“If there was a mission, then it was to create something like absurd office funk,” says Stats’ Ed Seed, recalling the birth of his band.
He was working a series of banal London office jobs, but rather than switch off or despair, Seed used this conventionally sterile backdrop for creative inspiration. “It was about taking things that are considered boring or are overlooked,” he says. “If you stare at anything long enough, it becomes weird.”
Staring into the infinite oddness of office life was interrupted when Seed “fluked” his way into La Roux’s band – which itself proved a further inspiration for the evolution of Stats. “I’d always been in scrappy indie bands,” he recalls. “Then I met Elly and her crew and thought ‘wow’. This kind of pop music, I always thought it only happened over in Hammersmith, you had to have tens of thousands of pounds and a major label. But I realised you didn’t need a huge budget to make something more stylish than your average band.”
This was a turning point for Seed, recognising he could create his own contemporary version of DIY art pop. “That gave me confidence,” he reflects. “I wanted Stats to be quite theatrical. I wanted it to be strangely glamorous, in a Roxy Music or Pet Shop Boys sort of way. Something that’s glamorous and quite silly. Those bands are very serious about being very silly.”
Stats’ debut Where is the Money? EP was self-released and praised by the likes of The Guardian as “strangely joyous” and “purveying a fine line in art-funk and synth-disco.” But now Seed had regular work as a side man, and was soon setting off round the world playing in Dua Lipa’s band, from her tiny first shows to her stratospheric rise in 2017.
Stats were always working, though, and material kept coming and the band developing. On Valentine’s Day 2017, the full live band (John Barrett -drums, Stu Barter – bass, Duncan Brown – guitar, Nicole Robson – keyboards, Iso Waller-Bridge – keyboards) seized a gap in Dua’s schedule to hold a two-day session at RAK Studios in London, recording the unstructured live jams that would form the raw musical material of Other People’s Lives. The aim was to ditch structure and embrace spontaneity. “This way you can capture the moment of inspiration,” Seed says. “The special energy of six people losing themselves in what they’re doing, and somehow synchronising into something none of them could have planned.”
The two days produced about twenty songs, including singles ‘Rhythm Of The Heart’ and ‘I Am An Animal’, strutting funk-tinged pieces of electro-pop loved by the likes of Elton John and Lauren Laverne. ‘Animal’ captures, according to Seed, a moment of “the domestic sublime. Catching yourself for a minute – naked, in the middle of the night – and being hit by the sheer unlikeliness of it all. Love is returning you to your physical body, and transforming your senses, so everyday life is full of wonders, as it is to a child.”
The psychedelic experience of becoming a parent is palpable throughout the record. Seed recorded his yet unborn son’s heartbeat, which was blended into the aptly titled ‘Rhythm of the Heart’. Yet if this is an album that explores a newfound sense of love, happiness, domesticity and routine (Seed quit pop touring to look after the baby), it does it in a way that’s fitting for the dance floor. Much like Talking Heads, it captures the oblique or observes the ordinary and sends it rocketing into a dance-inducing pop song. ‘Lose It’ may be about “life as story, as habit, as accumulation, as obligations – piling up like laundry or landfill.” Yet musically it is radiant with shimmering synth lines, glistening melodies and a skipping beat that, when combined, makes the everyday seem euphoric. Or the electronic stomp of ‘Raft’ is about how being in control is overrated, as it loses itself in a moment of pop bliss that feels both escapist and sobering in its groove. The fidgety electro funk of ‘There is a Story I Tell About My Life’ sees someone’s sense of self break down, while the pristine pop of ‘The Family Business’ follows a wedding fight – when the story a family tells about itself can no longer hold.
Ultimately, Other People’s Lives is about investigating the gaps in the stories we tell about our lives. Seed says: “This album is about recognising that my life story is full of holes. The world encourages me to experience my life as a narrative: a story in which I am the lead character, going on a journey, moving towards the discovery and realisation of an authentic self. Other people’s lives are presented to me as coherent, relatable stories, full of passion and travel and wonder. But my story makes no sense: it is full of contradictions and formless subplots, and I barely feel like the same actor from one day to the next – let alone find any meaning in it.”
However, filling those gaps or providing some kind of answer based around personal discovery is not something that interests him. “I’m pretty skeptical about the personal story,” he says. “I don’t feel like I am a character on this record, I feel like in each song I’m exploring something based on a personal experience but none of it adds up to a unified character. Songs, like emotions, don’t reflect how you feel all the time. I never expected this story to make sense and it doesn’t. I’m happy not to look for answers in things and to accept ambiguity and complexity.”
What does make sense however, is how it sounds. Other People’s Lives is bursting with life. In many ways this is a time-stamp of a record, something that captures the now, the fleeting, the fickle and the forgotten – like that perfect moment lost on the dance floor – yet it presents it in a musical way that avoids being trapped to a time and place. It ricochets between 1970s art rock, 80s synth grooves, cosmic disco and futuristic pop. “If you set out to try and write something universal, it risks being generic – and if you set out to write something timeless, it will definitely date.”
But this record does have some quality of timelessness, precisely because it is a snapshot of life, presented honestly and experimentally via the all-encompassing prism of pop music. “For me a lot of things that fundamentally change you – the things that have fundamental meaning – are things that happen in a split second,” says Seed. “Moments when you realise the reality or the gravity of something, like realising you’re in love, or some sense of the infinite while you’re doing the washing up, or the moment it hits you when someone has died. I don’t find much meaning in the narrative self, the life story that is performed like a personal brand. I find meaning exactly when I lose my Self, in the moments it dissolves into unity with those other people and their lives: lying in bed with the person I love, dancing, drinking, reading, caring for the baby, standing in a stadium crowd – and playing music in this band.”