Born Sealhenry Olumide Samuel, February 19, 1963, in London, England; son of Francis (a plumber and interior decorator) and Bisi (a homemaker) Samuel; raised by father and stepmother, Joyce; married Heidi Klum (a model/television host), May 2005; child: Henry Gunther Ademola Dashtu Samuel, September 2005. Education: Received degree in architecture. Addresses: Record company--ZTT/Sire, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019-6908. Fan club--P.O. Box 102, Stanmore, Middlesex HA7 2PY, England.
Eclectic British pop artist Seal told Rolling Stone's David Thigpen, "All my songs are therapy. I'm giving therapy to myself." After a splashy 1991 debut--including a Number One U.K. single and a top-selling album--he experienced several tumultuous and difficult years that caused him to confront the meaning of his sudden fame and, more importantly, his life.
Seal returned wiser and more assured with his 1994 sophomore effort, though in certain fundamental respects he was back where he began: with the same influential and supportive producer and the same title. Yet the variety of styles he enlisted--building on the already rich mixture of rock, soul, folk, and dance music that fills his first album--was, if anything, even greater. The journey to this achievement, as he told Q, necessitated a self-acceptance with which he struggled all his life. "You have to work out why you feel so undeserving," he insisted, adding "you have to start healing and you have to start saying to yourself, OK, I am worth it, I do deserve this."
Seal was born Sealhenry Olumide Samuel in London, England; his parents had moved there from Nigeria and divorced when he was still an infant. Raised first by foster parents and then by his own father, he had what he described to Rob Tannenbaum of Rolling Stone as "a rough childhood." In an interview with Mark Cooper of Q he called his father "a bitter person who'd missed a lot of opportunities in life. I think he loved me but was just incapable of showing it." Seal earned a degree in architecture and worked a variety of jobs, from electrical engineering to posting ads for London prostitutes; the latter occupation resulted in an arrest.
After trying to build a music career in London, Seal hooked up with a band called Push, playing funk music on tour in Japan. It was important more for geographical than for musical reasons: "I'd never been to that part of the equator before," he noted to Tannenbaum. "It was right up my alley. Every day was a new experience." After a jaunt with a Thailand blues group, he made his way to India and there had what he called "a few spiritual experiences." The happiness he felt there, he insisted, bestowed a calm and contentment about his future and allowed him to stop wanting a record deal so fervently. He believes this is why he soon got one.
Seal also became convinced that the half-moon scars under his eyes left by a skin ailment were a kind of omen of stardom. "I got really depressed about [the scars] at first, as you can understand," he recalled. "Now I really like them." The scars, he ultimately reasoned, would serve as a kind of insignia. "If I could design something, I don't think I could do it better." He did design the rest of his distinctive look: head-to-toe leather clothes and long dreadlocks, adding even more flash to his 6'4" frame.
Seal met producer Trevor Horn--who had made a fortune making records for the Art of Noise and Yes, among others, and had his own label, ZTT. "I thought he looked a bit frightening," Horn remembered to Tannenbaum. "I thought he was gonna like all kinds of music I wasn't gonna like. Then he told me he liked [folk-rockers] Crosby, Stills and Nash and Joni Mitchell. It was quite refreshing." Even so, he was disinclined to sign the fledgling artist.
In 1990, however, Seal took his fate into his hands, achieving immediate success that would grab the attention of Horn and much of the pop world. He co-wrote a song called "Killer" with British keyboardist Adamski, and its mix of dance and rock--helped by heartfelt singing and lyrics--took it to the top of the U.K. charts. "I remember the first time we got to No. 1," he recollected in an interview with Giles Smith of The Independent, "Adamski and myself were in one of those family inn restaurants on a Sunday near Cambridge, [and] the week before we were No. 4 and [pop diva] Madonna was No. 1." When they realized that "Killer" had gained the top position, "I let out this huge roar. Honestly, families around us were going for their children--there was this six-foot-four black man gone wild in Cambridgeshire."
Seal was unprepared for what would follow. "I guess I was the epitome of the phrase 'meteoric success,'" he told Cooper of Q. "My kind of success was different because I had a hit record with something which wasn't immediately commercial in the pop sense. I took [my song] Crazy round to lots of record companies before Killer and although everybody really liked it, they wouldn't touch it. But if you manage to get a hit with a record like that, it's like you've broken through with something which allows you so much room." Soon ZTT found itself in competition with other labels that wanted to sign Seal; Horn's company recruited the young artist by offering him artistic freedom and, as Seal himself told Tannenbaum of Rolling Stone, "quite a bit of money, too."
