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Best of What's Next: Sally Seltmann

Music Features Sally Seltmann
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Best of What's Next: Sally Seltmann

Hometown: Sydney, Australia
Album: Heart That’s Pounding
For Fans Of: The Cranberries, Feist, Eleni Mandell

In high school, Sally Seltmann received a mixtape of old Marilyn Monroe showtunes from a teacher and instantly fell in love. Intrigued by the crackly recordings, sweeping orchestral arrangements and clichéd lyrics, it was the beginning of a lifelong obsession with what the 34-year-old singer/songwriter now calls “old worldy things.” “With something like an antique dress, you imagine it figured in all these romantic scenarios, but really you have no idea what happened in it,” Seltmann says from her home in Sydney. “There’s a mystery to it.”

This fascination continues to influence many of Seltmann’s compositions. Her husband, Darren Seltmann of Australian electronica group The Avalanches, has an eclectic vinyl collection—including Doris Day and 1950s Disney soundtracks—and she has sampled from these vintage LPs in a number of her songs. On “I’ve Got You and You’ve Got Me,” from her 2004 album The Last Beautiful Day, she found a fragment from some old, forgotten song in the collection, played it backwards and then looped the reverse sample to form the underlying melody.

While her third album, Heart That’s Pounding (coming in April), features more actual instruments and less sampling, Seltmann hasn’t given up her old-world motif. The video for lead single “Harmony To My Heartbeat” showcases the muted colors and shaky, off-kilter camera angles of an old home movie; the title track is a love song that echoes the dramatic earnestness of old Technicolor musicals as she sings, “Without you for just 10 days, well, I feel like I’m gonna die.” A layer of full, simple harmonies reinforces her wide-eyed declarations, a testimony to The Ronettes, she says. (Even “1234,” the indelible pop song she co-wrote with Feist, bears the twinges of Seltmann’s signature nostalgia, if not her name on the track.)

These songs may sound poppy and carefree on first listen, but each one is tied to dozens of old, untold tales. “If you look closely,” Seltmann says, “you’ll see a kind of darker layer.”  

[Photo by Cybele Malinowski]

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