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The Edge of Reason
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The Edge of Reason story

Stefanie SeskinInterview with Stefanie Seskin

How did you get started playing music and what was your first instrument?

My father was an actor who did sales as a day job. My mother was a painter (but she would argue this) who was a housewife for a while and eventually worked as a social worker. My grandfather was a professional musician - alto sax and clarinet. He played with Machito's Afro Cuban Orchestra, touring and recording (and even played with Tito Puente, Charlie Parker and others!) My sister, 12 years older, played flute. I wanted to also. In 3rd grade, everyone was offered the opportunity to choose an instrument. I chose flute, excelled quickly (was 3rd chair in my district band my first year of playing, and was one of the only 3rd graders in the band), continued playing and also taking private lessons until high school, when I stopped. In order to still get lessons and play in concert band or orchestra, it was a requirement to be in the marching band, and I didn't want to go to football games in the cold in a uniform! Instead, I joined the rock ensemble and sang lead and back ups. I was not allowed into the jazz band. The teacher told me "Flutes don't play jazz!" And I was not allowed to learn bass in rock ensemble. I had a turbulent home life - my parents split up when I was 11. So playing the flute alone in my room was a great release and escape for me. Later, I studied classical guitar in high school. I was a music major my first 2 years in college (UC/San Diego), played classical flute and took up bass guitar, but dropped out of school and moved back to the East Coast to pursue modelling. I got some work, went to Italy for 4 months by myself, ended up rooming with an Italian female musician, and helped her write songs. A few years later, back in the US, I played bass with Bill Popp & The Tapes for a while and recorded his album. I also sang back ups in other bands.

Who else plays with you in the band and how did you get together with them?

I am currently playing out with blue number nine. In addition to the members of blue number nine, on my solo CD, I had Luca Santaniello on drums, Jenny Hill on sax, Pamela Fleming on trumpet, Rob Susman on trombone, my friend Pamela West on bassoon, my friend Dana Shellmire did a killer back up vocal on "Jerking My Chains," and Emi Yabuno on keyboards and Lloyd Nilsen on piano. Everyone contributed their own flair. Jenny wrote a great horn arrangment for "Stay Where You Are."

Lloyd Nilsen is a friend of mine who helped build the "check other records" recording studio. He was blue number nine's original bassist, back in 1995! One day, he was at the studio and I played him some of the tracks that were recorded. "Stay Where You Are" was flat and dull and needed something, but I wasn't sure what. I played it for him, and he sat down at the piano and played along - this great Latin Piano riff. The part was perfect, so he took home an MP3 and gave me back a midi file of his piano work.

So what differentiates this project from your other recordings, and why release a solo CD?

This project began at the same time as the band's most recent release. We actually recorded 23 songs. When choosing what to put on blue number nine's CD, I realized that the band doesn't perform a lot of the songs we recorded, and that those songs were highly personal and too different from blue number nine (even though blue number nine's style is so hard to pin down!) I wanted to have some fun with these songs - add loops and samples and be experimental, without anyone in the band getting upset that I was "changing their sound", or whatever! I wrote the song "Be Like You", which is about my niece Chase, years ago when she was 6. I just don't think it's a blue number nine song. Also, we re-recorded "Jerking My Chains"... that song is on the band's first CD, so I thought it would be odd to re-release it as blue number nine. Once Dana Shellmire added her vocals, I knew I had to release it, but not as blue number nine. It just seemed like the right time.

Where are you from originally and where are you located? Also, does your region affect your music?

I'm from Willingboro, NJ, originally... close to Phili. For the past eight years, I've lived in Jersey City, NJ, right outside of NYC. Where I live definitely affects my music, especially lately, because of the hustle and bustle and the impersonal life of no community. This has been affecting me lately - I don't like it. So my lyrics have been angrier of late than they used to be. I want to live in an environment with more NATURE. I believe, perhaps wrongly, that leaving this environment would enable me to write more songs.

Tell me about your recording history? Any past albums? What's planned for the future?

I once was almost signed to a major rap label. I wrote a Christmas rap song, before white chicks were rapping, before rap was huge, and before everyone was doing Christmas albums. I had met a guy whose name I won't mention, because I hate name dropping, who called the head of the label and played my song. I started co-writing with some known writers, but I got cold feet - I felt fake... a white chick from the suburbs rapping... I've had other songwriting partners along the way, and we tried to get something going. Then I picked up bass and played with Bill Popp and recorded his album, but left that project and gave up on music altogether. I wasted a few years in a suit in an office. One day, a song came out of nowhere, and I went home and wrote it. At that point, I decided to pursue my own music. I found a producer and put out a demo tape and sent it around. I got nowhere... didn't know much about the business. Meanwhile, I performed to tracks at open mics and other events. Eventually, I returned to college and got my Master's Degree in Media Studies, all the while, studying the music business. I never wanted to be a human resources manager, so I never had any interest in putting a band together, but I realized it was the only way to get my music heard by others. So I put a band together. We've recorded 4 albums. I also have been recording other artists and producing them. Ultimately, a publishing deal would be nice! I love performing. I think I'm addicted to it, and I'm good at it, but I can't see myself doing it forever, because the money isn't enough to live on, and it's incredibly hard to have 3 jobs, which is what I have right now! I would love to tour and write and tour and write, but that Master's Degree put me in debt (although I'm paying it off), so I have to earn a living.

