Sea Girls Release Hit Debut Album!
Following the release of Open Up Your Head Sea Girls drummer Oli Khan took time out to chat with TCI about writing and recording, the London scene, and how it feels to have a UK No. 3 charting debut album!
In 2017 the London-four piece released their smash hit single ‘Call Me Out’. Since then Sea Girls have established themselves as one of the best guitar-pop bands around, with a constant stream of winning singles and EP’s quickly earning them the adoration of critics, taste-makers and fans around the globe.
Following sold out national and international headline tours, and several summers of iconic festival slots, Sea Girls have now given the world their highly anticipated debut full length release. Open Up Your Head is a glistening fourteen-track affair revealing the band as naturals at balancing joyous indie rock, and darker heartfelt storytelling.
The Creative Issue: A massive congratulations on the release of Open Up Your Head. The album has been out a couple of weeks now. Has it sunk it yet? How does it feel?
Oli Khan: Good. Yeah I think we’ve been saying to each other that it’s not going to fully sink in until we get to play the songs live. But obviously it’s been great to have a few weeks to reflect on it because it’s been a bit crazy. But it feels good, you know.
TCI: The album got to number three on the UK charts which is huge and must be such a buzz. That kind of success is obviously well deserved, but did you expect that kind of response?
OK: No, not at all. It’s the kind of thing you don’t really think about when you’re making it. You’re like “Oh I don’t really mind where it goes.” and you don’t really think about the chart. Then as soon as it’s got a chance of being in the top five all of a sudden you’re like “Oh god I really care.” and you suddenly want to get really into chart analysis and stuff [laughs]. But no, it’s definitely nothing that we expected at all. It was amazing to end up at number three, right behind Biffy Clyro and Taylor Swift no less.
TCI: Tell us a little about making the album. You worked with Larry Hibbitt I believe.
OK: Yeah, so I guess technically it was made over four years because we used ‘Call Me Out’ which we recorded at the very start. It was our very first single. We actually used the same version of that, just sexed up a little bit [laughs]. But most of it was recorded last summer, in a place called Snap! Studios which is in North London. Before that we’d only gone into the studio with the whole song, recorded it as quickly as possible, and then ran straight out of the studio. But this time we had weeks and weeks and we were able to really develop ideas, and mess around, and push the edges of our sound in different directions. So that was really exciting to be able to do that.
TCI: You are quite prolific. Your first release was back in 2017, since then barely six months has passed without you releasing an EP and now obviously you’ve put out your first album. How do you approach songwriting?
OK: The idea we had at the start was just that we wanted people to know the songs at gigs. So we were like “Let’s just release as much music as we can.” and that’s just always been our ethos. If we’ve got a good song we don’t hold it back. I mean there have been a few key songs, like ‘Forever’, where we knew that was an album song. But a lot of the time we’re like “We’ve got a really good song. Let’s record it and get it out.” Our approach to songwriting is just to write the best songs we can. I don’t think it’s much more crazy than that, especially coming into the album. We were just like “Let’s just write as much as we can and then pick the best ones.” and I think we ended up with the right collection for us at the time.
TCI: How do you decide what you keep and what to push aside? Do you end up throwing away many songs or do you tend to keep working at it until an idea pans out?
OK: It ends up being quite obvious which songs are the right ones I think. Maybe at the time you think “Oh I wish this one was picked.” and then looking back you’re like “Oh actually, I understand.” Because, obviously, it’s not just us. There are loads of people involved once you get to the level we’re at. But, yeah, there are a handful of songs that we didn’t end up using. At the time you can be really passionate about something, but then maybe someone might suggest using something else, and later you can actually see it. There’s certain songs, like ‘Weight In Gold’ from the album, that one we kind of knew was a good song but we didn’t quite nail the right version until right at the end. We spent, it must have been a year, and about five or six different versions, until we finally nailed it. And the song ‘Forever’ we had that for two years. We first recorded that at the same time as ‘All I Want To Hear You Say’ and it was the same kind of thing. We knew it was going to be a great song, but it wasn’t until we did the album session that we finally nailed the best version of it and got it how we liked.
TCI: A lot of people talk about wanting to get a debut album just right. Most of the time it seems like the best debuts are those that capture a band in that “time and place” in their career. With the sonic and lyrical content of Open Up Your Head it really feels like that’s what you guys have done. Does it feel that way to you?
OK: Yeah I think so. There was, kind of, a bit of a journey as well because you’ve got ‘Call Me Out’ which was our first single and ‘All I Want To Hear You Say’ which was quite a huge single from a couple of years ago. Other than that you’ve got a bit more of a progression to songs like ‘Transplant’ and ‘Moving On’ which is the last song on the album, and was the last song we recorded as well. You can kind of see how much the sound has changed listening to ‘Call Me Out’ and ‘Moving On’. It’s still the same ballpark obviously, but there is definitely a progression there in our approach to everything.
TCI: Sea Girls are based in London. It seems like there are so many great bands floating around where you are. Is there a sense of community among bands who’ve come up together or is the scene quite competitive?