Though Seal initially brought in various friends from the dance music world to help him produce the album, he eventually surrendered the reins to Horn. The producer told Tannenbaum that the singer's crowd "were very interested in Chicago house music. I thought that was absurd, when you have that much talent. It's limited--you don't sit and listen to it. You can't go to concerts and things like that." The resulting album, Seal, appeared on ZTT/Sire in 1991 and complemented the dance-floor grooves with acoustic guitars and an overall emphasis on melody and song structure.
Rolling Stone writer Thigpen called the Seal's debut album "a startlingly original synthesis that seemed to come from some undiscovered place along the axis of rock and soul." Seal's lyrics on this first album reflected what he later referred to in the Independent interview as a "very young, very idealistic" point of view: "if we only stick together we can save the world." His travels in the east had made him "unstoppable in that respect."
Seal was an international smash, thanks to "Killer" and "Crazy," an idealistic slice of pop-funk that was soon co-opted for a television commercial. And Seal himself was overwhelmed by fame. "You live one way for 26 years, and then suddenly there's a dramatic change," he reflected to Thigpen. "Five years ago I would get annoyed when my dole [unemployment] check arrived a day late. The next thing I know, I'm getting pissed off if my limo didn't turn up."
Indeed, as Seal told Cooper, the experience "was completely the opposite of what I'd imagined. If you're a sensitive person, like myself, you quickly realise that not everybody's intentions are genuine. And, yes, you have more people around you, lots more people around you, but your space becomes much smaller. People come up to you constantly in the street and they treat you like you're an alien." Most tragically, "I thought that the adoration would replace the attention that I sought from my father. I thought success or fame would bring me all these things." All of this led to "a very bad period when I had a lot of panic attacks." As he complained to Rolling Stone, "I wanted the money. I wanted to be a millionaire. But fame can be a pain in the ass."
Along with the anxiety, however, came laurels: the Q award for Best New Act of 1991, and three 1992 Brit Awards. Seal even performed at the Grammy Awards ceremony, though he took home no trophies. "The best thing that came out of the Grammys," he reflected to Smith of the Independent, "was that I did an interview for the L.A. Times and for the umpteenth time I was asked about my musical influences and for the umpteenth time I said I really like Joni Mitchell and reeled off this whole piece on why." On tour in France two months afterward, Seal received flowers and a note that said "Thanks for appreciating the work, love Joni." Seal had another brush with greatness when he joined British guitar legend Jeff Beck on a cover version of rock trailblazer Jimi Hendrix's "Manic Depression" for the Hendrix tribute album Stone Free.
After relocating to Los Angeles, Seal gradually began work on a follow-up album. Intent on a stylistic departure rather than a recreation of his debut, he selected a new producer. Steve Lillywhite, who'd worked with Irish rock superstars U2, among others, was his choice. But he soon asked Horn to take over. "Steve was wrong for all the reasons Trevor was the right producer," he commented to Thigpen. "Trevor's a musician first and foremost."
The resulting album--again called Seal--replaced the debut's pounding rhythms with slyer grooves, while Seal's singing moved away from the anthemic shouts of his earlier hits and became more nuanced and intimate. The first single, "Prayer for the Dying," a sober, reflective tune with an insistent funk beat, became a Top Ten hit. Jeff Beck played guitar on another track, "Bring It On," and Joni Mitchell joined Seal for a duet in the song "If I Could." It was difficult for Seal to stop working on the project. "One time, I was going to the airport and I just turned round and came back to do more vocals," he confessed to Cooper. "I was dragged screaming from this record and so was Trevor. It was probably the most important thing about the whole record."
Seal's new look--a shaved head--at once represented a concession to California temperatures and a clean break from the past. He'd lived through a number of losses and near catastrophes between the two albums. "I had a really heavy duty car crash in California," he told Cooper. "I nearly flew off a canyon on to a freeway a hundred feet below at peak hour. The car was completely written off and, miraculously, I walked away virtually unscathed. Then I got double pneumonia. The doctors said it was touch and go at one stage but I came out of that unscathed too, with no scarring on my lungs or anything. Then there was a shooting right in front of me on [Hollywood's] Sunset Boulevard."
