Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Water Seed's Lou Hill on the art and commerce of 'Wonder Love 1'

Posted By on Tue, Mar 12, 2013 at 9:31 AM

Water Seed: Lou Hill (far left), Cinese, Shaleyah, and J. Sharp.
  • Marlo Herring
  • Water Seed: Lou Hill (far left), Cinese, Shaleyah, and J. Sharp
This week is a big one for the band known as Water Seed. Not only is the Atlanta-based/New Orleans-bred soul/jazz/funk crew dropping its third album, Wonder Love 1, on Tuesday, March 12, but this Saturday, March 16, the group is celebrating the new project with a release party that also includes high-energy house music trio Tortured Soul, singer N'Dea Davenport (of Brand New Heavies fame), and Atlanta's own DJ Kemit. To get the lowdown on everything Water Seed (which consists of members Lou Hill, Cinese, J. Sharp, Shaleyah, I.M.A., and Abel Melody) has popping these days, we checked in with bandleader Hill, and here's what he had to say:

In the last few years, Water Seed has cemented itself as a solid band with some great original music under its belt. What do you have in store for your fans on your newest album, Wonder Love 1?

Lou Hill: Truth be told, Wonder Love is our oldest project. It predates all of the works we have put out in the past few years. Sounds crazy, but we never thought the timing was right to release Wonder Love. Call it destiny, the stars and moon lining up, or just maturation of the band.

When we went in to record Wonder Love, we were sitting on about 30 demos for the project. I remember sitting with the band members thinking of what strategy we were going to use to record this project artistically. When it was all said and done, we decided to go into the studio and just record the tunes how we thought we would want to hear them. We didn't think about marketing, past projects, radio play or anything. We just went in and recorded the project we wanted to record.

I think our fans new and old will get the piece of work that they have been waiting for us to produce for years. I wouldn't call it our Purple Rain, but I would definitely call it our 1999. In a lot of ways, this is the beginning of things to come. We are focused, free and ready to give our fans every bit of what Water Seed is.

What are your expectations for the new album, on both a creative and a commercial level?

Creatively, we are always a work in progress. I don't know if we are ever trying to be different or "out" musically. Most of the time, I think we are trying to figure out how to make our "out" musical ideas more agreeable to the average listener. With Wonder Love, we turn somewhat of a deaf ear to what we thought fans would or would not understand. I think in the past we may have taken ourselves a little too seriously. We simply wanted Wonder Love 1 to feel good. If the groove wasn't right, we redid it. If a melody wasn't working, we would work it until it was. We were afforded the opportunity to really dig in deep on this project. We set out to make a classic album, and we think we've done that.

Now when you talk commercially, it gets a little more complicated. We have been doing this for some time now, and we are far from novice nowadays. We have seen a lot of really cool bands and artists come and go. We have had to make the hard decisions. Cover band or recording artists? High-paid convention gigs or low-paying door gigs? Writing our own music or learning the hottest major-artist music? We have been called crazy, renegades, mavericks, and has-beens. It would be nice to become very wealthy from our musical efforts, but I think we are all happy with staying true to the music that we have sacrificed so much to create. We have come to terms with the idea that this thing could be like Mussorgsky's career. We all may be dead and in the grave before the masses actually think: "Hmmm ... that Water Seed was something hot."

Water Seed seems pretty adept at morphing music styles - from jazz to soul to hip-hop and more. Do you skew to any particular genre more or less when writing and recording?

We are just music lovers. We love everything from rock to jazz to soul to hard rock to fusion to hip-hop to world, and the list goes on. Being in the van with us is like taking a journey through a musical gumbo. Ain't all music the same anyway? When we sit down to write, the rule is that we must stay true to the song. Don't think about what you wrote last week. Don't think about the last album. Don't think about what's hot on the radio right now. We just stay true to each song. So, if we are working on a classical piece, then we are going to stay true to that era of music.

How intentional is your genre-jumping?

It's funny. I think people hear what they want to hear in our music. I don't know that it's so much intentional as it is just the joy of experimenting with sounds and colors. One of my complaints about bad art is the lack of spontaneity. There's nothing worse than going to the movies and being able to figure the whole thing out in about 10 minutes. Who wants to start a book without a plot twist? Why should music be any different? We want our fans to be able to listen to our music and hear something different over time. We want that young musician to say: "Wait, what was that?" - and then hit rewind. We are steeped in a rich history of music, and we intend to do our best to keep that tradition alive.

Most of the members of Water Seed originally hail from New Orleans. What are the differences you see between the New Orleans music scene and the Atlanta music scene?

I really can't speak to the grooming of the Atlanta musician, because most of the Atlanta cats I know are already professionals. In New Orleans, it's sink or swim. The whole system is set to weed out the people that think of music as a hobby. I can't think of one teacher that would tolerate you not living and breathing music. No matter the age, financial status or background, when you show up, be ready to play or go home. I don't mean a polite "come back when you are ready kid." I'm talking about you are on the stage and the bandleader stops the songs and tells you to get off the stage ... Now! The New Orleans musical ancestors won't tolerate you embarrassing yourself or them. I sat in classes where the teacher would say: "Don't speak in this room until you can play the blues scale in every key," and they meant it. With that type of upbringing, you learn quickly if music is for you. It is simple: If you want to be in this business, you need thick skin. This business is not for the weak, slow, and faint of heart.

Concerning the professional differences between New Orleans and Atlanta, that's like comparing apples to oranges. The great thing about the New Orleans professional is that you can make a really great living on the New Orleans music scene. Just by saying you are a New Orleans musician opens the doors for a ton of opportunities that seem to be closed to musicians from other music meccas.

The cool thing about Atlanta's music scene is that your major-label artists seem to all hang out here. It's cool to walk into a club and see Robert Glasper on the stage with Musiq Soulchild just jamming. That's rare in New Orleans.

You've got a pretty major show coming up on March 16. What's slated to go down on stage?

We get to introduce our latest project to Atlanta with some really cool friends. We are hitting the stage with Tortured Soul, who invited N'Dea Davenport (Brand New Heavies) and the legend himself DJ Kemit. It was really cool the way it all came together. Late last year, we had a show in New Orleans with N'Dambi, and Ethan of Tortured Soul reached out to us and came out to the show. It just so happens DJ Kemit was with us in New Orleans for that show as well. Several months and conversations later, we were able to put this whole thing together at Vinyl for our CD release. [Local promotion companies] Muddy Water and Harmony In Life were very instrumental in making it all happen.

I think it's going to go down like this: You walk through the door; the music hits you; you dance for hours uncontrollably; you sweat your clothes out; you wake up the next morning thinking, "What just happened?" Yeah, kind of like that.

With Tortured Soul, N'Dea Davenport, and DJ Kemit, $17-$22. 8 p.m. Fri., March 22. Vinyl, 1374 W. Peachtree St. www.centerstage-atlanta.com.

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