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Chris Seepersaud is a man of many talents. While finishing up his degree in Creative Writing, Chris gives guitar lessons and has been learning the sitar. I met Chris about a year ago where we had the pleasure of having three classes together. Raised in New Orleans and of Indian descent, Chris' musical tastes and influences far and wide, from Ravi Shankar to Sam Cooke to The Fugees. Recently, I decided to give him a call to see if he would want to be interviewed. He was very open to the idea so I went over to his place, littered with instruments from around the globe, and we had a chat about the power of music, why black churches produce the best stuff, and how Jimi Hendrix and Dumbledore are the same person.
How did you first get into music?
When I was little, I lived in New Orleans. My parents were of Indian descent so my mom would always play Indian film music around the house. So I was about 5 and I really loved it. I loved it so much that I decided to steal the cassette and bring it to daycare for music time. I put it on, and the lady who ran the daycare, who was this really country lady, was so surprised by it. I was so excited for everyone to hear this Indian music because I thought it was the greatest.
When did you start playing instruments seriously?
I learned a little piano when I was seven. Sucked at it. Sucked at karate, sucked at just about everything else. At 13 I decided to pick up a guitar and I really loved and I still love it to this day.
What are the biggest influences for you musically? Is there any one artist or song that when you heard it you were just like "I have to learn how to play that?"
I listen to anything. I used to take cds from my older brothers all the time and sometimes I would get some really random stuff like Celine Dion and I would love it. I try to get influenced by everybody...except Miley Cyrus (laughs). There's all of the indian music from my family and living in New Orleans there's country, there's jazz, but what really moves me is a soulful, soulful black lady singing. I've always loved gospel music because it's just so heart wrenching and so soulful and it is just amazing. And I'm not saying that rock musicians or white people can't make as good music, I'm not being that way, but when you know that a group has been persecuted and couldn't be loud anywhere except in their homes and the church, there's just so much emotion that you can feel there that you can't get in other genres. Black music, in general, has a big influence on me. The Fugees' Quiet Storm and Lauryn Hill and everything she did and all the way to the neo-soul artists like Erykah Badu and Jill Scott.
I know you've played at churches a lot. What's the appeal there? Is it because of your faith or is it some other factor?
I don't really follow one denomination. We're all in this together so I don't think its right to limit yourself to one set of beliefs or one set of rules. Churches are where the fire is. You always find the best, at least in my opinion, the best music. The reason I love playing at churches, particularly baptist churches, is the energy. They're playing for God and they take what they do very seriously. Its an every day thing. You're playing almost every day and its a church so its not like a lot of rock groups that get drunk for every practice and kind of just wing things until they sound right. Church musicians have more passion than anybody I've ever seen and what they do is selfless. When you see them play, its powerful because their spirituality comes through in the music. I would consider myself to be a spiritual person and there are times when I play that I feel like I'm having a transcendental experience and church musicians are the best people to share that experience with because they share a lot of the same feelings.
Being a guitar player, do you try and play any classic rock or even contemporary rock?
Not a whole lot of rock but I actually just recently bought a bunch of pedals and sometimes I'll put on some distortion and play a weird psychedelic solo and go all Hendrix.
So would you consider him to be a big influence on you?
Jimi Hendrix is an icon and everybody says his name, but he was actually a wizard. He's Albus Dumbledore. His magic is untouchable, he was always cool, calm, and collected. There's not a whole lot of footage of Hendrix but the little there is really shows this about Jimi.
Any other musicians?
Trey Anastasio from Phish. Love me some Phish.
There aren't many sitar players in Tallahassee. How did you get into that?
Just hearing it all my life has made me want to pursue it. It took me a few months to find one I could get shipped here and I finally got one. I was taking lessons for a little while, until me and my instructor had a lot of creative differences so I stopped getting lessons and I've been teaching myself since.
You mention on your website that you believe music is a great way to get people from all kinds of backgrounds and cultures together. Care to expand on that?
Look around this room and you'll see the proof. A Peruvian cajon, congas from Cuba. I have Indian tabla drums and piano where I try to play like John Legend every once in a while. We have this sitar which is straight up India. Whenever I play guitar, its usually some kind of blues or jazz. One of my goals on guitar has always been to make it sound like a sitar and add a lot of Indian influence into something that is very Western.
Have you ever recorded or thought about recording?
Hell yeah of course! I haven't recorded in years, 2009 to be exact. Me and one of my friends, who's a tabla player, are a duo. My fiance is a wonderful and we've made some jazz guitar and vocal duo stuff. I have a lot of great stuff that I want to get in the studio to record. There's a great recording studio here, Log Cabin Studio is the name, and why am I not there right now? Because it's 50 bucks an hour and I just never get it together to do it. I have a lot of music I want to put out. I've been learning a lot of years and biding my time, so hopefully I can be recording again soon.
Why did you start teaching?
Well for one it allowed me to get out of the dirty bar scene, even though I may start doing that again, but I love teaching because it solidifies what I do. It locks down what I do into a precise place. For example, if someone wants to play Santana, you say oh well you're pitch has to be here and you put your fingers here and play the same three notes over and over. Teaching lets me unfog everything for the kids, and by kids I mean I have a 50 year old police officer I give lessons to.
I've tried to learn a few different instruments but I gave up on all of them. Is there anything you try to do to keep students not only focused, but motivated?
The thing is is that music is this big ocean so you can be in a little river and not try to dive in and shred. The best thing is to find some cool, groovy acoustic songs. I usually start things off with Bob Marley, because he just put so much emotion into three chords, well really five. It's still hard. It takes about two weeks of lessons to really get even those simple songs right, but students always feel really good when they get it down.