Art & Design blog

XETH talk to singer & musician Anil Sebastian

Artist / designer:   Anil Sebastian
Article author:   Charlotte Bradford
Published:   Mon, 10 Oct 2016


Photographer: Alma Haser. Overpainted & rephotographed by Anil Sebastian

London – based singer & musician Anil Sebastian is founder & director of London Contemporary Voices choir.  Anil has collaborated with over 50 artists including Sam Smith, Amber Run, Laura Mvula and a long standing relationship with Grammy Award winner Imogen Heap. Always keen to push the voice in new directions, Anil is about to release his first album titled Mesonoxian with a launch party at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. XETH talked to the artist about his most recent project, what’s in store for the future and what inspires him to keep producing music.

At what age did you start to take an interest in the field you work in?

Before I can really remember music is very much part of my family. I was in my first band at two. It was called ‘Anil Scream’. My two oldest brothers Kumar and Nimar would play thrashy punk. One would shout “Anil Scream” and I’d scream until they shouted “Anil Stop”. Later at around 10, my dad got hold of a really simple software midi sequencer called Voyetra and I started programming songs on our Amstrad PC. My sister and mum taught me guitar. I sang constantly.

What’s your proudest achievement so far?

I’m releasing my first album Mesonoxian on 28th October. Mesonoxian means ‘pertaining to Midnight’. I made the record with my brother Ingmar Kamalagharan and Cherif Hashizume. It’s taken me a few years to finish the record. I’m doing my album launch show at the ICA on 27th October and pretty excited about it!

What’s the most challenging aspect of your work?

Many of the songs on the record started in my teens and are about my Dad’s death. I abandoned them for a long time and rediscovered them recently during a bit of a personal breakdown. I was a terrible insomniac sleep-walker kid and still am. My brother Ingmar heard the songs back when they were first written and when I told him I was working on them again I swore him to secrecy. He got me through it and co-produced the record with me. Some days he actually physically carried me to the studio. Later, we started to work with Cherif Hashizume at Cafe Music Studios. He’s incredible and has a special stash of honey vodka under the sink.


Photographer: Alma Haser

What are your top three favourite songs?

Bjork – Unravel

Imogen Heap – Hide and Seek

Portishead – Roads

What is your favourite London music venue and why?

Union Chapel in Islington. I think the best show for me was one we curated at Union Chapel last June with London Contemporary Voices (the choir I co-founded and direct). The show involved collaborations with Imogen Heap, Guy Sigsworth, Nitin Sawhney, Manu Delago and Shlomo – basically six of my musical heroes.

Name three creatives who have inspired you over the past 10 years?

Guy Sigsworth. For every Madonna or Bjork song Guy has produced, there is a whole library of sublime, utterly unique and masterful piano work – all unreleased. Every conversation with Guy leads me to a life time of new ideas. It’s no lie – he’s a phenomenal human being – one like no other I’ve ever met. His solo project will be coming out under a different name. My own work is heavily influenced by him and in particular his hand in BjÖrk’s Homogenic and Vespertine albums as well as from Frou Frou his project with Imogen Heap. We’ve been writing songs about physics -time in particular. I did my degree in Physics and Philosophy – so it’s been great to think about those things again.

Manu Delago. I worked with Manu on a track called Drumheart for his album Silver Kobalt last year. Following that, we did some shows with London Contemporary Voices and London Cello Quartet. He’s probably best known for his work with Bjork and Anouska Shankar, particularly on the hang drum but his own solo work is incredible. Music just flows out of the man without any pretence.

Imogen Heap. I first worked with Imogen when I was 18. I went on tour to Japan with her as a guitarist filling in for Leo Abrahams (an incredible musician). It really blew me open creatively. She’s quite something, incredibly nice, frighteningly intelligent and works harder than any artist I think I’ve ever met. Not only can she do virtually every aspect of creating a record herself, she is also an innovator and has something about her voice that is utterly unique.


Video still: Rino Stefan Tagliafierro

Have you got any exciting projects coming up in the near future?

I’m working with Guy Sigsworth on his new solo project and that’s been incredible. I’ve also formed a band with an Icelandic singer called Ösp Eldjárn and Cherif Hashizume called Hrím. We’ll be putting out our first EP early next year.  I’m also plotting and writing London Contemporary Voices’ first record. Outside of that, I’m actually writing my second album already – usually late in the night!

If you weren’t an artist what other career would you have chosen?

My degree was in Physics and Philosophy and I loved it. I was, at one stage, seriously considering going into academia. I did actually write a very crap novella in my early twenties. I’ve often been tempted to try that but perhaps I’ll save that idea. I also ran an Alternative Provision for Looked After Children and children who had been excluded from school. I loved that, although it was extremely tough and really made me see the world very differently.


Photographer: Alma Haser

What advice would you give to younger people who want to work in the creative industry?

Be nice and not just to people you’re trying to impress. Be nice to everyone including crew, interns, receptionists, cleaners etc. Music doesn’t have to be a war of all against all. Make friends with other artists, build communities rather than seeing other musicians as competition. Embrace your uniqueness and don’t preoccupy yourself with trying to be cool. Work very very hard. Know, learn and get on with the business side of things including admin. Be decisive, unless you’re incredibly lucky, you will need to do it yourself – no one else will do it for you. Work with the best (and nicest) musicians and producers you can – people who terrify and inspire you with all the things that they can that you can’t. Don’t be afraid to collaborate and co-write – you don’t have to do everything yourself.


Anil Sebastian’s single Closer is out on 14th October. Mesonoxian is released on 28th October and tickets are available for the album launch show at the ICA on 27th October.

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