Senses On Overdrive | An Interview with Sensei Eileena

– By Camille Banzon, Music Editor –

A soft hum. A slight touch. A single hue instead of a rainbow. There’s true beauty in simplicity, especially when it’s coming from a place filled of truth. All senses are in unison, working with each other to make you feel at peace.

That’s the feeling we get when we listen to 23-year-old Sensei Eileena from Atlanta. Her brand of minimal soul and r&b is soothing: gentle thumps and soft grooves dot her 7-song EP called “Layers,” as well as in the other tracks found in her Soundcloud page.

“Peace comes in the night
In the stillness of those right
and with their own light.”

Writes Eileena as one of her haikus, found in her fascinating Tumblr page. Her words in her music are as soothing, and Eileena’s signature silky voice makes her EP a humbling listening experience. While her sound is truly minimal, there is a sense of complexity found in her words, and it’s evident that she has gone through some tough times for the heart.

We were graced with the chance to talk to Sensei Eileena and the soulful musician opens up about her roots, being a huge fan of Sade, self-care, future plans, and even starting a support group for women who are battling depression.

The Violet Wave: Did you write all the songs in your EP, Layers?

Sensei Eileena: I wrote every song, with the exception of one: “Body Language”. That was written by BrandonKnox and one of my favorite producers, TIS (@tis113).

It seems like the theme is emotional survival when it comes to the matters of the heart and dating in general. Are all of these coming from personal experience?

Mos def! I like that term: emotional survival. Yes, the EP collectively pulls at that same theme. During the making of this EP, I’d been discovering so much about myself and my sometimes co-dependency in dating situations. This EP sort of helped me funnel all that energy and emotion into something kind of positive. It was the first time I’d really buckled down and focused on my music and not a guy.

Any particular moment that flashes back when you perform a particular song? What moment is it and which song?

I’d have to say “Lairs” is that joint for me! The ending where you hear a sort of collision of melodies coming together, you can hear the chant “Yeen that n***a you say you is” repeated over and over. It was definitely a play off of Yo Gotti and Rich Homie Quan’s jam, “I Know.” I just recall any time a person has claimed to be one thing but actions have shown differently. We’ve all had that happen, I’m sure.

Favorite track from the EP?

This is hard! It’s a tie between “Without You” and “Until We Meet Again.” Oddly enough, the opening and ending of the EP.

If you can describe the sound that you are going for in five words or less, what would those be?

Sade’s sound over 808’s.

Do you have a specific creative process?

I’m not entirely sure if it’s different from what all people do, but I do not physically write anything down. None of my songs are on paper or in a word document on my phone. It’s all in my head, every song. Writing music down seems to disrupt my process for some reason. It’s more about feeling, its actually ALL about feeling.

Who were your influences growing up, and as a musician? Any particular songs that you loved singing to as a child?

Hands down, Sade! That was and still is my mom’s favorite artist; so, you can imagine just how much I heard her as a child. Her sound is so solid and entrancing it just takes you over. A song I liked to sing along to was probably Carl Thomas’ “Summer Rain.” I’m also a big fan of Norah Jones, Earth Wind and Fire, and I play Patti Labelle’s “If Only You Knew” on repeat on vinyl.

Do you remember the particular album that “changed your life?” How old were you when you listened to it?

Honestly, the one album that truly inspired me to go deeper into music was Lupe Fiasco’s “The Cool.” I’d heard “Intruder Alert” on a friend’s MySpace page, and that album was probably the first Hip hop album I’d listened to all the way through. It made me Lupe’s number one fan for years and I still have such a deep respect for his music. He’s so f*cking philosophical, and he puts messages in his music for the people.

What did you do before you pursued your music career? Is there anything else you’d like to do aside from making music?

Well, I’d always make bedroom tunes, songs in my bedroom but didn’t record my first EP until about 2013. (It was on Soundcloud but I’m kind of embarrassed by the quality now). I may re-release it soon. I went to Clark Atlanta University and earned my B.A. in Music Composition, so I took a little hiatus from really recording or performing during that time. Ultimately, I’d like to score for films, write for orchestras and school choirs, maybe get together a small string quartet to travel. I love writing for violins.

Is a full-length release on the way? If yes, will you tell us a little bit about it?

My next collection will definitely be a full release. I am never in a rush like I used to be to release music. This sh*t comes in waves, I think. I have recorded a couple of singles that I may release before the year is up.

What do you like to do when you’re not busy making music? Any favorite hobbies?

I’m a true introvert and I also deal with bouts of depression, so I am learning the importance of self-care. It is becoming one of my most cherished hobbies. I’ll paint my nails, make my favorite dish, roll a joint, watch Crooklyn, just really enjoy myself. I am starting a women’s support group to give women around my age a safe space to talk about mental illness, depression, and the shit that plagues black women that no one else will openly discuss. I’m also looking to get into boxing soon, as it is my favorite sport and my uncle’s discouraged me from pursuing as a little girl. “It’s a man’s sport,” they said. Yeah right.

Will you tell us more about that support group?

The support group is an idea that came to mind during a long period of depression. I was reading and researching a lot of things dealing with mental health and black women; it just made me wonder if anyone else feels as crazy as I do sometimes, man. People who actually look like me, share some of the same cultural backgrounds, etc. For the longest I’d fought myself on if I was even equipped to start such a group. Like, who am I?

But I shared a post about women in the Atlanta area being interested in meeting up once a month and just talking openly and honestly about the sh*t everyone is afraid to admit. Do some crafts, go places, listen to each other. I’ve gotten responses from a decent amount of women, all of whom I know. Some I haven’t seen in years. We were supposed to have our first meeting 2 weekends ago, but it was Pride Weekend for the city, which crowded our meeting location. I plan for the official first meeting to be in October. For now, it’s a small group…just until I feel everything out and get comfortable. I’ll admit, this is all very new to me and it takes me out of my comfort zone but I want to do it.

Have you encountered any challenges while making the EP? What were they?

I’d say the biggest challenge was me fighting myself. Getting off work going to the studio late at night, doing multiple takes, voice dry and hoarse from teaching music all day. But as stated before, I had to channel so much misguided energy to make this project work, and it did. Thank God.

Dream collaborations?

Ahhh, Sade. Of course. Blu from Blu & Exile, Lupe, Chynna Rogers, Kid Cudi.

Just a quirky one: what’s your favorite ice cream flavor?

Pralines ‘n cream. Mmm.

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Camille Banzon is the music editor of The Violet Wave. After years of covering music festivals, concerts and reviewing albums, she decided to move to a tropical surf island, where she runs a hostel and lives off of coconuts, bikinis, and streaming. Her writing on music can be seen in FHM Philippines, Clavel Sneaker Magazine, Pacifiqa, Coconuts Manila, 8list, Amplify.ph, and her blog. She likes groovy basslines, clean waves, and cheese.

Got a song you want us to feature? E-mail Camille at camille@thevioletwave.com.

Twitter: @thevioletwave

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