Tone Glow 070: Seefeel

An interview with British band Seefeel

Seefeel

Seefeel are a British band that emerged in the fertile period of the early ‘90s when more readily available electronic music-making equipment and home recording technologies expanded the horizons of what was musically possible. Yet even within this Cambrian explosion of creativity, Seefeel stood alone, pulling threads from the fabric of dub, rock, ambient, idm, and elsewhere to synthesize a sonic landscape wholly their own. Hot on the heels of a slew of reissues replete with previously unheard tracks from that definitive era, Emily Wirthlin spoke to Seefeel members Sarah Peacock (vocals, guitars) and Mark Clifford (guitars, treatments) on May 25, 2021 to talk about the band’s dynamic history, their unique approach to realizing music, and the secret to a really good vegan simmer. 

Emily Wirthlin: Thanks so much for being so generous with your time with all these recent interviews! As a long-time fan of the band it’s been great to hear so many nice, human anecdotes behind this totally singular musical world you’ve created.

Sarah Peacock: (laughs). Well I hope so! Occasionally I’ve thought, “Is this really throwing too much light on magic?” (laughter). Mark cares about that a little bit more than I do, but I do wonder.

Right, it’s always a little different when you know how the sausage is made.

Mark Clifford: That’s a good analogy.

Where are you both now?

Mark Clifford: I live— do you know Brighton? 

Yeah!

Mark Clifford: So I live just outside of Brighton; it’s called Hassocks. I don’t know if that means anything to you whatsoever.

No (laughs).

Mark Clifford: I doubt it; it’s not well known. Nothing happens here (laughs).

Sarah: I’m in London, Southeast London.

I ask because I find “place” interesting to talk about since it dictates so much of our experience of the world, which has a way of coming out in the music. And with a band as sonically singular as Seefeel, it’s maybe helpful to explore that in order to distill the elements that make up the band. So with that in mind, where did you both grow up?

Mark Clifford: I was born in Birmingham, in Midlands, and I grew up mostly in a place called Stourbridge, which is— do you know the geography of the Midlands very well? 

Only a little bit.

Mark Clifford: So it’s called the Black Country—it’s an old industrial area of the West Midlands. So I grew up in a place called Stourbridge, which is mostly known musically for bands like Pop Will Eat Itself and The Wonder Stuff.

Sarah Peacock: And there’s Clint Mansell, the famous film composer.

Mark Clifford: Yeah, yeah. And then I moved to London—I went to Goldsmiths College—and basically never looked back. I lived in London for about 10, 12 years, and then moved to Brighton. So I’m definitely in the South now.

And how about you, Sarah?

Sarah Peacock: I was born in King’s Lynn in Norfolk; that’s way out east. But we moved from there when I was two to a town called Basingstoke which is about 50 miles west of London. I lived there pretty much until I ended up moving to London. I went to college in Farnham, in Surrey, because it wasn’t too far from where my parents lived. While I was at college, I decided I wanted to be in a band. When Mark and I got in touch he was living in Lewisham, Southeast London. Eventually I ended up moving there too and I’ve lived there ever since! Within five square miles of Southeast London.

Mark Clifford: That’s never really occurred to me before!

Were your families musical? Were there sounds, musical or otherwise, that influenced you, growing up?

Mark Clifford: Me personally, not especially. They listened to music but it was stuff like… not the worst music, but they were really into Fleetwood Mac and Neil Diamond. I heard so much Neil Diamond when I was young. It had absolutely, I don’t think, any effect on me whatsoever (laughter). But they did encourage me to play piano, so I guess that was the musical ingredient they put into my life. But they didn’t play music; none of them played or had any aspirations to play music as far as I know.

Sarah Peacock: Similar for me. My mum was always a huge music fan, actually, by comparison. She loved the Beatles and the Who and then through the ’70s she loved all kinds of stuff, you know, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. She kept up with it, like a lot of parents or a lot of people don’t, who only like the music they liked in their youth and stick with it. We always had the radio on, pop radio, and watched any kind of music on TV. And she noticed that I had some sort of aptitude for playing and singing. There was a recorder we had in the house that I picked up when I was about six and taught myself to play tunes on it. She was a teacher, and so I think anything me and my sister were good at, she’d be like, right, okay, you’re going to do this properly. So she got me music lessons, and I learned piano and flute and did it quite seriously up until I was about 18, learning classical music. Even though she didn’t really play herself—she may have had a few piano lessons when she was a kid—she certainly nurtured it for me.

Were there classical composers you were especially drawn to? 

Sarah Peacock: I loved playing Beethoven! Very histrionic and dramatic. Satie as well! Loved playing that. Really, really just beautiful and unusual. I was probably better at the Baroque, Bach and Telemann stuff, since I was really quite good at keeping time and keeping everything quite repetitive. It stood me in good stead for what we do in Seefeel, really (laughs).

