Simeon Bartholomew, musical mastermind behind Sydney’s instrumental math-rock outfit SEIMS, took some time with us to discuss how things are travelling for his project, nigh on the release of new EP, ‘3.1’, a continuation of colour-coded concept EP ‘3’.
Cheerily, he remarks, “It’s been a great run since the whole thing started, it just keeps getting better and better as things progress.” Citing playing this year’s Progfest, premiering new single Translucence on Triple J and planning both national and overseas tours, he is understandably stoked. “We premiered the single on The Racket, and I felt maybe a bit sorry for some of their listeners with such a pretty sounding song, in between djent bands!” Fear not, we’d say – the latest EP mirrors that of its predecessor in creating both lilting harmony and sharp, angular complexity – sonic heaviness that doesn’t necessarily need drop tuning to achieve that aim.
As primary composer, Bartholomew notes, “This project essentially started out of an interest to push my songwriting ability for a whole band, as opposed to just bass or guitar, and then making a point of trying to play and mix it all.” He hands his charts to his live fellows for onstage performance, save for drummer Chris Allison as an exception, who “Will have a look at drum charts I send him, asking about parts to be tweaked and changed, turning into more of a discussion”, noting that “The man is absolutely incredible and his ability shouldn’t be wasted.”
Overall, Bartholomew seems (SEIMS – bad pun intended) to have high respect for all the core session musicians who form his live act. “The cool thing is we play the same charts on paper that I recorded with and they have such a different feel live,” he notes. “They’re reading and playing the same way, with the same rigs, and yet it’s completely different live which is phenomenal testament to their expression.” He also is in awe of how the live band manages band scaling down from a recorded 11-piece (after counting for cellos, violins, etc) down to a four-piece. “Live, we have a synth and trumpet player, myself on bass and synths, a drummer, and a guitarist. It’s fun to scale it back and still have just as big a sound as the studio experience.”
Taking it back to new EP ‘3.1’, Bartholomew is animated in discussing his thoughts about the relationship of colours that informed prior effort ‘3’. “I find it fascinating that you can make any colour in the world out of cyan/magenta/yellow – but not black. If you think about ink cartridges in your printer, colour will always be separate to black as it is absolute and won’t mix in with hues, it’s on its own spectrum. What does the spectrum of luminescence contribute as well, then?” This is a question Simon aimed to tackle musically, metaphorically and visually on ‘3.1’, which tackles the light spectrum from Absolute Black, the 256 shades of grey of Translucence and the purity of brightness in Clarity. “Absolute Black sounds ‘metal’ as a title,” he admits. “You hear that sort of title and your mind immediately drifts to shredding and blastbeats.” He’s not wrong, really. “This isn’t what’s on offer, but it’s still quite a crushing song – it has a forceful start and strong palette without a musical resolve. Absolute black has as a colour no resolve or boundary.” Contrastingly, Clarity “is about the ability to see something through to the finish, the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s about a long 7/4 passage towards the light, never shifting from that, rolling straight towards it.”
It’s clear from our discussion so far that Bartholomew is careful with the musical, visual and metaphorical aspects of his band on disc and onstage. “Every little note has a motif and a point,” he stresses, “which is much harder to communicate with instrumental music – this is also what makes it so much fun. It’s about alluding to the audience and painting a picture, and the audience takes from that what they will.”
Speaking of pictures, the video clip to new single Translucence even features a choreographed interpretive dance piece from renowned ballet performer Angela Hamilton. An interesting mix, indeed. After meeting her on set for a TV commercial, Simon attended a concert she’d advertised on Facebook. “When I went to it, I was blown away by both her performance and choreography, others had described as ‘controlled chaos’. This is exactly what we go for live, a feeling of breaking away and never resolving, but staying in line.” When prompted as to whether he’d considered something similar for the live setting, he audibly lit up like a Christmas tree. “You know what? I’ve never thought of that,” he muses and, after a pause, adds “now that you say that, I want to say yes! (laughs).
“I mean when you pay to see a band perform, you pay to see them perform. There’s nothing worse than bands playing note by note with no passion. Bands like Meniscus have visual artists doing stuff like that with a screen – who knows, we might be able to do similar with dance performance!”
It’s very clear that Bartholomew is a man determined to bring as full a sensory experience as possible with SEIMS, and we look forward to the live incarnations of ‘3.1’.
You can pre-order the ‘3.1’ EP HERE.