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Hi Jack and Harry! Thanks so much for talking to me today! This issue of Mindful Melody is a ‘Slow Down and Simplify’ special which fits perfectly with your recent EP ‘Piano Sessions’. Where did the idea come from to release these beautiful, re-worked piano acoustic versions of some of your old songs?
Harry: I don’t know really – I’ve got a piano in the house now and I was just sat there and just having a go at it, thinking it would be cool to do ‘Oceans’ on piano.
Jack: Yeah, I’ve often heard him play versions of the songs and they’re always gorgeous. I always thought that one day we would maybe surprise people at a show and do a piano version of the tracks. With us not being able to see each other as much with the whole lockdown, Harry is able to record stuff at home and we’ve been working from home just like everybody else. Usually we write together in a room and we haven’t been able to do that so it was a good thing to go back to the old stuff and bring it back in a new way. They came out really well, they are really relaxed and it gives a whole new feel to the songs.
I have to say I was extremely excited when I saw the EP; ‘Atlantis’, ‘Wildfire’ and ‘Oceans’ are my three favourite Seafret songs – and it was also exciting to see something new on there with ‘Parachute’. What was it about these particular songs that warranted their inclusion in this project?
H: I think they’re the songs that get the most reaction at the minute from the fans. That’s because they are really quite meaningful songs so to slow them down and strip them back to just the piano was quite interesting. We released them four, five and six years ago some of them, so it’s a while since we delved into those songs again, so it was really nice to rework it.
J: Yeah, it was great to get back into that mindset. When we actually wrote them some of them came together really fast, it’s like we write them, record them, produce them and then it’s done. They kind of take on their own life after that and people interact with them. You don’t know what songs are going to connect with people but those are the songs that have really pushed on Seafret as a band so it felt right to choose them. We then wanted to add something new to it as well which is why ‘Parachute’ is on there. It’s almost a demo on that EP really because we will do a proper version of that track, but it just felt perfect in that simple format for that EP.
H: Three classics and a new one!
I love the production on this EP – the raw and honest feel of just letting the recording come through in its natural form creates something really emotive and special. This, however, is coupled with a great quality of mixing and instrumentation which maintains the feel of these songs – building up and fading away in all the same places as the originals. Was there a particular sound that you wanted to achieve with all of the songs from the outset, or was it more a case of ‘Let’s see what these sound like with the piano?’
H: Yeah, exactly the latter - ‘Let’s see how it comes out!’ It was so nice to add some production, it would have been nice just piano and vocal but it was nice to have a bit more dynamic with the other instruments. We did the first one and we thought, ‘That’s so cool’ and then we were trying to keep on that vibe with the rest.
J: We had no intention of changing the songs dramatically, we just wanted to give them a different flavour and see how it would all work together. We do that with songs when we are writing; we will write something and I might be writing lyrics to it while it’s being produced up in the studio, but then we just strip it back to guitar and vocal and sing it in the room. It’s always pretty intense doing it; it’s a make or break time for a song, but if it feels strong in that simplistic form you know you’re onto a bit of a winner, you know the song is emotionally strong and it isn’t just a case of people listening to the drums.
Although not the original intention of the song, I feel that ‘Oceans’ (in its original or ‘Piano Sessions’ form) would particularly resonate with people over the last year. The title line ‘It feels like there’s oceans between me and you’ underlines perfectly the situation in which many people find themselves, kept apart from loved ones. Can you shed some light on the original inspiration behind the song and how you think the pandemic may have given it a new inflection?
J: When we wrote the song it was when we’d moved from our hometown in the North-East of England to London. It was all new to us and we felt like we were leaving all of our loved ones behind - that was the original. ‘Atlantis’ too was just born from failing relationships from just never being there. A lot of the songs can be interpreted in different ways, we don’t like to nail it to one thing, I think that is the appeal of those songs. Like ‘Oceans’, it’s so simple and it came together so fast, didn't it?
