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Seal

The Scotsman (September 2003)

Seal wants to go to bed. The six foot four, 40 year old, English-born singer of Nigerian descent, who first shot to fame as the voice of Adamski’s “Killer” in 1990 and went on to win a handful of Grammys and Brit Awards with his own “Kiss From A Rose”, has been in the refined Blake’s Hotel in west London for all of forty minutes and he’s decided he’s had enough. The next interview will be conducted from the comfort of a double bed. His head shall rest on the softest pillow.

At first, it seems that half a decade away from the limelight hasn’t dimmed Seal’s ability to be a self-obsessed prima donna. He doesn’t so much converse as lecture, putting his opinions across with such pointed articulacy that he goes beyond patronising to an entire higher plane of Being Right About Everything. All you can hope to do, mere inches away on the other pillow, close enough to see the silver cross nestling under his black shirt, is to contain this confidence, to stop him from explaining the most basic facts of life in simple capital letters.

We’re here to discuss Seal’s new album, “Seal IV”. It’s his second attempt at a follow up to 1998’s “Human Being”, after his first, “Togetherland”, was supposedly turned down by his record company. Seal’s quick to point out that this rumour is utterly unfounded. Being rejected by his record company would involve some failure on his part and, as rapidly becomes clear, Seal doesn’t do failure.

“I worked for two years on the album, built a recording studio in my house in Los Angeles, finished it, and knew there was something fundamentally wrong, because it didn’t resonate with me,” Seal explains. “I played it to the record company, everybody liked it, but said it needed a couple of singles. But then I realised the problem was it was largely unfocussed, it was irrelevant. And so, much to their horror, I decided to scrap the whole thing and start again.”

The resultant album is an amiable retread of the singer’s previous strengths that grasps for meaning with ruminations on love, stardom and loneliness. “I don’t have a dance troupe,” Seal declares, “I don’t have a lot of smoke and mirrors. But what I do have is an ability to resonate with people through my music.”

Was he ever worried he’d lost that ability, having made an irrelevant record? Ask a stupid question.

“No. No. No. Never. Not for one split second. Because if you write the joint most played record in American history, that along with ‘I Will Always Love You’; if you win five Brit awards and four Grammies; if you’ve sold collectively over 14 million albums, you don’t all of a sudden just forget how to sing. Or how to write songs. It’s not a sheer coincidence. You may be experimenting or you lose focus temporarily because you’re looking in a different area, but you don’t lose it.”

All is good in Seal’s world. Living in LA was “a great thing for me. It enabled me to sustain a career.” He’s returned to London because “it’s home”, although when asked what he’s gained from the move all he can really offer is “a dog”. You suspect that were he lying on his deathbed, riddled with gunshot wounds, he’d still be proclaiming his rude health and good fortune until the very last breath.

“Fail is not part of my vocabulary,” he admits. “I never sit down and think ‘oh my god, what will happen?’ That’s probably why I went to America in the first place. I’m a risk taker. When you entertain those thoughts of failure, then…I can’t even imagine what it’s like, because it’s something that I don’t do.”

Thankfully, it’s his steadfast refusal to live in the real world that saves Seal from being yet another irritating mess of pomp and ego. He’s one of a dying breed: a self-made, self-sustained star who believes that his responsibilities include widescreen eccentricity, moneyed flamboyance, and a lifestyle that flirts with a whole host of extremes. You only have to listen to his take on the “Pop Idol” phenomenon to realise that he’s actually on the side of the angels.

“No real stars emerge from it,” he declares. “While the whole pop star by democratic vote process is utterly engaging, it takes away from the necessary mystique of being a star. When people feel you are in that position because of them, not because of your talent but because they voted you in there, that takes away star appeal. Also when you see someone’s trials and tribulations over a period of time, that makes them more human. And people don’t like to think of stars that way.”

Does Seal see himself as a star?

“Well, look at my boots,” he smirks. “I’m wearing silver boots. What do you think?” Nice boots. “OK, well that should answer your question. Next question.” That’s a yes then is it? “That’s open to your interpretation. If you think I’m fucking six foot four, coming in here wearing silver boots and you’re gonna ask me a question like ‘do I see myself as a star?’, they’re obviously not loud
enough.”

When Seal turned 40, there was no hint of an age crisis, of course. Almost the opposite. “I can’t believe I actually got here. Considering I constantly throw myself out of helicopters or off mountaintops, I can’t believe that I’m not either dead or maimed. I snowboard a lot. I do lots of uncharted terrain, lots of deep powder snowboarding.” He maintains his good health by fasting. “I’ve just finished a seven week fast. It really focuses you. It’s quite addictive.”

Seal adores interviews. He freely admits so himself. And you can tell when he’s enjoying an interview because he starts to ask himself questions. Like he’s spent the last five years practising for this. I comment that he seems to live as if he’s indestructible. “You live each day as though it were your last, don’t you?” he says. “I don’t know if I feel indestructible, but if you were to ask the question ‘do I ever feel that there’s something I cannot do?’, never. Never ever. I will bloody my hands trying to do it. That’s probably a lot to do with my background. When you come from adversity, you’re constantly trying to prove things to yourself. You develop this ability to transcend anything which may potentially hold you back.”

Seal’s widely reported difficult early life – kidnapped from his foster family by his real mother, constant beatings from an authoritarian father – has been placed firmly behind him. He has reinvented himself, moved on, resonating as he goes. All he lacks now is love. In fact, the concept of waiting for love crops up several times on “Seal IV”.

“That interesting,” he muses. “I guess that echoes my frustration in waiting for numerous things. Waiting to finish the bloody album. Waiting to do the promotion. Waiting for certain unfulfilled areas of my life to happen.” Such as? “I’m not married. I’d like to have kids. I don’t have anyone I’m seeing at the moment.” Is he an easy person to be in a relationship with? “Probably not,” he says, his first admission of weakness. “Look at my life. I am a famous person.
How easy can that be?”

He loves it, though. If he weren’t burdened with the difficulties of fame, Seal wouldn’t be a star. And Seal not being a star is unthinkable. With the celebrity world becoming increasingly more sanitised, we need people who abandon asinine level-headedness for knowing lunacy when answering a question like
“Have you ever had therapy?”

“Only for my boots,” he declares. “I’ve been to therapy to pluck up the courage to wear these boots. I went to see a shrink in LA and as you can see he said I was of sound mind and body to wear them. I’ve had silver boot therapy.” But nothing else. “Nothing else. I could give you the southern Californian esoteric answer and
say my music serves as a cathartic experience. That sounds nice and fluffy.”

The silver boot answer is better.

Seal allows himself one last triumphant, told-you-so, smirk.

“Yeah, exactly.”




Ian Watson
Music, film, comedy and travel journalist based in London


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