FEATURE ALBUM: SEIMS 3
I'd never heard of 'Math Rock' before, so when Sydney musician Simeon Bartholomew booked the studios to record his third 'math rock' album, I had to find out more. He's in no less than 10 bands, is a multi-instrumentalist, and recorded this album (including drums, bass, guitars, cellos, violins, violas and trumpets) in just 3 days. I caught up with him in August 2017 to chat about the record.
Let's start with a bit about you – your history, what you play, how long you've been doing it, etc….
Oh geez, where do I begin? I got into performing music when I was 10. I wanted to play the trumpet in the school band, and my Dad thought that wasn’t cool enough (being a Sabbath / Zep fan), so he bought me a guitar instead. I’ve been playing in bands professionally since I was 16, and live, bass guitar has always been my go-to.
You're in a number of bands – are they all of a similar style/sound?
The similarities aren’t via genre, but they’re through what they do and how they affect the audience. Genre-wise, they range from math-rock, post-rock, noise-rock, avant-garde jazz, pop, electro, punk, and more. But what floats my boat is polarising an audience and impacting someone’s ears. If it makes someone turn their head (either towards out of interest, or away out of disdain), then I’ll most likely be involved. The worst thing you can do in my eyes, is become someone else's backdrop. Currently, I’m a part of SEIMS (bass/synth live but more on the albums), GODSWOUNDS (bass), n000000000 (guitar), Birdman Or the Unexpected Virtue of a Tony Hawk Pro Skater Cover Band (bass / 2nd vox), Kurushimi (guest conductor), No Mandate (bass), Captain Kickarse & the Awesomes (bass), Nick Pes (bass), Violence In Action (conductor), We Dead (bass), and will be starting another project towards the end of this year. Yes, I really like music. No, I don’t have time for anything else.
This project you describe as a 'Math Rock' album. Tell me, what is Math Rock exactly?
I’ve always referred to the genre as “music for musicians”. It’s complex and challenging to both write and digest. Musically, there’s many sub-genres of math-rock in itself, with the classic “twinkle twinkle” tap-based guitar driven, the proggier/jazz fusion side, and even the post-hardcore side. I don’t know where SEIMS fits in the mix anymore, as over the past three records, it’s definitely evolved into its own beast.
This isn't the first SEIMS record. Tell me about the previous ones:
The first record was initially a living-room-project for myself. It wasn’t meant to be anything. It was just a creative outlet for myself whilst my role in GODSWOUNDS was dominating my calendar at the time. I had a couple of song ideas, and I was just in a “hey fuck it, I’ll just record these and put them on soundcloud sure whatever”. Those few songs garnered more attention than I thought it would. And here we are, 3 albums later!
From a production standpoint, the first two albums also feature myself entirely. I wrote everything. I produced everything. Recorded everything. Performed everything. Mixed everything. One of the biggest challenges that I faced going into the third album was “how do I make this just not sound like the first two albums but with new songs?” The answer was simple - don’t play everything. Don’t mix everything. Over the years, the live lineup has been graced with Australia’s finest musicians (this is still an understatement) and it felt stupid not to utilise them this time around. The first album made sense for me to do everything - there was no band. The second album was a growth push for me - the live lineup had just gone through a couple of changes, but I still wanted to finesse all my mistakes from making the first album.
Who played on this new record and what did they play?
The entire credits list can be found here: http://store.seims.net/album/3
Basically, the core music is made up of myself on guitars, basses, synths, piano, noise, and production, and our live drummer Chris Allison, on drums (who may I add, also arranged his parts). A slew of guests are included throughout, with both our current and previous trumpet players Paul Meo and Paul Murchison duelling on 'Cyan' (one of my favourite moments on the album), sleepmakeswaves’ Alex Wilson’s production gold on 'the Imperfect Black Interlude', and vocals by the incredibly talented Louise Nutting of Wartime Sweethearts on the album’s closer 'Imperfect Black'.
