Home Grown is WRGW’s new blog series on GWU-affiliated musicians. Today we feature Sealab, a jam band formed by GWU students Youssef Bishara, Samuel Catherman, Julia Johnson, Sharif Nassef, Mithun Selvaratnam and Cameron Soojian. “The Sealab is an underwater laboratory, into which a few select musicians have journeyed to recapture a sound that has been lost. The Lab is a state of the art facility on the ocean floor, off the coast of Peru. The complete darkness and frequent interactions with deep sea creatures feed our imaginations.” – Mithun Selvaratnam
Q: What’s the story behind Sealab?
Sam: Sealab matured amidst the flowing, wavy waters of the Bayou. It evolved from the primordial funky crustacean stew / occasional jam band that was Billy Blumpkin & the Reach – Around Gang. We started out playing house parties last year with an open invite to all our musician friends to pick up an instrument and start groovin’. These Bayou sessions continued for about a year, providing an open forum for all of us to develop our chops. The instruments stayed set-up so we kept playing, often times into the wee early hours of the morning. A few months, we realized we were graduating soon, and that we wouldn’t have access to such a large circle of talented musicians, so we decided to get serious.
Mithun: Everyone in the band plays the drums, but Youssef has the wildest spirit, so we put him on the throne. Samwise is a Deadhead-child-string maestro, whose bass sounds like a rhino while his guitar soars like a hawk. He’s joined by Cam, the young prodigy. Sharif’s furious fingers are magnetically drawn to any percussive tool. Julia the Sun Princess croons with her voice and her cello. I’m obsessed with playing with textures, so effects pedals and synths are really my thing.
Q: What kind of music-writing process do you all have?
Mithun: Most song ideas build from single parts that individual band members bring to the group. Others have been birthed during jam sessions. We spend a lot of our time improvising, in order to really feel out a song and build our communication. Songs are never finished in a day; rather, they come together over multiple practices as we gradually add parts and modify details.
We’re also of the philosophy that music is an open-ended process, not a product. No song is truly finished – it can always be explored again, and it can always evolve.
Sharif: Jam sessions are like a democracy, whilst playing written pieces is more of a rotating dictatorship. If someone comes to the lab with a song they want to play, it’s their responsibility to teach, arrange, and communicate the ideas to everyone in the group. That’s not to say that one person’s song is untouchable; most of the pieces we’ve been working on have been largely collaborative.
Q: Do you have any rituals when playing together or recording? What are they?
Mithun: Smoke breaks are common.
Sharif: We have many rituals to get us in the right state of mind to play music, but unfortunately they’re top secret and won’t be revealed. I can tell you we listen to a lot of REO Speedwagon before shows though. Sharif doesn’t mind sharing his personal ritual: He conditions his hands to follow his heart. He finds the sound within himself and strives to love each note he hears from his fellow Sealab-ers. He then and adds on his rhythmic strokes as if to show that sound some more love. Thus, perpetual symphonic love-making ensues.
Q: If you could open or headline with any musical act (dead or alive) who would it be and why?
Mithun: Radiohead. Cuz.
Sam: This may sound like more of a typical hippie answer than anything else, but the Grateful Dead 100x over. Their philosophy of “serving the song” above anything else led to the formation of a wildly prolific and successful career, as well as a massive subculture following. They weren’t afraid to explore on stage; they were not bound by the rules and conventions of the time. We say that we like to jam, but this doesn’t just mean playing crunchy, noodly solos for 20 minutes. We use the term “jam” and “improvisation” interchangeably. The Dead had a catalogue a mile thick of songs that their fans knew and loved dearly. These songs were not played the same way each time though; I think of them as a fresh page in a coloring book. The lines of the picture are the chords, melody and structure of the song. That is the part that’s already been determined and laid out for the band. On stage, however, is when the markers and crayons are broken out and the real coloring begins. If this metaphor is lost, then I’ll just say that the Grateful Dead have been my favorite band since I was too small to hold a guitar, and their influence has significantly shaped the way I hear and play music. And they want me to open for them?!
Q: Finally, what are each of your favorite sea creatures?
Mithun: Fried-egg jellyfish
Sam: Cephalopods. Squids, Octopi, and Nautiloids are among our faves. These brothers can squeeze organelles in their skin to release different pigments instantaneously; they communicate with each other literally by making themselves blink like a strobe light. There are some seahorses and a Beluga whale in there somewhere as well.
Sealab’s been busy! They opened for holychild at the Velvet Lounge on Friday, April 19th, play at Foggy Fest on Saturday, April 20th, and you can catch them tonight at the Bossa Bistro and Lounge with Ton-Taun!