As a child in Dix Hills, Long Island, Chris Seefried was surrounded by music. His family’s cleaning lady brought him stacks of doo-wop 45s for him to devour. He went to junior high school right across from John Coltrane’s home, where he wrote “Love Supreme.” His next-door neighbor was Clem DeRosa, a renowned jazz educator and father to his childhood best friend and future band mate Gary DeRosa.
Seefried, now 48, still remembers the summer afternoons spent in Heckscher Park at Clem DeRosa’s jazz concerts, where he met greats like Benny Goodman, Marion McPartland and Lionel Hampton. They shaped his appreciation for music and the “cinematic” style he gravitates toward, whether he’s producing pop soul projects like Fitz and the Tantrums or dark, woozy blues like Lana Del Rey.
But though he started writing songs at age 12 and has now written or co-written more than 600 original pieces, Seefried says he’s always gravitated toward the ambience and aesthetic of music. ”The thing I remember about those early records I was listening to was just loving the sound of the records,” he said. “Like even more than saying to myself, ‘I wanna learn how to play a G chord,’ I was saying to myself, ‘I wanna learn how to hire a timpani player to get a symphonic record.’”
Seefried has come a long way from those early afternoons in Dix Hills. In the late 80s, he and his next-door neighbor Gary DeRosa started a soul duo called Brother Brother. They were signed to Chrysalis, a UK label but they soon scrapped that idea to start a psychedelic band with New York rock and hip-hop scene influences called Gods Child.
As the legend goes, Seefried said, Gods Child was being managed by the same group that managed Ingrid Chavez, a singer-songwriter and protégé of Prince when somehow, Prince got a hold of Gods Child’s song “Everybody’s 1” and loved it. Soon after, Gods Child was signed to Quincy Jones’ Warner Brothers imprint and had released a hit single.
“I remember I walked out of my apartment on 14th street that I’d been living at for like ten years or so in New York, and there was a black limo waiting for me downstairs,” Seefried said. “Next to it was a junky Chevy, and I went to get into the Chevy, like surely that was the car for me, but the driver honked the horn and I got in the black limo and he took me to the airport. Then I got to LA and there’s a white limo waiting for me. I was like, ‘Holy shit.’”
With Brother Brother, Seefried wrote and produced but the label made them get an outside producer to re-record the tracks from the demo. “The whole sound of the record got changed,” he said. “And part of the thing that was cool about us was the sound.”
When Gods Child first met with legendary producer and musician Quincy Jones, Seefried laid out his terms: the band would not re-record the demo tracks. They sounded the way they sounded. And Jones looked at him, standing in his Los Angeles record label, and said, “It’s crystallized.”
Fast-forward about 15 years and several bands later, and Seefried meets Michael Fitzpatrick, a commercial jingle writer who would soon become the frontman of the international neo soul-rock band Fitz & the Tantrums. Fitzpatrick decided to pursue his own music and he enlisted Seefried for help. “It was the first time in a long while that Michael started dealing with himself as an artist, because he’d been making his money doing jingles,” Seefried said. “And he was so smitten by working on his art again.”
The two began writing together extensively, creating a debut solo album that received very little notice or airplay. Six months after that, Fitzpatrick approached Seefried about doing a soul record, and the first stage of Fitz and the Tantrums was born. After writing about five songs, they came up with a soon-to-be hit called “Winds of Change” that would prove to be their “Everybody’s 1” equivalent, a track that “crystallized” what the band would sound like.
Two albums later, a huge chunk of Fitz and the Tantrums’ music has been produced or written by Seefried. When he goes to their live shows, his daughter asks him if the songs are his. He often says yes.
And Fitz’s success has left Seefried plenty busy. He has his own studio on Santa Monica Boulevard, close to where Elvis recorded “Heartbreak Hotel.” There Seefried works to develop artists and bring the best of them out on the record.
“I try to discover who the artist is,” he said. “I try to really immerse myself in them and find out as much about them as I can on a personal and musical level. Within that process you find out what they’re really good at it, whether it’s their turn of phrase as a lyricist or a singer or an instrumentalist.”
The discovery of music production is what he says makes his job worthwhile, that act of uncovering that thing inside a musician that makes them special and bringing it to the forefront. No two artists are alike, as are no two albums, which ensures a freshness to his job and perpetual excitement.
“I’m always writing with people, always doing new things,” he said. “That’s the nice thing about music, you know, you just go into a room with your guitar and you go. You can make something happen.”