Kapil Seshasayee gave us a storming performance at Threshold earlier in the month, we thought it was an appropriate time to pin him down and fire off some questions.
Kapil Seshasayee is a polymath and a true original talent, both as a songwriter and as a soundsmith, a one man combination of Scott Walker, Blood Orange, Arca and Richard Dawson.
Creating something wholly unique. Combining electronica flourishes evoking FKA Twigs with Indian Classical guitar ornamentations, stunning vocals and a penchant for unorthodox instrumentation such as the aquaphone, Kapil manages to be truly experimental yet still accessible.
His 2018 album, A Sacred Bore is a psych trip that will make you want more of the disconcerting rhythms and unusual guitar picks – it’s infectious.
His set at Threshold was nothing less than sensational, even if it was from his home in Glasgow. We needed to find out more. He was in a chatty mood.
P3dro: Where are you and what are you doing?
Kapil: I’m in Glasgow and I’m just about to do some work on the artwork for a single I’m dropping in May.
P3dro: So, how was the Threshold experience for you? How did you get involved?
Kapil: I have a long-standing kinship with Liverpool. I feel like Liverpool recognised my music long before Scotland did. I first played in Liverpool in 2015 and off the back of that I became really friendly with a band called Elevant and their label called Loner Noise. They introduced me to Threshold Festival who were kind enough to put me on.
The last time I played in Liverpool was The Zanzibar Club, although I gather that venue’s shut down?
P3dro: Well, it looks like it’s been taken over, but it remains to be seen what it will be.
P3dro: Do you get to play much in Glasgow? How are the venues holding up there?
Kapil: In terms of live music, I think we’re quite a bit behind England for when live music will be back. But I’ve been a promoter up here for many years, although I focus more on my own music now. I’ve played all the small venues! But the last time I played in Glasgow, it was the biggest gig I’ve played in Scotland at a festival called Celtic Connections. It was a tribute concert to the work of Ivor Cutler with Mogwai, the guys from Belle and Sebastian. Loads of different people had got together and did a tribute album to the work of Ivor Cutler. I was asked to play guitar on some of the tunes, so I got to be a part of the live concert.
The sad thing was, as we took a bow at the end of the gig in this 2,000 seater concert hall, that I didn’t realise that was going to be the last show I played for another two years.
But I’ve had the pleasure of playing a good range of venues in Glasgow and I’ve managed to work in a few of them, but it’s taken a while to be recognised in Glasgow. It’s just what happens sometimes, I suppose.
P3dro: Yeah, we remember going to a gig in Liverpool in March last year and there was this weird air about, like everyone knew it wasn’t going to be the same again for a while.
Kapil: Yeah, it’s a funny one. Because I remember in March last year, people were still booking dates. In denial, almost, thinking it’ll be fine.
But I’m going to be doing a socially distanced tour of England in May. Although we don’t know if it will happen, or to what extent it can happen. But we have to soldier on. There’s no other option but to try and be positive.
P3dro: Do you think May could be pushing it?
Kapil: Possibly, between me and you. There’s a part of me that want’s it to happen, but at the same time I want to keep it safe as well. I swear by touring. I love collaborating and working in the studio with other people, but touring and playing live is where I really want to be.
But, I’m only going to be doing that under the right circumstances. The last thing I want to do is endanger the safety of the audience or my crew or my live band. I’m happy to wait, but it’s frustrating, as I’m sure it is for you too.
It’s going to happen eventually. It may never be like it was before.
P3dro: Just a bit about the music. We see you as a bit of psych, a bit of leftfield. Where do you think you get your influences from?
Kapil: Oh, I don’t think. I know. I don’t have the attention span to rip one person off. I’ll take a bit from one artist I love and then take a bit from elsewhere. When I was growing up in Scotland, I was playing lots of different types of music and that’s all influenced me to some extent.
In terms of leftfield stuff, then there’s a lot of Scott Walker in what I do, there’s a lot of No Wave, I used to listen to a lot of Suicide, Swans and those kinds of bands from the 70s. Nowadays, there’s still some 70s influenced stuff in there like Thundercat and Steely Dan, but I like to jump around a lot. I’m as influenced by the contemporary electronic producers as I am from stuff from the 60s and 70s.
