Interview: Seoul talks band origins, sounds and their debut album, I Become A Shade

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Interview by Tiffany Lam

Seoul is an ambient-pop aggregate from Montreal – ‘blue, breathless, gentle, and absolute’. The mysterious group signed with Last Gang Records just a couple months ago and have been steadily preparing for the release of their debut album, I Become A Shade, on June 9th, 2015. Earlier in April, we caught up with band members Julian Flavin, Dexter Garcia, and Nigel Ward in Toronto just before their first show of the tour and discussed band origins, sounds, and the upcoming record.

Can you tell us a bit about how you guys met and formed Seoul?
Nigel: Julian and I have known each other since we were kids, growing up in Kingston. Dex and I went to college together in Boston, and then we kind of reconvened in Montreal.
Dexter: Summer of 2010, I think. We all started playing a little together, and then went back to school for a little bit and then came back in 2013. That’s when we started putting everything back together again.

How would you describe your sound?
Julian: Sometimes we use a really broad term that’s just ‘ambient pop’, which we say probably because a lot of the music involves atmospheric, instrumental kind of music that’s meant to be maybe not as fore-grounded as stuff like pop music. The record involves a lot of that, but also a lot of more explicitly pop-oriented moments, but in a very broad, general sense. It’s dreamy and has moments of gentle groove to it. It’s kind of an eclectic record, in a sense.
Dexter: It’s all unified, but every song is pretty different.

So if you were to compare yourselves to other musicians in order to someone an idea of your music, who would you say?
Julian: Cocteau Twins meets Prince… which is meant to mean that it achieves both an atmospheric, ethereal sound while simultaneously bouncing and grooving and merging the two in a gentle way.

I noticed some songs were released over a year ago, and then some just released via Last Gang on the record. Were they all done (or written at least) a long while ago, or had some been recently done for the album?
Nigel: The album’s been done for a good while now, it’s been a couple years. There was point in time where we stopped writing new songs and decided the album was finished. It just took a while before we were in a position where we felt like we could release it in a successful way to do the album justice, cause we did feel like it was a strong album and what not. We were either not in the same place, hadn’t found a label, hadn’t toured that much. There were just a bunch of steps we found necessary to prepare the release and it took a pretty long time.

Where do you guys pull influences from for your music? It doesn’t necessarily have to be musical influences. For instance, I’m sure Montreal and the atmosphere probably plays a role in your music.
Julian: For sure. For me, I find I usually get inspired by people who are honest and do things really true to themselves, like I get really inspired by interviews with people I admire. I don’t know. Bands-wise, we definitely listen to a lot of ambient music, which I think enforms the sound a lot. People like Stars of the Lid, Dirty Beaches, etc. We’re constantly listening to everything. We love Fleetwood Mac, Todd Rundgren, The Carpenters…

DSCF6793 seoul by tiffany lam

I heard you guys recently played SXSW in Austin, have you guys been a part of any other festivals?
Julian: Yeah, most of them are on a smaller scale. We’ve played Pop Montreal, The Great Escape in Brighton, we did a little festival in Amsterdam. Festivals are cool, I feel like there’s the festivals where you’re on Facebook and scrolling through and it’s like, ‘Omg Drake is headlining this, this and this’, which is sort of a different level of festival and they’re great. But I think what we’ve been playing are more so grassroots – not necessarily small, but just a different style of festival where it’s usually smaller shows. It’s still great, you still end up getting a lot out of those. But we haven’t opened for Drake yet, or Nick Jonas [laughs].

I have to ask… what’s the history behind your band name, Seoul? Is there a relevant tie between the band and the city in Korea? 
Julian: A lot of people ask us what our link to South Korea is. We haven’t traveled to South Korea, so it’s not really a name that’s meant to reflect a particular experience there. We did sort of intend it to be connected… It was just this thing that came about when we were trying to think about our band and everything that it evokes. We were making lists of names and that one felt like, as an English word, it felt cool in the sense that a lot of our music locates itself in a kind of urban environment. That’s where we’re telling a lot of our stories from, so we thought it was nice that the word also evoked a city when you read it (Seoul), but then also when you hear it, it’s also soul as in your spirit or something which we like a lot too because the music sounds intentionally earnest and about the internal life. It’s also got a bit of loneliness to it because the word can also be heard as sole, the only one. All these ways that it could be heard and interpreted immediately felt really evocative for us.

Following the official record release of I Become A Shade in June, what do you think the next step will be for you guys?
Nigel: We’re about to start a big tour, then go on tour again in the Fall promoting the record. It’s only being released in North America right now, so we’re going to be setting up things to release it in the UK and Europe – hopefully we’ll get to go out there and beyond. Once that’s all done, we’ll make another one.

What’s the most exciting thing that’s happened for you guys so far, as a band?
Julian: We had a funny beginning because we released “Stay With Us” as our first single and people really liked it. It kind of generated a lot of opportunities overwhelmingly fast. The first show we ever played was in Métropolis, one of the biggest venues in Montreal. That was memorable. It was kind of overwhelming but also a very positive experience. We played in Paris last year [too] which was special; it was a very magical show. We were there for less than 24 hours so it felt kind of dreamy and weird.
Dexter: We’re doing a lot of things for the first time so everything is feeling new, generally things are pretty exciting all around – this is our first record signing, our first record release, our first music video, our first time touring.
Nigel: We got to hear our songs on vinyl for the first time a little while ago. Going overseas was also a highlight, I’d say. Finding a label to release our stuff is pretty exciting.

Scenario: You just received the best news ever, let’s say, you’re headlining Coachella 2016. Who’d be the first person you’d tell?
Julian: Drake – “what’s up, bitch!”
Dexter: Twitter?
Nigel: I guess I’d probably say I’d tell my girlfriend and my family.
Dexter: Whoever’s sitting next to me at that moment, I’d turn over and tell.

List 3 things each of you could never live without.
Nigel: Lint rollers… a lint brush and a hair comb.
Dexter: I couldn’t live without my synthesizer; I’m so attached to it. And green tea and Snickers.
Julian: We’ll I’ve been thinking about it…
Dexter: Now he’s going to come up with a really sick answer.
Julian: This is what I think. Everything is going to die and turn to dust, so you have to be prepared to live without anything… But I’d say, my family, my lover, and my Bluetooth headset with accessories.

Seoul – Stay With Us

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