Since 2004, I have enjoyed the privilege of writing the Zen of Recording. Whether the focus is on music, tools, or crazy things that happen in and around the studio; there’s always something to talk about. The story I’m about to tell you has a little bit of all of those elements. The fact that I couldn’t even tell it for several years is a curveball in and of itself!
It all starts in 2012, shortly after the release of the Seaholm Mackintosh album, Monarchs.
Brooke Mackintosh and I had just introduced several new songs from that release while performing at one of Mitch Feingold’s SONGWRITERS ACOUSTIC NIGHTS shows, when the promoter approached us and introduced a gentleman named Rick Harmetz.
The ensuing conversation centered on a theatrical script that Mr. Harmetz had been working on for some time. The main impediment to its progress being that it was intended to be a musical, but it still had no music. Harmetz went on to say that some of my songs (and a couple of Brooke’s) could be used as is, while others would require significant reimagining. We discussed a few songs he had in mind and over the next week or so, I tried out some ideas and presented some to him.
Mr. Harmetz was pleased at how well the songs seemed to intuitively integrate with his script, so he asked if I could bring this adaptation of my songs and recordings to musical fruition.
I was a new dad. It was mid-recession. I was being asked to work full-time on my own songs and recordings as well as write and record new material. It felt like Lotto.
As the project moved along, new songs were written for specific scenes and characters; as the songs began to drive the script and story, new characters would be introduced. One of my favorite examples of this is the introduction of the character “Teagan,” an honor-driven antagonist with a chip on his shoulder and an epically conflicted task on his hands. Once this energy (and that painful, honeyed grit of a voice that John Foltz has) was introduced into the storyline, things really started poppin’!
The story in hyper-brief:
In the year 2041, daily life is dominated by the culture of celebrity, where every inscrutably inane detail of well, you know…
Stylus (whom I sang as) is England’s prime minister’s son and heir to the job his dad does. He doesn’t want it, since he’s already got his hands full, being the most famous celebrity in the world.
Teagan (Foltz) is his lifelong best friend, from kindergarten through military school.
Erin (voiced by Marie Haddad) is Teagan’s girl. He is very serious about her. Her feelings aren’t as strong, as she demonstrates with Stylus. After walking in on them, Teagan swears vengeance upon Stylus, who has betrayed him. Stylus grabs his phone during a hasty exit, only realize too late that it’s a prototype for a hand-held time machine, sending him back to 1941 England, currently in the throes of World War II.
Within hours of Stylus’ “disappearance,” the world is in chaos without its top star. The prime minister summons Teagan, convinced that his intimate knowledge of Stylus will intuitively guide him to his son. Teagan dutifully accepts the mission albeit with completely different intentions.
Tegan goes to the lab and informs Dr. Davis (the time machine’s inventor) that he’ll be requiring another prototype immediately and why. Davis, a slavishly devoted fan of early of the ’30s and ’40 era, worries over the possible repercussions of disrupting the time continuum, but relents under the condition that he act as a “time chaperone” for the mission, helping to ensure they leave history as untouched as possible.
Teagan arrives in 1941, finds Stylus and almost immediately the two are fighting in the streets, oblivious to the bombs that are dropping onto the city. Both men are injured by an explosion.
Stylus awakens in a makeshift recovery room and observes a young nurse attending to the patients. Her name is Maddie and they soon fall in love. Stylus learns that her parents are from a small town that was famously destroyed in the war. He sets out for that town, determined to save her parents from a terrible fate.
He is waylaid on the trip by Tegan, who raises a gun at Stylus, only to be shot and mortally wounded by Dr. Davis. The three watch helplessly as the tiny town is bombed in the distance.
Crestfallen, Stylus determines to return to his own time for the safety of all.
The time travel device fails however, leaving him trapped in another time where he has found true love and Dr. Davis has found his way home.
I just loved how the story began to reveal itself and the songs were actually starting to drive it along.
The first thing I remember working on was a full-cast number called “Me (Fabulousity),” which takes place at a celebrity-filled party in 2041. I took a song from my band The Wild Truth called “Yeah” and morphed it from a snarling rocker into horn-driven EDM. Similarly, I took Seaholm Mackintosh’s “The Elevator Song” and completely replaced its musical chassis with the futuristic wobbly funk of “The Steady Eddie,” which the Reverend Stickman sang in a hilarious basso profundo . His character, Eddie Fastone, has developed a sex toy. The song is his infomercial for it.
I loved the idea of Dr. Davis, a man from another time whose very efforts to preserve history could unravel it. I knew only someone—like the late, great Alan Land—could give the right voice to his character. His heartfelt sorrow and aching reach are a spotlight moment. Equally on the mark is the zany performance of Annie Rettic, whose punch lines and punctuations lift the theatrical feel even higher.
I remember putting Simeon Flick through his paces. Whether he was a chorus singer or a featured drunken bar patron, he was flexibly ready to go!
I added Marie Hadaad to “Fooled,” a song I recorded in 1997. Her soulful addition transforms the song into modern musical theater.
Ultimately, it’s the performances of John Foltz as Teagan that galvanized it all. You hear him sing and you believe him. His visceral singing style was a natural fit and I was terrified to sing the duet with alongside his ferocious vocal performance on “All About You,” but I’m glad it all worked out so well.
My longtime pal Patti Zlaket also turned in some great vocals on a few songs and in the process made me laugh so hard I bumped my head!
Wolfgang Grasekamp stepped in at the later stages, helping me to legitimize some of my arrangements and orchestrating a couple of Brooke’s songs as well.
Eventually the script and the “Original Cast Recording” were all buttoned up and went off to New York on a big adventure!!
Several years (and I’m assuming scores of show producers) passed.
I called Rick and found out that the script had continued to undergo revisions and wasn’t even a musical anymore, which meant that my NDA was voided and I was free to share this music with the world, which I am finally doing, 10 years later.
When I am asked about crazy things that have happened in the studio, I actually think of this experience most often.
As an artist, I was gifted the unheard of task of being paid to dissect my entire musical catalog, mining it for new meaning, and recasting its musical DNA into almost unrecognizable new forms.
I learned a lot as well. While researching the era, I learned that England spent several years in blackout conditions, which meant no lights on at night for several years. Trying to imagine this, I wrote and recorded the song “Dim All the Lights Down” in one sitting. It is still one of my personal favorites.
“What If I’m the One,” another original written for the musical, has also enjoyed some enduring support. So it’s time to share it all with you in its originally presented form. I hope you enjoy this recording and feel all of the love from my friends and myself that went into the making of it.
It’s a real thing.
Sven-Erik Seaholm performs with a full band at Navajo Live, August 25th 9 to 9:30 pm