I’d had this concept kicking around since writing the 2nd album, and definitely wanted to create it as the third. I’m a huge art buff and am a massive fan of colour theory, and this idea seemed the perfect fit. And then it was a matter of delving into what those colours contributed - cyan being tint driven, magenta offering saturation values, and yellow creating luminance; and how that translated in a musical sense.
What's your approach to writing music?
I hate cabin fever, so I create cabin fever. I normally do my writing in large bursts in general, often finishing songs in 2-3 days throughout the late hours and early mornings. With this album, I took a month off work and bunkered down in my bedroom. I cancelled a lot of plans with friends / didn’t go to friends' gigs / didn’t listen to any other music. I also tend to write on not my main instruments (being bass / guitar). I find that if I put myself in an uncomfortable position, I’m forced to think more objectively about what I’m writing as opposed to just “playing something that feels good” - whether it’s objectively good or not. For this album, I wrote most tracks on a 25 key synth, and a Fender Bass VI, which sonically and harmonically forced me to explore a lot.
What inspires you as a musician and person?
As a musician and person, I’m inspired by the effects of the arts - seeing how a piece of content can change someone’s complete life / career / motives is an astounding feat. Whether it be music (as it did to me when I first witnessed Battles live in 2007), or paintings, or poetry, or even a 30 second TV commercial; creativity can do more than evoke the artists’ intent / feelings - it can literally change your audience’s lives. Knowing the scale of impact is my inspiration to constantly be at my best.
What are your musical influences, and in particular which of those come through on this record?
Musically I’m influenced by a lot - I love jazz (Mingus, Hancock, Brubeck, Davis etc.), post-punk / hardcore (The Dillinger Escape Plan, At the Drive-In, ...Trail of the Dead etc.), a lot of math-rock (Battles, Three Trapped Tigers, The Physics House Band, Jean Jean), and a lot of the in-betweens (Quadrupede, My Disco, Queens of the Stone Age, Hinterlandt, He Was Eaten By Owls), so I think there’s a lot of those sounds that float through the album in various forms. A lot of people ask me what SEIMS sounds like, and I never know how to answer. If you have one, please tell me!
What was your experience working with Tim Carr at One Flight Up?
The process was an absolute dream. Recording the first two albums solo in my living room meant I knew my equipment back-to-front, as well as my own abilities and techniques. One of the biggest things for me to do was to push the sound of this record, which meant I had to stop doing everything, and involve people I trust. I’d never worked with Tim before this album, but his name had floated around the scene with a few good friends recommending his ear and general opinion, and he’d made some of my favourite local releases. I’d met him briefly whilst filming Serious Beak record their 'Ankaa' album with him, and I liked his vibe. It made sense to start with him as the engineer. Chris (drummer) and I were being very specific with getting the right drum tone (especially since the first two albums featured a V-Drum kit, which meant I had complete control over the actual tone), and had sent him a few references of what I wanted. Tim instantly recommended One Flight Up as the place to get the sound we wanted. He was right.
Within an hour, we’d set up the kit completely mic’d, and pulled the dream sound from the get go. We spent extra time finessing the kick only because the bass tone on the album is so present (of course, because I’m a bass player first and foremost!) and it needed to cut through my bottom end. The amps available in-house were amazing; we mostly stuck with the Vox AC10 and the Silvertone 1472 because they suited the tone of the album. For the track 'Magenta', I had intended on using an acoustic guitar for one portion, and accidentally discovered the Grestch Honeydripper Resonator onsite - and that was a no-brainer to use!
We’d recorded the entire album in 3 days, including drums, lead vocals, gang vocals, guitars, basses, cellos, violins, violas, and trumpets. Tim was an absolute pleasure to work with, and truly does have a great ear. Communication was tight throughout the whole process, and no minute was spent wasted. I’d highly recommend One Flight Up as my go-to studio. The facilities and staff were amazing, and I think the results speak for themselves. I’ll be back, that’s for sure.
Out October 26 via Bird’s Robe Records and Art As Catharsis.
SEIMS photo credit: Dallas Maurer.