On their second album, Wild Seeds, Seeker Lover Keeper took a more collaborative approach to songwriting. While the process was challenging, it created a more cohesive record and deepened the three musicians’ friendship. “It’s a real relief when you can relax and lean into that,” says Sarah Blasko. “You don’t have to get everything right or have all the perfect ideas. It’s really nice to see each person take the song forward at a different moment and you can kind of rest in that.” By Bri Lee.
Supergroup Seeker Lover Keeper
The story of Seeker Lover Keeper forming after a long night in a Sydney pub has become the stuff of Australian music legend. It was 2007, and Sarah Blasko and Holly Throsby had both been to see Sally Seltmann play a show. Somehow, the three ended up at the Newtown local afterwards. All three had released their first albums in 2004, and all three found themselves constantly compared with one another. They got along well from the start and the original plan was to tour together, but ideas and connections escalated. The band’s self-titled album came out in 2011, debuting at No. 3 on the ARIA charts, and then they toured the nation, twice.
Few supergroups last beyond that first album: the nature of the beast is such that each individual has their own career trajectory and ego. But Seeker Lover Keeper have returned. This month, they released Wild Seeds, an album that speaks to the collaborative alchemy of three musicians who are closer in work and friendship than ever before.
“We decided that this time we should write together,” says Throsby, when asked to describe their new approach for this second album, “because with the first record that was the only thing we hadn’t collaborated on. The production, the arrangements, sharing vocal duties on songs, we had all shared that work. But for this one we thought it would make us feel more like a band if we were to write together as well.” Blasko adds: “We wanted to produce it ourselves, we wanted it to be way more collaborative, and just for everything to be all-in.”
It wasn’t easy at first. “There were definitely awkward moments,” says Throsby. “Kind of like: how do you start?” The three would sit in her dingy Sydenham studio together – “a wine and cheese situation” by Throsby’s description – and just talk. “We also hadn’t seen each other for a long time. We had a lot of catching up to do. But then a lot of the songs came out of those conversations about what we’d been doing and where we were at.” Seltmann floated a “little idea with a chord progression” and it took off with the other two. That track became the first finished single, “Superstar”.
The rest of the songs came together through collaboration, too, with each woman taking turns in bringing ideas to the table. At this point, the interview descends into many puns about “seeds of ideas” for the album “taking root”. It emerges that although all three women have spent years in and out of collaborations with other producers and musicians, Seltmann was the only one with experience co-writing lyrics. “When I was younger I never would have written songs with people and it was very private and secret,” she explains, “and I was sort of expressing my deepest emotions, but then as I grew up it changed, and now I’ve worked with a lot of singers, trying to help them articulate things.” Seltmann has written with a range of artists, including on Feist’s “1234”. More laughter erupts as Throsby describes Seltmann’s “panic eyebrows” when she offered up an idea and waited to hear feedback from the other two: “Is that right? Is that wrong?”
It proved harder for Blasko and Throsby to open up. “Writing lyrics together is very different… you’re used to that privacy of going into a room, and I found that very confronting, just having to shout out ideas,” says Blasko. Protecting one another’s feelings from rejection, she adds, was a part of that process. “I think we all got better at knowing which ideas were going to fly with each person as we went along – ‘Oh, Holly’s not going to like that,’ we’d say out loud.” Once they got going, though, Blasko found the collaboration liberating: “It’s a real relief when you can relax and lean into that. You don’t have to get everything right or have all the perfect ideas. It’s really nice to see each person take the song forward at a different moment and you can kind of rest in that.”
“Writing the songs together, given that we did have to discuss the subject matter before writing the lyrics… I feel like it gave the lyrics this kind of simplicity and clarity,” says Throsby. “It’s quite direct and that’s something that is different on this record. It has a sort of a weight to it, more of a through-line across the whole thing and what it’s trying to say.” Seltmann describes the result with pride as “more cohesive as a body of work… even the way that it sounds, and the choices of instruments”.
It’s clear the three work so well together because they meet at the rare intersection of being both creative and driven. “We love to be working,” says Seltmann. Throsby adds: “I feel like we do really share a certain creative spirit and work ethic. You kind of have to have both to actually make anything.” Blasko points out they all know creatives who “don’t like to finish things”.
There’s more laughter as someone mentions that Blasko was awarded the nickname “Blasmin” because she was “so good at admin” and all three agree with Throsby’s comment that it’s “no longer cute” for someone to say they’re simply “bad at emails”. Without the work and the focus, inspiration and creativity don’t get you very far.
To describe each individual’s life in the eight years between Seeker Lover Keeper’s two albums as “busy” would be an understatement. Throsby had a child and published two novels, Seltmann also published a novel and Blasko also had a baby. That’s not including the albums and musical projects between them – Blasko released three albums, Throsby and Seltmann one each, with Seltmann writing for television as well.
In 2016, when Blasko was the artist in residence on Double J radio, she brought Throsby and Seltmann in for an interview. It was there, on air, that they decided to get the band back together.
