My name is Seela Misra, and I’m a singer/songwriter/backup singer in Austin, TX. I grew up in the Northeast listening to ‘70s rock and roll and was one of those kids that was always making mix tapes for friends. The Police was the first band I became fanatical about. I got big into Jazz in the ‘90s and got to tour Japan with my jazz band TOrcH. I’ve been writing and recording my own material for a while now. My sixth studio album of original material comes out on July 24. It’s called Cool, and it’s the first one I self-produced.
Living in Austin, I’m blessed to get to play with some heavy-hitters who push me and make me sound good. This town is lousy with great players, and I love it. I’m slow to pick up on new music. I’m very picky and like to listen to the same album over and over again. Right now, I’m obsessed with Madison Cunningham while simultaneously revisiting the entire Steely Dan catalog. I’m also a big fan of Spoon, Dirty Projectors, Mavis Staples, and David Bowie. I think my material reflects all these influences with a heavy helping of Central Texas in there too.
What is your definition of tone, and how has it changed over the years?
Tone is everything. It’s the first thing that grabs me when listening to music—or just sounds in general. My tone comes from a combination of being a self-taught player who has “odd” chord voicings at times and the fact that I like guitars with a focused sound excellent for rhythm playing. I’m not a big gear head mostly due to a lack of funds and space, but I have a few more guitars than I need, and they are all beloved. I used to go for a big, low sound when I played solo, but having a band makes me want to occupy the middle of the EQ spectrum.
Which guitars, amps, and pedals are you currently using and why?
I’m an acoustic guitarist, and I love my Little Martin that I won at a raffle at Folk Alliance a few years ago. We used it while recording Cool quite a bit. We recorded live and miced the guitar using only a bit of compression and EQ afterward. I also have a Blue Ridge that I love and play live more than the Martin. It has a bigger sound through a PA. I have a vintage Fender Musicmaster at home that I mess around with. I love my tiny Vox amp and the Dispatch Master pedal from EarthQuaker. I’m guessing I’ll be lugging those to gigs once gigs start happening again.
What about strings?
D’Addario Phosphor Bronze are my go-to.
Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?
I record guitar and vocals at the same time. I love recording all the basics (me, drums, bass, electric guitar) at the same time, live. From the iso booth, I can see everyone just enough to share the space musically, but not enough to distract me from what I’m doing in my own little world. I get much better results with both vocals and guitar if I do them simultaneously.
How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?
Luckily, Austin is also blessed with some great venue-employed sound engineers, and I get to work with two of the best on the regular: TJ Feronti and Curt Ganem. It’s practically a “set it and forget it” situation with these two, and they are super-fast at getting us ready to go. I do my best not to touch the knobs on my pre-amp as well—that helps!
What does your practice consist of?
My band gets together every other week (we play monthly) and runs through most of the setlist. We’ll do drills on any sticking points and discuss arrangement changes and flow from one song to the next. Sometimes there’s an extra or separate rehearsal for the backup singers, especially if I’m introducing new material or reviving really old stuff. Rehearsals are pretty efficient and on task, but we enjoy a home-cooked meal together, and it’s all smiles and lovey-dovey. I’m lucky to play with some really sweet people who also happen to kick ass.
What is your advice for young women who hope to work in the music industry?
Meet everyone. Play with people who are better than you. Ask a lot of questions. Listen to lots of records, especially old ones. Don’t fear change. Follow your gut. If you’re not having fun, change what needs to change so that you are. Music is a beautiful gift.