Ahead of the release of his new album Hearts And Minds, Seth Lakeman took the time to talk to us about his new direction, working with producer Tchad Blake and his songwriting inspiration.
More Than The Music: You were building up to it with Poor Man’s Heaven but there’s a definite shift on the new album towards tackling modern day issues such as recession and the banker’s scandal. Was there anything in particular which inspired you to take this new direction?
Seth Lakeman: I started writing this 18 months or maybe even longer ago and I was directly influenced by friends and people around me; local businesses who were being affected, mates who were losing their jobs, the Devonport closure. All that sort of stuff that was happening and there were some glum faces around at that point. I was always having to buy a round at the bar so that was something I was feeling pretty strongly about. Hearts and Minds was the first song I wrote and then songs like The Circle Grows about corruption and Hard Working Man, which I guess had quite a lyrical edge and power to them, are taking a bit of a stab at the powers up in London but I felt I was just reacting to social commentary around me.
MTTM: Given that the resultant album is quite different how did the production vary and why did you decide to take on a different producer for it?
SL: We’ve always made records ourselves and I’ve always been in control, but I felt this time round it was important to maybe let someone else lead and direct the whole thing. To have someone like Tchad Blake come in and express interest I couldn’t deny the opportunity. He’s such a fantastic legend and he’s worked with so many amazing people, to have someone like that look at your music and disect it and to be able to move it forward, which I felt he did, was a real honour. It was something that we all learned out of and it was a good opportunity to experiment with all sorts of percussion instruments which Tchad brought to the session. To have a man like that mix your record is fantastic.
MTTM: Did you find it difficult to give up some of the control?
SL: Yeah. It’s always tough when you’ve made your first 3 or 4 records and you’ve directed your whole career up to that point to have someone say ‘no, just leave it to me, that’ll all be fine in the final mix’. I’ve always mixed records being there in the room and had a very strong opinion how I wanted it to sound. To have someone literally mix it and then send it back to you was hard for me no doubt, although probably very good for me because I am a control freak.
MTTM: Do you think you’ll go that way in the future or do you think you’ll go back to taking more control again?
SL: I don’t know, because it wasn’t completely built by him and we didn’t go to him for any pre-production or anything like that we literally just met him in the studio with all the songs arranged. All he did was make it sound as live as possible, engineer it properly and be able to give it a Tchad Blake sound. I think it definitely would be interesting to work with someone in pre-production next time, which I’ve not done before, where you just have a bunch of songs and you get some musicians and create tracks together. In terms of working with someone else yes I would definitely, I think it’s always good to have someone else mixing your records from a different perspective.
MTTM: People like yourself, Kate Rusby and Eliza Carthy have been associated with raising the profile of folk in the mainstream, how do you feel when songwriters such as Laura Marling are credited in the same vain? Do you think it matters that folk maintains it’s identity and is it something you’re conscious of?
SL: I see the way it’s definitely exploded, acoustic and folk music, but I think it’s important to remember there’s a difference as you say between the artists mentioned. There’s a direct difference between what they do, Kate and Eliza and Laura Marling, and where they come from musically. You can hear that but I think some of the more songwriters have grown up with hand made music in the background and the way they’re included in the genre of folk, in that bigger tree, can only be a good thing, no doubt. I would only talk about that positively.
MTTM: Did you ever have a backup plan if you couldn’t make your living as a musician?
SL: No I didn’t have a backup plan. I didn’t know it was going to happen, I was in and out of selling Christmas trees and ripping up carpets and all sorts of weird jobs, just cash in hand stuff and playing in bars but then the Mercury thing happened and let me find an audience. It gave me a career. If it wasn’t for that I’m not sure what I would’ve done. I guess I would’ve kept on writing songs and working with other artists so I would’ve continued with music no doubt. I guess I found success quite late as a musician, I’m 26, that’s quite late in the grand scheme of the music industry.
MTTM: You said previously that you came to song writing quite late on. What prompted you to start?
SL: I think it was just experimenting with sounds really. Just by playing guitars and writing songs on magazines and then on fiddles, which was quite a weird thing to do, but it was just trying to get the lyrics and singing more confidently as a frontman. I guess it’s the whole combination of sound and getting those ingredients right that made me write a lot more and it became more of a routine in my life. I didn’t really become a song writer until my mid to late teens, I was more writing tunes, melodies and arrangements for other people.
MTTM: So something that developed quite naturally out of what you were already doing?
SL: Definitely. I wasn’t making a conscious effort I just enjoyed other peoples sound. I loved people like Paul Brady and Roger Wilson and I decided I would experiment with sound the way I could sing. Suddenly I just explored the murders and mystery stories from around Dartmoor and I guess it became something I got obsessed with over the years.
MTTM: You and your brothers seem to have taken a similar route in that respect and we saw you performing with Sam and Cara Dillon on St Patrick’s Day this year. If you could perform with any other artist though, who would it be?
SL: Oh crumbs, there’s just so many. I’d love to work with someone like Regina Spektor or Richard Thompson or The Waifs. Peter Gabriel, singing with him would be pretty cool. I’ve got loads of people I’d love to work with.
MTTM: Do you ever find as a songwriter you listen to other people’s songs and really wish you’d written them? Are there any which really stand out for you?
SL: There’s loads, yeah, I wouldn’t know where to start! This is a tough one. Bob Dylan songs, Bee’s Wing by Richard Thompson, Galway Girl by Steve Earle – that’s a great song. Salisbury Hill by Gabriel. I think you just become a music fan and then something is recorded and if it’s done well you can appreciate it, it doesn’t matter what genre it is. You have to listen across the board and appreciate all music.