Seye talks to Veronica Simpson on touring with Gorillaz, plus creative and style influences and his early life as a musician in training.
When we speak to Seye Adelekan, musician, singer, songwriter and bassist of choice with Damon Albarn’s eclectic, cartoon-fronted cult band Gorillaz, he’s preparing to embark on their 2022 world tour, in late April.
The touring life seems to be something you had early training for: your childhood took you from Lagos to the Netherlands, Ecuador and South East London. Yeah, and I grew up in a musical family: there was lots and lots of music, I was in lots of bands, in the school choir, playing on the flute, all the while changing country, travelling, and I’m now a touring musician. It was never necessarily the plan but ended up working out pretty well.
What would you say is the optimal ratio of perspiration to inspiration you need to make it as a musician?
It’s so second nature to me. Like, so literally the environment I grew up in: my family was very Christian, we went to church, we had Christian song books at home, read the bible, prayed and sang six nights a week. I’ve got three brothers, two sisters and I’m the youngest. So, when we were living in Holland in the early 1990s, it was like an eight piece choir singing every night, and I was hearing amazing harmonies. My mum would do the arrangements.
Then when I started playing guitar, in my mid teens, I spent hours and hours and hours listening to songs, trying to learn how to play them. What with choir, band practice, it was a lot. I guarantee you there aren’t really that many accidentally professional musicians because even if you’re not that technically gifted there is an obsessive quality to anyone that does it consistently – so much repetition involved, so much commitment. Band life might seem a bit all over the place, a bit punky, trashy. But if you ‘ve been to any great show, a great folk, classical or metal act, reggae act, the through line is obsession and rehearsal.
You’re something of a multi-instrumentalist.
I got up to grade 5 or 6 on flute. But I started playing it for the wrong reasons, My dad played guitar, my friends played guitar, I thought I’m gonna be different, I’ll play the flute. Eventually I realised I really wanted to play guitar. So I spent all my energy doing that. My appreciation for the flute is great. But electric guitar, bass guitar, acoustic guitar is what it’s about. I write songs on the piano. I play a bit of drums as well and also singing is my main instrument.
Musicians are very particular about their instruments. What’s your current favourite?
I just got a guitar made in Denmark by this company called Baum which is based on a suit I had made for the last tour and that’s based on a suit Elton John had designed for a Gorillaz song called Pink Phantom. It’s bubble gum pink with lightning bolts on it and I wear it with a silver tie. So this guitar is in the same pink with a lightning bolt motif. But I play a lot of Eastwood guitars – the Flying Banana Eastwood guitar. I’ve got a Yamaha as well. But my guitars in general are quite quirky. Eastwood isn’t the biggest brand and the ones I use of theirs aren’t the most expensive. This Baum one is the most expensive – 100% bespoke. I picked the wood, everything from the ground up. It’s a beautiful, beautiful guitar. I can’t even believe its mine – when you’re a kid you see these signature models of, say, Stevie Ray Vaughan guitars. And a guitar maker building you a guitar is the actual dream.
It’s a monster tour you’re setting out on. How do you feel about it after two years of restrictions?
I’m well up for it. I mean, we’re all raring to go. We’re really grateful for having the opportunity again.
Do you have any favourite objects you take on tour that remind you of home?
I always have a hat with me. I’ve got a bunch of hats. There isn’t really much consistency in terms of wardrobes in different phases of my life, I tend to change my style quite drastically. I’ve always got hats on. I’ll probably take a little penguin I’ve got on my rucksack, which my girlfriend gave me.
So you’ve been a bit of a style chameleon. What was the most embarrassing look?
I used to do loads of things with my hair. Now I’ve just got locks. I shaved my head once, which was the worst idea. I’ve got a really small head and on top of being super lanky it was really weird. In the late 2000s I pulled a few dodgy moves: skinny jeans but with the whitest, pointiest winkle pickers you’ve ever seen with two polo shirts on top of each other – powder pink and baby blue – and with a dragon motif skinny bomber thing, and a train driver’s hat with yellow glasses.
I kind of have no fear. Sometimes I wish I could mimic the feelings I have with personal style and apply it to everything else in my life. I’m confident in my fashion choices. I would like more of that with other parts of my life: with my music I’m so scared of people not liking it, with fashion I don’t care.
As a musician being able to express yourself with clothes is such a great asset – it can give you more scope as a performer.
I really believe in putting on something special to go on stage – it’s like “I’m putting on my armour, let’s go.” It’s a separate thing. You’re not just wearing the same thing you wore when you walked into the venue to go on stage in front of thousands of people. I think it’s nice to dress for the occasion.
What brands or designers do you like? At the moment my biggest love is my friend Mia’s brand MadSeventies, she does mad rodeo style custom blazers. Mine has tassels and quite a triangular silhouette. I like a rodeo vibe. There’s another brand I love called Atelier de Charlotte (ADC) who make amazing shoes. They’re designed here and made by hand in Spain out of reclaimed materials. Both of these companies, they’re very small, everything’s hand made and sustainable. With ADC I’ve got five of their platforms, I’ve actually got a boot named after me. I enjoy supporting small businesses, and they’re all female run businesses. I actually, just of late, see myself gravitating towards working with great women.
How important is craftsmanship to you?
Crucial. I was doing a shoot for MadSeventies and during the shoot there was a great pair of sunglasses put on me which happened to be Laura Imami, and I met her and we just fell in love. She’s just a wonderful person and it turns out I love every single pair she’s got. Feeling these pieces of eyewear you can tell the quality in them. You can tell how much she cares. You put on a pair of glasses and she looks at you and knows how are you going to look best. I love talking to people who are as obsessed with stuff I have no idea about as I am about music. She knows eyewear. I don’t know anything about eyewear, but I resonate with someone who cares about what they do at a high level. Damon (Albarn) works like that. He’s a craftsman about music, and storytelling as well. The amount of detail we go into as a band, whether with Gorillaz or solo stuff, and that goes right down to the wonderful crew members who are doing sound up front. Everyone cares so much and does their best.
What is the best thing about being a creative?
Collaboration. Again, Damon’s super power isn’t just being the seminal songwriter of his generation: his power is putting great people in a room together – irrespective of age, culture, religion, sex, where you come from. And there couldn’t be a more diverse intersection of people. From Bobby Womack to MosDef. And Uncle Tony (Allen, legendary Nigerian drummer who died in 2021) God rest his soul. It’s been such a privilege to be in the room with these people at the same time. He constantly surrounds himself with interesting people, good people, who all care about what they do. If you really care you’ll keep it honest. I don’t think you can go wrong if you do that.