Seal claimed that a London healer helped him recover from his illness and clarify his life; he appears on the cover of his second album in the nude, his newly shorn pate adding to the overall image of strength through vulnerability. "My whole approach to this record was one of openness," he told Cooper. He also emphasized in various interviews that the "idealistic" world-saving stance of his first album had neglected the necessity of healing oneself--spiritually and otherwise--before one could truly help others. Part of this healing meant putting fame in perspective, and allowing his "celebrity" self to surface when he needed to protect his private self. "The days I wanted to be noticed, wanted some feedback," he informed Smith in the Independent, "I could go out there and kind of exude and I'd get recognized," becoming "Seal, pop star, impervious to everything."
Seal the second was generally greeted with critical raves. "This British neo-soul singer's gift flows from his ability to transform dancefloor tracks into spine-tingling, magical experiences," enthused James Bernard of Entertainment Weekly, who gave the album an "A" grade. Reviewer Hobey Echlin of the Detroit Metro Times labeled the effort "Brilliant, subtle, indulgent and sentimental." Thigpen noted that "Seal's husky, expressive voice sounds even richer and more aged; the new record has an almost folky feel, with an undercurrent of melancholy and introspection that wasn't there before."
But it wasn't so much good reviews as good old fashioned radio airplay that helped the achievement sink in. "Somebody played the single on the radio the other day," Seal related to Smith. "I was speaking to my friend Oswald on the carphone. He said: 'They seem to be playing your record a lot.' I said, rather grumpily: 'Really? Cos I haven't heard it once.' Ironically enough as I said that, it came on the radio. I said: 'Oswald: I'm going to have to call you back.'"
Pulling over to the side of the road, Seal finally appreciated the finished product. "I'd been listening to it as a song and now I wanted to hear this thing that Trevor had always talked about: I wanted to hear the record. It sounded better on the radio than it did on the stereo at home. And the DJ said, 'That was the new one from Seal--well worth waiting for.'" The feeling, he noted, was one he'd felt only occasionally: "almost unquantifiable... just this rush."
Seal continued his career with such recordings as Human Being (1998), Seal IV (2003), and Seal Best: 1991-2004 (2004). He then added another layer to his life with his 2005 marriage to model and television host Heidi Klum. The couple welcomed their first child, Henry Gunther Ademola Dashtu Samuel, in September of that year.
by Simon Glickman
Recording and performing artist, c. late 1980s--. Joined first band, Stay Brave, at age 15; worked as designer of leather clothing and as an electrical engineer; toured Japan with member of funk group Push; sang with blues band in Thailand; released single "Killer," a collaboration with Adam "Adamski" Tinley, 1990; signed with ZTT records and released debut album Seal, 1991; collaborated with Jeff Beck on contribution to Jimi Hendrix tribute album Stone Free, 1993; released Seal 1994; released single, "Kiss From A Rose," which was featured in the movie Batman Forever, 1995; released Human Being, 1998; released Seal IV, 2003; released Seal Best: 1991-2004, 2004.
Q award for Best New Act, 1991; Brit Awards for Best Album, Best Male Artist and Best Video, 1992; Grammy Award nomination for album of the year, 1995, for Seal.
- Selective Works
- "Killer" (single), 1990.
- Seal (includes "Killer" and "Crazy"), ZTT, 1991.
- (With Jeff Beck) "Crosstown Traffic," Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix, Reprise, 1993.
- Seal (includes "Prayer for the Dying" and "If I Could"), ZTT, 1994.
- (Contributor) Batman Forever (soundtrack), Atlantic, 1995.
- Human Being, Warner Brothers, 1998.
- Seal IV, 2003.
- Seal Best: 1991-2004, Warner Brothers, 2004.
- Entertainment Weekly, June 3, 1994.
- Guitar Player, October 1994.
- The Independent, May 12, 1994.
- Metro Times (Detroit), June 22, 1994.
- Q, July 1994.
- Rolling Stone, November 28, 1991; August 25, 1994.
- Amazon, www.amazon.com (November 17, 2005) .
- E! Online, www.eonline.com, May 10, 2005; September 12, 2005 (May 12, 2005; September 14, 2005).
- Yahoo! Shopping, shopping.yahoo.com/shop?d=product&id=1921992087 (September 9, 2003).