We have a swell chat with actor-turned-musician Orlando Seale about his music and his art.
Orlando Seale and The Swell never cease to amaze and impress us. Whether it’s their music going from strength to strength or their live shows proving absolutely spellbinding, there’s not a lot we don’t love about the band. But who are Orlando Seale and The Swell? We spoke to frontman Orlando Seale to discover who they are, behind the swell of their sound.
What is the background of the band?
“The band has been together, in its current incarnation, for about a year and a half now. This was around the time our superb drummer, Andy, joined and it also marked a shift in our sound.
“But some of us have been playing together for much longer. I met a couple of the string players about four or five years ago, while we were doing a special collab for the old vic tunnels. We were working with a full orchestra and some just kept playing with us.
“The band has evolved a lot in the time, but Becky and Patty [backing vocalists; viola players] are now absolutely integral to what we do.”
“It came from us just working with basically an orchestra, sometimes up to twenty people! We wanted a collective noun as the band kept growing and shrinking, waxing and waning like the moon. So we wanted something that reflected that swelling motion of our band.
“At the time of naming, we were also predominately a lyrical band. We still are, I suppose to an extent, but much more so then. So we wanted to use my name, as it contains both land and sea, to just add something a little more elemental to the mix.
“Of course, it is also to do with the swelling motion of the sound that we create in our music!”
Are you more of a studio band or a live band?
“It’s an interesting and difficult question. I would say, I guess, that we are a live band as we perform a lot. But it’s an absolutely fascinating question. How do you record?
“It’s all a question for me of do you want your sound to capture what you do live, or do you want something that stands on its own but doesn’t necessarily translate back to what you do live. There isn’t really a hard and fast rule.
“We made a live album to capture our live energy, so we recorded it live. But for our newer stuff we wanted to manipulate certain elements or strange stuff we couldn’t do at the same time, while catching the fierceness of our live performances.
“Personally I love recordings where you can feel the room between everything. I can feel it in some of our material where we’ve just layered stuff, it feels antisceptic. I want it all to be natural, but striking.”
When you think of your music and your approach to it, what do you set out to achieve?
“For me it’s all about meaning and substance. You want to share something honest and truthful, and make yourself vulnerable. You reveal something, and the stakes are well. It gives people the permission to do the same and drop their armour and reveal themselves.
“My ambition is that our songs are about something, there’s something at stake. It’s not a ‘oh I love you, you’re lovely’ love song. It’s more than that, it’s dynamic and lyrically deliberate.”
What is the songwriting process like for you?
“Written by myself and I’ll then bring something to the band, like a sketch of the song that will eventually come. When writing by myself, I’m not a super guitarist so it’s often lyric and melody carried.
“When the rest of the band offer input, there’s a more expansive palette. And as a result, it’s like unpacking a flatpack song when we come together. I work with many gifted musicians and artists, so the areas the songs expand into are amazing.”
Wrestling is a brutally dramatic track, was it a challenge to develop it into the final version?
“Oh absolutely. It’s a very simple song, but it’s all a deliberate balance. Like you said in your review, it’s simple but carefully crafted. The inane repetition of the chorus balances with the Marcus Aurelius quote, it’s very carefully deliberate.
“It was definitely one of those songs I mentioned where the band will unpack it into amazing areas. We worked together and vamped on it and ended up with a song which is actually two chords. When I wrote it, it was much more complicated but we just took that out because it just wasn’t really necessary.
“It reflects a lot on the nature of the time it was written. Things were falling apart at that time, literally in the case of the space we were rehearsing in. So it felt like we had to create something more urgent, more uncompromising and trenchant.”
You gave away your Wrestling free with artisan sea salt chocolate. Where did that idea come from?
“It came about really because we became friends with the people at Nom Nom Chocolate. We met them at How The Light Gets In festival, which is one of my all time favourite festivals, and we decided to do something together.
“We felt that because Wrestling has the “mine mine mine all mine” line, and it’s about people tearing each other apart to get what they want, the idea of chocolate itself really reflected that. And it’s sea salt, which in itself is very bittersweet.
“The wrapper was designed by a wonderful artist called Oh Bones too. We just decided that downloads are very arid and cold, so we wanted to do something crazy and sensual. Why not chocolate? Everybody loves chocolate!”
What makes Orlando Seale and The Swell stand out as a band?
“I’m too close to it. It’s very close to me so I can’t really look at it objectively, it just stinks of ‘me’. I’m always stumped when it comes to the marketing of us as a band, because it’s the objectification of expression. It’s a very calculated way of thinking about it, even if it is necessary as you need to communicate it quickly.
“I guess maybe commitment? Or sincerity. I’m committed to what we do and those who listen, and we’re honest in our art. It’s passionate; I’m not afraid to look like an ass, because I’m not consciously looking to be ‘cool’.”