Right, I know you mentioned recording a snippet of French Baroque music for “Ashdecon” on (Ch-Vox).

Sarah Peacock: (laughs). I didn’t play that though; I chose it. But I knew the piece before I chose it.

Getting back to the genesis of the band, Mark, when you first started putting out ads in the paper to get a band together, did you have a vision in mind of what you wanted this band to be? Clearly you had Cocteau Twins and all sorts of inspirations floating around, but what was your vision for what you wanted to do at that time?

Mark Clifford: I wouldn’t say I had a clear vision. The music I was listening to, I wasn’t into mainstream indie music. I knew I wanted to do something that was a bit more noisy, a bit different, but I didn’t really have a template. I think in my mind, I just wanted to find people who I belonged with as much as anything. And who had more spirit—I wasn’t really interested in ability. I saw quite a lot of musicians who came along. I remember one of the first bass players I saw was really into Jimi Hendrix. Instead of playing bass, he got his guitar out and just started playing all these Jimi Hendrix riffs, and it just wasn’t interesting to me at all. So the reason I liked Sarah and Justin [Fletcher, drums and programming] and Daren [Seymour, bassist] was because they weren’t… not not musical, but they weren’t…

Sarah Peacock: We weren’t trying to show off how good we were at playing other people’s music! (laughter).

Mark Clifford: Right, because all the music I loved was music where it was about spirit and not ability.

What other bands were like that?

Mark Clifford: Well, Cocteau Twins to me were very much like that. They were very anti-musicianship, in many ways. I remember Robin [Guthrie, co-founder of Cocteau Twins] in interviews used to say he despised guitarists who could play the guitar, which I really liked; I liked that kind of punk rock spirit. Mainly because I wasn’t a great musician myself. You mentioned classical music, and Sarah was lucky enough to play. All my memories of playing piano was playing scales for about two years.

Sarah Peacock: Obviously you have to do that as well, but luckily because my mum was so persistent and made me practice, I was able to get to a point when I could enjoy it. So I think that’s the thing that a lot of kids learn in music: you have to push through the boring stuff to get to the good stuff. 

As with so many things in life. 

Mark Clifford: Yea, so I think personally, that put me off that kind of musicianship. It just bored me. So it was more about finding people I think who had the right ideas and also listened to the right music, in many ways.

Aside from instrumental and musical ability, it must have been a really exciting time because this was when some of the earliest commercially available samplers and electronic instruments were becoming available, before there was really any roadmap for how they should be used. Other groups I love from that time like Hood or Disco Inferno also went in some pretty radically novel directions, simply because there wasn’t really a template for “what do you do with this?”

Mark Clifford: Absolutely; you’re right. I mean, when we first started we had a Tascam 424 4-track…

Yep, I have one as well!

Mark Clifford: I’m actually just getting my old one fixed now, because they are really still great machines! But you’re right; there’s no book that comes with that and says, “this is the music you make on this.” There’s no book that says “this is what you do with samplers,” or something. And so it was just finding your own way. And you’re right, it was exciting. Maybe it’s the same now; I don’t know. I often think about what it’s like for musicians today. It seems like software has made making music almost too easy.

Right. You read people like [John] Cage talking about the way he used limitations in music, and how that unlocks creativity. And we’re at this point now where there are so many possibilities that it stifles creativity.

Mark Clifford: Yeah, I think you need a lot of discipline these days if you’re going to make it as a musician. That’s in no way putting down music, because music’s just as good now as it ever has been. But making music nowadays is so easy. The other side is that people find ways to use it because they don’t want to be like everybody else. In some ways it’s pushing boundaries as well.

To bring that punk spirit back. 

Mark Clifford: Yeah, I think so, yeah.

I know you’ve spoken about using a diversity of approaches when making your music, but are there any specific pieces of gear that you think of as really essential to the Seefeel sound, especially from that time?

Mark Clifford: Are you talking about from the very start? 

Yeah, specifically from the early albums.

Sarah Peacock: The [Roland] GP-8 guitar effect. We kind of abandoned it for years on guitar, after the early demos. I think by the time we came to do Quique, at least, you’ve got the [Ensoniq] DP/4, and that was what you mostly used for guitars then. But the GP-8, we used to process vocals through it. And I think it’s really quite important to how a lot of the vocals sound. “Charlotte’s Mouth” was the first one, thenceforth for “Starethrough” and “Spangle.” That really compressed sound on the vocals comes from that. 

