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Seahawks Are the Balearic Buccaneers You Never Knew You Needed in Your Life

Ahead of the release of a new EP, the cosmic deckshoegaze duo discuss everything from Terry Nutkins to library music.

by Tom Glencross
31 May 2017, 9:54am

Aside from being probably the most brandished and battered genre label on Earth, what exactly is Balearic music? Cosmic deckshoegaze duo Jon Tye and Pete Fowler's latest EP Starways, which arrives later this month, is both another celestial driftwood chronicle from their Seahawks project and a further muddying of the what-is-Balearic waters.. At the rocket-tip of kosmische and Balearic exploration, Seahawks have been perfecting their unique spacey productions and psychedelic ambient innerspaces on their label Ocean Moon and beyond for over six years, blurring the boundaries between Balearic, AOR, and New Age sounds.

At 6am in the dense after-party fog, listening to the Seahawks sound with your friends is like a mystifying experience, a cosmic lifejacket—something to hold onto whilst chatting, daydreaming, hallucinating—taking you to the blissful imaginary landscapes of Tye and Fowler's own creation. Their last LP Escape Hatch was a modern masterpiece, sailing into this world like a waxed Antiguan yacht anchoring beneath a cool, blue midnight. A couple of very special and transcendent nights later, and Seahawks had moored in our subconscious for good.

When I heard about their new EP, I was extremely excited to chat to Pete and Jon about the Seahawks creation story, art and transcendence, human-dolphin communication, boat building on the Scilly Isles, ego-death through library music, and the impossibly angelic voice of Friendly Fires' Ed Macfarlane.

Firstly, thanks for agreeing to chat with us today. Pete you're in London, Jon you're in Cornwall – how are you both doing?
Jon Tye: The sun is out and I'm looking forward to heading to the beach as soon as work is done. I've been getting ever deeper into the Eventide H3000 Ultra-harmonizer. It's an incredible machine, and as Tony Visconti says: 'it fucks with the fabric of time and space'! Also been listening to lots of new age tapes and diving deep on the Joan Ocean website. There's some interesting information on there.
Pete Fowler: I'm writing this in the garden of my local pub in Bethnal Green. Life could be way worse! My day job is an illustrator and I'm always juggling various jobs, I've been working for the Welsh government and Pepsi. Plus I've been DJing which is one of the things I love doing the most to be honest.

How did you guys meet, and what were the formative experiences that began this cosmic legend?
Pete: I met Jon via Lo Recordings—they're based in the same building as my studio. Going back to Jon's studio after his set at the Big Chill bar where he had a residency, we both realised our shared love of AOR, cosmic sounds and disco. Soon after that I joined his residency—we ended up playing for years! I'd been buying homemade synths and circuit bent electronics and we started to make music together under the name Space Weather sounds. Geoff from Static Caravan got in touch and wanted to release our first record. By then we'd changed direction to an early incarnation of what we do now.

Seahawks have an incredibly refined and bizarre sound—it's something you have to discover by chance after some digging around. How does it feel to be proudly (and quietly) leading this Kosmische revival, and making a name as respected artists in this completely niche and wonderfully weird scene?
Pete: We imagined a world where New Age, Kosmiche, AOR and disco were happy bedfellows. I guess the genesis of this melting pot started with an edit of Don Henley's "Boys of Summer" that I did. I sent this to Jon to check out and he returned it with an added looped sample from an early Oneohtrix Point Never track. We sent it to Daniel (OPN) and he dug it, and that was the first 12" we put out on our own Captains Log label – "Omega Beach".
Jon: We've met a whole bunch of really great people, played at some amazing parties in Japan and Europe, so yes it's been a blast. I think there's a community of people dedicated to exploring diverse styles of music and that's got to be a good thing.
Pete: We've had some great feedback and support from a bunch of people in that scene, Phil Mison, Chris Coco, Steve Lee, Cos Mes to name a few. We don't scream and shout about what we do, and sometimes you wonder who is listening and appreciating the music, so it's great to know that we've been welcomed by some of those cats.

