By Miriam Di Nunzio
“Any artist should be so lucky to have one song in their career that people still want to hear,” singer-musician Seal intoned in a 2015 interview with Details magazine.
He was, of course, speaking of “Kiss from a Rose,” the multimillion-selling, triple Grammy-winning pop hit from the soundtrack of the 1995 film Batman Forever that changed his life. Ironically, it was also a song that he had tossed aside years earlier, long before the release of his first album in 1991, calling the tune “an embarrassment.”
That was, until British record producer (and longtime Seal collaborator) Trevor Horn turned the song into the hauntingly romantic, albeit mysterious charmer that captivated listeners the moment Seal’s creamy vocals uttered, “There used to be a greying tower alone on the sea / You became the light on the dark side of me.”
The meaning of the song’s lyrics continues to confound music fans more than 20 years later. But what is not confounding is Seal’s global success in the music business, thanks to a voice that is as gorgeous and lush as it is instantly recognizable.
Born Seal Henry Olusegun Olumide Adeola Samuel to parents of Nigerian and Brazilian descent, the singer’s early career became infused with the soul, funk, and house music that permeated his London upbringing. And though he tooled around Japan and Asia with various funk and blues bands in the mid-1980s, it was his vocals on the techno hit “Killer” by fellow Brit/record producer Adamski in 1990 that kickstarted his singing career. (Seal would rerecord the tune for his debut album one year later.) Breezily traversing everything from pop to blues to the aforementioned soul and funk, Seal’s subsequent work with Horn, including the hit single “Crazy” from the debut Seal and “Prayer for the Dying” from his second eponymous album, continued his superstar trajectory as a singer-songwriter. Further releases—the David Foster–produced Soul in 2008, as well as the Horn-helmed Soul 2 in 2011 and 7 in 2015—demonstrate the far reaches of his vocal prowess. With 7, the singer-songwriter delivered a most intimate portrait of love with all its complicated, maddening, blissful layers. “My attempt and duty as an artist is to help people feel,” Seal said about the album’s intent.
The 53-year-old singer is in the midst of his greatest hits tour, which arrives at Ravinia on August 28. In a recent e-mail interview from Europe for Ravinia magazine, Seal discussed his career, his acting debut, and the one thing about Chicago he simply can’t resist.
What can fans look forward to with the new tour?
The new tour has a new sound, and I’m very excited about it. I have reworked some of the classics to make it a real dance party. My fans are the best. I want each of them to have a spectacular time. I’m not afraid to play everyone’s favorites, like “Kiss from a Rose”—that’s what got me here, and I’m grateful [people still enjoy those songs].
What’s it like to revisit the hits? Are there any songs in particular that you really look forward to performing every night?
I have some covers I’ve added to the set. One of my favorites [comes from] Hall & Oates, as they were such an inspiration and one of the reasons for me becoming a musician.
What led to your recent impromptu street performance in Montreal? Is busking something you enjoy? What was it about this musician that made you want to join in?
It’s a hobby of mine to take pictures. As I was roaming the streets, I saw the busker and thought to myself, We are both musicians, what’s the difference between him and I? Luck? It was such an amazing moment, [so] I decided to continue with this throughout my tour this summer, finding unknown talent in small cities across the globe. #Streetsong was born.
So you plan on looking for a busker while you’re in the Chicago area?
We will have to just see, shall we? Chicago is a wonderful city with many hidden gems.
Any favorite places in Chicago you like to visit?
Wherever the deep dish pizza is, you’ll find me.
What was it like to cross over into acting for the first time earlier this year, portraying Pontius Pilate in the live broadcast of Tyler Perry’s The Passion? Your “Mad World” was one of the highlights.
It was a very surreal experience. I have sung and performed live over half my life, but to take on a new task like acting was quite invigorating.
Let’s talk about your most recent film appearance, in Judd Apatow’s Popstar, and the wolves in the sequence you’re featured in. How “vicious” were those dogs—or were they truly wolves?
Filming Popstar was great fun! The wolves were actually real wolves, and when one started howling they all joined in. I think one of them might even have been Ghost from Game of Thrones!
Do you channel a different part of yourself when acting versus singing?
Yes, it’s a very different part of the brain you have to tap into. I received some of the best advice from William H. Macy while I was [doing] promos for The Passion and it really helped!
With the release of 7, you returned to a lineup of completely original songs. Can you talk about the genesis of that project and what you wanted to accomplish with the new album?
I worked on this album with a dear friend, Trevor Horn. Many people would like to think the album is autobiographical, but it plays off many other people’s experiences and emotions. Trevor and I have both experienced losses of different kinds. I tried to capture the highs, the lows, the recklessness, the anger, the remorse.
Growing up, were your earliest musical influences primarily British bands or from the global stage?
Both. There are groups like Hall & Oates that have had such an impact on me, as well as specific songs, like “Imagine” by John Lennon, that have a huge place in my heart. Two standouts are Stevie Wonder and Prince.
What did the sudden passing of Prince mean to you?
[The death of] Prince was a huge hit to me. I didn’t want to believe it for days. Growing up, my brother and friends lived off of his music. He was one of a kind. A true icon.
What was the best advice you got about a career in music, and from whom?
I’ve had such an amazing career and have been so blessed, [let me turn the tables]. If I could give advice to anyone it would be to slow down and really appreciate everything that comes your way.
Miriam Di Nunzio is the entertainment arts editor for the Chicago Sun-Times, covering music, theater, and pop culture.
Purchase tickets to Seal's Aug 28 concert at Ravinia.org