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Dollars to Pounds: Seye

Just before interviewing Seye I checked his Twitter. His latest update said: “Good morning...right. Better get some clothes ob, got an interview to do". At the time he was in Portland, coming to the end of a raucous tour with pals The Very Best, which saw the 24-year-old double up as the opening act and their touring guitarist. It was 9.30AM his time, 5:30PM my time, and shamefully, I was still in my bathrobe, so I told him not to bother getting dressed. Much later he claimed to have at least partially taken my advice.

Seye (pronounced “Cher”—“But I’ve probably got longer legs than her: they take up 80% of my body!”) first caught my eye as the guitarist for UK popstrel Paloma Faith. The then-19-year-old’s confident swagger made him the perfect onstage foil for London’s most theatrical chanteuse. For a time he was the cool kid for hire, playing guitar for Ellie Goulding and The Noisettes in the studio, but for someone who’s quite clearly got game, the life of a session musician was definitely not his destiny. For the past two years he’s been perfecting his solo sound, a clattering and joyous collision of African rhythms and pop melodies with lyrics that mull over “love and youth, for better, for worse, being reckless or being high—not necessarily in a drugs way.”

Although his debut record isn’t expected until next year, his songs have already taken him to Malawi’s Lake of Stars festival, Senegal and Japan, not to mention a European tour with Lana Del Rey. Next week, he’s off on the Africa Express, which will see Seye playing (and travelling via train) alongside Damon Albarn, Kano, Amadou and Mariam and many more.

Check out this FADER exclusive—a Very Best remix of his new second single “Mexicana Bounce,” and read my interview below.

I first saw you playing with Paloma Faith years ago. Was touring with her your first experience as a professional musician? I started with her pre-signing, when we were doing clubs in Soho. I was playing for other people right up until I finished with her in November 2010, but she was definitely the artist that got the biggest and did the most stuff. I really cut my teeth and saw the rise and rise of an artist from the inside. I love her so much, I’ve got her Paloma dove tattooed on my neck.

How many other tattoos have you got? I’ve got two F-holes, like a violin, like that Man Ray picture on the bottom of my abs. I’ve got a treble clef heart thing on my chest. I’ve got a big sort of guitar-rose thing that says, “Rock, roll, seat, repeat” on my arm. I’ve got T-shirts that say the same thing. I’ve got the longitude and latitude of Lagos, Nigeria, where I was born, Ecuador where I did my junior and senior years of high school, and London where I’ve pretty much been bred.

How much of your formative life was spent in Nigeria? I was born in Nigeria and moved to Holland when I was two, where I stayed until I was six and then went back to Nigeria till I was nine. I actively remember living in Nigeria, but I’ve only lived there for five years in total in my life. I moved to Bromley, England, went to school till sixth form [junior year in high school], then moved to Ecuador.

Would you say that your itinerant lifestyle has in part influenced your eclectic music taste and influences? Absolutely, and being from quite a big family. I’ve got three brothers and two sisters and I’m the youngest. I’ve had musical hand-me-downs filtered through everybody. I was lucky to get my oldest sister’s love of ’80s MTV pop culture stuff, which I still aggressively love—Tears For Fears, Simple Minds, Deacon Blue, Go West, A-ha, everything! I’ve even got time for Chesney Hawks. Moving around and seeing lots of different things and generally having to be the outsider moving into a new situation, you’re actively open-minded. I love a lot of Spanish music, I speak a bit of Spanish as well, and I also have the African and Western too. It all adds to the pot.

Was it a culture shock moving to Bromley? Bromley is… man. I suppose it’s very, very different to Lagos. The weather was a shock, for one. I remember getting off the plane at Heathrow, it was December 6th, 1997, and me and my brother [Metronomy’s bassist Gbenga] spent ages going, “Huff, huff! I can see my breath!” The TV was completely different, the music people listened to was different. I didn’t understand when I walked in somewhere and people said “Alright?” I was like “Yeah, I’m alright. Why are you asking, do I not look fine?” Little things like that didn’t register. But it was a good culture shock.

I’m surprised that you so readily cite John Mayer’s as an influence. He’s an asshole! I was in a band before I moved to Ecuador, and we disbanded because I was moving away and people were moving to university, but just before that, my brother got me into John Mayer. I was like “Oh my god, this guy can write and play songs on his own”. Which doesn’t seem like that big of a revelation, but I was only used to writing for other people—for two guitars, bass and drums. But he could write interesting songs, well-articulated on the guitar and just play them acoustically. When I moved out to Ecuador, obviously I didn’t know anybody initially, I was just sitting in my room and started writing tunes. Often in the guise of John Mayer. Ha ha! His latest album is whack.

The chorus for "Mexicana Bounce" features the repeated refrain Bounce in my T-shirt, which just makes me think of boobs jiggling under a shirt. Was this the intention? Ha ha! Bounce in my T-shirt is a heartbeat, but boobs work. I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently. They definitely work. I’m going to start making t-shirts for it, too.  I can’t wait for that song to be known a bit so I go to gigs and girls are like, “Bounce in my T-shirt!” I’m down with that.

Dollars to Pounds: Seye