Mark Clifford: The setting was called “flamingo” and it’s still on there. That was the patch I used; a lot of vocals went through that. We used it a lot on early guitar, but none of those tracks ever ended up being released. As far as guitar goes, it was the only filter I ever used on that. But yeah, it was used a lot on vocals. And also on “More Like Space,” for example, there’s a lot of processed rhythms which go through the GP-8, a lot of those quite harsh sounds. So basically it goes back to what you were saying before: we didn’t feel we had to use a guitar processor to process guitars, necessarily. It was just using whatever we had, whatever way we could. 

Sarah Peacock: Yeah, “I wonder what this would sound like going through that,” and then we’d try it, it’s like “Oh yeah, that’s great—let’s use it!” (laughs).

Sarah, going back to the vocals, you’ve spoken before about how the vocal elements that you generate, that we hear in the recordings, are often considerably transformed from their starting point, though of course the spirit of your unique approach to singing always shines through. So I’m curious about your approach to writing those core vocals: is this something that’s totally intuitive and improvised or do you have a method for how you compose your vocal melodies that go into the Seefeel work? 

Sarah Peacock: More often than not it is very intuitive. It’s like doing it on the spot, almost improvisation, really, having a track to work with that’s usually a simplified version of what ends up in there. It’s really just tempo and key. There’s very often not much more to work with. Maybe a couple of key changes or something. Occasionally there’ll be a track where I’ll take the basic track and go away and play it and try to work something out that’s actually lines. “Charlotte’s Mouth” was done like that, and “Faults.” We were talking about “Faults” in a different interview the other day. That was thought about and lines were written in a more conventional way. But usually it is just done quite improvisationally, not for any other reason than that it seems to work. Very often the first thing that you can come up with is often the right thing, though sometimes it takes a long time (laughs).

“First thought, best thought.”

Mark Clifford: That was especially true of Succour though, I think. Because I think a lot of stuff was improvised, but the guitars were as well. I didn’t go away and spend a lot of time agonizing over guitars for any of the tracks; they were pretty much just done. And the tracks weren’t written on an acoustic guitar or anything; it was just “play something and then layer it.” And I think the vocals were very much the same. As I remember it, anyway. 

Aside from the sound creation process, another huge piece of Seefeel’s DNA seems to be this pretty exhaustive editorial process. You’ve spoken about how elements of “Charlotte's Mouth” get reworked into “Starethrough” and then again into “(Ch-Vox)” across separate releases. And I think this bonus material on the new reissues really reveals just how much deeper that rabbit hole goes, with threads of individual tracks being reworked until they’ve evolved almost beyond recognition. What do you think is the role of that editorial process, that rethinking and reworking of material?

Sarah Peacock: That’s Mark’s way of working, really. 

Mark Clifford: Yeah, that’s how I really like working. If I find something I like, like you mentioned the “Charlotte’s Mouth” vocals—I really love those vocals. So at the studio I asked the engineer to put them down on DAT so I could take them away. And it just seemed like the more I did to them—the more I tried things with them—the more ideas seemed to come out of them. To me, that’s the really interesting part of making music. The mixing part and finishing tracks… that’s not the interesting part. It’s finding details in things: that’s what really interests me. And I still do that.

I mentioned in another interview how with the new material, I don’t even bother changing the track names now. The same track name will stay for about two years. At the moment, this track called “Weangle” is on version 121 or something now (laughter). And they’re all completely new tracks! They’re nothing like the start track. Even the sounds are different now. I guess it’s a bit like having a wardrobe of clothes: you have a wardrobe, you buy something new, you add to it, eventually some of the old things get thrown out, and eventually you end up with a new wardrobe. But you don’t go out and buy a new wardrobe, it’s just swapping items and getting rid of old things you don’t like so much and having new things. That’s my process. My process of making music is like a wardrobe of clothes (laughter).

It’s interesting: a lot of people, I feel, are the complete opposite, where the inspiration is there at the start and staying with the track is the hard part. So you seem to almost work in reverse, where things get more interesting the longer they run.

Mark Clifford: Yeah, I think they do. I definitely prefer the later versions to the earlier versions (laughs).

An editorial logic is obviously also coming into play in how these albums cohered, given the richness of this bonus material that we hadn’t heard until this year. Was the sequencing of the albums also mostly intuitive or was there a guiding vision behind the shape of what you wanted these albums to be? Was there a statement of what you wanted Succour to be, for instance, or was it just “these are the best tracks and here’s an order that seems to make sense”?

