London’s Seye Adelekan is an exceptionally gifted artist and musician that deserves to be noted of.
Undoubtedly many people will recognise Mr Adelekan as the real life counterpart of the 3D animated character, Murdoc, from the Gorillaz, given that the Nigerian-born musician has been the live bassist for the band since 2017. You may also know him due to his session or touring work with the likes of Paloma Faith, Lana Del Rey, Damon Albarn, to name a few. Or perhaps you know of Seye due to his brother Olugbenga, who plays in Metronomy. What you might not be aware of is that Seye is an extremely gifted solo artist. Arguably, one that deserves far more recognition that he currently receives. Fundamentally, the vocalist and multi-instrumentalist has always been a solo artist first and foremost.
In 2011, at the age of 23-years-old, the singer was offered his first ever record deal as a solo artist yet due to certain reasons the deal ended, leaving Seye’s confidence and self-belief knocked. Throughout the rest of the roaring 2010s, the singer did share the odd single here and there, such as the upbeat and playful Mexicana Bounce in 2012, but mainly he focused on perfecting his craft via playing with a handful of talented acts. During this period of time, the Londoner has had many highs in his career. He’s travelled the world, played headliner slots at major festivals, and generally lived a life that only most musicians could dream of. Although, he also knows what it is like to experience the lows of being a successful musician. Seye has faced many obstacles and has battled demons, leading him to check into rehab, as well as undergo therapy.
Now, however, Seye Adelekan is in the best possible space he could be. The songwriter is sober, happier, and instilled with a newfound sense of confidence. Resulting in the singer finally stepping out again as an artist in his own right and producing some of his best work yet. This time round, after recording a handful of tracks during a trip to Iceland, Seye’s solo material is far more atmospheric and sonically rich. Seye dropped the utterly gorgeous debut track A River earlier this year and it boasts tender vocals and delicate instrumentation. It was the first song to be lifted from his forthcoming EP of the same name which the artist is releasing as a fully independent artist in the near future. Most recently the rising artist has shared another slice from the extended play, a mesmerising, nuanced, and bossa-nova-esque single called Homerton Ocean View. If you’ve been following Seye’s journey at all, then it truly feels like a very exciting point for the musician, in a way it seems like he’s only just getting started.
In conversation with 1883 Magazine’s Cameron Poole, Seye Adelekan discusses Homerton Ocean View, what he’s learnt as an independent artist, and what he wants to manifest for himself in 2024.
Seye, first of all, I need to start by saying congratulations on passing your driving test earlier last month! How are you getting on and driving in London must not be fun!
Yeah, I haven’t got a motor. I just passed. Actually, where I live, which is in Homerton, like the song, I think they’re also changing the ULEZ and all of that stuff literally within the next few weeks. I wouldn’t even know what car to get yet. Yeah, London is a bit of a mad one. I will get a car, but I still need to do my Pass Plus and learn how to drive on the bloody motorway and all of those things. Yeah, I’m not necessarily in a rush to get a car, but I just needed to get this done. It’s like, I’m 35. I should probably know how to drive.
Let’s chat about the new single, Homerton Ocean View. Could you please tell us a bit about how it came to life? I know it was recorded in Iceland.
Yeah, we started it in Iceland. All the songs from this current crop of music, I started in Iceland last November. I went out there with my friend Charlie, who’s my co-producer, co-writer friend, who I grew up with. We went to high school together. We’ve known each other since we were 13. I went out with him and my friend Eve Fernandez, who plays bass on this song. We just set up a studio in this friend’s front room. We just wrote for two weeks. We didn’t have a plan of what was going to come out, but this song was one of the ideas that started out there. There’s something about writing music. It was November, so it was winter time. The sun was coming up at 11:00AM, and it was going down at 2:30PM.
The morning was really long, and there was this lovely coffee-filled, low-burning start to the day. This hippy beat, a kind of bossa nova feel came out naturally at that time. A lot of the songs that are from this collection are really informed by where they were written, for different reasons.
A River has a quite cold, cinematic feeling to it. But that’s literally the view that we had because there was floor to ceiling windows overlooking a volcano and water. The sun was coming up really ominously and slowly in the morning and that helped inspire the songs. But then there was also the softness about the mornings in Iceland and a sort of slowness of just wanting to live in that point which is not quite day but not quite night.