“I felt like the recording process was just so much easier,” says Throsby of their second time around, acknowledging the band learnt from the mistakes they made while recording their first album. “We went to New York, and there were a few elements that didn’t quite work with our process, the studio and the producer… We had to traipse across New York to try to find a piano that was the right sound for us. Sally had to have a full-body massage.” Seltmann says with a laugh, “I had a meltdown”, before Throsby concludes that it was a “kind of comedy of errors”.
This time they wanted to do it close to home, somewhere comfortable and relaxed with the right sound. Seltmann describes a little book they kept, sharing back and forth, allocating: “Holly, piano, Monday morning”; there’s a note from Blasko saying, “Take seven: brilliant, maybe a little bit more feeling in the chorus.”
But no project is entirely smooth-sailing. Blasko describes a block between the 2016 reunion and the eventual recording: “At a certain point after we’d been writing at [Holly’s] studio for a while we did start to feel like we weren’t coming up with as fresh ideas. When I’ve written my own records, it’s the same. You get really excited writing the first few songs and then you kind of struggle a little more, then you kind of take a break. Taking a break from any writing process is really important. We kind of naturally took a break. I did another record. Holly’s book had just come out. A few things kind of happened…”
Throsby picks up the thread: “And then I can’t remember what prompted us to start again but suddenly everyone felt ready, and we organised these sessions at Sarah’s house in Camperdown, and they were super productive and focused.” Throsby says the Sydenham studio she was renting at the time was “kind of a horrible place” under the flight path, but Seltmann leaps to its defence: “I love that – writing songs on broken guitars and in a crap little room. You’re not relying on all this snazzy technical stuff. You’re just relying on your mind and the melody.”
Blasko says it was a conscious choice to make Wild Seeds an uplifting record. That intent was born out of seeing the way their audience responded to their music while they were touring the first album. “People really loved seeing the three women together,” she says. “We’d often have daughters, mothers and grandmothers coming along to the shows together. And it felt like that was really an energy.”
Seltmann adds: “People like seeing that, too, that we’re actually all just good friends. I don’t know if it was subconsciously from that – there are quite a few songs on the new album about friendship, or just supporting your close friends, or friends that you love, and that felt like something we just tended to write about. And also, I think, taking your shoes off and feeling the earth under your feet and nature and that sort of thing…”
Throsby ties things up: “There’s a certain feeling of groundedness that we might have now that we didn’t have as much then.” She talks about how different she was back in 2011. “I felt like I was so flighty and all-over-the-shop in a lot of ways in my life at that point,” she says. “I guess that’s what the song ‘Wild Seeds’ is about in a way, looking back on the more messy times of your life, which Yael [Stone] in that video really just so beautifully captures.”
The music video Throsby is referring to is one of the three released so far from the album. Each features only one actress looking directly at camera throughout, but the videos are fantastically distinct because of each woman’s input. In “Wild Seeds”, Yael Stone is practically vibrating with jumpy, punchy energy. Wearing an outfit that channels her Polish heritage, Magda Szubanski is deliberate as she removes her stage make-up in “Let It Out”, while Madeleine Madden is vulnerable and childlike by comparison in “Superstar”.
The videos are directed by Natalie van den Dungen, who also directed the three video clips released for the band’s first album. “We wanted to follow on from the last record,” says Blasko, “because we’d had three men, and we really enjoyed that part of it and it gave each of the songs a kind of unique feeling. But this time we naturally just thought that it would be great if it was three women. We wanted them to have a lot of freedom, so we just gave them a pretty loose idea of what we wanted them to think about. We thought it’d be interesting to deal with or play with the idea of performing femininity.”
Throsby describes the band sitting together compiling a “dream list” of people they wanted for each video, and how thrilled they were when each said yes. “We felt all three of them really represented ideas that we strongly support, and to have them interpret our songs was just a huge privilege.” In 2010, Madden became the first teenager in Australia to deliver an address to the nation, speaking on the future of Indigenous Australians. “She delivered that address when she was 13,” says Throsby, in awe. She adds that Szubanski has been “such a prime mover and an agent for change around the marriage equality campaign”, while Stone “has obviously spoken in such an intelligent and nuanced way about issues around inequality and gender in the film industry”.
“Let It Out”, Wild Seeds’ first single, came out in May, and the buzz around the album has been building since. The band staged a series of sold-out intimate live shows in Sydney and Melbourne in July, ahead of the album’s release in August and a national tour in September.
“I really enjoy the energy when we get together,” says Blasko. “There’s a real neuroticism, sometimes we’re all talking over each other, and we’re oddly relaxed at the same time, then we do these great things together.”
“Playing live, when you see people responding…” Seltmann tries to explain, “when you’re on stage and you see a group of people just loving it, and you’re bringing something deep into their soul…” Blasko and Throsby start laughing again. Blasko says, “That’s all it is!” The final word goes to Throsby: “Just touching people at the very core of their essence and being, that’s all.”
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 17, 2019 as "Three of hearts".
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