Mark Clifford: Oh no; Succour, like Quique, there was definitely a sense of wanting it to build to something. The tracks weren’t “Oh, this one goes nicely after that one and that’ll do”; we definitely spent a lot of time putting the album together. Because obviously nowadays you have iTunes and it’s very easy to sequence tracks and change orders. I remember making a lot of cassette tapes with various tracks and different orders and listening to them at night in in-earphones, headphones… but as far as I remember, it was always the same basic tracks. I don’t remember tracks going on and coming off so much; I think it was more about the order. So a lot of bonus material, I don’t think was ever in contention to be on the album. I think they were just… that’s how I remember it anyway; it was such a long time ago (laughter).

Sarah Peacock: I find I’ve only got such snapshot memories, going back that far.

Mark Clifford: But definitely, we very much worked with albums rather than just compilations of tracks. They definitely are supposed to have a focus from start to end.

After those albums, when the band took a break in the ’90s, you each went out to explore some pretty different musical spaces, with Mark releasing solo works as Disjecta and Sarah embracing a much more recognizably rock sound, albeit with a lot of the same interesting textural blending of rock and electronic elements that made Seefeel exciting with your bands Scala and January. What was the vision or inspiration behind the sound of those projects, as distinct from what you’d been doing as Seefeel?

Mark Clifford: Well, obviously I can speak more about my own stuff, but structurally they were very, very different. Disjecta, for example, I never really did that as a project thinking that anything would ever get released. It was more, as I bought or as I had new bits of equipment, I just wanted to see what they could do. And so those tracks are really just me trying things. And a lot of the time, just copying other people’s music, more out of interest or as a hobby, to see how people did certain things. And also hoping that by working that way I’d find some new ideas. So it was only really Warp asking to hear some of the tracks and then putting them together as an album. They were never really intended as a project. In fact, originally, those tracks, on the DAT, were called “Mimicker,” because that’s literally what they are: they’re me mimicking things. So I didn’t really take on a project. After Seefeel, when the others were doing Scala, I did the remix work for Cocteau Twins, and I toured with them as well, so that took up a lot of my time, really. Around ’97 we did get back together and do some more recording, and in ’99 as well, but nothing really came of it. 

Sarah Peacock: Scala really came about because we all fell out—well, the three of us fell out with Mark (laughter). And that’s when we decided to have the time off from each other. We just thought, “Well, let’s just try and write some songs on our own, try and do something different.” And it really was just that, let’s try and do something different. I’m gonna have a go at trying to write more conventional songs, with verses and choruses and lyrics and stuff. And always trying to keep our own uniqueness to it with the way we were working as well, starting with samples and stuff—it was never going to be that conventional. That all ended quite badly, really (laughter). Scala wasn’t a very lucky band. The different producers we had were found out of necessity because there were, once again, personality clashes and fallings out. The good intentions we had for it at the beginning never really worked out at all. And then we ended up pitting two labels against each other as well which was pretty bad (laughter). So that wound itself up; we just couldn’t carry on doing it.

Mark Clifford: Touch and Too Pure?

Sarah Peacock: Yeah, Touch and Too Pure. Basically, one particular person ended up promising an album to both labels without telling the other (laughs). Not a very good episode for most of the people involved. And then January was one of the guys who’d gotten involved in doing Scala later on started his own band and asked me to join. From then on I had a few years where I was joining in bands of friends, just playing a lot of keyboards and stuff, things that I was more competently able to just come in and go, “Right, what do you need me to do?” More like a session player than it being my own personal musical vision or anything like that. But it was always good fun and we got to do some brilliant things. We went and toured in Japan with January, which was a fantastic experience.

That sounds wonderful!

Sarah Peacock: Yeah, it really was! Even though it wasn’t necessarily the kind of music that I would have done if it was my own project, it was still really worthwhile doing it.

And I know you, Mark, were doing a lot of collaborations around that time as well, with Mira Calix and others.

Mark Clifford: Yeah, which was good for me because I make music all the time, but on my own, I’m not the best person at finishing things. I almost need someone to be there to put the pressure on me. Because again, for the same reason I mentioned earlier, my enjoyment is making the music rather than finishing it. So I’m much better at working with people. I have thousands of DATs and minidiscs and all kinds of stuff with music on, but it’s only ever really focused when I’m around someone, I think. Or when something’s happened in my life to really focus me. Because sometimes something happens in your life where you suddenly feel like, “I’ve got to get on and do this and be more serious.” Otherwise I just meander. 

Clearly all that paid off, because then you came out with this 2011 Seefeel album, which I think is just spectacular, but which represents a totally different direction from the earlier works. We talked earlier about how there was a complete sea change in the kinds of technologies that were available—different music-making implements, especially on the software side. So I’m curious how your approach changed, especially in that decade or so of explorations on your own. Your music-making approach, your creative visions…

Mark Clifford: Well, essentially for me personally, in the intervening years when I didn’t really release anything, that’s when I was trying a lot of software. I used GRM Tools on lots of things I was making, various quite primitive software from the early 2000s. So by the time we came to do the album, I wanted to move away from that. So for me, I wanted the album to be more like a live album rather than using too much technology. Which it is, really—it was made very much like the other records; there’s not a lot of trickery in terms of software. The major difference being that it was recorded on ProTools rather than a tape machine.