P3dro: How do you normally play? Do you usually go out with a band?
Kapil: The first time I played in Liverpool, at the Zanzibar, was with a band. Before that I only ever played with a guitar and it was a lot more guy with a guitar and talking in between songs. But then I started working with a live band and switched it up a lot. And it’s all the better for it, I think. I got to channel more sounds. You can do a lot more with more people.
I’m lucky. I have two amazing drummers in my band. A lot of bands struggle to find one drummer.
P3dro: You’re not the first person to say that finding a drummer is tricky!
Kapil: I think it’s because a lot of drummers are in 50 bands! There’s an online dating aspect to it, to find the right drummer and get them to stick with you. But they add so much to the sound. It is a bit of a luxury for a lot of musicians, because they are so thin on the ground.
P3dro: How has the last 12 months been in terms of creativity?
Kapil: I’ve been collaborating a lot and trying to do loads of things. I’m buying time until things get back to normal. But I don’t judge anybody who wants to take time out – it can be a time for rest as well. I know some people for whom Covid was them being told to take a break.
Before this I would have been touring relentlessly, recording music, but I was getting a bit burned out with it. I was getting emotionally and physically exhausted.
It was a good time to be creative, but you can’t force it. It’s easy to get into the mindset of being negative, but if this is the best we have, then I’ll prefer that.
I look on the bright side, but each to their own. I won’t judge anyone for getting out of the game. But, it’s not going to get better faster. You should, at least find a way to distract yourself!
P3dro: You say that live performance is what you’re after. Presumably, then, the feedback from an audience is what drives you?
Kapil: Yeah, totally. The Holy Grail is a live audience reacting positively to what I’m doing. But it’s also about something I may be politically engaged about. If they learn about it and go and look at Wikipedia when they get home after the gig, then that’s a big deal to me as well.
If people are learning and engaging with what I’m doing then that means a lot.
But if it’s a live stream, then there’s no crowd and you don’t know who’s engaging. You don’t even know if people are listening. They may have the sound off for all I know. We were all frustrated to begin with and in March, April 2020, there was no audience to play to. But then we got to play a gig, even if it was cutting and splicing footage. It was still better than not playing.
It’s not the same, but it’s me figuring out how to adapt. But, the minute I can get back to playing in front of an audience, then I will.
P3dro: You talk about a message. Do you think you have an obligation to get it out there?
Kapil: I sometimes worry that I’m preaching. What am I trying to achieve and how can I best achieve it? With the politics behind my stuff, be it censorship or caste-ism or minority groups being slaughtered en masse that doesn’t get written about. For me, it’s about people who may not know about it to engage.
Getting the balance right is tricky. If I preach to people, then they’ll switch off and the last thing I want is to have me on Twitter lecturing.
I want to charm you into engaging with this. Maybe you feel differently from me. Maybe you disagree, but you’re welcome to debate this with me.
It’s about trying to strike a balance and moving the conversation forward. It’s not about making people feel terrible about themselves. If you put them off, then they’re never going to engage.
But, in the end, music is the most subjective thing. The most amazing band to me and you may be the worst band to someone else. We have to weigh that up and it’s the same with politics.
P3dro: So, you see yourself as a kind of trigger, or a spark?
Kapil: Yeah. I describe myself as a protest musician because I’m always talking about things which we could dismantle because they’re problems, but, yeah, sparking an effective discussion is a big part of what I do. It’s not about sloganeering or punching up. Talking down to people is the last thing you would see me do.
It doesn’t achieve anything. People who know already know that. And the people who don’t will fee really insulted and be on the defensive.
P3dro: Thanks very much for your time. Recommend one band or an album you think we should be listening to right now.
Kapil: The frustrating aspect of that question for me is to wonder if I recommend an album that I love, but by someone who’s dead, or do I recommend an album by an underrated band?
P3dro: You have a complete choice. You can go with the Rolling Stones if you want.
Kapil: I do love the Rolling Stones! I have my post-punk recommendation, though. They’re called Long Fin Killie. They’re really, really underrated and one of the weirdest guitar bands I’ve ever heard. Any excuse to plug that band – they’re great.