Earlier this year I got the chance to interview one of my favourite Brisbane artists, the amazing Seja Vogel. I’ve been a fan of her work for years and it was a real thrill to interview her about her creative process and career thus far. Here is how it all went down:
H&W: There is a darkness swirling around your playful pop sounds, what kind of emotions and experiences have gone in to funding your music?
SV: I think all of my songs are made up of a million different feelings and experiences. I was joking with my friends recently that I should call my new album ‘so many feelings’ because I love talking about feelings so much. It’s probably one of those jokes you would regret later though. A lot of ‘feelings’ definitely go into my songs lyrically, but they are sometimes purposefully vague or disguised to a certain extent to ensure that people can interpret them in their own way.
As far as melodies go, I tend to feel much more affected by a beautiful melody than a beautiful lyric. Especially when songs go somewhere you weren’t expecting them to go musically, or when a melody reminds you of something that has had an emotional impact on you in the past. I quite often find that the first few songs I listen to in the morning always have a huge effect on me, as though I’ve never heard music before in my life, so I am much more likely to be inspired to write at this time of day, or take inspiration from a song I’ve listened to first thing in the morning.
I definitely find myself having some glorious unconscious moments of genius when I’m just playing around on a synth. Other times the parts that I find most meaningful or the parts people have talked about the most on my records have been incredibly premeditated and almost over-thought. My first album was definitely full of those ‘oh my god’ melodies and synth lines because ultimately it was all one big experiment. All those songs were demos which were released almost entirely as is. The new album (All Our Wires) I took the opposite approach where I didn’t leave too much up to chance.
There are many songs about confusion and joys and bummers. You have to get that stuff out somehow right? Might as well be in a giant synth jam and released out into the world
H&W: Escaping the need for genre classifications how do you describe the music you make?
SV: I try not to describe it if I can help it. Or I am profoundly vague so people can search it out and make up their own minds. I generally say something like ‘girlie vocal synthie pop songs’. Very articulate
H&W: As an artist, what was the spark for you, tell me the musical story?
SV: I went to a Steiner School in Germany and Melbourne so there was always a lot of emphasis put on art and music from an early age. I played piano and violin for a long time. It wasn’t until my brother bought a synthesizer in 1994 though, that I started being interested in those kinds of sounds. Then I got obsessed with bands who were very analogue-synth-heavy like Devo and Kraftwerk, and wanted to know how exactly they made all those cool noises. I think that was the beginning for me. After my brother and his friend Simon bought synthesizers, they asked me to play some songs with them for fun in our bedrooms, which eventually turned into Sekiden. I never really had aspirations of being a performer really; I sort of just fell into it.
H&W: As a female musician, do you find it challenging to escape the expectations of a male dominated music industry? Are you attracted to elements of feminist culture? Do you feel like there are certain unwanted and unfair expectations lumped on a female musician that deals in stereotypes? How do you deal with a society who in general view rock n roll as a man’s business?
SV: I try not to market myself as ‘special’ because I’m a ‘female musician’. I think that’s bullshit. On the other hand, I think it’s important to keep fighting the fight because a lot of people don’t agree men and women are equal in this field. I’d like to think that I contribute to showing people that girls can be just as good at stuff, or be just as nerdy and interested in the technical aspects of making music as boys.
It’s nice to see a lot more girls on tour these days. When I first started playing in bands it was very common for me to be the only girl on tour with 10 other dudes. Now it’s quite rare that I am the only one, which is nice. When I was younger, I remember being very excited by the idea of strong front-women in bands. People like Kim Gordon, Kim Deal and Kathleen Hanna. I certainly had ambitions of being part of it back then, but I was a pretty shy kid so it took a while to become brave enough to get up in front of people and play music. Stereotypes are always going to be thrown around if you are in the public eye, regardless of whether they are talking about your gender, your musical style, or your achievements. It’s inevitable.
People love to classify things and put them in boxes. I don’t mind being put into the ‘female musician’ box if it means being amongst other local artists that I look up to. People like Kellie Lloyd (Screamfeeder), Kate Cooper (An Horse), Patience Hodgson (The Grates) and many others make it a pretty sweet box to be in.
H&W: A lot of my major influences in life and as a musician are female related artists, people like Patti Smith, PJ Harvey, Beth Orton, Sleater-Kinney, Kim Gordon, The Riot Grrrl movement and Tori Amos. These are musicians and bands that eclipsed the stereotype of “well what gender are you?” and proved the music industry standards and marketing machines wrong, that you can have strong and progressive musicians who are female. To quote Patti Smith, it goes “beyond gender” and any strong artist or human being has equal masculine and feminine rhythms. I find with the above artists they got the job done and took the focus off their gender. It was a lesson in true individuality. I also place you in this category, so I’m interested who are some of your reasons for picking up an instrument and making noise, both music and non-music related?
SV: That’s a very nice thing to say, thank you! I guess a lot of those women were my role models as I was growing up, especially Kim Gordon. There were a lot of bands I loved as a kid that had great female role models in them that also weren’t necessarily referred to as ‘girl bands’. I was really into bands like Cibo Matto and Stereolab; girls that seemed to know how to play their instruments well, understand technology and come up with great, quirky songs. There were certain artists who inspired me with their layered vocals and beautiful harmonies like Elliott Smith and Enya. I think those two in particular made me more interested in what melodies and harmonies I could create by making my own choir-type arrangements with my voice. Then there are just your usual juvenile-type inspirations, like wanting to be as cool as Debbie Harry or Nirvana or The Kinks. Also my brother was a massive reason for wanting to play music because he is one of those freaks who can pick up any instrument and be able to play it, and I suppose I wanted to be able to do that too.
H&W: Belonging to the Australian music community, how do you see your music fitting in with the varied sounds being offered? Who are some of your favourite local bands?
SV: I’m not sure I ever really think about how I fit in, but I am a fan of a lot of Brisbane bands: Texas Tea, Violent Soho, Gentle Ben and his Sensitive Side, Keep on Dancins, Little Scout, Undead Apes, Tiny Spiders, and No Anchor
H&W: What is bad music to you?
SV: Unimaginative drivel
H&W: What is good music to you?
SV: Anything with meaning and passion
H&W: Digital vs Physical, what do you favour and will we ever see the end of the physical album?
SV: I favour vinyl. I hope we don’t see the end of that ever.
H&W: First record you ever bought?
SV: I think it was East 17s It’s Alright single. I still know how to play the piano intro…
H&W: First live concert ever attended?
SV: Dinosaur Jr, Magic Dirt and the Melniks at Festival Hall 1994 or Salt n Pepa at the Entertainment Centre. I think they might have been in the same year…
H&W: Favourite band or artist of all time?
H&W: Favourite album of all time?
SV: Beck – Mellow Gold
H&W: Favourite album of 2013 so far?
SV: Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II
H&W: A band or Artist you’re looking to get into in 2013?
SV: The solo projects of all members of The Byrds
H&W: Biggest musical regret?
SV: Ummmm maybe East 17?
H&W: Slipknot or Slayer?
SV: Slayer cause it rhymes with Seja. Also because they’re a really good band…
SEJA’s fantastic new album “All Our Wires” is out now
By: Dan Newton