Photos: Lissy Laricchia
For Michael Seyer, when it came to creating his new EP, the inspiration was clear as day, even if it was an intangible feeling. Nostalgia, which we are elated to premiere here today, is birthed from not just an adoration for the records of yesterday but the very notion of growing up itself. It can be heard in the Filipino bedroom R&B artist's timeworn love numbers, which blur the lines between Japanese city pop, bossa nova, Brazillian boogie, and velvety R&B.
Nostalgia follows his two self-released full-length records, 2016's Ugly Boy and 2018's Bad Bonez. Despite the forward progression of his music, Seyer hasn’t lost that '60s and '70s feel in his new project. As a matter of fact, Nostalgia guides us through sights and sounds of the past to create an emotional and timeless masterpiece, belonging wholly to the present.
As an introduction to this new era of his music, we were able to chat with Seyer about always feeling like an outsider, the most important love in his life, and, of course, Nostalgia. Check out our interview and take your first listen to Nostalgia below.
OTW: Your music is timeless. It has this way of transporting listeners back to a distant era most of us weren’t even born in.
Michael Seyer: You’re making me smile, this is super sweet. I mean, I love really old music, especially for this EP. I named it Nostalgia because like, aesthetically, I wanted the sound to feel like finding an old record and just like popping it in and hearing something really old, and I guess timeless.
OTW: With Nostalgia would you say you were aiming for your fans to feel, well, nostalgia?
Seyer: Yeah, I wanted that to be exactly the emotion that’s kind of evoked. I mean I think nostalgia is a weird feeling, you know. And like I wanted that to work in a lot of ways with this EP like music-wise, sonically. That’s why I also just chose old family pictures as the artwork.
OTW: A lot of the promo you've released for Nostalgia appears as old photos of you and your parents. What role have they played in both the creation of this new EP and in your development as an artist?
Seyer: I think they had everything to do with that, you know? Like, just generally as an artist, my parents have always really encouraged me to go for it. I think from a young age they knew I was like "creative." I picked up the guitar when my dad taught me around age 10. Since then, I would just lock myself in my room and learn covers on YouTube and just get really invested in learning different styles and instruments.
They always encouraged me to really expand my creativity. I’m thankful that they’ve done that because it’s definitely helped me to become a fearless artist. Also, I’m sure this applies to everyone, but we kind of idolize their parents and see them as these fearless people. Like, yeah my mom has an amazing work ethic and I always aspire to be that person.
In terms of the record itself, to be honest, the actual literal songs aren’t really about my family. It’s usually about love and all that, but I kind of got obsessed with the nostalgic sound that the songs had on me. So, I kind of looked back into old family photos as a reference point for the art at least because I mean, a song doesn’t necessarily need to be about someone to be about someone, you know? The songs are about love mostly in this EP and the greatest example of love that I can find is my parents.
OTW: That’s so sweet!
Seyer: Yeah, they’re really cute. So I asked my grandma for an old box of photos and sure enough, I got to see that photographic example of love because my parents are very thorough of taking photographs of everything. I’ll see their wedding, us growing up with them, being in different houses and stuff, but we’re always together, and I feel like that’s love in its purest form.
OTW: A lot of the progression of your music has happened here in SoCal, but to my understanding, you were born in the Philippines. Do you think your Filipino heritage has had a big influence on your artistry?
Seyer: I think it does and it doesn’t. It’s kind of like, binary. ‘Cause, the way I identify as an artist is how I identify as… kind-of “other.” I didn’t feel like I ever fit in. When I left the Philippines and came to America, I was instantly different, because I’m a different color and I speak a different language. And I was really young, so I didn’t even know English.
The first school I went into in America was this white-Jewish school in Culver City, and I was instantly different and I felt that. So I really wanted to learn English and I got really invested in learning English, so much so that I don’t even remember my language today. Like I love English. I’m an English major. I’m a creative writing major. I was trying to catch up to the other kids, but in doing so, I lost touch with my other culture.
And after I left that school I went to Gardena and went to a school that was predominantly Hispanic and African-American, and even there I didn’t fit in. Then I went to middle school and there were Asian kids and I was like, “Cool, I’m an Asian kid.” But then I was seen as being “too dark” to be an Asian kid. Then I went to high school and there were a lot of Japanese and white people again, and it was like I still didn’t fit in with them. So, I just never fit in, I never felt like I fit in. So I feel like a big part of my expression as an artist is trying to describe that experience. I just never fit in.
OTW: As someone who shares a Filipino background, I feel like that could attribute to why there’s a lot of Southeast Asian connection to your music, especially from those of us who have experienced this sort of distance from everybody else.
Seyer: Yeah, like us Filipinos are a little different because we don’t really fit in with the model of the “typical Asian” because… you know, we’re Asian but we’re Pacific Islander or we’re Southeast Asian. But in either context, if you’re with Pacific Islanders, they’re like “You’re not an Islander,” and if you’re with Chinese, Vietnamese, or Korean people they’re like “You’re not token Asian.” And then if you’re with a Southeast Asian person, you don’t really fit in either. So it’s like, where do we kind of…fit in?
But on the other side, being Filipino but also feeling like I’m not a part of Filipino culture has inherently made me feel different in every scenario I can find myself in, and that’s just my experience. I think a big part of my music, whether it’s overt or covert, is relaying that kind of “I don’t really fit in,” “I want to feel loved,” “I want to connect with others” feeling.
