After several years on the road and in exile, New Orleans' gravitational pull finally grabbed ahold of Water Seed and returned the band home. "You love it or you hate it, there's no place like New Orleans to play music," says drummer and bandleader Lou Hill. "It's a strong draw. I can't even explain — it's one of those things where you've got to get back home."
The band formed as a songwriting team at Xavier University with founders and New Orleans natives Hill and keyboardist J Sharp. After Hurricane Katrina, the band moved to Atlanta and followed with relentless touring and new members, adding vocalists Shaleyah and Berkley, flutist Cinese, trombonist Thomas Grant and guitarist Alex D'Onofrio.
Water Seed's forthcoming 2017 album We Are Stars weaves retro-futurist Gap Band beats into full-band ecstasy modeled after Earth, Wind & Fire, Prince and Stevie Wonder, shifting gears into Meters-inspired funk with New Orleans jazz. Hill says the band is committed to its diverse, challenging versatility, despite pressure from music industry peers to simplify or rearrange its outfit to serve other performers.
"It's crucially important," Hill says. "We were taught to be versatile — 'You have to play everything, you have to be good at everything, you have to play like this.' A lot of pressure was put on us. Imagine having that put into you, then you enter the music scene and no one is doing it. Everybody has the same sound. ... It came down to sticking to our guns. We made a conscious decision we were a band, we're always going to be a band, and we'll always remain a band. ... Our heritage is this music."
Album openers "Open Sesame" and "Bollywood" deal disco guitar blows over cascading horn lines and floating keys, which melt into liquid synthesizer bass lines on a Parliament-inspired "Arithmetic." Within 15 minutes, the band spans the funk encyclopedia, leafing through pages of gospel, R&B and soul.
"A lot of times people have criticized us for our sound being 'too sporadic' or 'too all over the place,'" Hill says. "We're not going up the gondola side of the mountain. We're definitely taking the rough side of the mountain. We have to be comfortable in our art and be comfortable with who we are."