OK: I’d say a bit of both. It’s definitely competitive and I think people who say they aren’t are probably lying. You always compare yourself, inevitably. But there’s definitely a sort of camaraderie between the bands on the scene. Last weekend we actually ended up playing a charity cricket match with Sports Team, the band, and that was fun. You always end up seeing the same bands at festivals. You end up making friends with them because you’re seeing them every week which is nice.
TCI: Who are some of your favourite UK artists that we might not know over here but should be checking out?
OK: We really like a band called The Mysterines. We took them on our last UK tour and they’re amazing. They’re quite heavy rock but it’s quite catchy they have a female singer who is amazing and so captivating on stage. It was such a pleasure to tour with them so I’d definitely suggest checking them out.
TCI: You signed to Polydor Records last year. Getting signed has long been a bit of a holy grail for bands. I suppose it’s sometimes seen as a form of recognition, and even a bit of security, in what can be a pretty difficult industry. How has being signed impacted life in Sea Girls? How is signed life treating you?
OK: Yeah, it’s great. For us it was just that we could then afford to do this full time and put everything into it. Before that we were all working full time jobs. In the summer of the year before we signed, I was doing a 45 hour week and then two festivals on the weekend every week. It gets to a point where you can’t fit everything in. I think I took so much holiday that I owed my work money [laughs]. I’d have to pay them to go away more [laughs]. So for us it’s just that financial security, and obviously that’s been a godsend now because we’re not making any money from anything else [laughs]. But really we haven’t changed our core team. Our managers and booking agents and everything have all stayed the same. So it’s just kind of adding to our team with people who understand what we’re doing, which they definitely did and that’s been great. The success of the album is as much them as it is us. It’s been really great.
TCI: You’ve got a UK tour coming up to celebrate the release of Open Up Your Head. Over the past couple of years you’ve headlined your own sold out tours, both at home and internationally, and as you mentioned you’ve also played some amazing festivals including BBC’s The Biggest Weekend and Reading and Leeds? Do you prefer festival spots or your own headline shows?
OK: I think it’s probably a bit of a “two sides to the same coin” thing. We’ll do a summer of festivals and we’ll be like “This is amazing. We love it.” and then by the end you’re like “Oh we really want to play some of our own shows.” By the time festival season is over you’re creeping into your tour. But we do like that at festivals, it’s not just people who want to see you, there’s semi-interested parties, or curious people wondering passed. There’s that kind of excitement of drawing in people who wouldn’t normally see you. Because we consider ourselves a live band that’s always an exciting thing, to be able to reach those people. That being said, nothing beats doing your own show and having a whole room full of people screaming everything back at you. That’s amazing.
TCI: You’ve been kicking goals the whole way along and aside from the touring and festivals you’ve hit a bunch of other milestones as well. You’ve twice been Annie Mac’s Hottest Record In The World. You were included in the BBC’s Sound Of 2019 list. You’ve been featured in just about every important “ones to watch” list going. Even all the way over this side of the world we get how massive those things are. What’s been the highlight for you so far?
OK: I guess the BBC Sound Of thing. That was one of the first things and it kind of came out of nowhere for us. We were just in a practice and our manager rang us up and was like “You’re going to be on it.” and we were like “Whoa.”. It’s something that I always took an interest in because it’s a really good taste-maker list and always a great predictor of the years ahead. For us to be featured on it was crazy and totally unexpected. Normally the list is fifteen artists but that year I think it only ended up being ten, and we were the only band on it as well, which was a bit mind blowing for us. It’s not why you do it, but when something like that happens it definitely makes you feel a bit more important. It’s a spring in your step for sure.
TCI: Going way back to the start for a second. Sea Girls formed in 2015 in London. You’d all been in other bands prior. At the time did you know right away you were onto something with Sea Girls, or has this crazy journey you’ve all been on for the past few years taken you by surprise a little?
OK: I think at the start it just felt like every other band we’d done. Obviously we’d been in bands with each other and at the very start a lot of the songs we played were just carried over from our old bands. I think it’s once we started having more original Sea Girls material that we were like “Ok we’re onto something.” I think it was probably about a year. A year of rubbish shows where we were finding our feet [laughs]. I think there were two key songs, ‘Daisy Daisy’ from our first EP and ‘Call Me Out’. Once we’d written those we were like “Right. These are really good songs.” and it felt a bit like a mission statement for us. Because we’d already recorded a whole EP and scrapped it before that point. So once we’d written them we were like “Right. This is it. We know we’ve got it.” Writing something like ‘Call Me Out’ and having that be our first single, and straight away be successful, was definitely the confidence boost we needed to kick start the whole thing out of the gates.
TCI: What’s next for Sea Girls? Open Up Your Head is out and the tour is just around the corner. I know the world is in a bit of a strange place right now, but what do you have in mind for 2021?
OK: Yeah we’ve got a lot of touring to catch up on. So as soon as it’s safe we’re going to be doing that. But we know that this is the best time to just crack on with recording really. We’ve been writing quite a lot. We’re hoping to get in the studio as soon as we can, to record as much as we can of the second album while there’s time. Because hopefully next year we’re going to be very busy with touring and festivals and things. We always love playing new songs live so hopefully some new ones will sneak their way into the set next year.