OTW: What are some things that helped you settle into the Michael Seyer we all know and vibe to today?
Seyer: Just kind of, doing the things that you wanna do, you know? I think in all forms of art you should never make anything for other people, it should be just about what makes you happy as an artist. And I think if you’re really authentic in that expression, eventually people will gravitate towards it. But I think that’s what’s most important: do what makes you happiest in music. I feel like if a musician does that, they can feel comfortable in their skin eventually.
OTW: A lot of the sound on Nostalgia is influenced by artists your parents used to sing karaoke to. What are some of your favorite karaoke songs to sing?
Seyer: Oh like the Bee Gees, Al Green. My go-to is "How Deep Is Your Love." Or "Let’s Stay Together" You know what, "Always and Forever!" One of the best songs ever written, honestly. But also I got a lot of inspiration from really old music that I found on YouTube algorithms. I got really into this genre called city pop, which is this like Japanese '80s, late '70s genre where it’s super funky, super electro, super pop and eclectic. I also got into Brazilian boogie, which is very funk and singer-songwriter drive. Just a lot of those old records.
OTW: What are some of the Japanese City pop bands that you really like?
Seyer: There’s this one artist, she’s more contemporary. She’s putting out music now, she’s not like one of the old cats, but her name is Hitomitoi. It’s so funny, I got stuck into a hole of Hitomitoi and I followed her on Instagram and she followed me back. I was like freaking out because I love her music so much! Some others, I love Masayoshi Takanaka, Casiopea. Yeah, they’re all super sick.
OTW: When you released your first album Ugly Boy around this time in 2015, did you expect people to take to your music as well as they did?
Seyer: Hell no man. Dude, I remember when I was making that album while I was working and going to school. I also really wanted to be a musician. I mean I was a musician, but it was tough because of school and work. I felt really unhappy. I hated work. I loved school, but I also really loved music. At some point, I felt fed up, and I said, "Fuck it. I’m going to quit my job and just work on an album." I didn’t know what it was going to be. I was just going to make something and see what happened. And that’s how Ugly Boy got made. It was really cathartic. It was a good expression of sanity to me.
OTW: People seem to also relate to that sense of catharsis from the album.
Seyer: Oh yeah! I mean, I put it out and that was my first time ever putting something out, so I didn’t know what “fans” were. I purely made it to express myself, but I was like, “I should put it on Bandcamp, I should put it on SoundCloud, fuck it.” So I put it on, and don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t overnight. It was a very gradual thing. but people started actually reaching out to me and I was like, "Whoa….this is weird." I was like, "Maybe I should just keep doing this." And I kept doing it and now I’m here. But it was super crazy in the beginning when I got the first few emails of people being like, “Yo, I love your album, blah, blah, blah.” And I was like, “Thank you so much,” and I would answer every email because you know I was so young and I was so stoked.
OTW: You've played some major festivals, from Camp Flog Gnaw to Tropicàlia, what was your reaction to playing alongside the likes of Tyler, the Creator and Kali Uchis?
Seyer: I felt stoked, super stoked! I mean, not even taking away from the big shows, but just any show feels like a blessing. Whether it’s a big show or a small show, what really makes me feel so humbled is talking to fans who come to my shows. Like sometimes I’ll feel really nervous before I go up and then I’ll just talk to someone who drove out and wasted their time to see me -
OTW: Never a waste of time to see you perform!
Seyer: (laughter) Well I’ll talk to them, and they’re just like talking and they’re like “I love your music!” That really perks me up. The fans make it worth doing anything at all.
OTW: If someone created a time-machine that allows you to go back to any era ever, where would you go and what would you do?
Seyer: Whew… ok. I’m a big History guy. I don’t know if I’d go back somewhere for pleasure like Woodstock or some shit or somewhere where I can just geek out like the Western times. You know what… I’d go back to Tokyo during the '80s. I’d watch a lot of the really old Japanese city pop bands that I listen to now. Plus, Tokyo is cool. I’ve never been there, but I really romanticize that city.
OTW: Going back to your sound, it has this lovely R&B quality.
Seyer: I feel so complimented when someone says “you sound very R&B” because I feel like my personality is not very R&B (laughter). R&B is super sexy and smooth, and I feel like I’m very neurotic.
OTW: What do you call your genre? Neurotic R&B?
Seyer: (laughter) I actually just read an article - well I translated it because it was in German, I was like “Google-translate!” And then it was like, Michael Seyer: Introvert Funk. That has a nice ring to it.
OTW: Where do you hope to be with your music and sound in the future?
Seyer: Yeah, I’m pretty happy where I’m at now. Obviously, as an artist, I always want to keep going and striving for the best that I could possibly do. But honestly, I’m pretty happy. I got people that love me, family, friends, a band that I love hanging out with. Within the next five years, I hope I’m still making music and making the best music I possibly can. Maybe get a dog or something.
OTW: Who are your Ones to Watch?
Seyer: This is a tough question because I listen to mostly old cats. Oh, MICHELLE! I found them on my discover weekly and it’s like a collective making cool indie pop. I just listened to their I believe 2018 album called Heatwave, and I was like this is some of the best music that I’ve heard in a while!