For many people, early musical memories come in the form of a catchy lullaby or perhaps a preschool holiday recital. But Seal, the Grammy-winning singer and songwriter, made his first foray into music as an 11-year-old when a teacher encouraged him to sing at a parent-teacher evening at his London school.
"My teacher, who played a very influential part in my life, a guy called Mr. Ren, he was a singer himself," Seal said. "I never really sang at home, but he encouraged me so much that I sang at the PTA [Parent Teacher Association]."
Seal wowed the crowd with Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now," and the rest is history.
"I remember them calling my name up in the assembly, and me going to the stage and just being completely terrified," he said. "I closed my eyes and sang. … That was the first time that my parents had ever heard me sing. And I just remember it being the most terrifying experience, and then everything went completely silent but then afterwards everyone clapped and it just felt like the most comfortable place to be."
It was on that stage where Seal discovered his passion for music.
He was born in 1963 as Sealhenry Olumide Adeola Samuel to parents from Brazil and Nigeria.
In 1978 at 15 years old, Seal joined his first band Stay Brave. Throughout his adolescence, he was not solely interested in music. He worked as a leather clothing designer and even as an electric engineer.
Musically, his big break came in 1990, when he appeared as a vocalist on the Adamski single "Killer," which topped the charts in England. Soon after he released his debut effort, "Seal," which featured the hit song "Crazy."
"I think 'Crazy' is a song like that. 'Crazy' has this driving, slightly darker rhythm track to it, but then it has this kind of sweet melody and the chorus: 'No we're never gonna survive unless we get a little crazy,'" he said.
Since his debut album, Seal has watched his songs top the charts as his soulful ballads continue to attract listeners.
The Power of Music
"I always think it's soulful," Seal said about his own music. "I think there's always kind of something quite unique and comfortive delivering it in a melancholic way. So I'll sing a lot of like major over minor to kind of add a little bit of tension. I always try and create tension in my music."
Seal's recent effort, "System," was released this week and includes a duet with wife Heidi Klum.
"If I had a way to describe this new record, it's pretty much a personification of my style, pretty definitive Seal album — a quintessential Seal album, I've heard people call it," he said. "It's one that I'm really excited about."
Seal's excitement about his craft continues to drive his enthusiasm for writing and performing powerful music.
"Somebody was telling me the other day that the Dalai Lama was saying that … musicians had a really important role to play in society, particularly in present times because they had the ability to communicate with people in a completely unadulterated way, directly to the emotions with music," Seal said.
"I mean, I agree with that part of it. I don't know whether we're the most important people in society at the moment, but I definitely agree that that certainly is the power of music. And the phenomenon in some respect is that you do have this direct conduit straight to the emotions, you can transcend languages, you can cut through any barriers."
'Save the Children'
"I love to listen to Marvin Gaye," said Seal of the soul legend. "He was a huge inspirational figure in my life, and how can you love music and not love Marvin? I think one of my favorites is 'Save the Children,' that's the one that really kind of gets me."
"It's quite long, but I think you can really feel his soul in that song, and really, that's kind of what music is all about. That's certainly what we try and aspire to as musicians is to try and communicate this emotion and always try and make it, allow it to come from a deep place. I think that's when music's at its best, when there's no edit points from the artist to the listener."
"There's a classical opera singer by the name of Franco Corelli who's known in classical circles," said Seal. "His version of 'Nessun Dorma,' I think, is arguably one of the finest vocal performances ever heard."
"[The] reason I feel so is because you hear him hit the high C in 'Nessun Dorma' and he just, it seems as though he's got so much more. It's effortless. It's kind of what people dream about as singers, being able to sing effortlessly in much the way that Corelli did. If only I could be that good."
'Times Like These'
"For some reason I've just been playing that over and over again on my music player," Seal said about the hit song by the Foo Fighters. "I just like the sentiment of that song. I love the lyrics and the chorus — beautiful."
"'Times like these we learn to give again, no. Times like these we learn to live again, times like these we give and give again, times like these we learn to love again, time and time again' — and I think it's just such a beautiful sentiment."
'Back to Black'
"I think Amy Winehouse has a really fantastic voice. 'Back to Black' I think is the best song on the album."
Artists like Winehouse keep him optimistic about the future of the music industry.
"There are lots of really good, up-and-coming artists or established artists. I think we're living in a time where music is really rich at the moment despite the ebb and flow of the music industry on the commercial side. I think it's a really exciting time for music."