Todd Hannigan was navigating his way to LA to see friend and business partner, musician Jesse Siebenberg, who was playing at the Fonda. I had the pleasure of talking to the singer/songwriter, record producer and Grammy winner who had a lot to say about music, surfing, film-scoring, turning 40 and his hometown of Ventura, California.
photo by Bridgette Lopez
Polly: You grew up in Ojai or Ventura?
Todd Hannigan: Both actually. We went between Ojai and Ventura but spent most of our time in Ventura and I went to Ventura High.
Polly: In high school I was like a hippie theater geek, what kind of group did you hang out with?
Todd: I did as little time in high school as I could, haha, but when I was there I hung out with the surfers and I also played golf and tennis. But mostly surfers, and I was trying to get out of class so I could ride the waves.
Polly: So Surfing was a big deal for you as a teenager growing up.
Todd: Yes it was like the biggest deal.
Polly: I saw the short film posted on your website. Tell me about the Patagonia “Worn Wear – A Film about the Stories We Wear” project and how did you get involved?
Todd: I was talking to Lauren and Keith Malloy (local surfer/film maker) and they thought they’d be making a short called Worn Wear and I told them I’d like to be involved tell me a little bit about it and when it came time to do the music I was doing stuff with Emy Reynolds, a few other people and Lee Koch was going to be involved. So I’d already been working on most of their stuff, so usually Keith asks me to do music for them. We actually co-wrote a song that’s in there.
Polly: I recognized Emy right away, her music starts out at the beginning of the film. Who else plays on it? You play on it and then you got the Malloys?
Todd: Yes, me and Keith but I’m still getting the artist list together I apologize. One of the things I’m doing right now is getting an official list of all the songs that made it in and I’m going to post it because a lot of people have been asking where to buy it. Plus I didn’t do all the music so I’m still getting all of that together.
Polly: Well it’s a beautiful sound track and I can see how people are interested in getting it. What is the process that you go through in scoring a film?
Todd: Really I try and spend a little time before I start, getting a real good idea of what the director wants. A lot of the guys I’m working with nowadays are more experienced and good at telling you what they want or whether you’re allowed to do what you want. There’s a couple different styles of how you approach scoring. See what comes to mind first.
Polly: So it just depends on the director then, sometimes they have a clear cut specific idea and you collaborate and other times he gives you free reign.
Todd: Sometimes they say write something and they’ll send me the idea/theme and dialogue or they’ll send me a theme with a track of something they can’t afford like a Rolling Stones song with the tempo to cut to, and what the images look like and the rhythm they’re looking for. From that you get the picture of what they want. I match the tempo with our song and throw that Rolling Stones sample track out. That way our song matches all the same cuts.
Photo by Cliff Montgomery
Polly: Patagonia is such a huge presence in Ventura county and around the world. A unique business that’s more a way of life. Do you know and have met Yvon? (Chouinard, owner of Patagonia)
Todd: Yes, we’ve met. I’ve actually spent several hours recording an interview at the old Brotheryn. He told a lot of cool stories and a lot of my friends work there.
Polly: The Patagoina’s philosophy seems to have influenced in my opinion your lifestyle and a lot of people in Ventura. Do you see that?
Todd: Yes, I agree with that. I don’t do much climbing but I surf and do like their message with the worn ware philosophy. To re-think the disposable economy and plan on keeping your stuff for a couple generations and learn how to fix your stuff and buy stuff that will last at least your lifetime. Especially now during the holiday shopping season their campaign says a lot. And if they have the balls to do that with their advertising campaign then I should try and look long term.
Polly: This is another great Malloy project. You’ve been collaborating for years. How did that happen?
Todd: We started hanging out together at Emma Wood and down around California St a long, long time ago when I was probably 9 or 10 years old. Then when I first started playing guitar I couldn’t wait to show them my first riff or my first set of chords. And when I saw Nick Drake I told them hey check this guy out or check out Robert Johnson. We’ve been really connected musically for years. So when they need music they call me. I was able to come through with a couple songs initially and as they’ve grown I’ve become more involved and that it’s been good shit. I’ve been really lucky, yeah lucky.
Polly: It seems like they started out surfing and now they’re making their name in the film world which is pretty cool. So you’ve done a lot of soundtracks at Brotheryn.
Todd: We actually got nominated for a second Grammy a couple days ago.
Polly: A second Grammy?
Polly: That’s awesome! I was going to talk to you about The BIG EASY EXPRESS. (Brotheryn 2012 Grammy winner for best long form music video featuring Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe & Old Crow Medicine Show)
Todd: Right, which we mixed. That was one we didn’t write any music for because it was about bands who make music themselves. We mixed all of the sound, the dialogue editing and final mastering. Big Easy was really fun to work on, a very exciting project by Emmett Malloy. That’s actually the first time I’ve worked with Emmett. I’ve always worked for Chris, Keith and Dan (Malloy) and when Emmett hired me it was really kind of cool. It was his first Grammy too.
Polly: That’s a great accomplishment, so what’s the second Grammy award for?
