Something's Cooking

Definitely Seela

It's a less-than- auspicious night in the recording studio. Seela finds herself at wit's end in efforts to commit vocal tracks to "The Question of You," her contribution to a forthcoming CD compilation of Austin musicians as Prince cover artists. Despite cutting and recutting, something isn't quite right. Frustration looms in the air like fog. Her guitarist, Darwin Smith, throws in his less than flattering assessment of her showing this far.

"He said, `You know, you're not soundin' real clear,'" recalls Seela, mocking his serious voice. "`Maybe you should put a vibrato on the end of that.' And I'm like, `I don't do that. I don't sing like that. I'd be faking it if I did.' Then he says, `Well, you're no Kris McKay.'"

The statement stopped Seela cold.

"I said, `Okay,'" she says, feigning a teary voice. "`I'll do a vibrato, dammit!'" She can't contain her laughter.

Seela is yet another of the dozen or so multi-talented female singer-songwriters who reside in Austin. In due time, she could well take up residence in the highest strata alongside McKay, Abra Moore, Sara Hickman, and Kelly Willis. Her debut album, Probably Lucy (SeelaSongs), a languid acoustic romp through the varied terrain of the poetic heart, certainly points in that direction. But Seela's interest in hierarchical structures are passing at best. She cares less for comparison with others than for comparison with herself and her own technical and artistic development.

"Where do I fit in this chain of women?," she ponders. "I don't know. Kris McKay and Abra Moore have been at it a long time and learned what I'm learning a long time ago. They're doing the right thing now because of what they know. I haven't followed up on trying to find major record labels and stuff. I don't think I'm ready for that. I'm just now finding my sound."

Seela claims she's a better cook than musician, and, indeed, our interview's delayed a few minutes while she finishes baking banana bread which will be a birthday gift for the aforementioned Smith. "I cook for the musicians I play with because they're better musicians than me."

On that note, Seela lets it be known that a very important member of the Austin Women's Stalwart Musician League has been left out of the conversation. "Kathy McCarty rules," she says. The former Glass Eye guitarist and Daniel Johnston channeler has become an important figure in Seela's life recently. Not only have the two become good friends, McCarty also had Seela open a couple of her shows, once at Liberty Lunch and once at Cactus.

But Seela admires more than just McCarty's music. "Kathy makes a mean pie," she says, mentioning that they're commercially available in certain select establishments. Is a new genre on the horizon, singer/cook perhaps? "Exactly," says Seela, "I'll make a meal, play a show, and feed everybody." And it's through the food chain that Seela became acquainted with another member of Glass Eye, one that also figures prominently into Seela's recent ascent into notoriety.

"Darwin and I would go to Whole Foods and he'd point at Brian Beattie and go, `That guy's a genius!'" says Seela. "Darwin could rattle off Brian's entire history. He'd just stare at him, but he'd never introduce himself or anything." Then one fateful day, Beattie stepped around the corner from Whole Foods to pay a visit to the Thundercloud shop where Seela works.

"This guy was waiting on him," she remembers," and I go, `Do you realize who you're waiting on?' Then I rattled off his resume and Brian's like, `Who the fuck are you?'" The two had a quick conversation about music and Seela gave the bassist/producer a tape of some songs she'd done with Smith on four-track. "I could see he was all disappointed when I gave him a tape," she says, switching into her impression of Beattie's internal voice: "`Oh, she's such a nice girl. She's gonna suck and I'm gonna have to tell her she sucks.'"

But he didn't. Instead, Beattie soon joined Seela and Smith on some four-track efforts, eventually moving the sessions into the studio he shares with Craig Ross. That's where Probably Lucy began, and what had originally started out as a six-song demo soon turned into a full-fledged CD. "Having Beattie as a producer certainly helped," admits Seela, adding that even after the CD was done, having Beattie's name attatched to her project continued to reap rewards. "People would speak to me. Waterloo never gave me any shit about putting the CD in the store. They've kept it on the Texas Artist wall."

Since hitting the stores in December, Probably Lucy has earned back its initial investment by selling over 500 copies. Those are good numbers for a DIY, first-time venture by a young local artist, but it's still quite a distance from the thousands sold by McKay, McCarty, et al. Wisely, Seela sees it as a first step on a very long, very educational road. "I think about Probably Lucy as going to college," Seela testifies. "I learned a lot. I didn't know shit before I made that record. I know a lot more now about recording, about performance when you're recording, and about what you have to do to promote yourself."

What's next?

"My dad asks that," she replies.

Again, her aims are more educational than professional. "I know more now about how I want to sound than when we made the CD. I want my sound to be more solid. I hear people say, `Oh, she sounds so cool. She sounds like a beginner.' I don't want to sound like that. I want to sound better. I want to be a better guitar player."

But if Seela is currently on a warm-up run, as she herself states, then her full sprint must be out of this world. Place your bets, punters. n

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