What is your favourite musical element in Homerton Ocean View, for me the strings really elevate it …
Yeah, that was Izzi Dunn, who’s an amazing string arranger, player, and artist. I know her through working with Gorillaz and with Damon. She’s sort of our demon on the strings. Yeah, I think that also just adds that 60s cinematic feel to the song. That’s definitely my favourite part because when the strings really kick in, that’s also when the bass kicks in, and that’s when the drumbeat kicks up. It’s like we’re really off to the races by that point. It’s been a beautiful dynamic build up until then, and then you get this ahhh, this release. But yeah, it feels like it’s going from black and white to technicolour, and it’s so beautiful.
As it’s been mentioned, we know A River and Homerton Ocean View is from your forthcoming new EP. What have you learnt about yourself and the music industry via undertaking this whole project as a fully independent artist? Because you’ve literally been doing it all, PR, marketing, gig booker etc.
Yeah. It’s been great, but it’s been really hard. I actually didn’t realise how exhausting it can be. Over the past few months, I’ve sent hundreds of emails, hundreds of them. I’ve had to even just track down emails [and] go to websites like Unsigned Guide and Get Directory, and literally go through these 200 blogs one by one to find the name of the person, get their email, and send them an email [about my music]. Also, producing the music videos, I did a video for A River and a video for Homerton with the same crew, this wonderful mixture of friends, young students from Manchester and from down here, in London. We put together for £500 these two very different music videos, mainly fuelled by enthusiasm and just wanting to get something cool done.
But getting that done, doing all the social media, which I’m still working out how to do well—I’m terrible at TikTok. I’ve got basically no presence there. But Instagram, I’ve got a bit more of a hold on. But you’ve also got Facebook, and you’ve also got Threads and YouTube. There’s so much involved, and also while trying to do gigs, trying to get a booking via an agent, and all of these things. So, I’ve got a newfound respect for all these other jobs: what a manager would be doing, what a booking agent would be doing, what a press agent would be doing, and what a playlist agent would be doing, because I’m having to do all that myself.
In some ways, I feel like I’m spreading myself a bit too thin but I’m also learning a lot. I think as I start giving these other responsibilities away, as hopefully things start to build up, as I probably take on a bit more help, I’ll at least know a bit more about what is involved, and what I do want and what I don’t want in this regard, where I want to focus my energies, where I know I’m not good at, or where I definitely need help.
Yeah, I’m proud of myself that I’ve actually done at least something half decent up until this point. It hasn’t been perfect, but I think it’s been pretty good. Yeah, I’m knackered, but I’m happy about it.
You should be proud. At the end of the day, it’s a bit overwhelming isn’t it, there are so many moving parts. It’s tough. I don’t like the term ‘content creator’ but it feels like artists have to do so many things now. You want to focus on just the music but now you also need to make TikToks, it has to be done.
Yeah, it has to be done. I think that realisation that actually, to be in the game, you’ve got to play it. But also, you can play it how you want to play it. I think that’s where I’ve stumbled. Where I’m actually starting to probably go, instead of trying to follow a trend, or instead of trying to shoehorn what you do into what other people are doing on TikTok or whatever cycle, for example, one of my best viewed reels recently was when I passed my driving test, and when I spoke about the challenge of having something that big to celebrate, but I’m a sober person. I’m over four and a half years clean, sober. It’s like, ‘I’ve had such a great day, but it’s quite a challenge. I didn’t see this coming, this little bump in the road. It’s like ‘Oh, man, I really feel like I want to drink.’
When I opened up about that on the reel, it suddenly got a bump in response because it was personal to me. There was something about that translated [on social media]. I think that’s where I want to start heading a bit more in terms of social media, is being as personable and personal as possible while existing in this crazy ecosystem of the algorithm overlords.
I understand, it clearly did well because it was something authentic from yourself. A lot of artists potentially put out things which are more cold and calculated. I’m sure anyone who follows you on social media is here for your music and for your journey. But you shouldn’t have to give everything personal away to people on the internet though.
Yeah, [and] what’s appropriate. Yeah, because then there’s the flip side of that and the other extreme. You see it particularly with YouTube influencers, where they’re like, ‘Our first house,’ and then they’re going through this terrible break-up. We’re the first to know about it, and it’s really like, ‘Whoa, that’s a bit strange.’ They are sharing something that’s relevant and something that’s personal, but also keeping something about yourself to yourself… I think that’s the way to go.
I just want to take a moment because I’m not sure if you remember but this is the second time we’ve met. We met seven years ago at London’s 100 Club for your friend Jeff wootton’s solo show. For anyone who has been following your journey, you’ve been sober for some time now. So I hope you are so proud of how far you’ve come. You’ve always wanted to make solo music but do you think becoming sober and working on yourself has helped instil a certain level of confidence to finally properly pursue your solo career?
