Zen of Recording

Opportunity Gets The Sexy On

I am waiting. Waiting for the new coffee I picked up last night to brew. Waiting for the cobwebs to clear so I can formulate cohesive thought. Waiting like that roomful of CD release party attendees at Java Joe’s in late 1994, who were extremely anxious to finally get their hands on Mega, the debut album from Loam and the first actual compact disc I had produced and recorded. I waited in my car outside the venue, palms sweating, trying to summon the courage to walk in and face them all with the news that the CDs were not here after all. I had been informed only a few hours earlier that the truck carrying that shipment of hotly anticipated music had in fact plunged off the side off a mountain, taking all that booty-shaking booty with it. As I helped hand out vouchers to each and every person throughout the evening, the lesson engraved itself upon my very being: “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch, because anything can happen”.

Still, as I am scheduled to release my new album, The Sexy, later this month and this is a column about recording, I have to (perhaps foolishly) cast these reservations to the winds of foregone conclusion.

In early 2008, I remember being on stage with Michael Tiernan and Peter Bolland during a performance as the vocal group Allied Gardens and thinking, “Maybe I’m finally singing well enough to make that record I’ve always dreamed of making: A soul record.” A couple of days later I was at a friend’s house and he asked me, “What was the chord you were just playing?” I told him it was an E minor 9 and showed him the fingering. “Cool,” he replied. “Play it in context with some other chords while I get ready to go.” 20 minutes later I had most of what would become the song “Show-down” written, and the course for my musical odyssey had been set.

I had no idea how long a journey it would turn out to be.

As a producer as well as a songwriter and recording artist in my own right, I’ve learned that one must put their own projects aside when work comes in. I’ve also learned that in order to pay the bills, work must always be coming in. This is how seven years elapsed from inspiration to completion, albeit via a twisted road with more than a few detours. In order to see this inspiration through, I had to become much more opportunistic in my thinking and in my art itself.

The first such opportunity was already in place. My good friend Bill Ray had been pretty much the house drummer for my studio for several years. Whenever he showed up for a session, I’d ask him to warm up by playing one of my songs that I’d recorded a guitar/ vocal demo for, to a click. This provided the explosive foundation for the songs “Showdown,” “The Lookback,” and “Sexy On.”

Almost immediately afterward, I learned that Chris Hale, a fantastic fretless bassist who’d recently relocated to Portland, Oregon would be back in town with a few hours to burn. I happily offered to “baby-sit” him, and he said he’d love to play on anything that needed it. He showed up and turned in some incredible performances on “Showdown,” “The Lookback,” and “The Elevator Song,” the latter of which turned up on the soundtrack to the musical Time Away.

I subsequently began teaching at Studio West, a commercial recording facility in Rancho Bernardo during their ongoing Record Night series, wherein students and interns gain hands-on experience while recording local artists. In return, the studio offered me a session of studio time to do whatever I wished. I thought long and hard about what I could accomplish in that amount of time and what that facility offered that I was missing from mine. I decided that besides the extra hands, it was isolation with visual communication, a killer grand piano, and a beautifully designed “big-boy” studio. I asked for their two finest engineers, Hunter Levy and Enrique Landim, as well as their most promising intern, Aaron Torsell.

I then put together a dream team I’d longed to work with, including drummer Brian “Nucci” Cantrell, bassist John “Big Slim” Anderson, pianist John Foltz, and Wolfgang Grasekamp on the Hammond B3. There was also a guitarist scheduled, but on the day of the session he was a no-show. I asked where he was and a couple musicians replied, “Oh, well, you know he’s afraid of studios, right?” Undaunted, I figured we’d all record live in the studio from charts, just like much of the ’60s soul music was recorded at studios in Memphis and Muscle Shoals. Of the six songs I had prepared we tracked five, and four made it to the final album.

The next couple of years, things sort of languished in the shadow of studio work and three other records that included songs of mine: Seaholm Mackintosh’s Monarchs, an electro-pop project called Stella, and the previously mentioned Time Away.

Then another “friend-sitting” opportunity came along. Bass player and keyboardist Lauren Scheff had a series of rehearsals scheduled in my neighborhood but would have a couple hours he needed to fill before them. His contributions to “Sexy On,” “Old Buildings,” “Lovers’ Game,” and “All Day Long” not only jumpstarted the project back to life, but helped redefine what my vision of “soul music” was all about.

I played some covers gigs with drummer Jake Najor and bassist Jon Jatom and liking what I heard them play on my stuff, invited them to record as well.

Another blessing came in the form of my friend, saxophonist and collaborator Eddie “Muggles” Croft’s return to San Diego after a seven-year absence. This coincided with my chance meeting with a wonderful trumpeter, Tsukasa Takahashi, and his roommate, trombonist Kirk Wang. The three had an instant musical chemistry, which lifted the album to a whole other level.

By this time, I had begun my countdown for moving to Utah, so three final sessions were scheduled: Peter Bolland added electric and lap steel guitars. The late, great Doug Meyer added his wonderful pedal steel in what was perhaps one of his very last recording sessions and in the very last music recording session at Kitsch & Sync, my son Drew Andrews and I fittingly played and sang on the album’s closer, “A Matter of Time.”

Once I moved, the spirit of opportunity stayed with this project. I got up each morning at 5am to finish overdubbing, editing, mixing, and mastering the songs before my three-year old son Miles awoke. In truly circuitous fashion, Nucci had relocated to a town near me and recorded drums on a couple more songs, while at the same time testing out the sound of the new place! I will also have returned to San Diego briefly and have some last-minute pictures shot by the amazing Pearl Preis.

I have been so lucky, not only to have had the chance to work with such an incredible pool of talent and creativity, but also to have recognized and acted upon those random opportunities to such wonderfully satisfying effect. In addition to the efforts of Brooke Mackintosh, Jessica Hull, Beverly Bell, and Travis Peterson, I extend my humblest and everlasting thanks to each and every one who extended a helping hand in this labor of love.

Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning independent record producer, singer and songwriter from San Diego. He currently resides in Mountain Green, Utah. (www.kaspro.com)

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  • September 2016

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