Zen of Recording

My Three Sons

Of all the good things that have been visited upon my life, by far the most treasured and rewarding of them are my sons. Each of their stories is unique, as is each son’s relationship with me. The winding paths that intertwine our stories account for only part of the narrative though. Much of each of our lives is spent within an intimate relationship with music. We each approach it with a certain measure of fearlessness and wonder, usually emerging from our musical experiences enriched, enlightened and

Drew Andrews (www.facebook.com/ drewandrewsfanpage) is my eldest son. I did not know this for 19 years until Drew located me and said, “I think you might be my dad.” It was a gut feeling that didn’t take long to substantiate. We look, sound, and act like folks who’ve grown up together. In a way, we sort of have. One of his favorite albums when we met was Mega by Loam. He was telling me this one day when I asked him who produced it. He turned the CD over and read aloud: Produced by Sven-Erik Seaholm and Frank Lee Drennen. Spooky.

Since then, Drew has released several solo albums and EPs, as well as a few with the band Via Satellite. He’s also recorded, performed, and toured much of the world with the Album Leaf. His creative process involves a mixture of lyrics from journal entries, soft arpeggiated guitar or ukulele parts, and a dynamic, constantly shifting undercurrent of drums and electronic textures. He dreams and ponders first, then crystallizes that into a solid song form. Then, he returns to that dreamlike state to explore the song’s textures and production…

Sean Nettles (www.facebook.com/ sean.nettles.77) is the first son I knew about. I was there at his birth, but we were separated not long after. His mother remarried and Sean was adopted by her new husband. Essentially, we were estranged from each other for far too many years. We reconnected not long ago through our mutual love of recording, as Sean is an excellent hip hop producer. Again, I had no real influence upon his musical path or sensibilities, but here we are: trading mixes, making notes and suggestions… just basically supporting each other’s art as friends, peers, and colleagues.

Sean has amazing taste in music and a growing encyclopedic knowledge of soul and R&B (also my personal fave genres!). This sophistication finds its way into his productions in ways that range from subtle “bites” to fully whacked-out pop culture references. In fact, he once built a simultaneously aggressive and catchy track around the “Showcase Theme” from “The Price Is Right.” He has no musical training, just his sensibilities and instincts. Hi tracks are densely layered and interesting, yet they always support the rhymes being “spit” and help to tell the story by way of his productions sustained intensity…

Miles Seaholm is my two-year-old. He obviously doesn’t have the recording or producing experience of his brothers, but he does share their enthusiasm for music. Obviously, we’re a long ways off from discerning what his career direction will be. However, he does exhibit some traits that might suggest a common interest with his brothers and myself. For instance, when entering a new space that sounds markedly different, like a bathroom, gymnasium, or stairwell, Miles starts shouting, singing, or stomping; anything to check out the acoustics of the space. He loves the drums and can hold down a straight beat. He strums the guitar. He plays the piano often. Sometimes with his feet. He sings a lot and he dances at every opportunity. His approach is based upon total abandon and is completely judgment free. Sometimes I feel like this is the greatest lesson of all…

Recently, through an odd series of events, coincidences, and subsequent meetings, I ended up writing, arranging, and recording a musical. The score includes songs from throughout my recording career, many of which were re-written or completely re-imagined, alongside several new pieces I wrote for the show. It’s called Time Away and the story was written by Richard Harmetz.

Just as my son Miles would do, I immediately emptied everything out onto the floor and grabbed something to play with. The wonderful John Foltz was of particular help to me, because he reinterpreted many of the guitar-centric songs for the piano. This helped me maintain a fresh perspective on my own music, over a several month-long period.

Just as my son Sean does, I considered the various characters’ voices very thoroughly. I tried to play to their strengths with optimal ranges and supportive textures, even writing new material with them specifically in mind. I tried to remain whimsical and less “traditional” in my approach. I would use Mellotrons just as often as orchestral samples (more on both of these next month), depending upon which was the vibey-est or truest in texture. I had fun with it.

Just as my son Drew does, I daydreamed a bit at first, then I came up with a strategy: Because the show takes place in 2041 and 1941, I decided to use the same instrumental palette for both eras. This would be a triumvirate of piano, horns, and strings. I set it all up using virtual instruments, then returned to a dreamlike state, exploring the myriad textures and colors those instruments provide. Later, I would return and methodically edit and reevaluate the results with a more critical ear.

I learned these things from my three sons. Treasured and rewarding indeed.

Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning independent record producer, singer, songwriter, and now arranger. www.kaspro.com. His proudest accomplishment is being a dad.

  • September 2016

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