The last Healing Potpourri album, Blanket of Calm, was released shortly before the COVID lockdown. Its upbeat melodies and positive lyrics would have been a perfect balm for those years. But with the band unable to play live, the music went largely unheard.
“We stopped having band practice and couldn’t go see live music,” said Simi Sohota, the band’s main songwriter, lyricist and front man. “I got pretty depressed and stopped playing music for several months. When I wasn’t at work, I was lying in bed all day. To pull myself out of that despair, I booked some studio time with Jason (Kick, co-producer of Blanket of Calm). It gave me something to look forward to. I’d go into the studio for five or six hours a day, on the weekend, and work on music.”
The result is Paradise, an album that expands Sohota’s musical and lyrical vision. It features upbeat melodies and insightful songwriting, arranged with elements of world music, psychedelic rock, sampled sound effects and percussion loops.
A piano ballad examining the strictures often placed upon children as they grow up is the title track. The grim lyrics are brightened by Sohota’s wordless harmonies, a blend of Beach Boys breeziness and liturgical solace. “The song describes a craving for peace and a hope that things will somehow make sense. Paradise is a goal to strive for, but everyone has their own definition of the word. I wrote it in response to the killing of George Floyd and the racial reckoning going on in the country.”
The first Healing Potpourri album, The Way Water Bends Light, was created in Sohota’s bedroom. “I used a Casio SK1 and other keyboards to make ambient loops to sing over. I love ambient music, sound collages and calming, meditative music. I also love pop and blended those things to bring an introspective element to the songs. I played all the instruments, produced and mixed it and did the artwork. I played concerts, singing over loops I’d made, with overhead projectors supplying psychedelic visuals I’d created, with nods to the ’60s.
“When I moved to the Mission in San Francisco, I hit the ground running. I played in three bands and recruited a bunch of friends to play the Healing Potpourri songs I was writing.”
The band went through several personnel shifts, and a move to Oakland, before the COVID shutdown. With things opening up again, Sohota has been playing the songs on Paradise live, with his current band. “I’m a sentimental person, and I’m thankful for the way music has been an anchor for me. After we play, I sometimes get cold messages from kids that say, ‘I love your music so much. The lyrics made me feel like I wasn’t alone.’ I’d like to do that more. I’d love to be more successful, but I’ve already surpassed all my musical expectations
“I’m like a sponge. I soak up anything that’s around me. Jason’s studio is in Oakland, and my house is nearby. You can hear the birds outside my house singing on most of my voice memos. Oakland and San Francisco are full of characters that are in the book and the movie of my life. They all contribute to the soundtrack.”
Healing Potpourri will play at the Crystal Cavern of the Starline Social Club on Sunday, Oct.10, at 8pm, 2236 Martin Luther King Way, Oakland (starlinesocialclub.com). They will also be headlining Amados on Nov. 11, at 8pm, 998 Valencia St., San Francisco (amadossf.com). You can hear ‘Paradise’ on all digital platforms and on their Bandcamp page–healingpotpourri.bandcamp.com/album/paradise.