'Cosmic yacht rock' duo Seahawks fuse smooth 80s jams with abstract electronica - we find out how…

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 1 Aug 2014
  • min read
A love of sprawling electronic and pop bothering yacht rock lies in the creative juices of production pair Seahawks.

Pete Fowler and John Tye first bonded after DJing together. They realised they shared the same taste for cosmic disco and the likes of Steely Dan and Toto. Since then, they've taken to the studio releasing an ongoing flurry of music via vinyl, cassette, hand printed sleeves and picture discs.

While Seahawks have remixed artists including The Horrors, Badly Drawn Boy and Tim Burgess they've recently released their debut LP Paradise Freaks. The album features the likes of Al Doyle (Hot Chip / LCD Soundsystem), Rob Smoughton (Hot Chip / Grovesnor) on drums and Kenny Dickenson on keys, with Maria Minerva, Tim Burgess, Indra Dunis of Peaking Lights on vocals.

M grilled John, one half of the pair, about the creative process… 

How did you first get into music?

I grew up with music all around me. I had an elder sister and brother who played albums all the time. So I heard a lot of Velvet Underground and the Grateful Dead as a kid. The physical idea of records really made an impact.

How did you start making music?

I started playing in punk bands when I was 15/16, then moved to London. Our keyboard player worked at Channel 4 at the time which was a way in for us to start writing trailers, library music and then electronic sounds.

I set up my own label and started putting out records. Labels at the time were either rock or dance so I started Lo Recordings to be able to do a more varied selection of music. We started the Seahawks project about five or six years ago.

How did you and Pete meet to form Seahawks?

We worked together on a project called Psychedelic Guide to Monsterism Island for Lo Recordings. I helped Pete put the tracks together, then we did continuous mixes of the LP using sound effects and started DJing together. We hit it off as he was one of the first people I’d met with a similarly broad a taste in music as me. We both played Boston, Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan as well as more abstract electronica.

The first music we collaborated on were live improvisations using oscillators and noise making machines. He’d come down to Cornwall and we’d jam very abstract sounds which we put out via cassette.

Pete had also done an edit of Don Henley’s Boys of Summer. We fused noise with this smooth sound to create this hybrid. We did it for our own pleasure, started a blog, put up a few downloads as MP3s and people seemed to really like it. It was a surprise to us. So we decided to put out some 12 inches. The worst thing which could happen was lose the money. But they all sold. It went from there.

How did the LP Paradise Freaks come about?

Two or three years ago I got an email about a new studio launching in Hackney Road called Tin Room. They’d just opened and asked whether we wanted a free day in the studio. It was great, lots of instruments and equipment so we decided to call in some friends of ours to help us take full advantage of the day. Rob Smoughton who plays drums in Hot Chip was keen as was Kenny Dickinson, a keyboard player we knew through Sean Rowley who was a friend of Pete. He was a huge Hall and Oates fan. Al from Hot Chip could play bass and he offered his services.

How did the creative process work?

We’d make these long, ten minute tracks out of samples. They’d be quite sprawling, although there would be a tempo and groove. We’d take the samples out and replace them with live musicians.

In terms of the collaborators, Tim Burgess repaid a remix with his vocal on Look of the Sun. Singer Marie Maniversa was really up for it. Then we had another one with a reggae feel and we thought Indrid from Peaking Lights would be perfect.

The way we work does vary. Our new stuff is just me and Pete jamming on keyboards making these synth sounds - it's pretty ambient. We seem to do a lot of remixes which end up being like 16 minutes. We’ve just done one for the 2 Bears. The Horrors gave us the parts to their whole album to let us play around with. We did a Badly Drawn Boy remix, which ended up being about 14 minutes long. We cut up his vocals and made something completely different to the original.

It’s amazing that these artists give you this amount of room to remix?

Yeah the one for Tim was great. It was sprawling, and he loved it. The Horrors did too - apparently they had the whole album remixed and ours was the only one that all band members liked.

We’ve got a few on the go at the moment but It is a very organic process. There’s no set way of working but there’s always something going on.

Where do you look for inspiration?

Our early stuff we did was tagged as cosmic yacht rock. We were mixing krautrock with new age and electronics. Fusing that with a Hall and Oates smooth kind of sound. It was an accident really. The name Seahawks came from wandering around dressed as sailors at Bestival. Someone shouted that at us and the name just stuck.

What does the future look like for Seahawks?

We’ve got three festivals ahead. These live gigs vary to what’s available really. At the next ones, it’ll be and Pete jamming on synths. Recent sessions have led to us recording more and it seems to be coming together into a project which we’re calling Pink Fluid.

We’re also doing a reimagining of Eric Clapton’s 461 Ocean Boulevard album. We’re reconstructing the whole record in our style.

Visit the Seahawks blog to find out more about the group and their music. The album Paradise Freaks is out now...