Having made one of the albums of the year so far, the Stats frontman talks us through its unusual genesis
We were first aware of Ed Seed back in the mid-00s, as the charismatic drumming frontman of eclectic indie band The Mules. Even then it was clear that he was both an exceptionally gifted musician and a songwriter with serious potential. The first of those opinions was shared by pop giants such as La Roux and Dua Lipa, who enrolled Seed in their bands, introducing him to a different world to that of London’s local club circuit.
Foolishly, we thought that was the end of his own music, that he was lost to stadium-sized success. It was, therefore, a great surprise when rumours of the debut album by his new group Stats reached us. It turns out that Ed and co. had been working away on the tracks for quite some time. Meriting comparisons with LCD Soundsystem and Talking Heads, Other People’s Lives was born out of long studio jams which Seed then took away, reconstructed, added his lyrics to and turned into the tracks which appear on the album. This unique way of working was worthy of further exploration, so with the dust now settled on the record’s release, we tracked Ed down for a detailed discussion on his approach to songwriting and all things Stats…
How do you feel about Other People’s Lives now that it is out in the world?
“It’s mainly pride because it has been a long time coming. For a long time, I was writing and putting together these songs because it was something I felt compelled to do. I always knew you could make a good album of them but, because we didn’t have a label, or an agent and I was away all the time working, there were a lot of things in the way that meant that it was just something I did because I was passionate about it.”
What then changed to make it a possibility?
“Things happened quite quickly. My friend’s label, Talkshow, put out Rhythm Of The Heart and people really responded to that and then Memphis Industries got in touch. I was ready for that to happen as I had been working on it for a long time, it was just the case of finishing it off as all of those songs were distilling away, they were waiting. I’m not fatalistic. It’s not like everything happened for a reason, I don’t really believe that at all, but I was ready to do this when somebody finally showed an interest. The exciting thing for me is that the songs are now out. I’ve lived in them so much and now people are responding to them, they like them and they mean something to them emotionally.
“When people get in touch to say Raft or The Family Business speak to them, that is amazing to me and so gratifying and it makes sense of why it took so long to get to that point. I had to live a bit to have something to write about. It’s not me trying to create a person but being myself and talking about my life in an honest way.”
You say you’re not fatalistic but from an outside perspective, it’s easy to look in and think that everything you’ve done has been leading up to this moment …
“Yeah, and that’s what the song There Is A Story I Tell About My Life is getting at I suppose. You can impose these structures on your life because that is the way things turned out, but it could have quite easily been very different. I’ve known Tom Andrews from Talkshow for years and I went down to his place in Brighton to write a song. It was just an idle conversation, ‘Have you got any songs with Stats?’ and I played him Rhythm Of The Heart and it went from there. If we hadn’t done that then none of this would have happened.
“What I’m saying is, there are so many branches on the tree of possibilities any structure you impose is just a narrative, that’s it. It can be true enough to be convincing or satisfying. We made a narrative around the album that is true enough, that anyone can understand it, and is true enough that I can commit to it as foundationally true, but it’s incomplete because all narratives are.”
Can you remember how the Stats way of writing came about?
“I wanted to harness the style that the band was evolving. When we started doing Stats, there was a song called Two Minds which was the first one that was different to what I’ve done before. It was quite satisfying and it had been made out of one chunk, a long jam that we had done in a studio. It was just one riff that was played over and over and I managed to write a song on top of that. There were a couple of others that were more traditionally constructed songs with chord progressions and a verse, chorus and middle eight. I became aware that there were two halves – what the band were really good at, which is playing on one groove for a long time and really getting stuck into it, and then there were these songs that I was writing that were very tightly constructed and not what the band were good at. The band weren’t free within my structures, I was caging them in.
“At the same time I was getting more into dance music in general, spending anywhere from five to twelve minutes on the same note. I got really interested in repetition, that you can just relax into a song like Everyday People by Sly & The Family Stone because the bassline is just one note. I started to get annoyed by things that I had written with lots of changes. At the time I was making them I thought I was creating points of interest for the listener, but it’s the opposite, you’re making it boring for the listener because they couldn’t relax into it and it wasn’t giving them any consistency.”
How did you then fully harness that evolving style?
“The band were really good at that and I wanted to find a way to deliberately give up my control over anything. Left to my own devices I would have imposed too much structure and I wanted the band to explore, so we went to the studio with basically nothing at all planned, except two songs which already existed, Raft and The Family Business. The idea was go in with the tiniest sketch, or nothing at all, pick a tempo and start playing and it goes where it will. I don’t know how much anybody was aware or even cared about where it was going to go, because they knew that I would take it off and find something, because that’s how we’d done it before. You don’t need very much to make a song. Lose It is made out of two one-bar loops.”
What are you listening for when you’re going back over those jams? What catches your attention?
“It would either be a moment where everybody falls into rhythmic synch, so they’re all just occupying their own exact space but moving together in the same direction, or there’ll be a particular sound that someone comes up with. So, on Lose It, one of the keyboard players, probably Nicole (Robson), played a couple of chords at a particular point and it was just a great sound, a really stately chord progression. I lifted that out and started to build the track around it, as that sound was big enough that it could carry a whole song. You then just need a groove to go with it.”