Sarah Peacock: And [bassist] Shige [Ishihara]’s involvement was a big element of how that album turned out. Having Shige in the band, particularly, with his suitcase full of madness and his bass playing had a big stamp all over that album.

It was exciting that you guys also toured the US for the first time with them in 2019. What was that experience like? Any particularly memorable shows or anecdotes from that tour?

Mark Clifford: Personally, I enjoyed all of them. I guess Warsaw, in Brooklyn, was a highlight, and San Francisco. But there wasn’t a bad show; there wasn’t a show we quickly moved on from. A lot of it was to do with people we met there or promoters; some places were just really great. Anecdotes… the main thing, which was probably a big mistake, is that we wanted to add Canadian dates. The US dates had already pretty much been booked, so we had to really squeeze them in. After Seattle we played Vancouver, and then we pretty much flew that night…

Sarah Peacock: We had to stop over in Calgary and then went to Montreal, completely overnight. It was quite an early gig in Vancouver. It was the sort of night that ends at 10 and then they bring in the disco. I always remember trying to get a few hours’ kip in the dressing room right next to a really loud, cracking dancefloor (laughter). And then eventually we had to carry everything out through this very loud, crowded dancefloor, with kids dancing to “Old Town Road,” and stuff like that (laughter). Including loads of boxes of t-shirts! We went to a thrift store and got some suitcases so we could try and get all these t-shirts so we could take them on the plane without too much excess baggage. And then we ended up in Vancouver Airport about 2 AM trying to get all this stuff through security with all these big boxes of t-shirts. Then we had a few hours to wait for the flight, trying to sleep in the airport. Iida [Kazuhisa, drummer] and Shige were crashed out in the children’s play area (laughter).

We had a problem dropping off the car as well as there was nobody at the rental desk. And then we stopped over in Calgary, which is completely covered in snow and ice. On the connecting flight they had to de-ice the plane, which I’d never experienced before. And it just seemed to be one thing after another and I had a bit of a freakout on the plane on the second flight, where I had to go sit with a stewardess in the back and she had to give me an ice pack for my head. And I really did think once we got to Montreal, “This is going to be horrific, it’s going to be so bad, I’m going to be so tired and incapable of doing it.” But once we walked through the doors of the venue in Montreal, The Veldt were there, because that was the first date we played with them. And they were so lovely and friendly and enthusiastic that it just sort of made everything alright. We were able to get everything set up and soundchecked and we went for a really nice meal over the road and it all went really well. 

Mark Clifford: Yeah, the West was so well organized and then suddenly it seemed like we got to Canada and it was just ramshackle. It was like being a band that wasn’t signed again, you know? It just felt like there was no organization, nothing works…

Sarah Peacock: We had to get cabs with all these suitcases full of t-shirts and stuff and it took two or three cabs. So trying to organize that and also speaking French as well! And it’s like, well, we’ve been through all of this and now suddenly I’ve got to try and remember all my school French that I learned 30 years ago and have forgotten (laughs). It was just one thing after another.

Going way back, you toured with Autechre, I believe, whose remix of “Spangle” is now on vinyl for the first time. Any funny moments of hanging out with the boys you’d care to share?

Mark Clifford: I don’t think we’ve toured with Autechre…

Sarah Peacock: It was mainly sort of one-off festival dates. I do remember a night in Cologne when we played at Popkomm that involved Daren and also [Warp co-founder] Steve Beckett dangling each other over a balcony by their ankles. And then, of course, the festival in Moscow that we played, Britronica. There were some pretty rock ‘n’ roll antics that weekend (laughs). And Autechre were right mixed up in that with us.

Aside from the reissues, you’ve also recently released some live retools of “Spangle” and “Gatha”—what other sorts of new music have you been working on? 

Mark Clifford: Really since the last album came out me and Sarah have constantly been recording stuff. There’s a lot of music. It took quite a long time to find a new sound that we were comfortable with, or certainly that I was comfortable with. Because I can make music all the time, but I get bored of it quite quickly. So over the last maybe year and a half, the previous seven years have distilled into something I’m personally really quite happy with now, the sound of it. I’m kind of tired of shifting sound all the time, so I’ve been trying to settle on a sound that we can slowly build on rather than constantly jumping to a completely new sound for the next record because of these long gaps between albums. So I’m hoping that with a wealth of material, we’ll be able to release albums more regularly over the next few years.

