Friday Nights at NGV: Interview with Sally Seltmann

We interviewed Sally Seltmann, who will be headlining Friday Nights at NGV on 5 February 2016.

Describe your sound in 5 words or less?
Melodic, heartfelt, velvety, playful, dreamy

If your music was an artwork what would it look like?
At times, it would look like Untitled Film Still 48, by Cindy Sherman and during other moments it would look like Satellite Fade Out 7, by Del Kathryn Barton

Do you have a favourite artist/artwork?
Well I love Cindy Sherman, and Del Kathryn Barton! And I also love Sophie Calle, particularly her Hotel Room works, Lucien Freud, Egon Schiele, Frida Kahlo…the list goes on.

What’s your favourite gig you have played to date?
I really enjoyed supporting Bon Iver a few years ago, particularly the outdoor show in Perth.

What inspires/influences your music the most?
I’m inspired by music, films, books, fashion. I love studying different eras and the art, music and fashion that was created during that time. Conversations with interesting people is always inspiring, as is overhearing strangers conversations, observing people and how they behave and interact with each other, visual art, nature, particularly the ocean. At times I am inspired by music more than anything else. But it’s more a combination of the arts that inspire and influence me.

What song do you wish you wrote?
I wish I wrote ‘Here You Come Again’ written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and sung by Dolly Parton. It’s such a great song!

What part of making music excites you the most?
Being able to express myself, thinking about what I’ll wear when I play shows (ha ha, that’s true!), knowing that I’m making something to put out into the world that did not exist before. Singing harmonies, and playing piano excites me too.

What can someone expect from your live show?
I sing and play a keyboard with lots of different sounds, from vintage organ, to wurlitzer, piano, and synth. Now that I’ve released four albums (two as New Buffalo, and two as Sally Seltmann) I try to play some old favourites, as well as some new songs. Bree van Reyk will be playing drums, and she is an incredible player! So emotional and fluid…amazing to watch, and listen to. And Neal Sutherland will be on bass and harmonies. I love playing as a three piece. I also play a few songs on guitar, and there’s a bit of story telling, and quite a few love songs!

Tell us about the last song or album you created?
The last album I created is called ‘Hey Daydreamer’. It’s quite a lush sounding album, with lots of old keyboard sounds, flutes, horns, harps, and drum machines. It’s very kaleidoscopic and dreamy! I’m really proud of it. I recorded and produced it with my husband Darren Seltmann.

I also released a single last January called ‘We Are The Music’. It’s very pop and keyboard driven, and I wrote and recorded it while I was living in LA.

What is your favourite part of being involved in Friday Nights at NGV?
I’m a huge visual art fan, and I love the idea of performing at the NGV. Bringing art and music together feels good!

Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei showcases over 300 artworks that explore the parallels and intersections between the practices of these two exemplary artists. Are you excited about the exhibition?
Yes, I’m really excited about seeing the exhibition! I was recently given a great book called 33 Artists in 3 Acts, by Sarah Thornton, and there are a few sections on Ai Weiwei. I was very inspired reading about his art practice, and influences. His ‘Sunflower Seeds’ work is beautiful!

I know a lot about Andy Warhol, and I’m a big Velvet Underground fan, so I’m looking forward to seeing his work too.

A large portion of the works included in the Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei exhibition include political or social commentary. Have you been inspired to do this through your music?
I’m mainly interested in emotions and feelings and relationships, and personal, intimate things. Occasionally I do write songs that include themes of political or social commentary though. Like in my song ‘5 Stars’, which was inspired by a guy I saw walking down the street carrying audio equipment, after he’d burgled a house. I was later called in to the police station to look through pages of head shots of male criminals, trying to find him. I was so saddened by these desperate images of lonely, angry villainous men, who were clearly from really unfortunate backgrounds. And it seemed so unfair. You don’t choose what family you’re born into, or how much love you get from your parents, or how fortunate your upbringing is. Those feelings led me to writing ‘5 Stars’.

Andy Warhol famously said: ‘Art is what you can get away with.’ How would you respond?
Andy Warhol was a confident white male, so yeah, that seemed to work for him, which is great! I do like how this encourages artists to push the boundaries, and try all your crazy ideas. Don’t be afraid.

Ai Weiwei once said: ‘A small act is worth a million thoughts.’ How would you respond?
This is beautiful. I read this in two ways. In terms of art, all art forms, there is so much thinking involved. You can have a very minimal painting (the ‘small act’), which came about from many many weeks of thinking, workshopping, rough drafts.

I think he’s also suggesting that acting on something is worth much more than just thinking about it. So instead of thinking how sad it is that there are so many people going hungry in the world, you should give a homeless person some food, or do some small act to help.

What else are you working on now? Or where are you next touring?
I’ve just finished composing and recording music for a TV pilot with my husband Darren. I wrote some songs with / for Susanna Hoffs last year, and I’ll soon be working on recording these. I’m really excited about that, because she’s amazing, and we both love the songs so much!

I also have an EP coming out soon for my side project Alphabet Botanical. These are fun songs I wrote and recorded in LA over the last few years. I’m also slowly writing for another solo album, and soon I’ll head back to LA where I write songs for other singers.