Pete, how do you bring your work as an illustrator and visual artist to Seahawks?
Pete: I never wanted to bring my illustration style to the artwork for the records as thought that might confuse things. I'd been doing digital collage work for a while so I thought that would be a more anonymous way to create the visual side for us. As we were initially sampling sounds I saw a parallel in the collage ideas to how we were creating our music at the time, so creating the artwork for our own music seemed to give us more control. It's certainly influenced a lot of my work over the years, and recently Jon used his work on the cover of our last LP Escape Hatch. His artwork is excellent by the way, I just had to say that as he's a little coy about it!

Your illustrations for Outlaws Yacht Club are fantastic too. What's the scene like in Leeds?
Pete: I love the guys at Outlaws, Joe, Craig and all the crew. We've DJ'd up there a few times and I did a show of my paintings there, they seemed to be kindred spirits in their attitude to music. I bought my KEF speakers I have at home because of the sound they had there. Not got my hands on a Urei rotary mixer yet but there's still hope. Also big shout out to Andy Pye that runs Balearic Social label. Along with being a great lad, he's an ace DJ.

Jon, you've been piloting Lo Recordings for over two decades. You've worked on all kinds of different projects and inhabited a bunch of alter-egos along the way—Cherry Garcia, Captain Sunshine—How much is role-playing part of the music you create?
Jon: I see it not so much as playing a part, as immersion in a concept. For Cherry Garcia we tried to create a kind of psychedelic Amazonian experience, inspired by the writings of Terence Mckenna. We got really lost in that world. That's what we do with Seahawks, each release is a kind of vision quest. We like to get lost in a world of sound.

Jon, you've been piloting Lo Recordings for over two decades. You've worked on all kinds of different projects and inhabited a bunch of alter-egos along the way—Cherry Garcia, Captain Sunshine—How much is role-playing part of the music you create?
Jon: I see it not so much as playing a part, as immersion in a concept. For Cherry Garcia we tried to create a kind of psychedelic Amazonian experience, inspired by the writings of Terence Mckenna. We got really lost in that world. That's what we do with Seahawks, each release is a kind of vision quest. We like to get lost in a world of sound.

I feel these worlds have a real architecture to them. They take you to lots of imagined places and half-forgotten daydreams, spaces you can walk around and explore them. How did the nautical theme develop?
Jon: I remember when I first moved to Cornwall I bought an album called The Soft Sea by Rod McKuen. The idea of mixing the sounds of the sea with music and voice was a part of that. Later, we were mixing tracks like "Sailing The Wind" by Loggins and Messina, or "Marina Del Ray" by Marc Jordan using lots of phasing and delay and woozy electronics. We found we'd created a cosmic yacht rock vibe. It felt like a good world to explore both visually and musically.
Pete: I went to art school in Falmouth; it has a deep nautical history, and unless you lock yourself away you can't avoid that. I did a bit of boat building on the Scilly Isles so I was pretty salty for a while. The Beach Boys' Holland LP was one of the first records I associated with the nautical life. I was living on the islands at the time and it really crystallised my life. I almost bought Terry Nutkins' old boat, and it's funny to think how things might have been different if I buggered off around the world on that. Probably would have been a leathery skinned dude hanging out in the Caribbean, island hopping and smashing the rum.

These imagined seascapes – do you write your music with them in mind, or do they emerge from your work?
Jon: We often use sounds of nature, particularly aquatic sounds—waves, bubbles, dolphins—to create a backdrop. It's an imaginary landscape that we can then populate with sounds, each with its own character. Certain keys and sounds can help create specific states of mind. We like to transport the listener (and ourselves) to another dimension. Space travel in your own living room.
Pete: There's no particular process or starting point for us when we make music but it's certainly something we keep in mind. Jon has an awesome 'mood board' in his studio that I love to see grow when I visit his studio down in Cornwall. Often it can be spontaneous, but I feel that we both share similar views and aesthetics so we're often on the same page, even if we come from slightly different directions sometimes.

