An introduction to Seafieldroad

SFR-recording-1

We have made an album called There Are No Maps For This Part Of The City, which we’re releasing under the name Seafieldroad. This is its story, as told by Andrew…

A long time ago, before Swimmer One began, I used to make music on my own. I started doing this at the age of about 13, after my parents bought me a Yamaha keyboard for my birthday. At first all I had was the keyboard and two tiny microphones. I sang into one of the mikes, while the other was suspended precariously just above one of the keyboard’s two speakers. I’d like to say it was all very punk rock, but it really wasn’t. I wanted to make music that sounded like the Pet Shop Boys, New Order, Depeche Mode, OMD, Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel and A-ha. What it generally sounded like was a schoolboy singing terrible, pretentious lyrics out of tune while working his way through the 100 rhythms on a very basic child’s keyboard. In mono, with the vocals coming out of one speaker and everything else coming out of the other. One of my first songs, I remember, was called H20, and was about what it might be like to be a drop of water.

By the time I was 18 I was getting slightly better at making music. I’d inherited an old, reel to reel four track machine (the kind the Beatles used!) from my brother-in-law, a drummer in a German rock band called Phoenix. I was putting it to good use too, recording rhythm tracks at half or double speed, or backwards, and playing around with guitar pedals. The songs were gradually improving. I roped in friends who were better musicians than me to play proper bass and guitar parts, or sing backing vocals. But I was still making the same mistake – trying to recreate records that had been produced with far more sophisticated technology in big recording studios. When I was about 21 I posted four of my best songs to the demo desk at a Scottish music magazine called Bigwig. The writer’s verdict was that it sounded like the ‘ravings of a madman’.

Listening back to some of these songs now – recorded in one-hour sets on to C60 cassettes, each with their own artwork – I reckon he was probably right. By the time I was 22 I had recorded about 38 ‘albums’, each one hour long, most of which I never played to anyone other than myself. Adding up the hours of writing and recording time, I must have spent whole months in my bedroom living in this strange little fantasy world, which is probably not the sanest way for anyone to pass their teenage years. I kept all the cassettes though, and have recently been thinking about posting the more listenable stuff online, for the benefit of anyone who might be vaguely curious.

By the time I met Hamish, almost ten years ago now, I’d given up on the idea of making music on my own, since on the whole it seemed to lead to isolation and insanity, and bad reviews in music magazines. Also, I’d now met someone whose production skills and musicianship could help make the sounds in my head into real, actual, in-the-world sounds that other people might conceivably want to listen to, so it seemed pointless to try and do it myself and risk retreating back into my own little world. As well as being much better at programming synthesisers and drum machines than me, Hamish could play more than four chords on the guitar. And, bless him, he listened to a couple of my C60 albums, liked them, and didn’t think I was sad or deranged. In fact he thought they had potential. I liked him immediately.

Despite abandoning my C60 pop albums, I’d never stopped writing songs. By 1999, flush for the first time in my life after getting my first decent proper job, I’d treated myself to a piano, and was playing it regularly, thrilled at how much better I sounded playing it than I ever did playing a Yamaha keyboard, or a second hand electric guitar with one string missing. As of 2001, though, most of what I wrote either ended up as a Swimmer One song (Talk Me Down From 20,000ft, Drowning Nightmare 1, The Dark Ages, The Erskine Bridge, The Fakester Resurrection: all began as very basic piano demos by me) or was ditched.

But the recording of Swimmer One songs has always been a slow process. It took us a year to make our first two singles, three years to make The Regional Variations, and two more to finish Dead Orchestras. Gradually I began to build up a vast backlog of piano songs that I didn’t know what to do with.

Then, in 2008, several things came together. I’d written three piano songs with Laura (her writing the words, me writing the music) and liked the idea of recording them. Hamish, meanwhile, was getting better and better at producing, and becoming quite excited at the prospect of recording live instruments for our second album, Dead Orchestras, instead of just programming lots of drum machines and synthesisers like he’d done for our first album, The Regional Variations. And, as it turned out, our friend Jennifer Williams could offer access to a flat on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh which 1. had a beautiful Steinway grand piano in it, and 2. was empty for most of the year. She gave me a set of keys, and I hid myself away there for whole afternoons at a time. A few months later Hamish joined me for two days, armed with a set of microphones and a laptop – if you listen carefully to the recordings we made, you can occasionally hear the sound of buskers outside, or the bells from St Giles Cathedral across the road, both of which occasionally interrupted takes. I recorded the vocals later, with Laura joining me to do backing vocals and, on one song, a duet. In the end we got a bit carried away, recording enough songs for two albums and an EP.

Why didn’t we just call it Swimmer One? Because it’s my project, really, although it would never have happened without a lot of encouragement, support and practical help from Hamish, who ended up producing it all, and Laura, who ended up co-writing five songs. We chose the name Seafieldroad together. Originally I wanted to call it First Minister (which Laura didn’t like), then The Night Mail (which Hamish didn’t like). But everyone, including me, is quite pleased with Seafieldroad which is a street we all cycle along all the time (Laura and I cycle along it to get from our flat in Leith to the beach at Portobello, Hamish cycles along it to get from his house in Musselburgh to our rehearsal studio in Granton). The street is called Seafield Road, not Seafieldroad, but we thought Seafieldroad looked better.

There will be two Seafieldroad albums. The first, There Are No Maps For This Part Of The City, will be released on 29 November, but you’ll be able to download it before then from Bandcamp. There’s a single up there in the meantime, which is free to download – you’ll need to pay for the album. The second album will follow early next year. Once again, Daniel Warren has done us some lovely cover art, working from photographs by Laura (for the first album and single) and a photograph by him (for the second album).

We’re very pleased with the results, and hope you like them too. I will write a track-by-track guide to each album here at some point.

Andrew