Todd: It’s a film called “Cuatro!” a documentary about Green Day. We mixed a while ago, last year, but for some reason it really got no press, nobody saw it, nobody heard about it. I was really surprised when it was nominated. It’s a great film. A friend Tim Wheeler directed it and Tim Lynch produced it the same producer on the Big Easy, they are the guys from Farm League down in Santa Monica where I get a lot of work from. Farm League has really been responsible for getting me a lot of the work that I’ve been doing and I owe them a lot.
Polly: It seems like the connections that we make even at a young age and the friendships it kind of leads to other things and grows and these days, it’s really who you know.
Todd: Yeah, we definitely have to have the opportunity to do good work and to even learn how to do it. You also have to deliver once you get hired. I’ve been in a position before where some friends were getting really popular or famous and making some moves and I wasn’t ready to go along for the ride, I didn’t have enough experience. You really have to be in the right place at the right time and be ready. So you work your whole life and try to get good at something and hopefully you get the opportunity to show that on a larger scale.
Polly: Your studio in Ojai – Brotheryn is a full service recording studio? Who are the musicians you’ve worked with in studio?
Todd: This year – a musician named Johnny Boyd, Lee Koch, Dan Grimm, Dave Palmer are projects we’ve done this year. Jason Mariani does a lot of the music work, a lot of the mixing and is the head engineer at Brotheryn. A lot of the bands contact him directly where as I’m more hunting down filmmakers specifically.
Polly: Your partner in Brotheryn is Jesse Siebenberg, who’s been out on tour with Lissie. How did you guys meet?
Todd: Well, you know that’s so funny, I met Jesse Siebenberg when I was hired to do a session for a guy named Syd.
Polly: You mean Syd, Syd? (Erin Sidney, local Producer, singer, musician and drummer for Mia Dyson, The Pullmen, Hotels and Highways)
Todd: Yes, he was coming in to do his record when he was working with Hartley (Fitzgerald-Hartley) back in the day. That recording session with me was long, long ago. I had no partners, I was by myself at the Haley ranch (first Brotheryn Studios location in Ojai). He said he has this guy coming in that’s going to play drums, guitar and bass on the album and he’s awesome and it was Jesse! Jesse came in and said hey I can’t believe this place is here. He’d been in the area for awhile but didn’t really have anyone to record or hang out with. He said you know I have a bunch of gear and maybe we can figure out a situation where I can leave it here and use it whenever I need to. So a week later we get a U-haul, drive it up to his dad’s (Bob Siebenberg drummer for Supertramp) place in Yosemite. We got a mixing board, mics, a bunch of stuff and we became partners basically right then and there.
Polly: That must have been a long time ago. Was that in the 80’s?
Todd: Hahaha, I wish we had started back then, no I was still in school in the 80’s.
Polly: Oh right haha.
Todd: It must have been around 2001. No, 1999, I remember having conversations about Y2K with Jesse.
Polly: Right, all the world’s computers were going to shut down.
Todd: Yeah. Back then Jesse hired Jason to do some mixing on another record and also on Syd’s record. Jason was freelancing in L.A. and we were giving him more work than he was getting in L.A. We told him move up here, in fact just bring your stuff up here and it’s worked out for everyone involved I think.
Polly: How did you get started as a musician? You mentioned you were about 10.
Todd: Well, I was infatuated with music as a listener. My brother had a guitar when we were growing up which he would hide from me but eventually let me play it. My dad also had a roommate who had a guitar who let me use it. I would play every day for months and months, I wouldn’t put it down. After a while I got pretty good pretty quick. Then my uncle Peter a classical guitarist showed me a couple classical pieces where I’d have to use my fingers. Which is the style I use to this day. Then I’d just jam to cassettes. I listened to a lot of psychedelic music, a lot of Hendrix. I’d just play guitar, no real songwriting, then record on a cassette deck. When I was about 25 for whatever reason I sang a song called “Blue Sky” and my friend who was making a movie heard it. He asked hey who’s that? I want to use that in my movie. Well, that’s me. He said bullshit I didn’t know you could sing? I said I didn’t either. And that track made it into the movie.
photo by Pam Baumgardner
Polly: That’s incredible.
Todd: Yeah, then I knew, wow that’s pretty crazy. So maybe I should write some more songs. So I ended up doing that.
Polly: And it’s served you well.
Todd: Well I didn’t write my first song with lyrics until I was 25. Anybody can do it as long you have passion for it then you should just do it.
Polly: You really need to have passion.
Todd: With surfing and music the one good thing is how it’s always different. Like waves are always different or your mood, that’s why I never get bored with music or surfing. And that’s why I love music – to go in and create is my favorite thing to do. It gets even more fun the longer you do it. Like surfing.
Polly: I checked your website and FB. You just put up some new tracks. Are you working on a new record?
Todd: Yes, I’ve put a lot of new music up on my website because there are some composing agencies in L.A. and San Francisco who wanted to hear examples. So I posted those. To give those folks an idea of my writing style for film opportunities.
Polly: What’s your process when you write a song? Do you hear the music in your head or do the lyrics come first?
