass solo. You need to be selfless, and to be able to critique yourself harshly and unbiased. SEIMS has been met with such an overwhelmingly positive response through album reviews, album sales, radio play, live attendance, etc., and I am extremely grateful to be able to share my craft with complete strangers on the other side of the globe. I can only hope that this grows exponentially as the years go on.

13) What should the punishment be for talking loudly during the quiet bits of music?

The only form of acceptable loud talking during the quiet bits, is the traditional Keanu Reeves response, “woah…”. The quiet bits are the most important part. They’re telling you what’s next, and why it’s there.

14) If you were an animal, what would you want to be? What would you actually be?

Easy. A Killer Penguin.

🙂

You can sample and purchase Seims over at www.seims.net

About

A relatively recent convert to more extreme metal (not exclusively), I've always preferred non-commercial and progressive music to mainstream. I grew up in Adelaide, South Australia, where in my youth I lived for every new Greasy Pop Records release. I also write for ech(((o)))es & dust and ThisIsNotAScene but it's good to start contributing to an Australian metal site.