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Spotlight on Sean Geist: The Making of ZeitGeist II

One of the things I love most about working with NYBW is the community of amazing people who purchase and play our instruments. A notable member of this community is our friend and family member, Sean Geist. Recently, Sean took some time to discuss the creation of his latest EP, ZeitGeist II.

Our dad, Clyde Geist Jr., was the bass player of his band, with his brother William as the lead guitarist, and our other uncle, Billy, as the drummer. My mother, Leilah, the sister of the drummer, had eyes for the bass player as they rehearsed in their basement, and the rest is our history. Our parents married young; mom and dad were 18 and 19, respectively.

My grandfather, Clyde Sr., died in 1967, two years before I was born. He left behind various electronics items like Ham radios and other electronics-related paraphernalia, as well as his Hammond Organ. This organ became another musical instrument and relic of our family history that Chris and I grew up around. We loved playing the organ (under close scrutiny) and tinkering with the levers and pedals.

Like many veterans of the Armed Forces, my grandfather bought a home in Levittown in the late 1940s. My dad was four and my uncle three when the home was purchased. Chris and I were the third generation to grow up in this Levittown home. My uncle William, himself only 18 when I was born, still lived upstairs from us, as did my paternal grandmother. They shared the two bedrooms upstairs.

My uncle was a phenomenal guitarist and my earliest, perhaps my biggest, musical inspiration. I have early memories of hearing him play when I was about three years old. The sounds wafting down the stairs to our family's living area were absolutely infectious to my young ears. I recall my uncle and his friend Joey Devito jamming, and then taking breaks (likely smoke breaks), during which I would sneak up and play my uncle's electric guitar—a Gretsch Viking. It was about the size of me at the time. Playing it was the most incredible feeling I'd ever had in my young life to that point, and I knew I was hooked on the sound from the amplifier. My lifelong infatuation with Jeff Beck also started in these early years, as my uncle would often play "Jeff's Boogie" in his bedroom.

The earliest memory I have of my dad is him playing his Hofner Beatles bass outside, on the side of the house, with my uncles and a few friends. That may have been their last jam session. My next, and final, memory is him polishing the bass. I was "helping" polish the Hofner, and I recall thinking it was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever seen. I never saw it again, as he was cleaning it up to sell it to support his very young family. Such were the times, unfortunately.

Fast forward a few years, when I was eight and Chris was six. Christmas time was always our favorite time of year, and this Christmas was no different. Our uncle William brought us upstairs to his room (likely the final year he was there) and gave us interesting-sized wrapped boxes. We quickly tore off the wrapping, and out came two acoustic guitars! Chris's had a pickguard, and mine did not, so we could distinguish one from the other. It was the greatest gift I had ever received to that point, and perhaps one of the best ever.

My dad was our earliest guitar teacher and gave us several lessons after we received these guitars for Christmas. We did get a bit bored of the acoustic instruments and were absolutely enamored with electric variations. I would get my first electric bass (for Christmas, of course) in 1982. It was a Memphis P-bass copy, and it was all that and then some! Chris's first electric would come about two years later; a used Hagstrom II that my dad saw advertised in the Buy Lines. He drove me and Chris out to Greenport, NY on the North Fork of Long Island to continue the Geist legacy of Hagstrom guitar ownership. (He and his brother, our aforementioned uncle William, grew up playing Hagstroms, and now Chris would continue that legacy.) I, myself, have owned four total, none of them made in Sweden! I currently own two. I have them for sentimental and family history reasons.

Chris and I shared a room our entire lives, up until he left in his early 20s. I stayed in Levittown for several years, leaving when I got married at the ripe old age of 30! The many years of sharing the room and playing musical instruments did cause some inevitable sibling rivalry, much of it from me. Chris, in hindsight, was more rational than I was. I was always high-strung, competitive, and perhaps threatened by my brother's quickly accelerating prowess on his chosen instrument. He had the "flashier" instrument and the potential to garner more attention from family members than I did. I was accelerating in proficiency on my chosen instrument, bass guitar, but I played the more supportive instrument. Even though I was fully enthralled by Jaco, Stanley Clarke, and Geddy Lee at this point, it didn't seem to impress mom. This all seems so clear now, but back then, it was angst, anxiety, and envy. And in our approximately 20x20 bedroom, there wasn't enough room for all that tension. I feel horrible about it, looking back now. Chris gives me a lot of credit for his early development, which is quite kind. I feel I may have thwarted his pleasure of the instrument, always telling him what he was doing wasn't good enough. It's easy to say I feel terrible about this, particularly since he states it helped greatly in his development. I believe he's being too kind.

Chris left home to live with his girlfriend in her parents' home, mimicking what our own parents did. He was fairly quickly expecting his first daughter, Kaitlyn, and some months later, married his girlfriend. They had Kaitlyn only a few short months later, and he had to grow up quickly. I was still living at home, finished my education, and began to work on my career. After striking out a bit in the music field just post-high school (I attended one semester at Nassau Community College as a Bass Performance Major, dropping out thereafter to pursue music), I went back to college at age 22 and graduated at age 26. I did my first two years as an Aerospace Technology Major and my latter two years as an English and Humanities Major. I received my BA from Dowling College. Ironically, I almost immediately landed in the technology realm, borrowing more from my first two years of college rather than my latter two, and have been working in IT since 1994.

