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April 2024
Vol. 23, No. 7

Zen of Recording

The Zen Diaries #1: Falling Out of Cali

by Sven-Erik SeaholmJanuary 2015

Exactly one year ago, I was writing this column. Looking out the windows of a cozy, warm but empty house, watching the Utah snow silently blanket the earth. I meditated on the stately, graceful elegance of this scene, as it took me back to my earliest memory, wherein I was doing essentially the same thing. Watching the Detroit snow fall against the velveteen backdrop of night.

A week later, work opportunities called for my return to San Diego, California, the idyllic coastal city that I’ve called home since I was two years old. Sadly, shockingly, I soon learned that my partner and our wonderful son Miles would not be joining me there as planned. She had simply had enough of struggling to survive as an artist in America’s Finest City and wanted to raise our son nearer to her family, in the countryside and environment she had been brought up in. Had I been a wealthy man whose fortunes were not solely dependent upon the revenue derived from Kitsch & Sync Production ( the recording and graphic design business I built myself from the ground up some 25 years ago, I might well have relocated to Utah immediately. But I didn’t. Frankly, I couldn’t. While I have done work for artists from New Orleans to Canada to Switzerland, my client base was squarely in San Diego. As was most of my family. And all of my friends.

I know a lot of people. I thought about trying to count them all once, then thought better of it. I like to shake a hand and meet a new face, hear a new story. I love to find new co-conspirators in the never-ending quest devoted toward bringing more beauty into this world. As a business of “one,’ I also have some motivation to engage people far more. I mean I am the sales department, too.

My best friend, Wayne Preis, taught me to push past my inherent shyness and awkwardness by sheer example. The guy could start up a conversation with a lamppost.

I have often said that one of my favorite things to boast about was the quality of my friends. I have the pleasure of knowing some of the finest people on the planet, I’m sure. In 2014, I really leaned on those friends. Hard.

Peter Bolland swooped into my life at the beginning of January, inspiring me to do some of my finest work (humbly spoken), despite my shattered spirits. His counsel and company were invaluable and perfectly timed. I was able to return the favor later in the year by writing the mushiest cover story ever in the San Diego Troubadour.

Then things got slow. I mean March molasses slow. No problem, I thought. Instead of waiting for the phone to ring, I would just go out and rustle up some new business. After being in the same place for so long and doing consistently good work for other artists, I can usually run into someone who requires my services, or is at least happy to introduce me to someone who may.

So I handed out business cards. I handed out CDs of the work I’d done. I handed out CDs of my songs. As my first production client and longtime buddy Carlos Olmeda would say: “<<crickets>>.”

As time wore on and times got tighter, I became a bit more of a hustler. As a singer-songwriter, I played a lot more covers-oriented gigs, even though I liberally doused those sets with my originals. I hosted jams and open mics and even bartended at the Parkway Bar until its closure on Halloween. Doug & Katie Halvin were kind enough to indulge me in unlimited free beer for my efforts during my tenure there, in addition to the pay, my Tuesday night poker game of over 20 years with Java Joe, Dave Beldock, Michael Benninger, Dave Easton, Isaac Cheong, and Travis Peterson (and the previously mentioned Wayne) saw less and less of me. My Wednesday night Bad Boy Dinner with Wolfgang Graeskamp, Gary Inga, and Arthur Sherman turned into an opportunity for them to feed me once a week. They never asked for a nickel, but always had a beer and some laughs waiting for me.

All the while, there was Miles.

I video chatted with him nearly every morning at 9am, which became our sacred hour. He rarely said all that much of course (being two at the time and all), but there was a definite and undeniable connection; that bond between father and son that simply cannot be undone. I watched his golden locks emerge, his smile broaden, his zest for life explode into plain view… all through pixels on my laptop’s screen.

My first thoughts toward the previously unthinkable were spurred on by a confluence of endings: Of the bar, of an album project I was doing for worship artist David Brauner and  gigs I was doing with Ron Richard, funds were drying up and even the IRS thought it a swell time to look into my extravagant spaghetti and PB&J eating lifestyle, which my bookkeeper Debbie Siegelman helped out with greatly.

I did all the math, looked at all the angles and came to a decision: if there’s no other work, then finish your record and leave before the money runs out in December. Go be with your boy.

Lauren Scheff kicked things into overdrive by laying down bass and electric piano on several songs. Bill Ray, Jake Najor, and Brian “Nucci” Cantrell laid down some of the best feeling grooves yet and a cast of extraordinary bassists featuring Chris Hale, Jodie Hill, John “Big Slim” Anderson, and Jon Jatom laid down charismatically funky, slippery snaky lines. Ed “Muggles” Croft pitched in with some gorgeous saxophone in addition to his formidable horn arranging skills, which Tsukasa Takahashi’s trumpet and Kirk James’ trombone complimented ideally. John Foltz’s piano gave everything a “wide-screen” feel and Wolfgang Grasekamp sweetened it all with organ, Mellotron, and strings. At the last minute I squeezed pedal steel parts from wiz Doug Meyer and homie Peter Bolland brought his Rock God guitars to bear…

And suddenly… it was time to move.

(continued next month)

Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning record producer, singer, songwriter, and Dad.

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