Seinabo Sey is part of a crop of young talent emerging from Sweden who’s moving away from the synth-heavy sound so often associated with the Scandinavian country
Having worked exclusively with producer Magnus Lidehäll (Mapei) whom Sey met via Facebook in 2011, the pair has expertly crafted a statement sound – this is soul with edges of darkness. Like the dark and unknown fringes of a forest, the music’s ominous, repetitive quality compliments Sey’s warm textured vocal. And while the term Scandisoul has been bandied about, Sey’s music is still inherently pop complete with gloriously emotive and addictive hooks. We caught up with the singer to talk song writing, Gambia and the state of pop music.
Your music is really soulful. Did you always know that you had that element to your voice?
Seinabo Sey: I grew up listening to reggae music a lot. I started listening to Neo Soul when I was 15 or 16, and I was mimicking them, so it comes naturally, really. That’s what resonates and it’s the way I like to sing.
I ask because you grew up in Sweden, which is the home of ‘pop’ pop. Did you find that difficult to find a music scene that you could relate to?
SS: There’s a little music scene that’s quite hip-hop and soul orientated. I think where I’m lucky is that I got to start to work with people that were in the pop industry but understood and had the same choral taste as me. You’d be surprised, a lot of these really big pop producers listen to everything. A lot of them are really hardcore rock heads or actual hip-hop ‘been a rapper before’ producers doing pop, which is maybe why they’re so good at it.
You also spent time in Gambia. How did the two different cultures affect what you do?
SS: It’s everything. It forced me to understand things. If you’re dropped into a culture that you don’t understand and people are telling you ‘this is it how works here’ it’s easy to feel bad about it. But I always had really good parents that explained why things were the way they were. But it’s resulted in me not really feeling at home anywhere, but yet I feel at home everywhere.
You’re a child of the earth.
SS: I like that, I’m a child of the earth.
Your sound is really interesting. I love that it relies on lots of repetition, lots of rounds. Is that how you write?
SS: That’s really the producer Magnus Lidehäll. I give him props for that. Before I came into the studio and before I met him, I had very little knowledge about structure. I never thought about it in that way or that there was a theory to it. I’m still quite lazy that way, and he cuts it up in a computer and says, “Can you see now that there’s a point of having the same melody here as there?”
Are you quite introverted or are you observational?
SS: When it comes to the writing I’m quite introverted. I’m a social person and I love people, but I have a hard time talking about what songs are about. It’s all very personal. It’s hard for me to write with other people because you have to communicate about what you’re thinking and I don’t want to talk about it. I’ll sing it but I can’t talk.
Your music has an underlying melancholy to it, like the entropic elements to ‘Younger’. Are you quite a dark person?
SS: I got that question once, and after thinking about it maybe I am. I think that question was if I was a serious person. I don’t know. I like to write about things that I think are important and get to the core of things. I think a lot of times people need to hear about the dark things in order to not feel so alone. Sometimes you go crazy thinking that you’re the only person feeling something. Life is all about light and dark.
I think you can be dark but not be a serious person.
SS: That’s what I’m trying to do. Like this is serious but you need to be happy. It’s music. It’s an entertaining thing to listen to, but if you can weave some serious thing into it, or a message, you should take every chance you get.
I wanted to ask about the single ‘Hard Time’. How did the song come about?
SS: I had a discussion with a friend of mine. It’s like when friends break up and you can’t be friends no more. I then exaggerated that a little bit and wrote a song about it. But you know when you’re too nice sometimes and you think that’s a good thing? Well, the song is my anthem for putting my foot down, because sometimes I let people run all over me. That song is my way of letting people who do that that I can play that game, too. I don’t do it often, but if you wanna fight I can.
Would you call your music pop music?
SS: See I’m very bad at this because I’m very bad at genres. In my mind it’s soul music, but it doesn’t sound like soul music. Where I’m coming from, vocally, is always soul music. Pop music is a very broad genre. I would love for soul music to be the same thing, just to open up that genre. It’s pop too. It’s pop-soul.
What do you think is wrong with pop?
SS: There’s nothing wrong with pop, which is what’s wrong with pop. It’s a very broad genre and you can do whatever you want so there’s not that much filtering going on.
What do you think is right with pop?
SS: I like that pop makes it easy for people to appreciate music. The purpose of pop is to perfect melodies and make them simple. Maybe to some people that makes it dumb or too easy, but for me it just resonates with more people. That’s what you want, you want people to listen to your songs and understand what you’re trying to say. It’s easy and it’s simple, and it touches people.
Is there anyone that you’d love to collaborate with?
SS: You guys have a singer here named Kwabs? He kills me every time. The first time I came here and I went to the Virgin office and they took me to see him. I was standing there, and I love live performances, but he is magical. That is precious. He sounds like God or something.
If there was someone you could write a song for, who would it be?
SS: Probably somebody I love but that doesn’t have that many good songs. Like I love Beyoncé, I love Beyoncé. It’d be very cool for Beyoncé to sing a song that I’d written.
You’re songs have been remixed a fair bit, too. Would you ever do a full on dance banger?
SS: Not from the start, no. I don’t have it in me. It’s not gonna happen. I like when they remix them, though. I just don’t know how to do that because I have to be inspired by what I’m singing about.
Going to the club isn’t inspiring?
SS: No, not in that way [laughs]. You can go to the club in different ways.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
SS: Maybe I’m on my second or third album? I want things to go smoothly, I want it to work, I want to have an apartment that I like and continue to stay inspired and to learn more about myself. Hopefully I’ll be a little faster than I am right now. I just want to keep on doing what I’m doing and get better at it. You know, grow. Not die, grow.
Catch Seinabo Sey live at Basement – Edition Hotel, London on October 16th.
Medeleine EP is out now.
Words: Alim Kheraj