LOS ANGELES - It took five years and more than 5,000 miles, but Seal finally has his voice back.
Seal spent more than two years recording the follow-up to 1998's Human Being, serving as his own producer for the first time, before scrapping the effort and reuniting with soundsmith Trevor Horn.
The 40-year-old singer (born Sealhenry Samuel) also moved back to his native Britain to reconnect with the kind of inspiration that fueled his multimillion-selling, self-titled debut in 1991, in addition to the smash hit 1994 followup.
Human Being was less of a success, selling just 490,000 copies. Which may explain why on Seal IV - which was released earlier this month and debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 - Seal has abandoned his signature overwhelming production for a sparser sound that showcases his voice.
Associated Press: What have you been up to for the past five years?
Seal: Creating. Making an album. People are saying it's taken five years to make an album, but I disagree with that a little bit. I made the album twice. It started four-and-a-half years ago, and I got two years into it and decided that it wasn't good enough, that it wasn't what I needed to be doing. So I scrapped that and started again. I moved to England. Well, I went to England, I should say, because I'd been living in Los Angeles for a long period of time. That helped me rekindle the creative spirit.
AP: What is it about England that helps you to be creative?
Seal: There are many great things about Los Angeles. But I think the thing that's lacking here is a real sense of city. It's kind of a group of suburbs all together living under the guise of a city, but it's not a real city like the way New York or London or Paris is. There is no central hub or thriving metropolis. There is no core. Everything is kind of spread out ... being born in a quintessential city like London, that forms a large part of who you are and certainly your creative outlet. I think when you stay away from that mentality too long then it can have an adverse effect. I will reiterate the fact that I love Los Angeles and have had many great times here. ... It was just a case of having to go back and re-associate myself.
AP: How did you decide not to release an album that you worked on for two years?
Seal: The reason why people connect with my music is because maybe they find some kind of emotional quality that resonates with them and so that's what it is. That's what my music is about. That's me in a nutshell. I tend to make this emotional connection in my music ... I have to be singing the songs well and with conviction. It has to have that emotional connection, it has to be relevant. Once it has that, that quality, that emotion, that relevance, then it connects. The problem with the first record, the one that I scratched, was that it had none of that.
AP: Where do you find inspiration to write songs?
Seal: Part of the record-making process that I find particularly consuming in terms of time is the putting yourself in a situation where you facilitate the inspiration. Putting yourself in a situation whereby that creative flow will start to happen. Putting yourself in a situation where you become open, where you allow those songs and that music and that creative nature to come through. That's the hard part. The actual writing of the songs is not difficult at all. If you write from emotion then you write what you feel.
Where do you find inspiration? It can be anywhere. And the difficult thing is not finding the things to write about because they're everywhere. You don't spend thirteen years in Los Angeles and not have nothing to write about. You don't come from a quintessential city like London and have nothing to write about. You don't really have a life like I do and have nothing to write about. There are tons of things to write about all the time. There are tons of places to draw inspiration. There are many different sources of inspiration. You've just got to put yourself in a situation where you can see it.
AP: What's the inspiration behind your first single?
Seal: There is no deep inner meaning or reason behind it. It's just entertainment. That's the only way I can describe that song. A lot of people say that this album has a traditional R&B or soulful feel to it and I think that Waiting for You is kind of indicative of that. When I listen to it, it reminds me of a very early Stevie Wonder track. Maybe something like I Was Meant to Love Her, or Fingertips, or something like that. I mean, if I could only be half as good as that, I'd be a happy man.
AP: What part of the music-making process do you love the most?
Seal: Being a recording artist brings a great many treasures. There are many aspects of what I do that I really enjoy, but if there was one feeling which I treasure the most is that initial birth of a song. That initial conception where one minute there is nothing and seemingly the next there is this song. There is this tangible thing that's a result of emotion being open, being vulnerable, being willing. It never ceases to amaze me and that can only be described as the most cathartic experience that I've ever had. That moment when a song comes through, where you have no idea where it came from. You just know that you're not in control. You know that it didn't come from you. You just colored it and it came through you. I think that that's the most amazing feeling.