That would certainly be wonderful for us fans as well!

Mark Clifford: It’s different, again, obviously because it’s me and Sarah—Shige and Iida haven’t been involved in this. So it’s a lot softer. I keep using this word fluid. It just feels more like it flows; it’s not so kind of (makes chhk noise) like the last album, which was quite static-y. It flows better, I think. It’s difficult to describe your own music! (laughter).

It almost feels sacrilegious to take such a unique soundworld as what your band’s developed and try to translate it into this crude medium of language.

Mark Clifford: People have tried… back in the day we got put in pretty much every possible bracket of music.

Right, I’ve been trying to avoid all that “dub, shoegaze”-type language. I feel it’s kind of tired, just comparing things to other things.

Sarah Peacock: We always avoided that ourselves. It’s never like we ever thought that we wanted to make any particular genre of music. So even though a lot of the things, it’s good to describe one element of it, there’s so much else going on.

Mark Clifford: It feels like people are trying to control you when they do that. It was like they’re trying to make their lives easy by putting it in a bag.

Sarah Peacock: But it’s just the way music is, isn’t it? People have to have a way to describe it, certainly people who write about music; there’s no other way of doing it. And because everybody thinks of music in terms of genres and they know what they like. Even more so now, when you’ve got algorithms and stuff. Personally, my biggest musical inspiration that I discovered for myself was the John Peel show, where genre didn’t matter. You’d have some happy hardcore next to some African Highlife guitar music next to some grindcore.

Mark Clifford: With goth!

Sarah Peacock: Yeah, absolutely anything. He was such a huge influence on British music for so long. That’s probably why there’s been so much different, strange, genre-busting music out of this country.

It’s almost impossible to overstate his influence and his courage in taking these really different things and just putting them on the air.

Sarah Peacock: And that’s kind of gone now. A lot of people operate in a similar way, but this whole thing about “if you like that you might like this” and it’s going to be something similar rather than something different. I think that’s kind of disappeared now in the age of algorithms. It’s a shame.

Absolutely. There’s always been the commercial aspect, but it seemed like you had people like Peel, and even just labels that could act as more adventurous curators of music.

Sarah Peacock: Right, like Too Pure.

And the algorithms are almost anti-creative, where they just select for whatever gets clicks and plays. 

Sarah Peacock: I mean, certainly, you can’t knock the way that some people only do like one kind of music, but not everybody’s like that.

And now it’s harder for people to discover something that they might like if the algorithm is just directing everybody to Imagine Dragons or whatever.

Mark Clifford: Yeah, exactly. Imagine if you were in the past and every record shop just sold one type of music and you had to go to another record shop to get a different type of music. You would never discover anything; it’s going to a record shop and someone suggesting something to you, or in the same rack you notice a sleeve you like.

Just picking something off the cover has served me well.

Sarah Peacock: Or something’s being played in the background and you’ve never heard it so you go and ask what it is and they sell you a copy.

Absolutely.

Mark Clifford: Rather than going to a record shop because you want to buy, say, Nirvana and every other album there is also the same kind of sound, rock music, and you’re never going to find anything new.

Do you guys listen to a lot of new music? Are there particular acts or musical currents that are really resonating with you right now, or that you feel inspired by? 

Sarah Peacock: Shamefully not, I have to admit. I’m so out of touch! And even less so since I’ve been furloughed from work, because when I used to have to go into work every day, I’d listen to radio and curated stuff. I’ve stuck with that way of discovering new music, having somebody who I trust, a radio DJ, show me new things.

And how about you, Mark?

Mark Clifford: I wouldn’t say movements. I often discover things which I like. I did a Bleep mix recently which has a few of those things on. I really like Gia Margaret’s music. I’ve been listening to Blanck Mass a lot recently, which isn’t that new, of course. I often find new things, but I don’t think I’m really following a particular area of music at all now. Mostly electronic-based music, I think. Though I did go through a phase of listening to a lot of… I guess it’s like chillwave or something? Darkwave? I don’t know; there’s so many “wave” terms (laughter). But it’s people doing very 80s-sounding music. It’s kind of slightly gothic, slightly electro. But no, I’m not particularly following anything. I just like things; I don’t really care what genre it’s in. If I like it, I’ll listen to it. 

I saw that DJ mix come out. And I know Sarah, in the past, I think you’ve mentioned doing animations in college. So I guess I’m curious: what kinds of non-musical forms of creativity have you explored or might you be interested in exploring in the future?

