Lester Seal has an extraordinary voice. During a recent show opening for the Will Overman Band at The Southern, Seal took the stage with just his guitar and a mic. He strummed, sang, and stomped his bare feet on the carpeted stage, sounding at times like the second coming of Jeff Buckley.
“I grew up in the mountains of Crozet, running around barefoot and letting my imagination go free,” says Seal. “It was the perfect place to develop my heart and spirit.”
Since returning from a stint in Costa Rica not long ago, Seal has been playing more and more shows in the Charlottesville area, and he taps into that Crozet-bred imagination and love of nature when he sits down to write a song.
The Cville Niche recent caught up with Seal to hear more about his music, his influences, and his favorite Charlottesville things.
What are some of your favorite local spots: to catch live music? to grab a drink? to eat? to write a song?
I love going to the C&O to catch some delicious food and gypsy jazz; BON for some tasty treats and music, and Mudhouse for the date bars and pumpkin squares. Miller’s has great jazz nights, and of course, The Southern and The Jefferson always have awesome shows going on. Then there’s IX for the art park and diversity of people and places you can experience there.
My favorite place to be is out in nature and experiencing its beauty. Some of my favorite local spots to go to are: the Swannanoa Palace, because it makes me feel like I have gone back in time or stepped into another world; the Crozet Tunnel for some mysterious adventure; and Mint Spring and Sugar Hollow to walk through the woods, go swimming, and take time to sit and sink into all the sights and sounds around me.
What local musician(s) you are most excited about?
The Will Overman Band is an awesome crew. They have shown me a lot of love, and Will is an awesome guy with a really good heart. The Northerners have a lead guitarist who is incredible. Grandaddy’s Gravy are good buddies of mine and it’s nice to see them doing well these day, and of course Chamomile and Whiskey, they are awesome people and the drummer Brenning Greenfield and I grew up together since diapers. Then you have Adar and Erin Lunsford who I have been worked with lately as well, from radio shows, to singing soulful moving numbers.
The artist I’m most excited about though is Tommy Hajduk, or Sailor and The Sea. Tommy is an artist in the truest and deepest sense. He just moved here from Indiana and he helped me put together my EP “Searching for Truth” but he has his own original music that moves your heart and shakes your values and beliefs to the very core. He spends all his time on his music, be it producing and mastering his own recordings, to writing new stuff. There are many amazing artist in the world who go unnoticed, but with a heart as big as his, Tommy Hajduk should not be one of those. He is a genius and a master of his craft, an artist in the true sense of the word, and has helped inspire me to dig to the deepest parts of my soul for my music.
What local music projects are you/have you been involved in?
I play solo shows around town. I also try to bring together for a set all sorts of local artists, like Joe Lawlor, who has played with the Dave Matthews Band and Egypt; Andy Waldeck from Earth To Andy and Egypt; Erin Lunsford; Mike Taylor from ATM Unit; Brenning Greenfield and Ryan Lavin from Chamomile and Whiskey; and many more.
My baby though, is my new band, Lester Seal & The Lands of Ainur. We have a set group of five holding things down on a combo of saxophone, rhythm and lead guitar, bass and drums, and we often pull in cello, violin, sitar, tables, piano, and other instruments.
The idea is to merge orchestral, jazz, and world music with experimental indie rock that uses a lot heavy delay and reverb. Then merge that sound with soul, funk and heavy rock.
When and why did you start playing music/singing? What instruments do you play?
I have been singing since I was a small child, doing choir all through school, but what really got me into music was listening to oldies, soul and Motown with my uncle. My singing came from there, but playing music came from when I found a small guitar in that same uncle’s garage. He taught me how to play a G chord, then I took it from there and would spend hours on it just figuring out new things. Singing, guitar, and drums are my strong suits, but I can play piano, bass and some cello as well.
Most influential artist as a child? Teen? Adult?
It’s funny to say this, but as a child it was Elvis Presley, The Temptations, and Michael Jackson. Then as I got older I went through a huge Beatles phase and also loved listening to heavier stuff like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Iron Butterfly. Nowadays some of my favorite stuff to listen to are things like Bill Evans, Joe Hiaishi, Sigur Ros, Snowmine, and Bon Iver.
You have an extraordinary voice. Is it a gift you’ve always had, or have you had voice training?
It is a gift I always had. I remember running around singing in the woods as a child, but choir really helped me, especially in middle school. That’s where I learned the most.
When did you write your first song? What was it about?
I wrote my first song when I was in 7th grade, and the first lyric was saying, “You and I have to see what is our philosophy, you and I were best friends until the end of time.” It was a very beautiful song that had an eerie almost haunting tone to it. As for the meaning…that’s up to you.
What influences your writing?
Whenever I write it comes not from the ego, but from within, and it is almost always as if something is speaking through me to say something to myself and people around me.
What aspects of life excite you and stir your affections, fuel your passions?
What makes me happiest in life is to see people lifting one another up, and to see someone following the beat of their own drum.
Do you get pumped or nervous pre-show?
Before a show I get filled with so much energy that at times it could almost be too much, but I have learned how to manage and channel that in a positive way, because for me playing is like opening up the door to the other side of the veil, or tapping deepest within the presence of what one may call “God.” And when that happens I want to be in the clearest and purest place possible.
What does a day in the life of a modern-day songwriter look like from your perspective?
I think things look very magical and beautiful from where I’m sitting. I wake up, eat healthy food, walk out in nature, play my guitar, and try to lift up others when the ability and opportunity is there.
What do you want people to take from hearing your music and/or experiencing your live show?
To look within themselves and let out what and who they truly are.
What does the not-so-distant future hold for Lester Seal?
Performing my music with an orchestra, sleeping under the stars, eating healthy foods, and to continue feeling the Oneness that is all, and let that flow forever within and without me.
Lastly… Describe yourself in 10 words or less.
Thou art Ilúvatar