AUSTRALIA HAS MANY TALENTED women paving their own way in an industry that is traditionally dominated by men. One of them, Seja Vogel, recently toured with Sarah Blasko, having gone out on a limb in 2010 to release her first solo album, We Have Secrets But Nobody Cares.
Seja grew up in Brisbane having migrated from Germany with her family when she was just eight years old. In her late teens, she and her brother Mirko formed Sekiden with their friend Simon Graydon, and had releases on Modular Recordings, Microindie, and Canadian label Boompa. This led to other projects for Seja, like touring and recording with Regurgitator for their 2006 album, Love and Paranoia.
But in 2009, Seja decided to go her own way, focussing on an album of her own. She spent a year locked in her bedroom with a stockpile of vintage synths; and after some mastering help from her brother, she emerged victorious with an amazing album that Sydney label, Rice is Nice, released March last year.
By July, she was the touring with Goldfrapp; a smart pairing up, in terms of sound and approach to music creation, as Goldfrapp are famously known for their use of vintage equipment.
However, Seja’s next big break came when Australian singer, Sarah Blasko, now living in the UK, chose Seja for the Australian leg of her album tour, As Day Follows Night.
Seja put together a band, consisting of singer and guitarist Kate Jacobson from the alt-country duo, Texas Tea, and Renae Collett from the now defunct, Gazoonga Attack, playing drums. She also reworked many of her electronic parts so that they could be performed live.
Then, over a four week period in October-November, the two bands set off on an epic twenty-two concerts (plus a few extra) across most of Australia’s major cities, including country towns in regional Australia.
For her Sydney show (and possibly for many of her others), she had to contend with a noisy audience, but sucessfully managed to capture their attention with her friendly personality (at one point joking that she was feeling spooked after realising that the head of an ornamental frog that she and other two had attached to their instruments for good luck, was missing!) The trio then powered through their set-list, impressing the audience with their regular switching of instruments and positions on stage, and successfully psyching them up for Sarah Blasko.
It’s not an easy thing for a solo artist who has built their studio album on overdubs and multiple instrument parts to go on tour, but Seja did a great job.
On the Road: Seja practicing in the back of a Castlemaine theatre with guitarist Kate Jacobson sitting on the stairs. (Photo courtesy of Kate)
ONE OF THE STRONGEST features of Seja’s music are her vocal harmonies, which she achieves by layering her voice over itself many times. This was a technique that Enya was famous for, sometimes overdubbing up to seventy times. One of the best songs of the album, ‘Sing Me The Song Like You Said’, has some of these pure vocal breaks, giving an already dramatic song, a greater tension.
‘Framed You in Fiction’ has guest vocals from Saul Jarvie of Melbourne band Microflora, a nice addition to the overall feel of the album which could best be described as “hopefully romantic with a slight grunge tinge.” Seja also taps into her German heritage with ”Wir Haben Geheimnesse’ which translated into English, forms part of the album title, We Have Secrets But Nobody Cares.
And then there is the flagship song of the album – ‘I’ll Get To You’ – which is one of the sweetest pop songs on record.
There is definitely more to Seja’s music than just a love of quirky synthesizers. She has been around long enough in the music scene to iron out her influences and develop her own sound. The simple repetitive melody of some of her songs have the quality of an English lullaby, while her vocals are like traditional Swedish folk harmonies. Her lyrics are also incredibly romantic.
I initally only expected to like a few of the songs on the album, having already heard ‘I’ll Get To You’ on a promo sampler; but buying the album, rather than picking the eyes out of what songs sounded best online, was one of the better things I did last year. Seja really does get to you.
Not long after Seja returned from her tour, I got in contact with her by email via her record label to ask her the following questions…
Who played what in your band? Was it a line-up that you created especially for the tour?
I play keyboards, guitar and sing. Kate Jacobson plays guitar, keys and sings bvs, and Renae Collett plays drums and keys. I picked them especially for their talent and general awesome-ness.
Was it difficult to convert your album sound into a live performance? (I think it sounded great!)
It was definitely a complicated thought process trying to cut down from the layers upon layers of synths and vocals on the album and pick the right parts to play. I also wanted to avoid playing too many songs to backing track to make the live show a little more ‘real’. I think it sounds pretty different live, but hopefully still good.
How did you become involved in music?
I sort of fell into it. I’ve always loved playing the piano and guitar, but never really wanted to be in a band because I was really shy. I started playing just for fun with my brother and his friend in our bedrooms while we were in high school, and that eventually turned into ‘Sekiden’. Then I suppose music just avalanched in my life.
Who would you consider to be your main musical influences?
I think growing up it was always my brother, and to a certain extent he still is a big influence on me and my music. (He produced my album) I am also very influenced by people like Mark Mothersbaugh from Devo and other people who are really into interesting pop music and analog synthesizers.
Is there a particular sound, or time in music (even if it is current) that you draw inspiration from?
I don’t think there is one particular time in music I draw inspiration from. I sort of find it in weird places like a certain guitar sound, or keyboard filter sweep, or the layers of vocals in an Enya song or something.
What is the appeal of vintage synthesizers? Do you have a favourite?
I just think they sound and look amazing. And a lot of them are very unpredictable which is exciting. My favourite live synth is the Roland SH101 because it is incredibly versatile, simple, small, robust. And you can always tell its an SH101 when you hear it. I like that it has such a familiar sound.
Can you tell me a little bit about your vocal overlaying technique?
I love vocal harmonies and choirs, but I have never written scores or really understood the theory behind the notes. So I just sing a melody or harmony and then one by one, find notes around them that sound good. I never start off with a plan, it just sort of falls into place.
What are you favourite songs on your album?
At the moment I really like ‘Sing me the song like you said’. It has about 15 layers of keyboards at the end alone. And I played them with about 5 different analog synths. Which is exciting.
I’m thinking about your song Wir Haben Geheimnisse – do you have German heritage?
Yes I am German. I moved over to Australia with my family when I was 8.
Will you continue working as a solo artist?
I’d definitely like to continue doing this for a while. It’s really fun.
How important is your audience? Do you feel that it is something that is growing over time? Is it difficult to maintain?
I feel so lucky that anyone likes what I do. I know its not a given so I appreciate anyone who will listen to my songs. I never think too much about how many of them there are or how I must maintain interest.
I know it shouldn’t matter, but are you in a different position being a female artist? Do you think that it is a good time for female artists in Australia at the moment (i.e the success of Sarah Blasko, Clare Bowditch, etc.)
I think as much as ‘times are changing’ etc, there is still a certain view of women in music that is different. I played a show recently with my friends Otouto from Melbourne, (who are absolutely amazing, gifted singers and musicians) and someone came up to us afterwards and said ‘its really good that you girls are giving it a go’. He probably didn’t mean for it to sound quite as patronising as it came across to us, but that pretty much sums up a lot of peoples attitude. Having said that, people like Sarah Blasko and Clare Bowditch are definitely helping by being smart and talented front women.
Thank You Seja!
‘We Have Secrets But Nobody Cares’ is available on CD through Rice is Nice and digitally through itunes.