By Zach Schepis
Photo courtesy of Floating Action.
Seth Kauffman should be quite proud of himself. Jim James, the songwriter from the esteemed rock outfit My Morning Jacket, recently told Rolling Stone Magazine that he considered Kauffman to be the “most underrated person in music right now.”
There’s a twang of reconciliation in Kauffman’s voice on the other end of the line when he acknowledges the recognition.
“It’s kind of bittersweet for me,” Kauffman tells BTR. “It’s cool that he’s trying to get people to know my music, but once you throw something like that out there, you subconsciously hear it and think, ‘oh I guess it’ll just stay that way.’ In my head I feel like there’s no escape from that.”
Call us crazy, but there’s more than a semblance of hope for this talented young songwriter. He started playing classical violin at the age of four and took up the guitar at 15. Moreover, Kauffman is an adventurous traveler who embarked on solo journeys to the jungles of Africa, the Swiss Alps, and Jamaica. Throughout his trips he discovered countless flavorings of ska, mento, blues, reggae, and Latin jazz, and began recording an album he classifies as “lo-fi North Carolina funk.”
Writing, producing, and playing every instrument, Kauffman started to release albums entirely by himself. Thus Floating Action was born.
It didn’t take long for Jim James to notice the budding musician’s work (recognizing him as a “cool musical dude”). James invited the artist to record on his newly founded label, Removador Recordings and Solutions.
Kauffman’s newest record, Body Questions, is nearly three years in the making. While most of his albums take on what some critics have referred to as a “Caribbean”-esque dynamic that’s sunny and bright, Kauffman deliberately decided to take a different route with his newest creation. He was tired of crafting music that people would pigeonhole, and feels that there’s something spiritually higher in his work than what these labels might suggest.
Courtesy of Floating Action.
So instead of following previous paths–like using vintage warm-sounding tube amps–Kauffman got his hands on the worst equipment he could possibly find. Solid-state $100 practice amps and other resources he assured were “not cool shitty, just shitty shitty.”
You’d be hard-pressed to tell. The songs do whisper with a stripped-down honesty, but end up sounding polished and peacefully enveloping too. Indie-pop, R&B, and Kauffman’s signature funk all swell together into a melting pot that will turn listeners into well-satiated bobble heads.
The wait was worth it. He acknowledges it takes a while for the press to handle material (usually four months), and on independent labels there isn’t as much of a “push” to get albums out to their audiences.
“My record took three years, and by contrast, we recorded Lana’s record in late January and it was out by summer,” says Kauffman.
In case you weren’t sure who Lana is, it’s the acclaimed singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey. Kauffman recorded guitar on Del Rey’s new album Ultraviolence, which he describes as a process filled with “weirdness.”
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
Long-story-short is that Del Rey’s band tracked the material, but when they presented it to the record label the executives overseeing the production freaked out. It wasn’t what they were expecting, and they didn’t think it would sell.
So the executives sent the band back to the studio to re-record the tracks. It didn’t deter Kauffman, who admired the “semi-debauchery” of the sessions and Del Rey’s ability to track all of her vocals live–something he admits you don’t see very often on a major-label record.
The record company decided they needed Adele’s producer to help them shape the sonic vision of Del Rey’s work, and so they sent the material that had already been recorded and rejected for advice. Adele’s manager’s reaction was unlike anything they could have expected.
“He ended up saying ‘I love it, this is amazing!’” laughs Kauffman. “He’s like, ‘why are you even thinking about trying to change this?’”
Del Rey’s record is not the only project that the songwriter assisted with alongside his project Floating Action. Black Keys’ guitarist Dan Auerbach and songwriter Ray LaMontagne are two other well-established artists that recognize Kauffman’s talents and go out of their way to enjoy his work–“underrated” or not.
To hear more about what Seth Kauffman is up to, tune into BTR’s very own Discovery Corner.
Or find your own way to interpret Floating Action by clicking here.