Todd: Usually I’ll start playing a melody on the guitar, a certain rhythm will inspire me for the most part. Sometimes I’ll wake up with a lyric. Not to be too literal but it could also be something that happens in my life that will inspire me. Sometimes the music and lyrics can come at the same time like with the song “Where I need to be”
Polly: I was listening to your song “End Game” and there is a line that I thought was really interesting you say “I’m going to keep on trying til my dying day and I’m going to keep on dreaming until they take it away” Is that a message you’re sending out to the Universe of where you’re at?
Todd: Well I’m trying to convince myself…
Todd: Definitely to other people, and as you know life can beat you down a little bit. You don’t have to look far to see that. Often times I write songs to convince myself to keep trying harder. In this case it’s about a goal.
Polly: So I wanted to share something with you I don’t know if you realize this but there are some circle of friends who lovingly refer to you as Todd Hattigan because of your hats. Did you know that?
Todd: Haha. Oh my God. That’s funny. I’m trying to grow my hair out so I don’t have to wear hats.
Polly: What was your most memorable gig?
Todd: The Canyon Club with Jackson Browne.
Polly: That’s cool. Where is your favorite place to surf around the world?
Todd: Favorite place? Probably here when the waves are good. It’s a great feeling to be at home and be surfing. When the waves are pumping and there’s not a lot of people in the water.
Polly: What advice would you give to up and coming singer/songwriters? Any words of wisdom? I know part of it is to make sure you have the passion.
Todd: If I was starting out and I ran into myself in the future I would really wish I had read the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell which has a little bit to do with music but mostly about how to get good at anything. He talks about meeting your 10,000 hours. It’s really fascinating and I’d really recommend it. For me I’m just starting to feel like I’m owning what I’m doing as an artist. It’s a lifetime choice to be involved in music and it’s not about the money. It’s something you choose to do because it makes you feel good and hopefully you have something inside of you that you want to share with the world. Doing it for the right reasons and know that it’s going to take awhile. And get a second job that allows you to do your music is something I figured later on. My job in studio allows me to not depend on making money playing music as much. That helps me writing wise that let’s me write stuff that I believe in. Be a waiter or server or anything that pays you as much money in as little time as possible so you can play and write the rest of the time.
Photo by Amanda Peacock
Todd: And don’t be afraid to play gigs. I was petrified Polly, when we played our first gig at your old place upstairs. I was so, so scared.
Polly: You’re kidding!
Todd: Oh my gosh I was so scared for the first couple of years but you know that was a really, really cool way to jump into the music world. But I think maybe even the first 25 gigs at Zoey’s actually…haha
Polly: It definitely is the more you do the more comfortable and better you get.
Todd: Yes, that’s what I was trying to say it helps doing open mics and what you were doing where you were encouraging up and comers. Another thing I would suggest is don’t be so concerned about money from the gig so much. Just play as many gigs as you can so you get better at your craft. Then you can worry about making a livelihood from your craft as you get better. Don’t put money before the craft, put it after.
Polly: That’s good advice. Well I was going to ask you, because you just recently had a birthday…
Polly: 40 years old really…
Todd: Four Zero
Polly: How do you feel about that? hahaha
Todd: Oh man, I don’t know, how should I feel? I don’t know, I was fine for my 30th . As far as turning 40 I’m trying to ignore it and keep running laps and eating organic food.
Polly: I don’t think age is that important anymore as far as a number. I think it’s just what’s in your heart and what you put out there. I mean, 40 is like the new, what 29?
Todd: Hahaha, yeah, The Heavy 29’s (name of his band). Well I hope so, I wished I’d said that. 40 is the new 29.
Polly: I was going to ask you, okay so you’re 40…or 29, are you where you’re at or did you ever think you’d be where you’re at now personally and professionally? Are you in a good place?
Todd: Yes, I think I’ve already reached a path where I’m achieving as far as being involved with music, yes, I’m very happy and surprised actually. I still have a lot of time to get better and work on the highest level in the world. I’m actually further along than I expected. It’s kind of crazy.
Polly: Good for you Todd. What’s your assessment of the local music scene, you’ve been involved for so many years?
Todd: I would say the number of artists that I’m aware of seems to be growing. There are pretty solid artists that have put in their time. But I’d say we need to work on more venues that are basically like the ones you guys had (Zoey’s) because I think that helped cultivate the most. That’s like having a farm and the musician is like the crop. It seems like with the absence of Zoey’s the scene is more about drinking than listening to the music. Some places are trying like Bombays.
Polly: I know Diego is trying. It’s almost Christmas, are you ready?
Todd: As ready as I’ll ever be. I’m doing memberships to the Organic CSA, buying vitamins. Thanksgiving was great. I like spending time with the family.
Polly: Any New Years resolutions?
Todd: None this year but I make and break them all year long.
Polly: Last question, you’ve played music and surfed all over the world. What keeps you coming back to Ventura County?
Todd: It feels like home. And this place is as nice as anywhere.
photo by Pam Baumgardner