Interview: Hifi Sean

Hifi Sean is the latest guise of songwriter, DJ and producer Sean Dickson. Previously frontman of Scottish guitar wielders The Soup Dragons and latterly artful poppers The High Fidelity, he’s since reinvented himself, embracing the nocturnal worlds of disco, house and electro.

His latest LP FT is his first under this banner and sees him collaborating with some of the most significant musical icons of the past 40 years including Yoko Ono, Soft Cell’s Dave Ball and Alan Vega from Suicide. We find out more about the record and how it feels to work with your heroes…

How did FT happen?

I wanted to work with unique people from my record collection who sound like nobody else. No one thinks in genres anymore as everybody’s record collections are so eclectic.

It was really exciting for me getting back to making music after so long. That was the reason I did it. I’d been fucked around so much by the industry that I lost all energy in making records.

Working with 13 collaborators is some undertaking – what was the biggest challenge?

It was important for me to make it sound like an album and leave my musicality all over it, especially as the musicality of these collaborators is so strong. I don’t think anybody on the album sounds like themselves, whether it’s Yoko Ono or B52’s Fred Schneider.

What’s the secret to collaborating with your heroes?

I was at shy at first but then the producer in me took over. When I started, the album was less song-based and more experimental. But then I realised as it continued that I really am a songwriter after all. The challenge was to forget who I was working with and concentrate on what’s best for the music. All of my collaborators must have trusted me and that blows my mind. They all let me take their legacy and put it on record.

Who was the most surprising collaborator you worked with?

They were all amazing. But Alan stands out for sad reasons after his death. You don’t expect to work with somebody and they don’t live to see its release.

He took a chance doing something different – they all did – as part of the idea was to push them out of their comfort zones. With Alan it would have been really easy to make a Suicide-esque record. But I wanted to do something very electronic and minimal, then halfway through the track falls apart and an orchestra takes over. He adored the idea. But I’ve found it really hard to get my head round how I helped him make his last record. The first time I listened to it properly in San Francisco I ended up crying my eyes out.

You’re now working as Hifi Sean – what’s behind this?

People want you to have a hashtag that defines you. But I probably have about five because I’ve been in so many bands. My email address was Hifi Sean so it just stuck as a DJ name. When it came to this album, it made sense to use it.

It’s weird for people when the penny drops I was in The Soup Dragons, especially online. There was something I was tagged in that mentioned them and suddenly, I had hundreds of Facebook friend requests. That’s what happens in the digital world.

The weirdest thing is how I get continually asked to reform previous bands, but that just doesn’t excite me. I like moving forward. On the back of one of our old records it said ‘Forwards ever, backwards never’. It just wouldn’t fulfil me to look to the past.

What are your hopes for FT?

All you can hope is people hear it. I always remember Jazz Summers, an old manager of mine who passed away last year, used to say ‘get the music right and everything falls into place’. I’m still a bit old school like that. It’s now really hard to get records on the radio because there’s so much. We’re a nation of scrollers with short attention spans. I’m the same as a DJ. I don’t know any who listen to every seven-minute track they get.

But I have a fear that I get sent so much music, I’ll miss a brilliant record. I always remember John Peel had sacks full of records in his house. He had piles for listening now, some later, some never. I asked him how he kept this going. He said: ‘I always believe the next record I hear may be the best I’ve ever heard’. I’ll take that to my grave. It’s the best thing that anybody’s ever said to me.

You’re a resident DJ at Savage, an ace club in a London strip joint – could you explain a little about the night?

Savage is amazing. It’s such fun. The great thing about Savage is there’s no sexual boundaries, it’s just a complete cross section of society in a club. I’ve heard people who go and are like, “wow, this is what clubbing used to be like”. It’s an amazing hotchpotch. It’s a strip club so the first floor’s got dancing poles and leopard skin carpets.

The second floor has a full-sized beach buggy in a glass box where punters can have wet rides. The next floor has a beach. It’s actually got sand in a room, plus a tiki lounge kind of vibe with fake wallpaper beach scenes. It’s great. The music is a combination of disco, electronica and italo-disco and all kinds of things mixed together. It’s really fun. It’s that great marriage when a club and a venue actually become a perfect match. It’s really fun to DJ at because you can get away with playing the most obscure italo-disco records, then play Sunny by Boney M and the place goes crazy.

Have you any advice for new songwriters?

Don’t be disheartened by the industry. It’s become very gentrified but don’t let that change you because people will get bored of all that eventually. It’ll come round in a big circle. Put blinkers up and do what you do with the best that you can do it. Like Jazz said, get the music right and it’ll all fall into place.

FT is out now on Plastique Recordings.

hifisean.com

Listen to Atomium featuring Bootsy Collins from FT.