Photo by Mike Springett
Emerging from the C86 indie-pop scene, The Soup Dragons hit the charts in the early ’90s with their dance-rock cover of the Rolling Stones’ “I’m Free” and their own “Divine Thing” — an evolution in sound that would only hint at what was to come from frontman Sean Dickson.
After leading the post-Soup Dragons band The High Fidelity in the ’90s, Dickson put down the guitars in the 2000s in favor of a DJ’s turntables, re-emerging as Hifi Sean, first as a club DJ and producer, then returning to the studio to create his own music to light up the dancefloor.
Last year he released the album Ft., a 13-track collection of new music featuring a host of collaborators, including Fred Schneider of The B-52s, Yoko Ono, Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake, Bootsy Collins, the late Alan Vega of Suicide and more. The album’s breakout track has been the Crystal Waters-sung gospel jam “Testify,” which has just been released as a remix EP.
We recently chatted with Hifi Sean via email about his musical evolution, the making of Ft. and whether we’ll ever see a Soup Dragons reunion. For all of that and more, read on.
Q: Your involvement in dance music isn’t all that surprising given the evolution of The Soup Dragons from the C86 era to the sound of the band’s later pop hits, but what prompted, for you personally, the transition from rock band frontman — first The Soup Dragons, then The High Fidelity — to DJ?
A: To be honest, DJing was always just an extension of my record collection and I’ve been around that culture all my life. I even remember playing disco and funk 7-inches at age 18 at a club where we used to put bands on and play records in between. I also co-ran a successful club around around the time of The High Fidelity at Glasgow Art School called Record Playerz, where I suppose I honed my DJ skills with the help of my good friend DJ Hush. Later I moved to London and got caught up in a loop of weekend after-hours parties for many years before realizing I had not made a record or even an album as the weekends had turned into years.
Q: Likewise, after not making music for a period, what sparked you toward making “Ft.” and the idea of doing such a collaborative record?
A: I had a bit of a bad period in my life and kinda lost confidence in myself as an artist and I needed a concept to give me a focus. I had always wanted to pay respects to people who I thought were unique individuals who had paved their own musical paths, something I have always tried to do myself. So I reached out to a few of these people in my record collection and the whole process started over a 2-year period of making the album.
Q: How did you pick and land the musicians you worked with? People you already knew, or more of a dream list?
A: It was people I knew and people who friends of mine could connect me with. It just organically grew like a musical family tree. I did not notice until the project was finished that there seemed to be a connection with NYC. Which is apt as I lived there for a while in the ’90s and was very influenced by those great years before the city was detoxed of its golden sleaze.
Q: Did the song come first, and you approached people based on what they could add to that? Or was the guest picked first, and then it was a matter of coming up with something?
A: I came up with the concepts with certain collaborators in mind, and then we sat down and co-wrote the tracks together. It entailed a lot of traveling to different cities, too; the album was recorded in London, NYC, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Glasgow, Chicago and Toronto.
Q: “Testify” is one of those songs that manages to sound both completely modern and retro at the same time — and it must kill on the dancefloor. What were you aiming for with that one?
A: I have always strived to make the perfect 7-inch single, mostly with a fade out, that perfection I have touched many times before with tracks like “I’m Free,” “Divine Thing,” “Luv Dup,” “Ithanku,” and now with “Testify” as well. Working with Crystal was such a joy and writing the song together made me realize we are a great songwriting team as we both understand the elements of crafting a great song, dance music or no dance music. Yes, the song is very classic but also very modern; unique in fact as I cannot think of another track remotely like it.
Q: I understand you’re already working on a new album for release next year. What kind of approach are you taking there?
A: The next album is incredibly exciting and sounds like nothing anyone else is doing which has always been my goal in writing and production. I have spent my life trying to de-genre music classifications and live between the genres to the point of making my own and the next album will strengthen these avenues of thought processes.
Q: The music you’re making now is very forward-thinking, but there’s also such a strong current of nostalgia running through the music business. Is there ever pressure on you — or a desire on your own part — to get back together with The Soup Dragons, or is that ancient history?
A: At this moment in time, I have more to say about “the now” than about the past and I need to continue down this path. Going backwards like many others are doing would be financially “ching ching” for me, but artistically I would feel like I am letting myself down. I’ve only got so long left on this Earth and I am hellbent to strive to make the perfect record. I panic sometimes as I feel time is running out, and, to be honest, I would love to live in a remote place on a remote beach with no one around and just make music till my dying days. Even if it’s just for myself as sometimes letting people hear it is the least satisfying part in all of it, and I am sorry if that seems selfish but it’s not intentional.
Q: As a multi-genre, decades-spanning artist, what’s your proudest musical accomplishment?
A: I realized the other day I have made successful records across four decades. Sad thing is I should be well off, but I have in a way always been terrible at the business and marketing side of things. I do what I want. I am Sean Dickson but I have also been known as The Soup Dragons, The High Fidelity, and now I am starting again as Hifi Sean. So joining the dots between it all causes people confusion, for myself as well, and, yes, sometimes I get tired of having to wipe the slate clean and start again, but, as an artist, I need to walk the path my heart is taking me. I could not live with myself if I did not follow that path. Oh yeah, proudest achievement is looking back at a catalog of music which I have written and recorded starting at age 17, and to see a completely honest person doing what he feels was right to do at that time. Sometimes naive, sometimes bolshy, but never ever fake. Oh, and the fact that Mickey Finn once asked to me to join the remaining members of T-Rex as their singer… which, of course, I declined.