After getting engaged to my now wife, Corinne, in December 1998, and married in August 1999, I moved to North Massapequa in an apartment, not far from my in-laws. We then moved to Blue Point, on the border of Patchogue from 2001-2005, and then Mount Sinai in 2005, and finally moved to North Carolina in 2008. My daughter, Courtney, was born in 2000, and my son, Sean Jr., in 2004. They effectively grew up in North Carolina but kept their (and our) NY sports connections. We've been loving life in the Raleigh/Durham area of North Carolina (namely, Cary). We moved here because it's a great area to raise a family, as well as for all the technology companies nearby in Research Triangle Park (RTP), including Cisco, where I've worked since January 2013 (and a short stint as a contractor before that). I was very surprised to find an incredibly thriving, dynamic music scene here. Musicians escaping high-priced areas all around the country came to NC for the weather, cost of living, and lower taxes. We've all converged to create this vibrant scene.

Getting back to Chris: He and his young family (they had three-year-old Kaitlyn at that point) moved to Palm Bay, FL, in the summer of 1997, following his then-wife Lisa's parents. We (my mom, dad, and I) were heartbroken, as we had become very attached to Kaitlyn, often babysitting her at the Levittown house due to Chris and Lisa's conflicting work schedules (both were in retail). They survived, but perhaps not thrived, in Florida for a while and had daughter Alexa in August 1999, 12 days before my wife Corinne and I got married. About a year later, they separated and then divorced.

The divorce took a grave toll on Chris. He had already gained over 100 pounds before leaving Florida and picked up even more weight once he moved there. He was dangerously obese for some years, and the depression he experienced post-divorce was extremely daunting on his health. It was something I constantly worried about from afar. I lived 1,200 miles from Chris for 11 years, and then once in NC, 600 miles away. I always felt helpless, given his challenges in health and life over the years. His ex, Lisa, had him in family court many times over the years, with Chris always struggling to keep up with child support, alimony, and other financial obligations. He drank heavily for many years, and he recently told me how extreme his drinking habits were. He had congestive heart failure at the age of 36, brought on by the heavy drinking. It really is a miracle that he is still alive.

Not long before leaving Florida (about three years), Chris met a girl named Kay, and they became romantically involved. Chris had relapsed for a while, and started hitting the booze again, but he would completely clean up and move to Mississippi (Kay's original home state) about six years ago, where he still resides. So we were about 600 miles away from each other for about 10 years, but we're now 800 miles apart. We've averaged about 1,000 miles away from one another since 1997, not very conducive to making music together! While many folks make music remotely, Chris never got into the technological side of the music-making business, and I only got into it about 4-5 years ago myself.

Ironic, as I am almost 30 years in as a Technology Specialist/Network Engineer. But the two sides, music and technology, rarely mixed until just a few short years ago. Chris took to it like a duck to water! He’s now a StudioOne Pro, well, pro! So we are happily collaborating for the first time in our lives. It's exciting and something I never thought would happen. I've wanted to do this in our teens, 20s, 30s, 40s, and now in our 50s. It's serendipitous that we're even here to make it together! Many times, I mourned my brother's loss, thinking I had seen him for the last time each time I did see him. I thought he couldn't hit a further rock bottom, but he always seemed to. The fact that he lifted himself up, which in his own words, was a product of his finding faith in both God and himself, and mustering the strength to come back from something so devastatingly dangerous for so long, is a testament to his strength in beliefs and fortitude. I know that every day he woke up, he didn't feel blessings, he felt pain. I know that was the case for years. I, too, deal with my own fair share of angst and struggles. We both persist and carry on.

The fact that we've made music and continue to do so; the new tunes are already a few steps ahead of what we just recorded! ZeitGeist II is even more special, as my close friend and collaborator for about 15 years (and counting), Michael Pelz-Sherman (on keys), played on Skysurfer and Get The Funk Out. On the same tracks, our childhood friend, Billy MacQuarrie, drove down from Hauppauge, NY, in the driving rain to record drums with us! We hadn't seen him since he left Levittown in the 6th grade when his family moved to Oakdale, NY. (I ran into him in a LI nightclub very briefly, around 1993.) But otherwise, we hadn't seen him since grade school. (Chris was in 6th, I was in 8th when Billy left town.) The magic of social media brought us back together! And here we are, having recorded music decades later. We are planning to record again for the third album, with Billy drumming for us exclusively. Chris is in Mississippi, I am in North Carolina, and Billy is on Long Island. And we are making music together, a bunch of scrappy Levittown kids. We're just so thrilled.

I am thrilled to have used my Deep Jazz 6-string Fretless on Funky Stu (ZeitGeist I) as well as Nocturnal and KEL (ZeitGeist II). Mostly, this music was recorded so our family, particularly our kids, have something musical to remember us by. Eve Marie and KEL are dedicated to our children. That stated, I did use DistroKid to distribute to all the major (and not so major) streaming services and outlets. It's exciting to see the numbers grow, even in very humble amounts, but it's fun to see folks listening to our music. We have not set up Facebook or Instagram sites for the music yet, but we're considering it. Just having completed these projects decades after setting out to hopefully make it happen one day is exciting, and frankly surreal, enough for us to enjoy the project for what it is and what it will be to our kids when we are gone. But we won't think too much about that latter part for now.

Sean Geist


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