Born and reared outside of Tampa, FL, the up-and-coming Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Corina Seas has what may arguably be a prototypical American, feel-good story, as the singer/songwriter is the daughter of Honduran immigrants, who settled in the Tampa area before she was born – and like a number of first generation Americans, Seas’ parents made sure that she would have a connection to her heritage and homeland, as a young Seas spent every summer in Honduras with her extended family.
After running JOVM over the past 5 years, I’ve spoken to a quite a number of artists across a wild variety of genres, and although it may seem clichéd, this much is true – your childhood can have a major influence on your life, and many of the artists I’ve spoken to can frequently trace their interest and passion for music to when they were small children. And for Seas, this is very much the case, as she explained to me that although she comes from a seemingly practical family of engineers, doctors, politicians, it was her father’s passion for music that was one of her biggest influences as she grew up listening to Stevie Wonder, The Beatles’ White Album, and saw how much joy music seemed to bring to everyone around her. However, her musical career has taken a rather circuitous path.
While studying Telecommunications at the University of Florida, Seas began promoting local music events and artists and hosted her own radio show, Echo Fusion on the Internet radio station, Grow Radio. During her time in Gainesville, Seas joined a local hip-hop collective and began competing in freestyle competitions, which as she told me has been influential to her development as a vocalist and as a songwriter. After graduation, Seas relocated to Los Angeles to work in music professionally, and she spent a short stint at Warner Music Group before deciding that the only thing she wanted to do was be a songwriter and performer – and as a result, Seas began learning keyboard and started taking classes at Musicians Institute College of Contemporary Music, where she met a number of the musicians and producers, who would assist in completing her recently released debut EP, Flux.
Interestingly, the material on Flux meshes contemporary pop and electronic production techniques with 90s R&B and neo-soul, and although decidedly electro pop leaning, the material manages to reveal that hip-hop is a major influence on the material’s sound and the songwriting approach while coming from a deeply personal place. As Seas told me in this edition of the JOVM Q&A, the material on the album is inspired by her personal experiences – and in some way, Flex feels like the diary of artist as a young woman, trying to maneuver the complexities of romantic relationships, family, adult obligations and concerns, lust, love, shame, of what it means to proudly accept being a square peg – and she does so with a quiet, almost unassuming self-assuredness and amiable charm.
I recently spoke to the incredibly amiable and charming Corina Seas via email about her influences, how much of an influence hip-hop has been on her and her work, how her stints in radio and at Warner Music Group have influenced her career, the “Crystal Cove” video, her advice for artists trying to make a name for themselves, her future plans, and much more. Check it out below.
WRH: According to your bio, you’re kind of like the prototypical American feel-good story as you’re the daughter of Honduran immigrants who moved to Florida’s Gulf of Mexico Coast before you were born — and where you wound up growing up. Your father had a passionate enthusiasm for rock, blues and soul music and that was a major influence on you pursuing a career path as a musician. Was there a particular moment in mind where you realized that being a musician was your calling?
Corina Seas: I’ve never thought of myself as a prototypical American feel-good story, but that’s cool [laughs]. There was definitely a moment when I finally truly enjoyed performing without feeling self-conscious the whole time, but there wasn’t necessarily a moment I remember where I found being a musician to be my calling. I always sang and always wanted to sing. There wasn’t really an understanding of it being a choice that was just how it was and what I followed. As I grew older, I realized just how stuck on the dream I was and so I really had no choice but to pursue this. I can’t see myself just going through the motions, having a regular job, raising a family, saving just enough for random vacations and dying. I want way more out of life than that. I’m sacrificing so that I can connect with people eventually and grow a movement that’s bigger than just me. It’s been a process, this dream, but I think it’ll be worth it.
WRH: Who are your influences?
CS: Tupac Shakur is a big one. He inspired me to want to do more than just sing songs with fun words. He had really strong ideas about caring for others and inspiring change but he also would get really pissed at things and he felt relatable in his frustrations. His lyrics told stories that evoked emotions I related to on a core level and still do. I realized as a little kid that there was something deeply emotional behind what he was saying and I was extremely drawn to that. I’ve made quite a few Tupac mix tapes with hundreds of his songs.
Sting has also been a major influence on me as well as Lauryn Hill, Sia, Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, Sam Cooke… These acts in particular, I was fortunate enough to discover at an early age and they distinctly gave me a desire to find purpose in my music and an ability to form a genuine connection. They’re all very honest and articulate writers and I enjoy learning from them and figuring out how they wrote songs that are so easy to listen to and repeat.
WRH: Who are you listening to now?
CS: I’m listening to Carrasco Y Su Ley at the moment. I’ve recently gotten on another Cuban music kick and have been delving into their songs. I’m a sucker for Caribbean music and culture. Definitely runs in the blood.