Yeah, good question. I mean, it’s definitely something that I don’t think I would have had the confidence to do had I still been drinking. By the end, when I gave up everything, it was really bad. I’m just happy to be alive. But there’s something about having the clarity of mind. There’s something about just having the time in the day because even though I’m not necessarily super organised, I manage to do quite a lot of things in 24 hours. I only would be able to do that if my focus isn’t just to get pissed and get high every day. I can do the things I need to do and try and get some rest. To be honest, one of the reasons why I was drinking so much is because I was still quite sad about how things broke down: I had a record deal when I was in my early twenties and that all fell apart. I was just so lost. That was really when things really started to take a bit of a nosedive.
Slowly over the decades after that, it just got worse and worse and worse. Yeah, I think since stopping everything, I’ve slowly over the past four years been creeping my way to shedding some of that insecurity and being able to confidently put stuff out. There are still insecurities and there’s still trepidation there but I think bravery isn’t doing something in the absence of fear, it’s being afraid and doing it anyway. I don’t think I would have been able to get past the insecurities to still get over the line and just put something out. I’m trying not to watch the numbers of how well the songs are doing. That’s important to an extent, but what I’ve gained from it in terms of just my personal life, my mental health, just actually having something out finally, like a release after ten years, has been incalculable and invaluable. I don’t even know where to even put that.
It’s just people know I do my own music, and for the longest time, people only thought of me as a sideman. I think people are still just a bit freaked out and just bit working out what [I do] because they know me so well for Gorillaz, so well for Damon Albarn, Jeff, Paloma Faith, KT Tunstall, and all these other things that I’ve done. But I think people are still just like ‘Oh, damn, he can do music. Oh, it’s not what I expected. Oh, you’ve got this string to your bow now.’ But that’s quite fun to see, the surprise in other people. I’m quite surprised in myself that I’ve actually got to this point.
Given the fact that you’ve toured and worked with many well known artists over the years such as Lana Del Rey, Emili Sandé, Paloma Faith and most recently your continued work with Gorillaz, how do you think these incredible experiences and working with these global talents have helped you better yourself as a solo artist?
To be honest, I think a lot of those things are subconscious. One of the main things, and one thing I think is probably consistent with any great artist that I know, is that what makes them great is that they surround themselves with great people. Damon, for example, is a great collaborator. He’s always working with loads of different people. But also, all the bands that he has are always top tier people. You get better by being around people who are potentially better than yourself. Yeah, I think he’s definitely taught me the most about collaboration and how that keeps you fresh. It just makes you realise the pool of things that you can draw upon, just working with as many diverse, interesting people as possible—people who play things you can’t play, people who approach music in ways you don’t approach them, people who hear things differently and who are able to tell you things that you don’t necessarily want to hear or know.
Paloma’s probably taught me the most about hard work. Well, actually, they all work crazy hard actually. But Paloma, in particular, I remember she said to me that ‘I’m going to be a household name one day,’ and was doing every single thing in her power to do that and she is one. That kind of determination and vision, I think is quite special. She really taught me a lot about drive and how you shouldn’t be getting dragged along by your manager with their ideas. They’re here to facilitate your ideas. Respect to my old manager, when I was in my early twenties, he did his best, because it was like pulling teeth working with me because I had no motivation.I didn’t really have any idea about what I wanted to do. I was being dragged along or swept along, whereas I wasn’t really steering the ship or driving the ship.
Whereas now, I’m getting a lot better at running with an idea of mine, or trying to get people on board with an idea of mine, and then outsourcing the things that I can’t do or asking for help when I can’t do something. Which I guess is another one of the humbling things about doing all of this myself, is that, obviously, I can’t do everything. I’ve got no budget, basically. It’s like, how can I get help from any quarter possible, you know?
Yeah, so you learn a lot. I think just being in the environment around these people who have achieved so much, and just being near it, I think I’m also just put in contact with loads of cool people. People obviously take you a bit seriously if you have them on your CV.
What have been the most notable experiences that have stuck with you through your career so far? For example, perhaps it’s being welcomed by the gorillaz fans, working with the late great drummer Tony Allen, or perhaps getting The Pink Thunder signature bass opportunity, literally there must so much that comes to mind…
There are so many highlights. Yeah, one would be Africa Express 2012, where I got to play with Sir Paul McCartney, Tony Allen, John Paul Jones, Bassekou Kouyate, and obviously, Damon. So many incredible people. That’s a career highlight, and that’s one for the ages, really. If you’re involved in Africa Express, I think you’re bonded with those people for life, really. Rest in peace, Uncle Tony. But also, I remember just my first gigs. In fact, I played a show last night and I opened for my friend Jon Abraham at Stanley Arts in South London. One of my best mates, Joe Thwaites, who was the guitarist in my first band when I was in high school, he was there. We see each other all the time. But our bass player, Chaz Wan, who we hadn’t seen for a long time, he was also there, and it was just something so fun.
