Interview: The Black Seeds - Daniel Weetman
It's Not Game Over
The Black Seeds first emerged in Wellington over 23 years ago. Despite being spread out all over Aotearoa, like a band of brothers, they've managed to keep on pushing out the tunes. Although perhaps the geographical spread is why their new album 'Love & Fire' is only their second LP in the ten years since 2012's Dust & Dirt'. We dive in and find out what keeps the Seeds ticking, and why they're not done yet...
It's been around 5 years since I last interviewed Daniel Weetman for Radio BurgerFuel (with Ned Ngatae for the release of 'Fabric' in 2017). Before this, he'd been a regular behind the decks in the studios, so this felt like a catch up with a long-lost friend. In fact, we talked for almost as long off-mic as we did for the actual recording. Apart from bonding over Alt-J that's all going to remain off the record, but here's Dan being as candid and thoughtful as ever.
“We’ve got people everywhere! Barney moved to Taranaki, and Matt Benton our sax player lives there too. Barrett Hocking our trumpet player is in Christchurch. I'm up here in Auckland, so is Francis our bass player. We've got Nigel on keys down there in the Kapiti Coast, and Jarney Murphy just out of Levin. Oh, and Ryan Prebble, he's the only guy in Wellington.”
Daniel is explaining how, despite being a ‘Wellington band’, it’s not the reality of it anymore. “It looks good on paper though, doesn't it,” Dan jokes. “Going back there still feels like a second home, it's like you never left.”
In fact, the only current Wellingtonian is also the newest recruit. Not that Prebble is really new to the Seeds, having first played with them when Mike Fab didn’t want to tour as much in the 00’s.
“He's come on lots of tours to Europe with us, going way back. So, he knows us really well, and we know him really well, he's just fitted in perfectly. I think it makes us excited about writing the next album.”
‘Love & Fire’ connected with me quicker than the last few Black Seeds albums, and I wondered if it was because it feels more upbeat and happier? Dan says, “It’s usually me bringing more of the minor/darker vibes. I never really thought about it, but the majority of those grooves and lyrics that Barney wrote [for Love & Fire] are all about love.” You could be forgiven for thinking this was obvious, given the album's title though!
“I don't know if it's all sunk in about where this album sits in my mind yet. Until months and months, or even years later. It's a piece of art, and like the pieces of art that I make, it doesn't totally make sense at the time, and I don't really see the story. I guess I really try hard to understand it, then I can't see it. That's like the listener hearing a song and going on that journey, and then at a different time of the day, or if you're feeling in a different way, it means something else.”
Dan says for this album he tried to bring something honest. “I always try to do this, but maybe make it not so cryptic this time. I go back to ‘Into The Dojo’, and I can see what I'm trying to say, but I'm not being very clear about it. As a writer, I don't want to be cryptic like Beck. You could read some of his lyrics and think, 'What is he singing about? Probably nothing.’”
“It becomes harder, I think, to be honest and revealing. There's a song, ‘Meditation’, which I felt really vulnerable about singing something like that, maybe a bit preachy. But it's very honest, and that's what I wanted to do.”
We continue talking about writing, and Dan explains it’s not such an easy process for him. “Some people can splurt it out, I guess. It definitely doesn't come out of me. 'Oh wow, I've got four lines. Awesome!' And then that stupid pressure of now every other line has to be as awesome as those four lines. Yeah, it screws you up.”
“There are bits when I listen to these songs, I'm like, 'Ohhhh, if I could have just changed that one word, eh, that would have been a lot cooler.'” When asked if he can do that while touring, he replies, “I've done that before. Yeah, totally done that! If Barney's not singing the harmony I can do that. But if he sings the harmony, he'll be like, 'Hey, that word's meant to be...’”
Off the back of pandemic disrupted years, they were “super nervous” getting back on stage for the Love & Fire tour. Then, in June the band was getting ready for their show in Wellington when they got the news that Jarney had Covid so they couldn’t continue with the tour.
Normally, live shows are where The Black Seeds get a chance to workshop and improve new songs. “We're notorious for finishing the gig and going, ‘I think this could be like that, or this could be a little faster.’ We kind of kill the vibe.” Dan then backpedals, explaining that they have got much better at self-critiquing now.
“This is why we are good live band, this is what makes the set better, because we're really passionate. We're not perfectionists, but we want to chisel this set with these new songs into the best form for each individual song. Those things happen more when we go to Europe, because we get a month for critiquing and changing. That's what we need as a band."
Dan would like to get back to Europe next year for touring but doesn’t know if will happen. “There's nothing quite like being on tour for that length of time. It helps the band grow, being together. I could see us writing a lot more on the road. I love getting to play for a whole bunch of Germans, or in Holland. It's just great to be some old buggers, who can still rock some parties.”
Despite it being 20 years since their first album came out, the most rear-view gazing you see from The Black Seeds is some great throwbacks on their Instagram (Hi Brett). Dan says until he’s not in the band, he won’t really reflect on what they’ve achieved. “I don’t think about it much, I just feel blessed to be able to do this. I’m excited to move forward, to think about my own music, and the next Black Seeds album. Performing as well, to become a better performer.
When asked how he keeps trying to improve, he said occasionally he’ll watch an old YouTube video to take him back. “Oh, you’re not smiling much Daniel. You’re not engaging much are you. You’re really overplaying that percussion, eh. Or, why did I stop doing that?!”
“Just recently I ended up watching a show from Sziget [Festival in Hungary] and the band's really tight. Because we've just played in America, and then we're playing in Europe, we're really impressive. I can see that we're quite tired, I think we had a big night in Amsterdam. I remember being very hungover, but we're still delivering. I'm just not smiling. We're still singing, playing our instruments well. It's very hot, I’m sweating a lot. I've got just a moustache and a white singlet on, and I look like a brown Freddy Mercury.”
He also watched other performers, to try and learn from them, such as Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. “I like the way he connects with a crowd. I'd love to try to embrace all of that. I think there's still a certain amount of shyness in me, but I don't show it when I'm performing. I'd like to make eye contact a bit more though. It's funny, humans don't really want to make eye contact, but sometimes I do. You see somebody in the crowd, or catch somebody's eye and you're holding that, and they're kind of shocked! Or their face ends up being imprinted in my head as I carry on with the show, and I'm wondering what they're thinking. It's totally overthinking.”
It seems to me that The Black Seeds have a lot more left to give. The passion and drive that Daniel speaks of doesn’t sound like that of a band that is tired after almost a quarter of a century. It’s definitely not game over.
“Doing a couple of shows, and being back on the road with the boys and being around them more is sealing that bond. Even though there's a strong bond in the Seeds, we know that we need to be around each other because we're family. When we're apart there's a disconnect. It's so powerful when we're all back together. It's like nothing's ever changed. It's beautiful.”
The Black Seeds latest album ‘Love & Fire’ is out now. Stream it, or grab a physical copy from Bandcamp. The Love & Fire NZ Tour continues this week in New Playmouth (Fri Aug 5), Auckland (Sat 6 Aug), and Wellington (Sun 8 Aug) – full details and tickets can be found at www.theblackseeds.com/shows