Seoul dream of urban decay on their debut LP

An interview with the Montreal-based trio of small-town guys, whose atmospheric pop record I Become a Shade is launching this week.

Seoul. Photo by Christopher Honeywell
Nigel Ward, Dexter Garcia and Julian Flavin are Seoul. The Montreal trio has been active locally and regionally as a live band since 2013, and now they’re broadcasting their atmospheric pop sound to a wider audience with the release of their debut LP, I Become a Shade. I spoke to Ward and Garcia at the end of April, when they were in L.A. on their first ever cross-continent tour, co-headlining with Berlin band Ballet School.

“Oh! Woah,” says Flavin, reacting to Seoul’s ranking at as #1 Best Electronic Act in the Best of MTL readers poll.

“It’s an honour, and it’s definitely surprising,” says Ward. “We’ve gone to a lot of trouble to operate as a band and play parts and not use too many sequences, but we can’t really deny that there are a lot of electronic elements.”

“We also like to use the studio at face value and not limit ourselves to the organic sounds that our live instrumentation would produce,” Flavin adds. “We use whatever’s at our disposal to push the sound in whatever emotional direction we want to, and obviously these days, being on a laptop and having so much to manipulate, being able to do sculptural studio work easily, is something that a lot of people have access to.”

“But it’s funny because I was talking to a friend just last night about working with digital audio and how I kind of want to not do that — I want to impose some limits,” says Ward.

With the broadening of musical taste and the democratization of music production, genre is becoming increasingly difficult to determine, especially in indie circles where easy categorization for careerist purposes (like radio formatting) are less of a concern.

“It’s a really interesting period for music, and us being on this list maybe is especially interesting because it’s such a grey area,” Flavin says. “The music industry, distribution and creation is going through such an overhaul and everybody is confused and trying to find their own path through it.”

Earlier this month, Seoul’s debut record, I Become a Shade, was released by Last Gang Records. The album was self-produced, recorded between Montreal, Ward and Flavin’s native Kingston, ON and Boston, where Garcia was studying (he’s a native of Connecticut). Their goals with songwriting and production are fused.

“There’s this atmosphere that we try to keep afloat in all of the work, to make sure that it’s immersive, a world that people can enter,” Flavin says. “The goal is to come up with songs that are really poignant and absolute, which is kind of a pop approach, where you’re trying to make these little distilled pop moments. But there’s such an emphasis aesthetically, not only musically but visually, with film and imagery. That’s how the music merges into immersive cinematic ambience.”

Seoul I Become a ShadeThe album’s title and cover artwork offer entry to the theme inside, inspired by the relatively new environment that these small-town guys are living in.

“The photo was a very impromptu moment,” Flavin explains. “We were at the Planetarium, and we were kind of restless after sitting in beanbag chairs staring at constellation projections, so we went on a little run around the Olympic Stadium, and I was spinning with my backpack in my hand.

“A lot of the album deals with this feeling of being in an urban space and feeling overwhelmed. It deals with the feeling of liquefying into your surroundings, and that being both this beautiful, emancipating thing, but also this devastating, destructive feeling.

“The photo felt like it had a very particular energy and tension to it, and we felt like it captured that theme of becoming a less complete version of yourself. You can’t really tell if it’s an ecstatic moment or a lost moment.” ■
Seoul launches I Become a Shade with opener Kyle Bobby Dunn at 185 Van Horne on Friday, June 26, 9 p.m., $10/$12