I can hear a lot of sound library stuff in your records; Stephen Halpern's crystal spirituality; even James Ferraro. Are you both fans?
Jo: Totally. I'm a huge library music fan and we've released several seminal compilations of it on Lo. There's something about the anonymity of library music (and new age music) that I really like, you can get into the music without knowing anything about the person who made it, without the projection of personality. I think that makes for a much more interesting and mysterious musical world.
Pete: I think it's the freedom to make music that you can imagine, merging those kind of approaches and inspirations through the grist of everyday life. I see it as some kind of cosmic safe space where we operate. I think we've made our best music in Jon's studio on the hill in Cornwall. That definitely adds something to how we work without a doubt. There is something in the air down there for sure, time runs a little differently.
Jon: We love James Ferraro, that whole scene (when it was a scene) was a huge influence; OPN, Chuck Person, Emeralds, Autre Ne Veut, Rangers. There seemed to be something new out every week, and all of it amazing. That warped, woozy sound we love.

And the remix of Paula Moore's "Valparasio" with Ed Macfarlane on vocals: how did you devise this unique angelic anthem?
Jon: That was one of those cosmic creations that materialize from time to time. A friend came round and gave me a Technics synth (the same friend who'd originally turned me on to Paula Moore). I'd always thought it would be a great track to cover and with the Technics synth auto accompaniment feature, I was able to look up the chords on the internet and put together a version in a few hours. I'd met Ed to discuss the idea of a library compilation a few weeks earlier, he was aware of Seahawks and kindly offered to record some vocals if we needed some. I sent him the demo of "Valparaiso" and he was into it right away. He did an amazing job and sent the vocal files ready to go. We then added fretless bass, guitar sax and synth and before we knew it, it was done.

It seems like there's a real element of improvisation and surprise in the music you create—ambient chillers suddenly transforming into sleazy R&B bangers—and of course the Ed Macfarlane brainwave too.
Jon: We really like to stretch things out and jam things together - there's always been a collage aspect to our work that can create unexpected transitions. We live for those transcendent moments!
Pete: We very rarely stay to a plan when recording and always change tracks quite late in. I think spontaneous decisions are some of the most enjoyable moments in what we do. We've had so many happy accidents with things that we've gone with and built on, and I try and keep that idea with my artwork too. A lot of the initial ideas come from playing around and turning something on its head. It's how all of my artwork starts.

The new EP sounds banging. What Nick Mackory has brought to "Valparasio" with that gorgeous acoustic guitar, Marius Circus' acidy twanging all over "Visitors", and Len Leise stepping up from International Feel, is fantastic.
Jon: We've been blessed with so many incredible remixes: Dr Dunks, Prins Thomas, Ruf Dug, Jonny Nash, Rune Lindbaek. I think remixes are part of the landscape, it is like a form of cultivation. We like to sow musical seeds from which strange musical hybrids can grow.
Pete: Marius got in touch via my artwork funnily enough. I illustrated the house cover for his In The Garden label and we both liked his music, so we just reached out and he made such a great remix. We were both very happy for it to get a Norwegian acid drench!

Well, thanks again for chatting to us, and thanks for the music. Before you go, do you have some tracks you're both enjoying spinning at the moment?
Jon: Looking at a few from the front of the pile, Joni Mitchell's "Chalk Mark In A Rain Storm" and Laraaji's "Celestial Vibrations."
Pete: I'm really enjoying the Alice Coltrane reissue on Luaka Bop, so deep.
I'm always buying tons of disco, like People's Choice's "Movin' in All Directions" and the Optimo edit of Dennis Bovell's "Heaven." I've also been enjoying Marcos Valle's late 70's -80's LPs, via my girlfriend's obsession with him!

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With a sound that lies somewhere between intercepted alien discoid communications and whale drone amplified through an enormous pearlescent conch, Seahawks latest EP Starways will surely be the juiciest hidden gem of 2017. You're going to love it as much as we do.