We used to play the Tunbridge Wells Forum when we were like fourteen. We played Camden Barfly and Metro, and Highbury Garage. I’ve been doing it for so long, and then going on from that to when I moved to Ecuador. I was on my own during sixth form. I did my sixth form out there. But I had my acoustic guitar. I was listening a lot to John Mayer at the time, so I was just playing shows in bars on my own, barely speaking Spanish in this other country. Then I moved back here, and I started playing with Jeremy Warmsley on bass, but also doing open mic nights all the time and booking my own gigs on MySpace.
I think back to those early gigs, and the distance between that and Coachella this year with Gorillaz is so vast. But I’m just as proud of the huge 90,000-capacity gigs as the nineteen of our friends who came to see us play in the back of a church hall when were fifteen because I feel like the one informed the other. I like to think that I’ve treated each one with as much respect, and I kind of feel the same about all of them. I love doing this. I have done it, and I did it for a very long time for no money and just for fun. Yeah, those are probably highlights for me.
Once you’re in certain circles, some people may assume that starting and building a solo career and maintaining a career will be easy but I don’t think that is the case at all. Are there any myths you would like to dispel about what it’s like being a successful working musician?
Yeah, it’s again, the case of we live in the social media age, and what you see is very curated by design. Again, I don’t think you should just be seeing it every single second of every day. But yeah, it’s not as glamorous as it looks. Most people, and this is even in terms of people who want to do music for a living, but most people would not be able to hack being on the road for eighteen months. Going away for a month and a half, going home for a week, going away for a month and a half, going home for a week; going away for two weeks, going home for three days; going away for two months, coming back for two weeks. It’s so hard to be consistently good at your gig, and then all the other stuff that comes around it in life. Keeping maybe your relationship alive, and keeping on top of things at home, and staying in contact with friends, and looking after your health, like eating well, and all of these things. As well as psychologically doing what you do really well, it’s rock hard.
If you see a band and it’s a really great show, and you know they’re in the middle of a two month run, [then] hats off. You should take your hat off to that band, if it’s even half good, because it’s brutal. You get sick, you have to crack on. Life just keeps happening, and you just have to keep doing it. I’m not saying woe is me and it’s not fun because it’s great. I’s great, but it’s not easy no matter what level you get to. In fact, the higher the level, just because the bands aren’t setting up the show or whatever, I mean, the pressure just gets immense. It’s [an] insane thing to do. Headlining a festival is insane. It’s great to do, but also the way down, if it goes badly, is so far.
If your 2012 track Mexicana Bounce acts as snapshot at the very start of your career, what does your forthcoming EP says about yourself in 2023?
A good question. I think there’s definitely a maturity. Mexicana Bounce, I love that song. It’s super bright, super colourful, and more immediate actually than some of the stuff I’m doing now. But I think that makes a lot more sense that that is a really good snapshot of where I was at that age. I just take a bit more time to do things now. I’m a bit more slow-burning in my life. I think the music takes a bit more time to kick off, in just even its arrangement. The sounds maybe hark back to a bit more stuff from maybe the ‘60s and ‘70s. It’s a bit less of Radio 1 HD sounding than I used to be.
No, and just getting older, maybe. Yeah, the stuff still sounds contemporary, but I’m not beholden to maybe a certain sound of any particular time. None of these songs were written with any sonic in mind. We just started writing them, and the sounds developed. I think my upcoming stuff is a snapshot shot of now because it’s a bit more slow-burning, and sonically, sometimes harkens back to older music.
Finally, what is one thing you would like to manifest for yourself next year?
I’d love to play Glastonbury solo. I’ve never done that with my own music. I’d love to play Glasto. In doing so, I’d probably have a booking agent. I think that’s my next step is getting people into the live aspect of what I do. I’ve actually just recorded something a couple of days ago. Probably, my voice is a little bit hoarse today because of it. I’ve done some live studio recordings with the full band and backing singers.
I’m not sure when they’re going to come out, but hopefully when those release, people will get a really good idea of what they’re messing with when they come see me. That will help with starting to open those doors. Yeah, manifesting a bit of Glasto, that would be pretty great.
Seye Adelekan’s new single Homerton Ocean View is out now. Follow Seye by clicking here.
Interview Cameron Poole