One great thing about having a cool, well-paying day job for 30 years—when it comes time to get down to business and start pursuing those long-held musical dreams full time, you don’t have to scrimp and save to make the recording of your life.
If you’re singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Kossack, you’ll have built an incredible, fully digital studio—Otherhand Recording in Canoga Park, California, named after his band, theOtherHand—to create halflife, an infectious soul and rock influenced collection made the classic “old school” way in the tradition of his favorite artists, including The Beatles, Van Morrison, Marc Cohn and the Scottish group Del Amitri.
A longtime veteran of the Los Angeles club scene, Kossack began gearing up for his full-time dedication to music in the late 90s with regular gigs at the hotspots on every indie musician’s radar: The Roxy, The Gig, Largo, Genghis Cohen, Highland Grounds, Iguana Cafe and 8121 Club. While building his own song arsenal, developing his high energy performance chops and learning how to engage crowds of different sizes, Kossack also became the ultimate behind the scenes guy, producing and playing (everything from acoustic guitar to keyboards and percussion) on a wide variety of projects.
Many of his musician friends were happy to return the favor when he formed his own band, a group of rotating members (depending on the venue) which was originally called OpenHand. Kossack draws on these renowned studio musicians to achieve a classic vibe on halflife, a 12-track set that harkens back to the days when albums had creative productions featuring instruments like Hammond Organ (Paul Katz), viola and violin (Julie Pusch), cello (Ro Rowan) and sizzling, simmering horn sections (trombonist Steven Bent, multi-saxman Walter Davis, trumpeter and flugelhornist Joe Bebiak).
One of the band’s electric guitarists, Bruce Watson, has played with everyone from Christina Aguilera, Adam Lambert and Jewel to Leonard Cohen, Sara Bareilles, Elton John, Jewel, Rod Stewart and B.B. King. The drums are shared by Kossack’s son Chase and Mark Schulman, who has toured with Pink, Cher, Billy Idol and Foreigner.
Becoming more prolific as a writer all the time, Kossack quickly followed the official release of halflife with a midtempo, brassy new single called “If I Have You”—which like many of his songs, was inspired by a casual turn of phrase by his wife. With his catalog growing all the time, he is eager to begin licensing his music for film and TV—and can envision a day when one of his songs plays behind a powerful emotional scene in a major motion picture.
Kossack is also excited about his ongoing development, diversity and depth as a vocalist. He credits writer/producer Terry “T-Smidi” Smith, who raps and does backing vocals on halflife, for helping him “get to my soulful self and get it onto my tracks.” The two met randomly while playing golf one day and have been connected by music ever since.
“For a long time, I wasn’t just working on a career as an artist, I was equally interested in selling my songs and licensing them,” Kossack says. “Then I realized, well, someone has to sing them in order to sell them and people started telling me they liked the way I sang. The way I like to put it is, I know how to perform my material and Rod Stewart knows how to perform his, and we are who we are, distinctive vocals and all.
“The album began with the title track,” he adds, “which I wrote for the wife of my songwriter friend Jimmy “Muffin“ Yessian, who contributes vocals to the album. His beautiful wife had terminal cancer and I wanted to write a song about their relationship. The concept of the project took shape as a journey of love. I began looking at certain life experiences from different angles and realized there were many ways to express the upside and downside of love in my songs. Putting those lyrics into a contemporary version of a classic rock soul vibe was a great experience for everyone who participated. It’s a sound that never goes out of style.”
Kossack achieved this sonic magic using digital technology, a way of recording he would have probably considered a bit blasphemous just a few years ago. He recorded his first album The Power Of One (1998) on a Fostex G-16, a reel to reel, half-inch 16 track, a machine that was big in the 80s and 90s; he considers the quality to be more compatible with that of a songwriter’s demo. He resisted going to digital for a long time because he always believed that analog gave off a bigger, warmer sound, but eventually began working on a Mac with a Pro Tools LE system. “I like the fact that you turn on your computer and are back in your session in five minutes,” he says, “whereas with analog, you have to realign your tape machine with your console every couple of times you shut them both down.” Making the switch in 2005, he digitally recorded his second album, a project called This Boy’s Life, another collection of melodic rockers and sensitive ballads.
While the multi-talented performer doesn’t play the mainstream L.A. clubs as often as he used to, he has a unique musical home away from home in the friendly confines of Kulak’s Woodshed, an intimate space in North Hollywood, dedicated to fostering the development of local songwriters and allowing them to share their work in an appreciative, judgment free atmosphere. Owner Paul Kulak’s website (www.kulakswoodshed.com) gives people all over the world a chance to experience this fascinating creative process—and the opportunity to make donations to keep the club running. Kossack “sheds” new material there about once a month and participates in occasional special event nights, like a recent Bob Dylan tribute. “Kulak’s is a place where substance matters and you don’t have to look like a rock star,” he says. “If songs are ever going to get better, there has to be a place in the L.A. songwriter community where we can come to try things out and get feedback and have fun doing it.”
Even though Kossack is still working on his longtime goal of making a full living as a singer and musician, he has led a very blessed life and always makes time to give to important causes. Aside from participating in fundraisers at Kulak’s, he performs every month at The Talking Stick in Venice for GrassRoots Acoustica, a unique organization launched by his friend Mark Islam that donates proceeds from the show and the participating artists’ CDs to a wide variety of charities. These include Children of the Night, Shoes That Fit, Leeza Gibbons’ organization, Leeza’s Place (dedicated to caregivers of ill loved ones) and the ALS Foundation. Thus far, GrassRoots Acoustica has raised over $30,000.
“Being charitable in this day and age is a luxury,” says Kossack, “and it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to do something good while doing something you love. I write and sing my music to move people and at the end of the day, that’s what my life is dedicated to. It’s a very organic process, which begins on an acoustic guitar plugged directly into a good quality mic-pre. I create a scratch vocal and guitar part and then my friends come in and begin to play and soon we have a song to share with the world. But as rewarding as working in the studio is, nothing is more fun than sharing this gift with people in a live setting. In my other business, I made deals where I did nicely, but sometimes, the sweetest money can be the few bucks from a small venue where I’m playing and touching people with my music.”