Sarah Peacock: Yeah, well, I did my degree in animation. And apart from coordinating the “Fracture” video—which I’m revisiting at the moment, trying to write about how that was done as something we can put out to people—that’s really the only bit of filmmaking that I did since I left college. I completely abandoned that in favor of doing Seefeel. That’s not such a bad thing. I do like doing creative things. I used to draw a lot, doing repeating fabric designs, playing with photos… that sort of thing is really the most creative thing I do these days. But it’s never really anything serious; it’s never really with intent to do something with it.

Maybe it’s like Mark’s saying, you just need somebody to push you to put it out.

Sarah Peacock: Yeah, maybe, or just knuckle down and do it. Over the year with everything shutting down would have been a perfect time to try and get that together but of course I haven’t managed to (laughs).

I don’t think many of us got done nearly as much as we thought we would at the beginning.

Sarah Peacock: Certainly, no. We’ve all got the time to learn a new language and refurbish your house and stuff, but no.

How about you, Mark?

Mark Clifford: I’m like Sarah; I’ve always done other things. I used to do photography a lot, lot more, but not with any intent behind doing anything with it. Music’s the only thing which I really feel competent at. I remember a few years ago—this would be about 2005, 2006—when I wasn’t really achieving much musically, I thought, okay I might just try and concentrate on doing photography a lot more. And I remember going to a site called DeviantArt— do you know DeviantArt?

Yeah, of course.

Mark Clifford: Just being so completely blown away by what people were doing, I quickly gave up on that idea. Because there were clearly people doing it so well I couldn’t possibly compete with them. That was my opinion, anyway.

Sarah Peacock: That’s the problem with creative stuff. You think you’ve got a good idea and then you look too much into what other people are doing and you just think, “I’m not that good.” (laughs).

Mark Clifford: Exactly. It’s one of the reasons I gave up using software, because when you hear what people like Rob and Sean [of Autechre] are doing with it, what they can do, it just seems a little bit like, “Why would I try and compete with that when I already have things which I can do myself better?” It seems like a futile task to try and push yourself into doing something, unless you’re very competent and can compete. This is something that goes back to what I was saying before about my music now. I feel comfortable because I feel like I’m playing to my strengths, where I’m not trying to bring in elements which I’m not so comfortable with. So even if it means taking a backwards step a little bit, I think it’s better for me, personally, to concentrate on what I’m good at, rather than trying to do new things just for the sake of doing new things.

On the topic of your new music, another really big recent standout for me, personally, from the extended Seefeel galaxy is your release from last year, Playback, which is just incredible. It has an emotional directness to it that I find really powerful. Where were you at, physically, emotionally or otherwise, when putting those tracks together?

Mark Clifford: That’s when I’d just come out of quite a long term relationship. I was in a pretty bad way at that time, just really upset. I wasn’t eating properly. And I just decided, right, I want to go into a studio and just play my guitar really loud one day. So I found this amazing studio in Brighton, which was a very basic studio, but it had this amazing big room which they used to record Eastern European classical music. It had this incredible sound in there, and the engineer was the guy who normally recorded these orchestras. I told him what I wanted to do and he set up this stack of amps. So I just played guitar really loud in this room and he recorded it so well. The recording was amazing, the original. And that’s when I was using GRM Tools a lot; that’s what I was putting my guitars through at the time. So yeah, it was just completely spontaneous. It was just a release of energy.

Yeah, that definitely comes through. 

Mark Clifford: I’m really glad that comes through, ha.

I wish it had gotten more attention! Maybe with this interview.

Mark Clifford: I just never did anything! I have so much music from that time; I just never gave it to anybody. It’s not that people didn’t want to release it, I just never even bothered even sending it off to people. 

Maybe you could do what Aphex did a few years ago and just dump it all on SoundCloud (laughter).

Mark Clifford: Yeah, but believe me, a lot of it is rubbish!

Well, that’s not for you to decide, right? When you put it out in the world, other people are going to find things you didn’t put in there, you know?

Mark Clifford: You’re right, but I’ve been through a lot of these DATs and I’m still going through them, all these minidiscs and DATs, and there’s this period where I’ll think, oh, this was a good period; I was doing a lot of good stuff. And then there’s another year where I was like, what was I doing? (laughter). I have no idea what planet I was on. It doesn’t make any sense, the music, whatsoever. I have to trust myself when I release music; if I think it’s lots of rubbish I can’t, I can’t. 

Fair enough.

Mark Clifford: I wish I was brave enough. I wish I was like that kind of person that would just put everything out and let other people decide, but I’m way too… (long pause) I hold onto things too much, maybe. Maybe one day, if I’m really desperate for cash (laughter). And with, suddenly, a click on the internet, 10 years’ worth of music, everything that’s ever been made.

“26 DATs for Cash.”

Mark Clifford: Yeah, exactly! (laughter).

So I don’t want to keep you here forever, but I’m curious: are there any questions you always wished you’d been asked in an interview?

