by Garrick Rawlings
One of the many bright lights shining in the booming industrial arts district of Hermosa Beach is the Hermosa Music Company (HMC), a recording studio, stage, gallery and venue. It opened just as COVID was shutting down businesses.
HMC’s origin story began when owner Kevin Sousa reunited with Mike Collins, who took over what was then a vacant space in dire need of repair. In March 2017, Collins, along with Laura Shuler (both artists) opened the Shockboxx Gallery, providing an anchor for the Arts District.
Sousa is a musician, writer, producer, educator, therapist, counselor, guitar technician for Glen Fry of the Eagles and a touring member of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. He worried about the amount of travel he had to make to get to the band’s rehearsal space, often in Culver City or the San Fernando Valley. One day Collins called to inform him that the space next to the Shockboxx Gallery had become available. It was a former badminton equipment storage facility, full of shuttlecocks, nets and racquets.
“It started as a three-way partnership,” Sousa said, “between my wife Patti (Fellers Sousa), who was so supportive of it, and we took it on with Aragorn Wiederhold, who I played with from the guitar for years Aragorn had the One Talented Universe (music) label where he does a lot of genre music and different types of instruments. He has a phenomenal guitar trio and we decided to create a digital recording facility.“
“This part of the building was up to the studs when we got it. We had to install sound deadening material, double drywall, fireproof it and pass building inspections. We turned it into a box theater mostly black.We record digitally and analogically.We can also hold small showcases for private events.
“We don’t have a cabaret license and we don’t sell alcohol. We want it to be a place for original music in town, a place to nurture and cultivate local and regional artists. We had some real up-and-coming bands come in from Hollywood to capture videos. The best part about it is that we can turn it into anything we want. We recorded 80% of my album here, “Hermosa and Free”. We recorded vocals and drums across the street at Studio 637. We worked with them a lot and they used our facilities for things they needed. The whole area, the industrial arts area of Cypress, is so rich in history, with the surfing, with Jose Barahona, Jon Mangiagli, Becker and Dan Cobley surfboards, it’s phenomenal.
“Zeal Levin is our studio director. He’s a gifted artist in his own right, and Steve “Shag” Aguilar is one of our in-house producers and chief engineer. What’s great is that all these guys also play in my band (Kevin Sousa Band) and do solo stuff. Shag has Tri-Phonic, which is this instrumental thing, and Zeal has Triple Bueno, a three/four piece band playing funk and soul. Their bassist Derek Elliott also plays in my band. It’s like interchangeable parts, Emily V is our violinist, Nick Hughes plays drums. He’s on the road with Bush right now. Percussionist Will Phillips was on the road with Stick Figure. They played at the Red Rocks. He’s a local guy from Redondo who’s been playing in South Bay for a long time. It’s a really wonderful group of musicians.
“We have (singer/songwriter) V Torres, who is working on recording his new EP (@HMC). Kira Lingman and the Hollow Legs worked here. We have a wonderful artist, Megg, who just recorded a video and is part of the scene. His music is really edgy, punk, heavy rock. We are anti Tic Toc. .We prefer to catch an overall feeling, to actually listen to an entire piece of music and absorb it. What we do for local musicians who are our friends, we open it up for rehearsal space, we make great family deals, and all rehearsals can all be arranged for multitrack recording. This is a full service facility. We’ve had commercials and movies here. This is for whatever the artist wants from the space.
There aren’t many venues for original artists.
“There’s nothing wrong with the pier,” Sousa said. “We love the pier, it’s fine for what it is, but if you want a grittier, more original music experience, and more organic art, that’s what we do in the Cypress neighborhood.” We have a rap artist coming to do a showcase. We stay in the vein of Abalone Cove, and Pennywise. We really want it to be raw, interesting and original.
“What we can dream of doesn’t even come close to what we can actually do there if we all come together as a community. Mike Longacre, the luthier, luthier and dealer of Pier (Mike’s Guitar Parlor 140 Pier), has a unique place with some truly unique instruments. He takes care of us. It’s all part of the scene, you really need a place like this.
The man of many hats, studio head Zeal Levin, said: “This place has been a huge blessing, like a dream. I actually came here as a volunteer to help remodel it into a soundstage. and to be a creative space. Then we started working on the music together, then I started playing with Kevin’s band, then I started managing the space. We were lucky to have a range of artists here. My friend Ayline Artin, an extraordinary artist, educator and performer, had her students for a recital. We’ve done a few streams, and we’re bringing in these youth groups. We want to educate these groups of young people. We have the ability to help artists with publishing and the business side of things. It’s a labor of love here, it’s been amazing, and we have pros here too. We have a group coming here, Tempo Slow, going on the road and coming here for a technical check. It’s everywhere. One day it’s a short film, another day it’s a children’s toy commercial.
Singer-songwriter Nate Amor, who was on tour with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, came to visit Sousa in Hermosa last January after the tour ended, and never left. Amor is in the HMC studio once a week. save videos for his Instagram and other social media as well as his own music.
A few final words, wisdom and encouragement for anyone of any age and style from Levin: “Anyone can do it, and anyone should do it if they feel that call, and if you work hard at it, and you work hard at it afterward, and you work hard at it a little bit more, then people will probably listen, if you keep doing that, keep creating your music and art that’s true to the heart and share them with many people, because the world needs them.
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