WRH: How would you describe your sound?
CS: Pop-sex-R&B-mess? [Laughs]
It’s R&B infused electro-pop. I drew a lot of influence from the music of the 90’s, but I also listened to a lot of classic rock and soul or blues stuff. I think it all comes out in the way I write but this project in particular is very pop oriented. It’s danceable, groovy, sad at times, and anthemic at others. Dreamy too. “Visions” is literally entirely about a dream and the other songs have synths and effects that give the music a spacier aesthetic, as well.
WRH: At one point you were part a local hip-hop collective and began taking part in local freestyle competitions, which I would imagine would hone your skills as a performer and songwriter. Interestingly, the material on your recently released EP Flux sounds as though it owes a great debt to R&B, pop, soul and hip-hop in a similar fashion to many of the 90s neo soul and R&B acts — i.e., the great Mary J. Blige, SWV, 702, TLC, Jodeci, etc. etc. How much as hip-hop influenced you and your songwriting? How much has that period influenced you?
CS: If it weren’t for hip-hop, I might not be able to write songs right now. I always sang and I’ve always been a writer, but hip-hop merged those two worlds for me.
I would free-write these longs verses all the time and eventually through rap, I realized that the way I deliver a verse can influence how it’s perceived and that I needed to keep things as intriguing as possible. I would experiment with raps, free-writes, freestyles, and songs until eventually, I was churning out melodies as quickly as I would write lyrics and I was able to start constructing actual songs.
Being a part of the hip-hop collective gave me concrete examples of how to carry myself and the ways to challenge my mind in order to actually get my ideas to receptive listeners and incur respect. The way dudes like Con Queso, Shay-J, Marquise Mickey, Vincent Alvarado, Soco, Galvez, Robzilla, etc., told stories… – it was just so inspiring to learn from. They were all pretty young but were absolute senseis in teaching how to ride ideas. I was also in the Singer-Songwriter Society and Poet’s Inc. and an Afro-Cuban ensemble back then, so I was exposed to these brilliantly enthusiastic young minds. It was a great period of my life. Being accepted into such warm and soulful communities really opened me up as an artist and instigated the passion I perform with currently.
Performing with those groups also led to me learning to play an instrument and accepting that I’d have to fail for a while in order to succeed. I overcame stage fright while singing in those groups, and then it was time to overcome the fright I have of playing instruments live and that’s a work in progress still.
Hip-hop’s eclecticism and my time at the University of Florida was the gateway for me to conquer my insecurities and find a way to vent out my emotions. I learned to just say what was on my mind in an instant; it helped me be comfortable in my own skin, which is ultimately what’s freeing me.
WRH: While studying Telecommunications at the University of Florida, you wound up hosting your own radio show, Echo Fusion on the Internet-based radio station Grow Radio and after graduation you relocated to Los Angeles where you wound up working a brief stint at Warner Music. You probably have a rather unique perspective as you’ve been on the press and label side of the industry and you’ve been an artist. Have those experiences within the industry influenced you and your songwriting? Have they influenced how you go about promoting yourself and your work?
CS: I don’t know that I’d say working for Grow affected my songwriting at all, but I would say it influenced me as an artist in that I learned more about how to speak publicly and be charismatic and engaging as a personality. I always wanted to DJ and have my own show. I felt I could entertain people and wanted a platform where I could talk about whatever I wanted in whatever capacity. Grow gave me that, so it was a dream come true for sure.
The Warner Music stint was an internship and it opened my eyes to how the industry works. I noticed how the artists are treated, how hard it is to become successful, and I saw a lot of the inner workings of a major record label. That experience was tantamount to my fully understanding the journey I was choosing to embark on by choosing to pursue musically professionally.
Both of those experiences influenced me greatly as a young professional and so it’s safe to say they’ve influenced my songwriting. They’ve also influenced how I promote myself and my music as well. Quality and patience.
WRH: How did you meet the backing band and production team that assisted you with the writing and recording of Flux? How did your songwriting process work with the production team and musicians? Did the producers and musicians have instrumentation and backing tracks for you to write and sing songs to — or did you have the words down with some rough idea of your sound and everyone collaborated towards fleshed out material? And how did you know when you had a finished song?
CS: As far as the production team is concerned, the process of writing and recording Flux was just like the title implies. I purchased the beat for “Crystal Cove” online and “Let Me In” came from producer, T. Pratt. The other three tracks were songs I’d written on the keyboard and then worked with friends, Jonathon Gerundo and Sean Farrell, to create demos. I loved the ideas they brought to the project but I ran into the issue of having an oddball set of songs that sounded too different from one another.