H: Yeah, in a few hours in an afternoon. We were at this point where we had moved from home down to London and I was only 18 at the time and Jack wasn’t much older and it was all new. They did come from that place and I can see why it is resonating now because we haven’t been able to see anyone for ages, it’s kind of the same emotion.
J: A lot of people are going through a similar thing now even when they’re just down the road from each other, feeling like there’s oceans between them when they can’t see each other. Hopefully we are through the most of it now, I’m ready for things to open back up.
‘Wildfire’ featured a couple of years ago in the Hollywood blockbuster ‘The Longest Ride’ starring Scott Eastwood. Can you tell me how this came about, and what was your reaction to the song being used?
H: It was so random, it just came about.
J: We just got an email didn’t we?
H: We hadn’t even released the song yet either so we had to rush and release it. It was out of the blue, I guess the guy doing music on the film just thought it was perfect for it. I’ve watched it and I have to say it's pretty perfect for that scene. J: I didn’t watch it for years! I was kind of embarrassed by things and I just couldn’t watch it! I finally did watch it on a plane.
H: Yeah, we both did! We both watched it on a plane.
J: It was really cool, it was right at the end, it’s like the whole last scene of the film. I had friends and family messaging me and I remember my grandparents went to watch it at the cinema and were messaging me telling me that they’d been crying!
H: It was amazing to get, what a thing to have! We are still buzzing from it now!
One thing I love about your music is how emotive and honest it is – can you shed some light on your songwriting process and how much of an inspiration your emotions and experiences become when putting music together?
H: It starts most of the time from a bit of music, whether I’ve got a bit of piano or guitar, and we’ll build from there and get melodies. I think that starts the emotion off because the whole feel of the song will come from this piece of music. It’s all kind of subconscious. You explained it well once Jack – it’s almost a delay, isn’t it?
J: Yeah, it is a bit like that. Something sad could happen now, that doesn’t necessarily mean we just write sad songs. You have to process the situation and it could be a year later, you’re really happy and someone will ask to listen to your latest song and it’s so sad! They’ll be asking, ‘Are you alright?’ - well I wasn’t at one point! We always send each other ideas, but it tends to be Harry on guitar mostly, although a lot more piano now because he’s gotten a lot better at it. Then I’ll just pick up on it, it will make me feel things, I’ll start hearing melodies from notes that have been played.
H: And then he’ll send that back to me, and then I can feel what Jack’s feeling. This is more about the last year where it’s all been over Zoom. But yeah, then I’ll feel a bit more and add something and send it back to Jack and it just goes through that process. Jack finishes the lyric off almost with the track done.
J: Usually I just send Harry melodies on piano – I can’t really play it but I can hear in my head what the notes are, I’ll record that and send it over. If it gets approved then I’ll write the lyrics to it, and usually by that point I’ve been hearing lyrics and I just build from that and the song takes its shape. I know a lot of people have a concept at the start of the song, for example a song called ‘Tornado’, then you just fill the verse with everything to do with wind! A lot of the time we don’t do that, we might not know what the song is called until the end. That’s exciting as well, it’s a slower way to do it but the song just builds in itself and gets more exciting.
It’s been highly publicised that the origin of Seafret was the two of you hearing each other at an open mic night in 2011. Can you tell me a little more about what drew you to each other, and whether ten years ago you imagined you would be where you are now?
J: No! No to the last bit!
H: I’m sure Jack will tell you, but it was the first time he’d ever played in front of anybody and I think he’d only been singing a few weeks! He just sat there on this chair and it was so honest, and the voice that you hear now…
J: …It was a lot more raspy…
H: It was like Paolo Nutini had swallowed something!
J: Yeah that was a scary night! It was candle lit with no microphone. It was my first time going and Harry did a couple of songs playing banjo and double bass. He was probably 15 or 16 and was absolutely rapid on the banjo! You could hear people in the room saying, ‘That’s Harry Draper’, you knew it was good and he was known to be good, and he was a child! I didn’t really think anything of that, it’s not like I saw that and thought, ‘I’m going to ask him to play with me’, I didn’t know him! Harry’s dad said that we should play together, our parents knew each other.
