There’s a new sound in the air. New Orleans musicians are doing fresh original work, and the rest of the world is paying attention. This recent and necessary renaissance is heard with Tank and the Bangas, Sweet Crude, Charm Taylor, and more. Like the others, Water Seed defies easy categorization; with their new album We Are Stars, they’re ready to take their seat at the table.
Founder Lou Hill has spent considerable time thinking about the particular aesthetic the band is striving for. “If The Meters decided to come together with all these progressive things that didn’t exist when they were coming up—hip hop, R&B, jazz fusion—what if they started today and set their sound through this whole filter? What would they sound like?” he asked.
Though Water Seed might seem to have appeared out of nowhere, the first incarnation of the group began 15 years ago when New Orleanian Hill was a Xavier University student. He and two others, no longer with the group, were a production team who moved into performance, finding it best for them to play the songs they wrote.
“We were working quite a bit in New Orleans,” said Hill. “We evacuated to Atlanta for Hurricane Katrina, and our time there taught us about the recording artist side of the business. We’ve only been back to New Orleans about three years.”
Time in Atlanta also changed the formation of the group to its present version, including adding a flutist with a classical background. “Prior to joining Water Seed, I hadn’t been doing music for eight years,” admitted flutist Cinese. “It was definitely an eye opener for me, because I hadn’t dealt with it all in terms of live shows and the recording process.”
Lead singer Berkley was on the band’s radar, but until recently he had too many acting and music projects going on. Eventually his schedule opened and he was willing to take the risk. He recalled, “The four of them had been together, and I was the new guy. Lou asked me, ‘Who is it you need to impress or what is it you want people to know after you do these songs?’ No one had ever asked me that.”
The recorded result is the ambitious and infectious We Are Stars, a soulful 14-track release that just dropped and is striking for its energetic spirit, strong musicianship, and memorable songs. It also makes one realize that Water Seed’s unique sound is a welcome one that is recognizable but not mimicry.
Hill clarified, “There are some songs on there that people say, ‘That’s an old sound.’ It may sound that way, but if you really listen to what’s happening in the chord progressions, the vocal parts, and the rhythms, we’re pretty good at disguising clever stuff and new kinds of sounds within something that sounds familiar.
The album kicks off in this fashion with “Open Sesame,” which sounds like one of the best 70’s songs you’ve never heard, while also being thoroughly modern and adventurous. The lyrics tell us about the band’s name, with Water representing knowledge and Seed symbolizing growth. It’s also the first song Berkley recorded with the band, and his raised-in-the-church vocals help to make it a perfect summer song.
Those with open ears are often first to recognize exceptional talent, and so it was a few months back. “The biggest thing that happened to us this year was Cyril Neville coming to a Blue Nile show, falling in love with the band, and saying, ‘Whatever you need, I’m supporting you because I believe in what you’re doing.’ That was really a shot in the arm,” said Hill.
Water Seed has just embarked on an extensive tour that will take them around the country over the next three months. “The response has been fantastic with the shows we’ve done locally. I want that energy exchange to be carried on to the tour,” said Cinese.
Hill spoke on the live harmonies, “Over our last few years it evolved. At first, I didn’t have a mic. How can we record great songs but have the live energy of a brass band? That turned into everybody getting a mic and a part. It happened organically on stage.”
Water Seed performs mostly originals, which can be a third rail for musicians in a tourist town. Berkley said, “As artists, it’s our job to communicate. If you only do covers, you’re not communicating your life.” Hill agreed, “When I was coming up, you couldn’t get a gig in this city if you played cover tunes. You always had to come with your original sound.”
Hill is quick to state the band’s place in the new New Orleans. “I wanted to create a sound for this generation. Not a disrespectful sound. Not throwing away our heritage. But our version of the sound we grew up with. We’ve been quietly working on it for years. To my mind, there are no limitations to the sound of Water Seed.”