Mark Clifford: You know, the one thing no one’s ever asked us, not really… the name of the band still irks me a little bit. And it’s weird that no one ever picks up on the name. I guess I often think about other bands that I like and their names and think, well actually that’s not a very good name, but you just get used to it and you stop thinking about it. Because I love My Bloody Valentine, and I think that’s an awful name. 

Prefab Sprout is another one that I avoided for so long because the name is so awful and now they’re one of my favorite bands of all time.

Mark Clifford: And Sonic Youth as well. 

Sarah Peacock: Oh, well I think that’s good! 

Mark Clifford: When they were young, but they really should have changed it!

Sonic Elders.

Mark Clifford: Sonic Elders! (laughter).

So just the band name then? Well, what is the genesis of the band name, since you brought it up? 

Mark Clifford: I think it was just the name of a track. I think when we did the Sausage Machine gig for Too Pure we didn’t have a name. There was a gig where we didn’t have a name or something?

Sarah Peacock: The way I remember it was that the name was written on the tape that you sent me. But you said, “Yeah, I’m not sure if we’re going to keep it.” And I think we agreed that if I or any of the others could think of anything better then we’d change it. And it really was like no one could think of anything better!

Mark Clifford: Well the problem with that is it sticks, doesn’t it? So the longer it’s called something the more difficult it becomes to change it; that’s the problem.

Sarah Peacock: I often find that if I meet someone new and the subject comes up about this band that I’m in, and they ask, “Oh, what are you called?” I have to sort of explain it. I often have to spell it, or say, “Like ‘see’ and ‘feel’ together in one word.” But they always look a bit underwhelmed. The very rare occasion that somebody already knows us or something, then they’ll be like, “Oh, right! Okay!”

And how about you Sarah, are there any questions that you’ve always wanted to be asked or wondered why nobody asked them? 

Sarah Peacock: Yeah, I don’t know. I’d need a week to think about that. It’s a really good question. It’s the sort of question that if I hear someone else being interviewed asked that and they come up with something really great I’m thinking, “Oh yeah, that’s a brilliant question,” but I’m hopeless at things like that.

Mark Clifford: The question you’d like to’ve been asked is just the question you’d like to’ve been asked (laughter).

Sarah Peacock: It’s too sort of creative and out-of-the-box and witty and spontaneous and all the things that I’m not, really.

Fair enough. So to close, since I know it’s a bit later there, what are y’all planning on having for dinner? 

Mark Clifford: Dinner? Oh wow, that’s leftfield.

Isn’t it dinnertime? 

Mark Clifford: Well, I eat dinner quite late, usually about half-seven, eight, so I guess, yeah, three hours away.

Sarah Peacock: We’ll be thinking about it soon. I need to find out from my fellow who’s just got in if he’s playing cricket this afternoon. He might be going for a net session in the park, so I need to know when he’s going to be back as to what we can do and when we can get it ready. But it’s going to be a choice between either Caesar salad or some grilled fish and sweet potato mash, I think.

Mark Clifford: I know, because it’s already made. It’s a three bean— I guess it’s supposed to be Mexican, I think? But it’s not like a chili thing; it’s got cumin in it. But it’s like kidney beans and cannellini beans and green beans in a tomato sauce.

That sounds good.

Mark Clifford: It is really good; believe me. I’ll send you the recipe if you want.

That would be wonderful! We could put it at the end of the interview!

Mark Clifford: Okay! (laughter). Seefeel culinary tips.

Seefeel’s music, including reissues of their older work, can be found at Bandcamp and the Warp website.


Mark Clifford’s Three-Bean Simmer

Ingredients:

  • onion, 1 large, finely chopped

  • garlic, 1-2 cloves, crushed

  • olive oil

  • ground cumin, 1 tbsp

  • chopped tomatoes, 400g tin

  • kidney beans, 200g tin, rinsed and drained

  • cannellini beans, 200g tin, rinsed and drained

  • green beans, 100g, chopped

  • spinach, 100g, washed and roughly chopped

Cook the onion and garlic in a little olive oil until softened. Add the cumin and cook for a minute. Tip in the tomatoes, plus a cup of water and simmer for 10 minutes, until thickened. Add all the beans and cook for 5 minutes. Add the spinach and cook for another 5. Serve.


Thank you for reading the seventieth issue of Tone Glow. Let’s cook some beans.

If you appreciate what we do, please consider donating via Ko-fi or becoming a Patreon patron. Tone Glow is dedicated to forever providing its content for free, but please know that all our writers are paid for the work they do. All donations will be used for paying writers, and if we get enough money, Tone Glow will be able to publish issues more frequently.

Donate to Tone Glow

Become a Tone Glow Patron