H: Yeah, small town - everyone knows of everyone.
J: Yeah, it just went from there, his dad said I should go to their house and play. I went and had to play to everyone to get “accepted”, which was probably the scariest gig I’ve done in my life! My voice was way different, I could hit notes but I had weird tone going on. If I listen back to early recordings it doesn’t sound like me! I’m grateful to Harry and his family for telling me that I’m a good singer, because if I’d heard myself I might have said, 'Maybe you don’t want to do this anymore!' I’m grateful that they saw the potential in me.
Being a musician obviously requires a lot of travel and working with a lot of people. How have you both found navigating this unique situation we find ourselves in, and what are you most looking forward to doing when it’s over?
H: It’s actually been alright – obviously the situation is bad, but personally it’s been okay. We’re so busy and we have been for quite a few years, going from Russia to Brazil and all over in-between! It’s been quite nice to have this time to reset, I think it’s important to do that because you get lost in everything and in yourself. As soon as we had that reset we started writing more, we are writing more now than we have ever written since we first started out. We are missing gigs now, definitely.
J: We used to come off tour and then we’d have bits in between like writing and recording, a few days of this and a few days of that. With the current situation it’s been weird, at the start we didn’t feel like writing much, we weren’t contacting each other all the time. It just got to a point where Harry would send me an idea, and I’d send Harry one, then he’d send another and I’d send another. It got to the point where I was thinking, 'I’m behind now I’ve got six ideas to write!' I could’ve been sent those ideas and not written anything to them. Even though the world has stopped a lot goes on and still happens in life, so you have all these different experiences. I think it took a while for our heads to get round it. It’s about having that light at the end of the tunnel, even if it’s a date set by the government, everyone has that in their minds that they want to get to that. When our gigs were getting rearranged we started thinking, 'Well, come six months time we may be touring again', so now we’ve got this window that’s getting smaller and smaller! Suddenly the songs start coming, it’s really good, it’s kick-started it up again.
H: Now the gigs are being pushed back again, most of them are next year now, whether they’ll happen I’m not sure.
J: I realise now that not playing, I do feel it in myself. We go and do a tour, and when we come back we are relaxed. It’s like shifting a load of emotive junk in your head, it’s an outlet for it. When we don’t have that you feel like you’re stuck inside and that you should be creating and that you’re losing time. To start thinking about going back out and doing it is amazing. Sometimes it gets me nervous…
H:…Oh, we’ll be nervous! It’s been so long, we were so used to it! I’ll need a few beers beforehand!
You’ve obviously come a long way from where you started – was there a certain moment where you realised what you’ve achieved or how far you’ve come?
H: There’s loads! We go to Russia, which is mad, and there’s loads of people there, and then we go to Brazil.
J: I remember before we went to Russia my family saying, ‘You can’t go, it’s too dangerous’, just because of what they see in the news. You get there and it’s the nicest place! We get people turning up at airports who’ve waited for us in all these different countries. We go places that to me are in the middle of nowhere, I had no idea where it was and we are playing there! There’s places we go and there’s people queueing outside, those moments are mental! That’s why we are always grateful. We’ve had to take risks and put ourselves out there, perform in small places and intense situations that would scare a lot of people. We went to America and just went round and played at all of the big film companies with just a guitar and no microphone! We’d just turn up at 11am and play in the office. We were in America for the first time and I was 19, it was scary! Everyone would be in shorts and I’d be in my black skinny jeans and leather boots!
H: We weren’t even old enough to get a pint!
Finally, one thing we ask all of our interviewees is to name their top three songs that relate to mental health. What would be your top three?
José González - 'Heartbeats'
The Cinematic Orchestra - 'To Build a Home'
Nirvana – 'Lounge Act'
Arcade Fire – 'Wake Up'
Tré Burt – 'What Good'
Fleetwood Mac – 'Albatross'
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