NATURE, LOVE FUEL KALHAGEN'S MUSICAL MUSE

July 12, 2002 11:00 pm
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By Susan Schell

Pilot Staff Writer

The sound of the ocean wafts in through the open door of Tony Kalhagen's music studio. The smell of burning incense mingles with the salty air.

The bold, brightly colored walls and beautiful artwork reveals a man who places ambiance high on his list of priorities.

The quiet, tranquil setting is deceiving; Kalhagen is a very busy man.

Aside from recently being hired as the new director for the Gold Beach Chamber of Commerce, Kalhagen is also a musician, songwriter and producer. He has recorded five CD's and is currently working on a sixth.

His Nesika Beach studio is an interesting mixture of modern sound equipment, a computer, exotic looking percussion instruments and a whole slew of strange-looking objects Kalhagen uses in his recordings.

Anything that rattles, vibrates, or produces a unique sound will do for this musician. Kalhagen has an ear for blending nature and electronics into ethereal melodies.

His collection includes bones, kelp and driftwood filled with birdseed, rice and nuts, a rattle made from an African sausage tree seed and an oak tree seed he found in the yard.

Kalhagen said a lot of his loot is given to him by fans or his "musical friends that make things."

One whole corner of the room is dominated by a massive drum set made out of rawhide and myrtle wood by Gold Beach artist, Greg John.

It is difficult to pigeonhole Kalhagen's music style into a particular category. He describes it as "the vague genre that covers electronica, from house to techno, to drum and bass. My music has always had a very organic sense. I use Native American flutes, guitars, hand-made percussion instruments and vocals. It's always had that quality and it's moving more towards organica."

The musician usually performs as a one-man show at art festivals and local events, but he sometimes teams up with other artists.

"I play country clubs, golf clubs and everything in between," he said.

Being technologically gifted as well as artistically, he can fashion his performances to fit different events.

"I can play soft, gentle melodic music for metaphysical, healing-type events," he explains.

"I can also bring in and play up different elements. Everything's connected through midi - an interface that allows the keyboards, computers and drum machine to talk to each other. For dances, I can emphasize the drums and base and bring the sound level and energy up for dance music."

Like most musicians, Kalhagen experimented with different music styles throughout his career. As a youth, he played in jazz, thrash, metal and glam-rock bands in nightclubs in Hawaii. He admits the island's nature had a profound influence on him which still permeates his music today.

Kalhagen was born on Oahu, the single child of a Hawaiian father and a caucasian mother. When his parents divorced, he and his mother, Carol, moved to the mainland and settled in the Seattle/Tacoma area.

His mother, a musician and wildlife artist, wanted to instill her artistic flair in her son. It is Carol's artwork that adorns his music studio and CD covers.

Kalhagen started piano lessons at the age of four and admits, "I wasn't totally in love with it."

By the age of seven he had "found the guitar."

"I could play the songs I liked on the guitar and eventually it became established as my primary instrument. KISS was my favorite band. I was a major KISS freak. My bedroom walls were covered with posters of them and Van Halen.

Kalhagen and his mother moved back to the island when he was 13.

"We lived in a little shack on the beach in Lani Kai," he said.

"That was an awesome summer. I spent my entire time playing music and going to the beach."

The restless teenager hooked up with several bands over the years and began writing his own songs.

One night during one of his gigs, he spotted a petite blonde on the dance floor. "I remember she had big hair and was wearing spandex. But then, so was I," Kalhagen said with a shrug. "It was the 80's."

Later that night, he ran into the same girl.

"I was walking down this back alley and my drummer was sitting in a black Firebird listening to music. No one was in the driver's seat so I sat down in the car with him. Then this cute blonde walks up and said, ‘What are you doing in my car?'"

The blonde was Terri-Lynn. Kalhagen invited her to a late night party. They ended up spending the whole night talking and went to breakfast together the next morning.

"We weren't partying or drinking or anything," Kalhagen said. "That's the first time I had ever stayed up all night talking to a girl."

Terri-Lynn agreed to see him again on one condition - that he take her to his senior prom. He did.

Kalhagen reflects back to one of his songs he wrote for Terri-Lynn when they first met.

He sang it to her while playing an old acoustic guitar in her bedroom. The song was "Falling for you."

"She didn't believe me at first," he said.

The Kalhagens have just celebrated 15 years of being together.

"I think she believes me now," he dead-pans.

The couple eventually left their island paradise for the Los Angeles club scene. Kalhagen was playing in a glam band called Chastity.

"It was crazy, coming from Hawaii," Kalhagen said. "It was July, it was hot, and we were in the middle of a smog storm. There was brown dirt on the windshield. Terri-Lynn cried every night. We only stayed about two months. It just wasn't our thing."

The pair headed north to Sacramento. Kalhagen worked day jobs while pounding out gigs around the Bay Area, mostly in Sacramento, San Francisco and San Jose.

In 1995, he formed his own production company, Mindscape Recordings.

Kalhagen said, "I learned how to promote myself. Sacramento is a big area."

One day Kalhagen made the choice that all successful musicians must make at some point in their lives; to give up his 9 to 5 job and concentrate solely on his music.

He remembers the exact date he made that decision – September 9, 1996.

"I said ‘I'm doing this, sink or swim.'"

The Bay Area kept Kalhagen busy and he eventually suffered from burn-out.

"In one year alone I did close to 200 shows," he said.

The couple felt they needed to move in a new direction. For their tenth wedding anniversary in March, 2001 they took a drive up the Oregon coast.

"It turned out to be a huge trip," Kalhagen recalls. "We were basically sitting on Humbug Mountain having our morning coffee and we thought, ‘we could live here someday.' Then it hit me when we were driving back, ‘we could do this now.' We sold our house and by July, we were living here.

"In the city we spent all our free time backpacking. It was our way of centering. We lived in the city and vacationed in nature, so we decided to flip it around. Now we live in nature and visit the city.

"What I miss in the city are things that aren't real, they're man-created."

When the couple moved, Kalhagen changed the name of his production company to Makai Ohana Music, which means "Ocean Family."

"We still do the same thing, just with a different name," Kalhagen said.

"When I moved it gave me a chance to reconnect with my roots and recreate myself. I wanted to choose a new name to go with my new life."

The Kalhagens are now hunkered down in their beachfront bungalow with a dog, a cat and two hamsters.

A stream runs alongside the property, supplying the creative musician with a myriad of sounds to record. He captures the voice of nature to use as a backdrop for his music and other artists' work as well.

"I record the creeks, streams, birds and the ocean," Kalhagen said. "It's amazing how much is out there. You can really hear it when you close your eyes."

The artist said he has recently toned down his live performances to concentrate on producing. He has been "dabbling" in film scores, commercial production and audio/visual work for the last two years.

Kalhagen admits, "I still book shows in the city every once in a while. Just to get my San Francisco fix."