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Super 'Stars'

Water Seed Talks New Album, ‘We Are Stars’

Ahead of the Friday (5.19) release of their album We Are Stars, Water Seed spoke with NoDef about their first full-length LP, their ongoing residency at one of Frenchmen’s famed clubs, and the band’s plans for interstellar domination. 


Despite their intergalactic stylings, Water Seed is very much rooted in their birthplace of New Orleans. Founder Lou Hill was born in the 7th Ward, raised both in and by the musical traditions of the city.  “Living here, we came up with jazz, but we’re not jazz,” he noted of his fellow New Orleans-born-and-bred bandmates. The core lineup of Water Seed features Hill, who also serves as composer and drummer, as well as keyboardist J Sharp, vocalist Berkley the Artist, flautist Cinese, and vocalist/percussionist Shaleyah. This week will mark a major milestone for the band, as they release their first full-length studio album, We Are Stars. 



Success for each member of Water Seed too seemed written in the stars. At twenty, Hill signed a record contract with the Batiste family, going on to collaborate with artists like Cyril Neville and contributing music for TV shows like The Deed and American Pickers. The prodigious J Sharp carved out a name for himself as a teen, taking time away from his NOCCA classes to tour the country to showcase his piano skills. Credits include work with everyone from Lil Wayne to the Marsalis family. Berkley the Artist might best be known nationwide for his role on Dr. Ken, the sitcom from Ken Jeong (of Community and The Hangover series fame), and also records his own namesake solo music project. Both Cinese and Shaleyah rose in the local arts scenes, becoming key participants in dance, music, wellness, and the city's thriving festival season. 


Water Seed, said Hill, has operated with this core five person lineup for about 6-7 years. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, band members temporarily adopted Atlanta as their home — a move that the group acknowledges as adding a new dimension to their output. In July 2014, they returned to the Crescent City from their exile. In a cosmic moment, Hill said, “we all came together, and we knew. We said it’s time, we’re going home.” 



To see Water Seed perform live is a near spiritual experience. Few other bands express the level of showmanship and command over their craft while still demonstrating that they’re having a damn good time doing it. Cyril Neville said it best: “what ever *it* is, they are drenched in it.” 


Since their return to New Orleans, the band has quickly made impressions all over town, playing gigs at Tip’s, The Civic, Jazz Fest, and becoming the darlings of Frenchmen Street by consistently pulling in crowds everywhere from BMC to Blue Nile. It wasn’t just their thriving fan base, but their ability to bring in folks off the street — and have them stay through the end of the show — that so impressed the management at Blue Nile that the club decided to open their doors on Tuesday nights so that the band could set up residency there. 



On any given night on stage, Water Seed can feature half a dozen more performers, supplying addition vocal, string, and brass support for the five key members. Performances often feature synchronized dance steps across the near-dozen musicians on stage, with players occasionally getting down directly with the grooving crowd. 


Shaleyah funnels her interplanetary pop persona à la Bowie through diva-laden filters that harken back to Grace Jones, Prince, and Tina Turner. Often donning a gilded crown and bodysuit, she moves effortlessly between percussion duties, vocals, and wildly hypnotic dance across the stage. 


Cinese, a classically trained flautist, plays her instrument the way Hendrix once would've a guitar — molding each note into a revelatory, soaring sound. And she can manage to do that while performing choreography. The dancing on stage — each side step shuffle, every swooping motion of her woodwind — Cinese laughed, is natural to a Water Seed performance, an example of the chemistry born from a near-decade working together. “It’s not so technical. We enjoy performing and we want fans to know that they can loosen up,” she said. “We want them to have fun with us too.” 



The band’s first full-length studio album, titled We Are Stars, is a musical odyssey through the group’s sonic roots and influences, a culmination of the group’s last seven years performing together. “It’s a journey through funk,” summed up Cinese over the phone from the band’s headquarters near the Fair Grounds. 


Hill, sharing her end of the phone line, agreed. “We’re exploring the gradations.” In addition to straight out funk, We Are Stars features rock-funk, jazz-funk, and soul-funk. The band’s founder explained, “each track is our version of what we think funk can do.” References for the album include sci-fi graphic novels, David Bowie, intergalactic adventures, Steely Dan, Earth Wind & Fire, and NOLA all-stars like The Meters, Chocolate Milk, and the Neville Brothers. 



Indeed, no two tracks on We Are Stars are thematically or generically repetitive. And yet, said Cinese, “all the songs are cousins. Our music is centered around motion and moving, never staying still.” 


The opening track, rightfully dubbed “Open Sesame,” unlocks the labyrinthine gates that guard this wild funk odyssey. The song features the soaring rhythm section that most Water Seed fans have come to know from their live performances. 


Water Seed’s funk ancestors are paid tribute with “Arithmetic,” a P-Funk tinged synthy dance tune, and the sci-fi single “Funktimus Prime.” The band’s rock ’n roll wanderings are well presented in the lead single “Bollywood,” a feminist anthem about independence and inclusivity. 


The title track, Hill explained, is a plea to the public to acknowledge the tremendous power within ourselves to begin healing in an uncertain political climate. “It’s about ignoring the noise of the world and concentrating on the good things. It’s acknowledging that we are stars. In the most basic terms, we are stardust. If we acknowledge that, that we’re of space and of ourselves, then we can start the process of unity and love.” 



On Saturday, Blue Nile will host the album release party for We Are Stars, featuring Cyril Neville and Swamp Funk in support. The group will also take the stage at Bayou Boogaloo this week before embarking on a coast-to-coast tour that will last through mid-August. After their North American tour wraps, the group has their sights set on international shows. As for future recordings, the band said fans can rest easy as they always keep two albums ahead of their audience. Said Hill, “we just keep it rolling.”

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