Seal: Finding The 'Soul' Behind The Song The British singer's new album, Soul 2, is a collection of reimagined R&B classics from the 1960s and '70s. He says, however, that his personal definition of soul has less to do with genre than with a songwriter's intent.
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Seal: Finding The 'Soul' Behind The Song

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Seal: Finding The 'Soul' Behind The Song

Seal: Finding The 'Soul' Behind The Song

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This is, of course, Al Green's classic, "Let's Stay Together," first released in the 1970s. Now, some 40 years later it's been re-invented by the singer Seal.


SEAL: (Singing) Times are good or bad, happy and sad. Let's, let's stay together...

MARTIN: Seal has re-imagined that song, along with 10 other well-known '70s hits on his newest album. It's called "Soul 2," and it's a follow-up to the singer's previous "Soul" album released in 2008. For this new CD, Seal teamed up with producer Trevor Horn, who helped create some of Seal's best known original songs, such as "Kiss from a Rose," "Don't Cry" and this song you couldn't escape if you had a radio on in the early '90s.


MARTIN: Seal joins us from NPR West. Thank you so much for joining us. Welcome to the program, Seal.

SEAL: I thank you very much (unintelligible). It's good to be here. You know, listening to the original version of "Let's Stay Together," I suddenly felt to myself, my God, what have I done. It just sounds so good, doesn't it? I mean, admittedly, of course, it's his song.


MARTIN: OK. So, talk to me about that process of saying, well, yeah, this is this behemoth in music and this song in particular. And why that song? Why did you think yeah?

SEAL: Well, well, well, well, of course, you know, we all know that song. It's impossible for anyone not to know that song. But one of the things I do, which kind of explains a little bit about what I just said, is I try not to listen to the original. Whenever I'm covering a song, I don't want to listen to the original because my first loyalty is to the song. So, I try not to listen to what has been done already and try and, you know, bring my own interpretation to it.


SEAL: I'm sure by now you would have seen that President Obama's...

MARTIN: I did.

SEAL: ...version of that. And honestly, I sat there thinking to myself how lucky I am that he has a day job. Because his version was so good. I mean, his tone was incredible.

MARTIN: It was pretty on, wasn't it, yeah? I want to get back into the album. Let's take a listen to "Backstabbers." This is first performed by the Philadelphia soul group The O'Jays.


MARTIN: Are you singing along, Seal?

SEAL: I was, 'cause I really like singing this.


MARTIN: What do you love about that song?

SEAL: I love the irony in it. It's satirical, isn't it? It's a part of life, something that everyone goes through. They smile in your face but all the time they want to take your place, the backstabbers. But it's not angry. It's funky, it's dramatic, but it's got a lot of bite to it.


MARTIN: (Singing) I can see clearly...

SEAL: Yeah. (Singing) I can see clearly the rain is gone...

MARTIN: You did that much better than I did.

SEAL: Well, it is my day job.

MARTIN: That's true.

SEAL: I think. But thank you.

MARTIN: You were 10.

SEAL: I was 10 and it's quite interesting because when I look back on my childhood and all this sort of well-documented difficulties that I had in my childhood, it actually seems quite appropriate that that would be the song that would change my life.

MARTIN: I know it's mostly documented for people, but we should remind who don't know. You were in foster care for a short time as a child, you went back to your biological parents and had a difficult childhood.

SEAL: Yeah. It was difficult but, you know, we've all had our difficulties in one shape or one form or another in our childhood. But that was a song that I used to escape to. That was a song that would lift me out of those difficult times. And that was a song that gave me hope. And that was my first realization that a song can actually do that. It can transport you into this world of ideals and hope and optimism.


MARTIN: You have had some changes in your personal life, if you don't mind me asking about this. We learned last week that you and your wife, Heidi Klum, model and TV host, are separating, which is obviously a painful thing for anyone to go through. And you've already spoken publicly some about this. But I was wondering how music fits into your life during points like the one that you're in? Is it a refuge for you? Is it a distraction? Is it a burden?

SEAL: Well, it's certainly not a distraction. You know, and the interesting thing about being a musician or being a songwriter is that music actually does reflect pretty much everything that's going on in your life. You don't necessarily have to be singing specifically about things that are going on in your life. But because of the nature of music, because it is this incredibly emotional phenomenon, everything that you are feeling or experiencing in your life is relayed in the music that you point out, and not necessarily in the lyrical content. It shows in the tone of your voice. For the last eight years, ever since I met this incredible woman, this woman that has and still does continue to change my life and bring me so much joy, every note I have sung, every performance that I have given, every record that I have made has had her and the four little miracles that we have in...

MARTIN: Your children.

SEAL: that music. And so - yeah, our children - and so to answer your question how does it affect it - obviously, these are difficult times but it is what it is. And that doesn't change. Now, funnily enough, you know, if there is a kind of a lighthearted way to look at it, you know, I have an album full of songs that I didn't write but nonetheless they're called "Love Don't Live Here Anymore," "Let's Stay Together," "Wishing on a Star," "Love TKO." They are, in many ways, topical and lyrical but then I guess those are the mark of any great song.

MARTIN: And universal.

SEAL: They're universal. And that doesn't change. You know, I still have an incredible degree of love, admiration and respect, and perhaps even more so for this woman who has changed my life and given me so much.

MARTIN: I want to get back into the album, and I want to play my favorite track in this collection. Let's listen to a little bit of your version of "Lean on Me," first released by Bill Withers in 1972.


MARTIN: So, I have to ask you, you've been doing this a long time - more than 20 years. Where is your heart? What stirs you? What do you sing when no one's around, no one's listening to you?

SEAL: This song.

MARTIN: This song?

SEAL: The song, the song.

MARTIN: The song.

SEAL: It is the song. That is what I care about. I don't care if it's a Katy Perry song. I don't care if it's classical, if it's soul or R&B, if it's rock, if it's pop, if it's rap. I'm a huge fan of Lil' Wayne. As far as I'm concerned, he's as relevant as Dylan is. He's real. And that's what I admire most about songs. When they are real, when they are heartfelt, when they are well-crafted and they are crafted most importantly with integrity, that, to me, is soul.

MARTIN: Seal, his new album "Soul 2" is in stores now. He spoke with us from NPR West. Seal, thanks so much for talking with us. I really appreciate it.

SEAL: You're welcome. Thank you.


MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

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