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How a Choir Inspired my Solo Artistry – Anil Sebastian

Anil Sebastian performing on stage

Anil Sebastian is one of the founders of top session choir, London Contemporary Voices, who have performed with Imogen Heap, Sam Smith, Laura Mvula, Joss Stone and many more.

As a solo artist, he has drawn from his wide appreciation of vocal technique to create his stunning debut album, ‘Mesonoxian’.

He shares how his many collaborations have fine-tuned his artistry.

London Contemporary Voices

London Contemporary Voices has been interviewed on BBC Radio 2 with Nitin Sawhney

London Contemporary Voices has been interviewed on BBC Radio 2 with Nitin Sawhney

What was the idea behind forming London Contemporary Voices?
Imogen Heap asked Didier Rochard and I to create a choir for a beautiful show she did at the Royal Albert Hall six years ago. It was meant to be a one off, but we loved it so much that we decided to continue it. We wanted to bring together a diverse community of singers from many different musical backgrounds. We have performed with over 100 artists now. It’s been an incredible journey for us all.

How has the sound of LCV developed?
With each new project and collaboration, we’ve attracted more interesting, like-minded singers – and so it keeps growing and evolving. It feels greater than the sum of its parts somehow. We do such a diverse range of projects which really colours and develops the sound we have.

How has LCV inspired your solo work?
It’s fair to say that LCV is both the cause and the cure of my madness! It inspires me as much as it distracts me endlessly, but it’s usually in those avenues of distraction that the best kinds of ‘lost’ happen – I learn new things and re-approach my own music with fresh ears. I’ve also learned a lot about how different voices combine. Some of the tonal limitations when you restrict yourself to layering your own voice on recordings can be brilliant – I love that ‘choir of one’ sound, but it’s also incredible to experiment with unusual combinations of voice types. I did that a lot on ‘Mesonoxian’.

Anil Sebastian’s favorite voice types

  • Air control: I have a fascination with breath tone in voices. Using it as a texture is something I love, but I also love singers who have ultimate control over it. I love singers who can add/remove ‘air’. I think Elizabeth Fraser is masterful in that regard.
  • Dynamic control: Loud and big riffing is easy. Soft, intimate, quiet but resonant singing is harder but when it’s done well it’s stunning and disarming. Stina Nordestam is a good example. I also love the extreme dynamic range in Bjork’s voice – the way she can go from intimacy to soaring expanse in a moment.
  • Range: I love the sound of voices when they are at the extremes of their range – high voices singing low, low voices singing high. There’s a Ligeti piece called Lux Aeterna written for 16 voices where the tenors and basses sometimes sing above the altos and sopranos – I love the textures that creates, but it requires singers with incredible control.
  • Vibrato control: I’m not totally against vibrato but generally, I love singers who can switch it off and then use it as an expressive tool when it feels right. This in part stems from a love of dense harmony. Clean vibrato-free voices give perfect clarity to cluster chords.

The power of musical collaboration

How do you keep the motivation to pursue a career in music?
It’s undeniably hard to keep at it, but it can also feel impossible to stop. That tension must, in part at least, explain why such a high proportion of musicians suffer from depression and anxiety.

Due to there being so much competition for every opportunity, a lot of musicians enter this “war”

I think engaging with an artist community is an incredible antidote. Human contact with kind, loving, like-minded musicians is so important and in fact, sometimes I realise that’s all I really need.

Due to the fact that there is so much competition for every opportunity, a lot of musicians enter this war of ‘all against all’ which is hard to combat, but when you do it’s transformative.

What is your musical philosophy?
Make friends with other artists, team up, collaborate, build communities and ‘scenes’. Experiment fearlessly and often: both alone and with others.

Best collaboration yet:
I’ve been collaborating with Guy Sigsworth on a new classical solo piano record of his. It’s no exaggeration to say that he has shaped, written, produced and influenced the vast proportion of my favourite artists in some way or another. I come away with a life time of ideas from every conversation. I’m also re-discovering my love of physics – many of the songs we are writing are about time.

Weirdest place you’ve performed?
The Mermaid School at Secret Garden Party. A big beautiful man went into the lake and fished out a mermaid (complete with tail). She looked very cold. As part of the performance, he positioned her in a big mermaid shell and we sang around her.

London Contemporary Voices are performing at Oval Space in London on 6th April and the theme is “Guilty Pleasures”.

anil-head-shot Anil Sebastian’s musical heritage as the founder and director of the celebrated London Contemporary Voices choir (LCV) has seen him collaborate with over 50 artists, including Imogen Heap, Laura Mvula, Sam Smith and Joss Stone. The choir also performed at Burberry’s 2015/2016 fashion shows. Anil’s distinctive voice caught the attention of Bjork/Madonna producer Guy Sigsworth, and Anil performed with Bjork’s virtuoso hang player Manu Delago live as a Maida Vale Session on Jamie Cullum’s BBC Radio 2 show. His stunning album ‘Mesonoxian’ is out now via Relative State Records. www.anilsebastian.com | www.londoncontemporaryvoices.co.uk