w/Chayla Hope of Seafair

Lisa Sanchez

It’s easy to forget that Cleveland is a city teeming with talent, community, and culture that you may not expect. Seafair, a six piece alternative band add beautifully into the local tapestry of Cleveland talent. The band is made up of classically trained musicians and blends an eclectic assortment of sounds, such as violin and cello, with powerful vocals and melodic backing. I got a chance to speak with lead singer Chayla Hope about the band’s upcoming Cinco de Mayo performance at Grog Shop, how the Cleveland scene has inspired Seafair, and why it’s still weird to be a woman frontperson in 2016.

“Cleveland has influenced me just by watching it grow over the years,” stated Hope. The vocalist and many of the band members are Cleveland natives, with the exception of strings player Andrea Belding and cellist Tara Hanish who hail from New York and Michigan respectively. “The rest of us were born here and raised here.” the vocalist continued, "There’s so much of a community now. It didn’t seem like many people were into the local scene at all, but it’s built over the years. I want to stay in Cleveland and work with people in Cleveland, all the local artists and recording places, and make it grow more than it already has.”

Being local has its own perks for the band. Scene magazine named Seafair "Best Band of 2015" last year and recently awarded Hope with the "Best Female Vocalist of 2016" moniker. The importance of the distinction was not lost on Hope, who stated, “It’s kind of unbelievable to me. You do what you love and you don’t expect anyone to jump on the train. Getting recognized is unbelievable, crazy, and heartwarming. It’s just awesome.”

The band released their first full-length album, The Querencia, last year, but are already beginning to record new tunes with Cleveland producer Jim Stewart. Although Hope is hesitant to call the recordings their sophomore album, she confirmed that Seafair know what they’re going to do, they just don’t know when yet. “We want the songs to be the best we’ve ever written.” said Hope.

The singer said that they went with a local producer because Stewart knows the band and recording in their hometown allows for a much more laid back experience. Seafair plan to make their new recordings stand out from The Querencia by releasing the album one single at a time to keep up with the unfortunate length of people’s attention spans. Hope commented, “You can’t hand them a full album and say 'here, listen to this.' The attention span has decreased so much they're more apt to enjoy a three minute song.”

In addition to already thinking about their next release, Seafair recently unveiled their latest video, “Birdhouse” and has already shot their next video for “Jukebox Soul” recorded by Turnstyle Film, a Cleveland company. “Jukebox Soul” is the fifth video Seafair has released.

Considering the band is so busy putting their music out into the world, I asked Hope if recording a video was exhausting or exciting. The singer answered, “We’ve been so fortunate with who we’ve been working with. We’re like a family. We can put up with each other for a very long time or not at all. To see this vision come alive is an amazing feeling. We’ve always had a blast. I don’t think we’ve ever been aggravated or upset except when you have to hear your song over and over.”

Hope also mentioned she enjoyed watching the actors perform, especially for “Jukebox Soul” which is set in a diner and has a 1950s motif. “When you have good actors on the set just killing it, it’s hard not to smile. It’s fun to watch everybody shine in their own way and watch your band mates get into character, act goofy, or be themselves.”

Of course, Seafair are playing a killer show at Grog Shop on Cinco de Mayo (May 5) along with Jesus on the Mainline and The Ohio Weather Band with a special appearance from the Barrio taco truck. Because of the holiday show, I asked Hope what the weirdest thing was that ever happened to her and the band at a performance, which inadvertently opened into stories about how, in 2016, people still think women can’t play music.

“There was a time when we first started the band, and we were loading in, and someone stopped us [Hope and Hanish] and said ‘no girlfriends with the band' were allowed to come inside. Like, we’re part of the band, man! We had our equipment. She had her cello and I had my keyboard.” Hope laughed.

Although the lead singer takes the snubs in stride, she still finds them distracting during live performances. She said it’s weird when she’s singing a sad song and someone yells out, “You’re sexy!” Which, yeah, it’s totally weird, but it prompted Hope to coin my favorite phrase I’ve ever heard. The singer said, “Are you catcalling me at my own show right now?!”

Of course, the stories don’t end there. People don’t think the accomplished vocalist (Scene’s Best Female Vocalist of 2016 included) will have a strong voice, or that a female fronted band will achieve any level of success. Hope also shared that the three previous bands she played in wouldn’t let her sing. She was only able to play keyboard. “They don’t think you’re going to have a powerful voice. They don’t expect anything out of you until you get off stage.” said Hope.

Despite the early missteps, Seafair is poised to continue their momentum. The band has shows scheduled in New York, across Ohio, and plans an east coast tour in August. The prospect of a multi-week tour can be daunting when everyone in the band has a job and adult responsibilities. Hope touched on that issue, stating, "I got really lucky. I have the coolest job. I work at Gotta Groove Records. I’m a machinist that gets to make one of my favorite things in the world all day. Everyone there is in bands. A lot of them have sacrificed so much, like not taking a really good, normal job because this is our life and this is what we want to do. It’s a really tricky balance. You just have to follow that dream and hope it turns out the right way.”

Seafair is a multifaceted band and I’m incredibly curious to see how they pull off the delicate balance of strings/drums/vocals. I asked Hope what I can expect at the band’s Cinco de Mayo show and the singer replied, “Most people say you have to hear us live. You can listen to recordings all you want, but come see us live. You’re going to hear new stuff. Both string players kill it, they’re both classically trained. Not to mention, I jump around a lot, I jump off stage a lot, I love my audiences, I hug my audience a lot. It’s a bigger sound. It’s so large with all of us. We make it work.” You heard it here. You’ll get more than just music at the Seafair show. You’ll get hugs too.

Seafair is not just a Cleveland band that need to be on your radar, they’re a collaboration of talented musicians that deserve your respect. The band will be playing Grog Shop on May 5th with Jesus on the Mainline and The Ohio Weather Band. Tickets are still available. To check out the band’s music and their recently released video for “Birdhouse,” click here.