Would you have heard those points in the moment too, or only afterwards when you’re playing it back?
“No, what I’ve found is that the things that you think are going to be good, aren’t, and the things that turn out to be really something might be stuff that felt completely throwaway at the time. You have to have some distance before you go back to it. You never listen back to it the studio, ever… just keep moving.”
And you weren’t singing along while those jams took place, the lyrics come later?
“There were a couple of song ideas I had, and we did explore, which I did sing in the studio, but none of them made it. There was a song we played for 18-minutes and I sang all of it over the top and the only bit that got used was the tiniest little bare bit of bass and drum playing at the end by Stu (Barter) and John (Barrett), and that became Story Of My Life. It all came out of that tiny little gesture.
“The only one that we did sing in the studio was Raft, that’s out on its own on the album. It’s a complete song which we’d been playing it for years already. What you hear on the song is one live take from top to bottom with no edit. Iso (Waller-Bridge), Nicole and I were only going to do a guide vocal. I stood at one side of the mic, and they stood on the other, and we sang it once, and that’s what’s on the record. Everything else I sang at home, in a second round of improvisation”.
The music must really dictate the lyrics in that scenario…
“The music totally determined where the songs went. I’d get the music together out of these loops, in roughly a song form, and then it would be, ‘How does this music make me feel?’. Lose It – that guitar felt like there was an energy there, so there had to be some sort of rawness in that, but the synth was very elegiac, very grand, it really wells up inside you. So whatever that song was going to be it had to be something that straddled between those two pillars, it had to be emotional but also aggressive. I’ve got everything on my phone; I write in Notes and then scroll through my phone and just start singing.”
Do you think that makes it more likely that a listener will relate to the songs, in that the music might bring out a similar emotional response in them to the one that led you to your lyrics?
“Hopefully, yeah. Again, I wanted to try and lose control over the process; doing music and words completely separately and combining things that at first didn’t seem like they went together. I might write a whole song in verse form and think, ‘That’s a good lyric,’ but there’s only really one pair of lines that are going to last and then you just have to wait for it to find its place, for the others to come along that will eventually go with it. For example, the first line of Lose It, that’s been in six songs and it used to be different. Four of the tracks on Other People’s Lives contain words from other old songs of ours. You just have to trust that you’ll find a permanent home for them.
“The time that I’ve spent on this record is just an acknowledgement that eventually everything finds a place, if it’s good, and if it isn’t it won’t and you’ll just forget about it. But if you can’t forget about a line and it keeps coming back, or you keep re-typing it into the phone so that you don’t lose it, you know that one is going to find somewhere. The combining thing means that it doesn’t become too linear. There’s a lot of stories on the record, a lot of stuff that is quite narrative, but the best ones don’t really end, or are circular, because if they have a definitive end then you never have to hear them again.
“So it was about bringing together different fragments from different places at different times. That’s kind how life is, because you have something that you don’t realise is important at the time and stuff that you think is terribly important but it’s all really incoherent. People you might meet for only a short space of time might tell you something that really alters the way you see the world, and they will never know about that. You might do that to other people. It’s that chaotic assortment of things mashing together, that is what life feels like to me. Bringing that to the process of songs is a way of trying to use it.”
With that in mind, do you think that a theme did present itself during the process of making the album?
“Absolutely, even if a lot of that theme is stories and their convenience, and their inadequacy. A lot of it happened in a domestic contest, because that’s what life was like for me when I was putting it together, looking after our new baby. There’s that sense of the everyday, but also the fantastical side of that – especially having a baby. I also realised that you don’t have to make a CV out of the sum total of your experience.
“That stuff was all happening at the same time and it coalesced in the other idea of other people’s lives, which are inaccessible to you in ways that you can’t truly understand them. You know so much about them because social media tells you. You get to know about the events of other people’s lives and you have an eerie familiarity with them, even though you never really engage with them beyond the normal platforms. It’s just a stock mechanism for expressing friendship, and you’re invited to compare your own life to them and you will always find it wanting. You can also exhaust your compassion by mechanising your friendship in that way… but it’s not a record about social media.”
Lastly, is there now another step where you take the songs and turn them back into jams and make them ready for a live setting?
“Yeah and that’s the exciting thing, they get to live again. The band don’t remember doing them, I barely remember it. We have to learn how to play it again because we don’t know how to play it. We have to play it and live in it again, that’s really quite fun because you can really stretch out. They tend to be single-note things with quite satisfying basslines which you can just get stuck into.
“At some point, I’d like to record a show. There’s no expectation that they need to resemble the studio version fully. It’s not like pop music where the generous thing is to deliver the song that the audience know, sounding the way that they know it, because that’s what they are there to see and that’s what they want. The songs need to come alive but you are deliberately staying in the world that has been created by the record. We kind of do that but stretch-out further. It doesn’t have to be, ‘Oh this bit happens here,’ because that would be perverse – to tie something down which came from the band playing off the top of their heads. We want to create new moments of spontaneity.”
Interview: Duncan Haskell