The moment Sally Seltmann started to sing at the Presbyterian Church during SXSW, my ears instantly perked up. Maybe it was the sound of her angelic voice in a dimly lit church or her jaunty, delicate melodies that got me. After hearing her perform songs from her soon-to-be-released album, Heart That’s Beating (due out on April 9), I couldn’t wait to meet her. I sat down with the Aussie—who used to perform under the name New Buffalo and who wrote Feist’s mega-hit “1, 2, 3, 4″—over some French toast at The Old Pecan Street Café. And she was just as lovely and ethereal in person as she sounded in church.
The Frisky: Is this your first time at SXSW? How many shows did you play while you were here?
Sally Seltmann: Yes, this is my first time. We’re doing our third show today in three days. I’ll be back to tour in the States this summer as well.
The Frisky: I saw your show at the Presbyterian Church and I really enjoyed it. The acoustics in there were pretty amazing. You sang a lot of songs from your new album coming out on April 6. What was the process of making the album?
SS: I made two albums as “New Buffalo” and those were produced and recorded by myself. But this new album was co-produced by Francois Tetaz. So it was recorded in a proper studio, but I still did some stuff in my home studio. We worked on it gradually and did lots of pre-production where we sat together around the piano and I played him all of the songs I’d written. We talked about what the songs were about and how to analyze the lyrics. We tried to think about what instruments and arrangements would bring out the songs best. I liked doing that. It was like studying a poem or something. And it was as though it wasn’t my song anymore because I was looking at it through his eyes. I tried to be open to all of Francois’ suggestions. He really brought the best out of me and kept me focused. He tried to make the album really “me” and I think that he was really positive and enthusiastic. When I work by myself, I tend to go into this weird, dark hole and don’t talk to anyone. So working with him was great.
The Frisky: What do you hope that fans will take away from your new album?
SS: It’s very sing-a-long with catchy melodies and I hope that women—because I’m really into trying to encourage other women—take from it that you can be a really strong and powerful woman, but also very feminine. I sing a lot about what it means to be a woman, the feelings that women have. So, yeah, I hope that women will connect with that and like it. And men as well. There are a lot of sensitive men out there.
The Frisky: Who are your musical influences?
SS: While making this album, I really got into The Bangles. I love Susannah Hoff’s vocal performance on the song “Eternal Flame.” She captures the beauty of that song in a really immediate way. I’d been listening to lots of classic pop songs like “Manic Monday” and “Eternal Flame” trying to think about why songs like that are always on the radio and so many different people can connect with them. So I was quite into doing a pop sort of album that was still pretty feminine in terms of the lyrics but also a little left of center.
The Frisky: Do you have a specific creative process for writing songs?
SS: It’s usually quite different. Sometimes it comes out straight away or sometimes I sit at the piano for a while. Sometimes I try to think of a theme or an idea and write a whole song about it. Like the song “On The Borderline” from my album. I wrote it thinking I was going to give it to someone like Cyndi Lauper but ended up keeping it for the record. I’ve always been really interested in women like Princess Diana who have Borderline Personality Disorder. She was really beautiful, but had all these complications underneath. So, that’s what “On the Borderline” is about. I wrote it to sound like a straight breakup song, but it’s just about fear of abandonment. I relate to women like that—not because I have Borderline—but I’m drawn to complicated people and the front they put up.
The Frisky: What’s your favorite song on the album?
SS: I really like “The Truth.” I wrote that song about hosting a dinner party and feeling like none of the guests were being themselves. I feel like that in general in life sometimes. But, then again, in a way I can be a bit like that as well.
The Frisky: You used to go by the name “New Buffalo.” Why did you decide to use your own name for this album?
SS: It was always a little confusing for me and I’d composed some music for a play and I felt really weird being credited as “New Buffalo.” It was easier just to use my own name. For this new album, I felt ready not to hide behind a stage name anymore. I guess I always used it before because I am quite shy. I’ve also never been interested in achieving fame.
The Frisky: So, you say you’re shy. Does that make it difficult to be a performer?
SS: Yes and no. The older I’m getting, the more and more I think, “This is what I love doing.” And you just kind of get over it.
The Frisky: You co-wrote the song “1, 2, 3, 4” with Feist. What was it like working with her?
SS: Well, I wrote the song and gave it to her. Then she took it away and started playing it live. She asked if she could change some of the lyrics and she gave it a more upbeat feel. And then it got on her album and it was on the iPod commercial. Everyone seemed to really love it. It just kind of happened in this really organic way.
The Frisky: Did you know her before you wrote the song?
SS: I toured with her in Canada. It was at the end of the tour that I wrote the song. I got to know her and we went to her mum’s house in Calgary and had dinner. I felt like I really liked her as a person and she’s a really great performer, so I knew that whatever she did with the song would be amazing.
The Frisky: You’re married. How do you keep your marriage strong while you’re on tour?
SS: He plays drums in my band now. I used to miss him like crazy and hated it. Now we’re touring together and we really love it.
The Frisky:How long have you been married?
SS: We’ve been married for six years but we’ve been together for about 13 years. We’ve lasted the longest out of all of our friends. All of our friends have broken up.
The Frisky: Yeah, a lot of people break up, huh? As you know, we talk a whole lot about dating and relationships here at The Frisky. How have you kept your relationship alive for 13 years? Do you have any tips?
SS: I think we were just really lucky. I met him when I was really young and I think we’re just really suited for each other. I think it’s really good to encourage your partner to do what they love. He’s really into motorbikes and at first I thought it was weird. But now I know that it’s what he loves. Going out on date night is good and having special little holidays together.