At this point, I got in touch with Rob Harkness, and he agreed to produce EP and help bring the random tracks together into a cohesive sound and concept. It was at this time that we decided to incorporate the live instrumentation element. Rob helped arranged the tracks and recorded guitar, drums, percussion. My friend, Hash [Harshit Misra], did a great job tracking the bass for the whole EP and I loved the flavor he brought to the record.
As far as knowing the songs were finished, these songs were incubated for a bit before the EP was released so we had time to listen back repeatedly and make sure things were in the right place. I don’t know that a song ever really feels finished, at least not for me, because eventually I always hear things that could have been done differently or this and that but you can definitely feel satisfied with what came out, and I guess that’s the point to search for.
WRH: “Crystal Cove,” and “Damsel in Distress” are my favorite songs on the EP. What are the inspirations behind them? And how much of the material on the EP is influenced by your own personal experiences?
“Crystal Cove” was inspired by the groove and the aesthetic of the original beat. That one is more of a fun song, so it didn’t really coming from a deep emotional place as much as it’s a play on a cool idea. For me, the lyrics are about a muse, though I think most people interpret it as being about a love interest.
“Damsel in Distress” definitely came out of the loneliness I’ve felt since moving away from home about four years ago. I feel like LA is the place I need to be for my music career at this point in time, but I’m a big family person, so it’s always been a heavy choice for me. Growing up, I felt like a lot of people were fake and then when I moved here I noticed there definitely is a superficial side to Hollywood. So I needed to vent that frustration out. It’s definitely the most introspective song on the record.
The whole EP itself is completely influenced by my own experiences. I write most my songs from my point of view so you’re either getting my imagination or my growth through a given situation. Especially since I like making pop, I try to make sure the lyrics stem from something that inspires or intrigues me. I want to bring you nostalgia but not just do the same old thing.
WRH: Speaking of “Crystal Cove,” you have an adorably goofy and upbeat video for the song that features you as an alien, who seems to have a mission — helping Earthlings in romantic distress. In some way, the video seems to capture what I would think is you and your personality so incredibly well. In any case, how did the video concept come about?
CS: [Laughs] The video definitely captures my personality and the goofiness that dictates my demeanor. It basically started after I decided I wanted to make the video a space theme. I knew I wanted a spaceship and that we should show the planets in the Solar System with campy imagery. My producer, Rob Harkness, helped me hash out a storyline to follow and ideas just stemmed from that. It was a ridiculous process to shoot and since the whole thing was done at my apartment, it was interesting to set the whole thing up and do a production in my home. I was so fortunate to have good people pitching in [shouts to Kimberly Knoll, Greg Loebell, Salvador Gutierrez, Shelly, Tyler Dofflow] to help make the whole thing come together.
WRH: “Stand Tall” is a great tell-off song, which also says to the listener “you need to be yourself, no matter what and take control of your own life.” Was that song inspired by your own experiences of being misunderstood as an artist in a family of doctors, engineers, politicians and other “rational,” “respectable” jobs?
CS: [Laughs] “Stand Tall” comes from all my frustrations with society and expectations and conditions of belonging. I was definitely exposed to being ostracized as a kid and I always felt I had to fight to maintain my personality and be my natural self. I’ve always been an extroverted individual but I also get really shy and paranoid sometimes when I feel like I don’t belong. The moment that inspired that song was when I was at a friend’s place and a bunch of people were dancing, but for some reason I felt weird and didn’t want to dance (not normal for me) but my friend, Ellie [Haines – who choreographed the “Crystal Cove” video], comes up to me and says in her Aussie accent, “Just live your life, babe!” It was that moment that inspired the song and that’s why you hear “live your life” in the chorus.
As far as my upbringing, it’s definitely taxing to pursue an unstable career when you come from a family like mine, so yes, I have felt misunderstood at times for my life choices. Thankfully, my family appreciates the arts and understands my passion, so it’s not all uphill in that way.
More than my upbringing, I’d say the feeling that I need to conform to beauty standards or musical trends inspired this song. I really do believe the arts have been devalued to a certain extent, at least in the media, and so the song is just about doing what you love because it fuels your passions and helps you find yourself. Everything else should be background noise.
WRH: What advice would you give to artists trying to make a name for themselves?
CS: I’d tell them to get out and meet people. You have to keep your eyes on the prize, roll with the punches, and get out of your room. I’m just coming out though, so I could probably use some advice myself [laughs].
WRH: What’s next for you?
CS: Going to keep writing, promoting the record, and playing with my band. We’re trying to play around L.A. as much as possible and in the surrounding cities so we can gain a larger fan base and go from there. I’m really stoked to be playing with my band, The Castaways. They’re all great musicians and our chemistry feels invigorating on stage and we all really enjoy playing out. Sky’s the limit for what’s comes of it all.