Where do you get inspiration for your music? Favorite/ influential artists? Other sources of inspiration besides music?

Emotions - I'm very emotional. And I struggle with clinical depression. These emotions are usually triggered by unfair things in the world and interpersonal relationships gone weird ... the creepy crappy things people do to each other. Many songs I've written were cathartic for me - getting stuff off my chest. I communicate much better in writing than verbally, so some songs are communication to other real people in my life - things that I simply can't get out of my mouth in the moment. Sometimes, the words aren't so nice! Other times, they are pure love. In terms of negative events and experiences, I remain hopeful most times. I try to bring positivity into my songs, because I find that even though people moan when they think lyrics are corny, the corniest lyrics are what touch our hearts in most cases. Life can really suck, but people need and crave love, hope and positive things. I have listened to so many types of music, and I include jingles and all things television in this statement. So I can't really tell you that Prince or the Grateful Dead or Janis Joplin or The Police or the Clash or Sly & The Family Stone, or any other great artist is my hero, my main inspiration. My parents and my older sister listened to all kinds of music - from Motown to Country Joe and The Fish to Crosby Stills Nash & Young. All of it has been lodged into my psyche, and hence, my writing. I ask other people what THEY hear as my influences, and the answers I get are all over the place!

Tell me a bit about your process? How do you write? How do you come up with new ideas?

It varies - I need certain things in my life to be in place in order to receive ideas from the universe. I need exercise, enough sleep, nature, leisure time, and time to just goof off and let my mind meander. If I don't have these things, I simply don't get anything. When I do get something, the music pops into my head first sometimes, other times, a lyric pops in, other times, both pop in at the same time. Then, no matter where I am, I have to sing it into my cell phone or some recording device. I don't come up with new ideas, the ideas come to me. I know that sounds unoriginal and airy fairy new age, but it's true. When I try to come up with something, it usually doesn't work, unless I have no time limits and am just tinkering around. Once, a song came to me while sitting at my desk at a corporate, miserable job that I hated!

Tell me some specific bands that you listen to now and that you listened to during the formative years when you were influnenced toward pursuing a career in music?

The formative years list is way too huge, and I've gone through many phases - from my sister, parents and my youth: Sly & The Family Stone, The Beatles, Carole King, War, Cat Stevens, The Jackson Five (I had all their records), Smokey Robinson, Crosby, Stills Nash & Young, Blood Sweat & Tears, The Doors, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Seals & Crofts, David Bowie, The Brothers Johnson, YES, Genesis, Jethro Tull, Talking Heads, The Police, The Cars, George Clinton, Tom Tom Club, The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Cramps, Blondie, The Pretenders Later in life: Prince, Kid Creole & The Coconuts, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, UB40, Aswad, Nina Hagen, Neville Brothers, Dana Dane, Rum DMC, Roxy Music, Babyface, Enya, Kitaro, David Byrne (solo - I went through a Brazilian phase and liked his Rei Momo album, though it didn't do very well), soca music in general (I'm of carribean descent), the lyrics to all the country songs I had to type at a former day job, I went through a Brazilian phase where I studied the music and dance And I was classically trained on flute, Handel, Telemann, Pachebel, Vivaldi, etc. I also sang in a punk band when I first went to college in San Diego - we did X, The Clash, The Dead Kennedys, Elvis Costello, Black Flag, The Specials, and other covers.

Now - The Radiators, Alison Kraus, Charlie Hunter, Sting, jazz, acid jazz compilation cd's, Peter Gabriel, but mostly independent bands! With 3 jobs, it's hard to listen to music, honestly. Plus, I started a record label last year, so I'm listening to a lot of submissions (and haven't signed anyone yet but a band called BELT.)

How do you want to affect people with your music?

I want them to feel as though they are not alone in their struggles, but also remind people that many struggles are caused by those in power, and it is important to look at these things. I also sometimes want to just make people feel good! And I am thrilled when I write lyrics that make people laugh. I've had a difficult life, in many ways, because of depression and substance abuse problems, so if people are encouraged by the fact that I'm not only still alive, but doing something, that makes me feel like I'm doing something important.

 

   

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