The former Brighton-based BIMM student has just released his second album, the follow up to his critcially acclaimed debute The Fire Inside. Possessing a powerful, rough-hewn voice, writer of many a majestic and elegant songs, Sital-Singh has picked himself up after being dropped by a major label to deliver another beautifully crafted work. He took time out to talk to Brightonsfinest.
What you up to?
I'm in my house, loitering. It's been a day of interviews. You are the last one, so you've either got the most disarmed or the most grumpy me!
Where are you based now?
I live in Bristol. Been here for two years, in the Redland area. I like it. Although I probably would move back to London if it made sense. Bristol does tick a lot of those London-y boxes, whilst being nicer and smaller. And it's got a singular character.
Is the new album is being released independently?
It's a kind of grown up version of the first couple of EP's I put out, which were also licensed to Julian's (his manager) little label (Raygun) but with bigger distribution behind it. We've got the control. It's just me and Julian running the show. It's working out and feels good.
What is it about this album that is different from your previous album?
It feels a little more intimate, maybe slightly more subdued than the first one. We didn't care about radio singles. There are a couple of more uptempo tunes but I was just trying to follow my nose in terms of what music I like, which tends to be the more melancholy side of things. It was a more organically made album, ten days in a studio out in Donegal. Not rushed, but an efficient process of playing in a room with some other musicians, with some microphones, and recording what happened. Mac (Tommy McLaughlin) has given it a more raw, live energy to it. We didn't try and correct anything massively, so there are a few mistakes left in there. It feels a little more human to me. Lyrically, it is a bit more questioning perhaps, a bit more confused. On the first album I was thinking through every single line and making sure everything made sense to me and I knew what I was talking about. This time, the songs were coming to me in a more self-conscious way and I was intentionally trying to let the lyrics come out and not necessarily question them instantly and almost make up the meaning of them a bit more afterwards. It lends the songs a bit more of an ambiguous tone. There are also a couple of songs that are more personal than I have ever written.
As an artist, do you do want to be in control?
There are some great lessons to learn about compromise and some valuable things I learned while on a major label (Parlophone about what my vision is. To come up against things that I was disagreeing with but going with, because I am naturally a bit of a people pleaser. It was probably quite helpful in the long run, but not enjoyable at the time. I don't regret anything though. I learned tonnes. For instance, I don't think I would have felt comfortable doing this album the way we did it, if it hadn't been for that experience.
Tell me about the title track, 'Time Is A Riddle'?
It's a completely original thought! I didn't take it from anything. I've no idea where it came from. In this instance I was on the piano and playing around with the chords and that phrase came out. The song itself was important to the making of the album. I was going through, not so much a writer's block, but I couldn't finish a song. I had no confidence because of the ending process with the first label. But I finished 'Time Is A Riddle' and usually I sit on it for a while, and then finally decide to send it to Julian, which is a bit of a wall to get over. I'm ready for Julian to either say, 'That's crap', or 'That's great'. He came back glowingly, and that unlocked something in me to carry on, and it all flowed out fairly easily after that.
I also felt it was a cool title for an album! To me, it speaks to me as a circular, confusing aspect of looking back, regrets, the future, and wondering about where I'm going and what's happening to me as I go along.
You seem to be wrapping yourself up in the so-called 'Slow Movement' and filming craftespeople.
I've been bit by the bug of that slow movement, and especially when it comes to the way things are made, by British craftspeople. It was just an idea where I would go around the country and visit some of these people, some of whom I know personally. I would also perform a song in their workshop. One of the films we made features a letterpress artist, my wife is a printmaker… It's the world of using old techniques to make things, and the way that speaks to today's culture. It's an aesthetic and philosophical thing I enjoy. I seem to be drawn more to people who make everyday items, like knives, and cups. There's something poetic about knowing some of the things you use every day, that maybe you take for granted, slaved over by someone. But, I'm also just interested in how things are made. I'm always watching Youtube videos of factories, how tennis balls and zippo lighters are made. I don't why! I'm just fascinated to know where things come from. I think it all plays into wanting to do things well and being intentional about the way I go about my career.
The album artwork itself is by your wife?
Hannah is a printmaker and she carves out these images in lino and prints them. It's a captivating and time consuming process. You could do it in five minutes using a computer, using some kind of distressed effect on a picture. But there is something a bit more meaningful doing it the the original way.
As well as perfoming here, in your former hometown, you'll be doing a show at the Union Chapel in London…
I'm very excited about that. I used to work there, as a steward. It's a lovely room. I used to think, 'one day'. For the tour, it'll just be me and a guitar. I've tried various things but always come back to solo. When it works, it works. I love it more than anything else I've tried to do. I find it satisfyingly difficult to keep an audience, and make a dynamic of a performance. It seems to me it takes a lifetime to learn, to stand on stage alone, and make it memorable.