Creativity is a blessing and a curse. Often when new artists dare trying something new – innocently feeding their soul, it’s judged as a gimmick, unless of course, it’s really good. WJ was recently bowled over by the sounds of Irwin Sparkes and Paul Frith aka The Sea & I, who create a vast cacophony of sound, eased elegantly into an impressive blend of conventional pop songs. We later found out that these two visionaries do things a little different to everyone else, so tracked them down to find out more…
There’s a really broad mix of comparisons that come through in your songs, but which artists really inspire you to create music?
Irwin: Bruce Springsteen and Josh T. Pearson are two men on a very short list of “men who have made me cry”. That sounds more sinister than it’s supposed to. Springsteen’s story-telling is often so contained and on a micro level but resonates to a global audience because people identify with it. Pearson’s vulnerability and honesty in his writing just leaves me speechless and is has raised the bar for how I want to relate to the music I write. This answer considered, I think you’d be hard pushed to hear much of either in The Sea & I.
Paul: For me David Byrne – I think he is incredibly considered musically, and I love the fact that he turned his nervousness of performance into his entire act.
Gigs are something you deliver slightly differently to most new acts, can you explain to our readers how you approach live shows and why?
I: Partly cos when we played a few more traditional-type venues we couldn’t do justice to a lot of the grander ideas we had for how the music should sound – the environment is a huge part of the live show and we’d rather retain control of the whole night and curate it. This has allowed us to collaborate with the fifty-piece LCV choir and the London Chamber Brass dectet and our lighting designer is a huge part of the concert. He’s a bonafide member of the band. If we were playing the usual venues as a 4-piece then it wouldn’t be as exciting for us or the audience. Though this route means a lot of work! Especially for a band who’ve played less than ten gigs.
P: We made the decision early on in the project to avoid the temptation to do every gig that presented itself, or try and get on every bill of a particular circuit in order to pick up a following; instead we would focus on a singular event – and try and make that event as special and different as possible. We want people to go away from a show talking about it – it’s an event rather than another gig, and then when we do a new show, hopefully those people come back and bring their friends. We also want every show to be different, so that we build an expectancy and excitement to each night. It puts the focus on creative hard graft rather than physical hard graft!
With a changing line up, how do you go about choosing the right one for each show?
P: Based on the depressingly practical constraints of who we can wangle, who is available, and what will work in the space.
I: Paul can half wangle, though. In fact, if you’re reading this and are part of some other choir, orchestra or the like drop us a note. Hope you don’t mind me using your interview as a platform for future collaborations?
P: The Natural History Museum. Not only is it one of the most beautiful and impressive buildings in London, it’s also home to the Diplodocus – the friendliest name in palaeontology – and the sauropod that became my childhood “BFF” saving me from many a nightmare as a boy (and to be fair, he still does).
I: I think British Sea Power have played there and others so guess again, Paul. I think I’d go for some sort of procession from Soho to Primrose Hill. Like the idea of a march that means the performance is transient and you literally take the audience on a journey. This would open up its own unique set of problems though; so the drums would have to be on a riser on wheels pulled by white horses. Or lots and lots of doves. Now that I think about it, it’s not like the streets haven’t been used for music. This is a hard question!
How do you think London stands up against the worlds other cultural hubs where The Sea & I are concerned? The likes of Brooklyn and Montreal seem to have spawned a wealth of musical collectives like yourselves, do you see this catching on in London? Is it already doing so?
I: From time I’ve spent in other bands in London it’s always seemed over-bearingly cliquey with an “us vs you” mentality. Course, there’s some artists who are less guarded but there’s definitely been an inherent sense of “I-can-do-this-on-my-own-ness”. Behind a lot of the music from years ago that’s still shaping what people are making now – Bowie, Beatles, Talking Heads – there’s collaborations. It probably comes down to ego a lot of times; people are scared of accepting or asking for help to realise their ideas. Perhaps this new-found awareness that in Montreal and Brooklyn there are bands working together on material and sharing production duties seems to have opened artists in London up to the possibilities of how beneficial “sharing” can be.
P: I think London certainly holds it’s own in the worldwide cultural arena. It has so much history to draw on, as well as thousands of cultures and subcultures running through it’s veins. I find it hugely inspiring, and I feel privileged to live here. That said, Brooklyn “and friends”, have produced some of the most influential and exciting creative groups of the last decade. At least for the time being I think The Sea & I will concentrate on London, purely because that is where we have friends and community and contacts that we can draw upon. However, we would absolutely love to have the opportunity to create our shows in other areas if the opportunities presented themselves.
If you had to run a theme bar, what would the theme be and what would you call it?
I: “Themes”. The juke box would only play theme music.
P: Russian Roulette themed, and it would be called “One Last Round”…
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