Seye supporting Bastille at New Slang
Tonight will be a good night, I’m thinking as I slurp on the first of four Sex on the Beach cocktails at New Slang in Kingston. The DJ is playing some truly refreshing tunes - I head to a speaker to Shazam one I’m especially keen on. I feel a little put-out when the blue-tinted tablet screen staring up at me informs me ‘a match couldn’t be found’. But to my delight the music I sought to note down is coming from the fingers and lips of 24-year-old Seye (pronounced Cher).
He’s playing stripped down versions of his afro-pop songs and the few who have turned up this early on are loving up his silky smooth voice and kittenish demeanour. A highlight of his set is a cover of Bombay Bicycle Club’s ‘Shuffle’ – he’s really made it his own. I catch up with him afterwards…
You played a little bit of Diamonds On The Souls Of Her Shoes (Paul Simon). You seem to be slightly influenced by him?
I’m a massive, massive fan. I’m half Nigerian, half Kenyan but I’ve been raised in a lot of places. I’m mainly British, I’ve lived here the most so I’ve got my English pop influences and also American pop culture influences. But I still have the African influences as well and Graceland is one of my top five albums of all time so he’s instilled in me and my fingers. I love the high life guitar stuff and the way he writes. My song Two Hours definitely harps back to that.
What about your vocal? In parts it seems to reflect what Paul Simon does. How did you learn to sing?
At home. I’m the youngest of six kids. And my whole family is Christian so we grew up singing songs at home all the time, anything Christian. But we’d also perform at the local church, all eight of us with my mum and dad like a sort of Von Trap family.
Have you had a musical education?
I played the flute for a bit from Year 6 ‘til about Year 9 but then I discovered the guitar and I was like "Yeh, See ya later!" I taught myself. I was always singing in all the choirs at school and was in the music department all the time. I did Music GCSE but I didn’t do it at A Level or at university. I didn’t go to university.
What have you done since school?
I finished high school at 18. Came back here. My brother Benga is a bass player and he’s in a band called Metronomy. I was on a gap year. I told my folks I was guna go to uni but I wasn’t really intending to. I was trying to wangle my way in so I was just sleeping on his couch and he was playing bass for a guy called Jeremy Warmsley who’s now one half of Summer Camp. He was like "Dude, I can’t do this tour, have a crack – you need to do something! Play and see if you can do it." So I picked up the bass and I ended up playing with him for a while and that snowballed into sessioning with loads of people.
The biggest person who I worked with for the longest time was a girl called Paloma Faith. I was with her for like four years. I love her. I left her when I started doing my stuff.
When did you decide that you wanted to do your own thing?
I’d always wanted to but I didn’t know how to do it. I was happy playing music to make money but it took a while and eventually I met the chap who’s managing me now, a guy called Will Gresford. It’s his management company, Triptik Management. We just reconnected. He actually played in a band I played in a while ago and he found me on YouTube. I did a Michael Buble cover of something and he was like "I need to get back in contact with this kid".
Where do you get your style from?
I’ve always liked to do something unusual. Not in a (puts on American accent) "I’m just so weiiird, Oh my god I’m so alternative" way. But it sort of irks me when I see kids dressed like manikins in TopMan. I love TopMan, it’s one of my favourite shops in the world but I just think everybody has their own personality. Everybody should not be afraid to pick and choose the stuff that they like. Even if it’s like “Ooh, I really like that pink wig.” Wear the pink wig!
Would you ever wear drag?
Have you ever worn drag?
No I don’t think so. I’ve worn make up. Face makeup, eyes, eye-lashes… It was cool. It was at a weird Paloma show that we did in the Black Gardenia. Randomly she knows loads of drag artists and we were just messing about.
One of your songs is about Beyonce and Rihanna. Who’s your all-time favourite celebrity babe?
Katy Perry. Big time. I don’t care about the music, I just fancy her, man!
So if you could say anything to Russell Brand what would it be?
Two things – (a) You’re an idiot and (b) Thank You. It’s open season again!
I see you have a tattoo behind your left ear…
It’s Paloma Faith’s artwork dove. It’s a homage cos that was my live music education. She’s got three big doves on her back.
Here's Seye's video of Mexicana Bounce. Digging it.
Interview with Seye on Thursday 5th July, 2012 by Sophie Ellis. Photography by Sophie Ellis.