With Music, Compassion and Community, Kevin Sousa Turns Struggle into Salvation
- Written byTanya Monaghan
- Photographed byKat Monk & Shane O’Donnell
Growing up, Kevin Sousa’s family moved around a lot, so he felt like he was always a seeker—trying to find a place to belong as well as searching for his own identity. He was 13 when he started taking guitar lessons but describes himself as terrible at it. Not a good fit with his guitar teacher, he ended up teaching himself by listening to his cassettes and just figuring it out.
While playing in bands, he was discovered by a popular comedian, Todd Glass, who brought Kevin and his fellow 16-year-old band members in to play at a club called Smokey Joe’s. Although too young to even be at a club, they became a repeat act. While in college at Villanova, his band, Rugby Road, got pretty big. But by his own admission, he was a bit of a rebel and often dropped out.
Begrudgingly finishing his studies with an English major and on the path to becoming an English professor, Kevin truly wanted to pursue a music career. He left his home base and “ran until he hit water,” which ended up being the South Bay. “It was 1992. I was 22 and troubled,” he shares. “I left with $500 and a bag. I told my girlfriend I would be right back.” But Kevin never returned.
“I just sat on a stool and learned how to play and sing in front of people.”
For months he slept on a friend’s couch until he scored a job at the newly opened House of Blues in West Hollywood. By the time he was 25 years old, he had worked his way up and held keys to one of the hippest clubs on Sunset Boulevard, with passes to every show. It was here that he got to meet and work with all of his music heroes—from American bands like Little Feat and The Eagles to English rock band The Who.
Kevin fell too far into the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and had problems with drugs and alcohol. In 1999 he went on tour with The Eagles to work as a guitar techfor Glenn Frey. The pattern repeated, and Kevin lost the gig when he drunkenly tripped over one of their guitars and broke it.
He worked for a couple years as a bartender before deciding to go back to teaching. He started as a substitute teacher at Manhattan Beach Middle School and then went on to run the auditorium at Mira Costa High School, as well as coaching the surf team. Kevin “the seeker” finally found a part of himself in the South Bay community. He found joy in his connection with the kids there.
That connection still runs deep today with Kevin officiating the weddings of about a half-dozen former students. Many of them have also played in his bands, and Kevin managed to get a few of them some local gigs in the South Bay.
At the time, Kevin still suffered with an addiction to alcohol but only realized the severity of the problem in a therapy training session with a youth who was struggling with the same vice. The kid admitted to Kevin that he wasn’t sticking with his alcohol program, and Kevin heard himself tell the young man that he needed to go to the meetings and stick to it.
That moment weighed heavily on Kevin. He told himself, “You can only take people as far as you have gone. How many more things are you going to lose in your life? How many more opportunities are you going to lose? When are you going to grow up?”
He realized in that moment that he had lost so much already—numerous jobs, gigs, bands and a record deal—all due to using alcohol and drugs. He had worked at Mira Costa for about 10 years and then decided to go to graduate school at Pacifica Graduate Institute to get a master’s degree in counseling psychology. He also finished his PhD coursework there.
In 2004 Kevin fully dedicated himself to becoming sober. Crucial to that success was the unwavering love and support from his wife, Patti. “She had a major corporate job, and she funded me, backed me and really believed in me,” he says. “It’s incredible what she did.”
The two met on the patio of Patrick Molloy’s in Hermosa Beach. A few years after they met, he went cold turkey and quit everything: caffeine, alcohol, smoking and drugs. “I am all-or-nothing; that’s just how I roll,” he says.
Kevin had always played music but had never sung. He was absolutely petrified when he started, but in time he found his confidence and a new identity as a singer. “I just sat on a stool and learned how to play and sing in front of people.” Along with concerts at Saint Rocke, Kevin can be found playing many local gigs—including regular sets at Terranea for their summer concert series.
Kevin is also currently finishing a dissertation on surf and ocean therapy while working as a therapist and developing the Hermosa Music Company with Patti and good friend and fellow musician Aragorn. “There are so many talented musicians here,” explains Kevin. “We are bringing them together to write, sing covers and stream songs to get South Bay music out into the world.”
Beyond music, Kevin has always believed in giving back to his community. Because he is so beloved here, he has played at many paddle-outs, benefits and memorials. He is also very involved in The Jimmy Miller Foundation and started to carry on Jimmy’s legacy and provide ocean therapy to help those coping with mental, emotional and physical illness. Kevin was asked by the foundation to come on board as a psychotherapist.
In addition to his own therapy practice, Kevin has also been serving as a clinical director for the past 10 years at Miriam’s House in L.A. where he helps women in their first year of sobriety. He says, “This experience has made me become a better clinician and human being because of the incredibly sad stories I hear—stories filled with abuse and trauma,” he says. “The goal for these women is to help them get off government assistance and get them educated so they can stand on their own two feet.”
In 2013 Kevin became even more involved in the Hermosa Beach community when he discovered that Hermosa Oil was planning to drill in his beloved backyard. Alongside Mike Collins, he began a steadfast mission to keep the oil drilling out of Hermosa Beach. The two put their minds together to create an innovative group named Keep Hermosa Hermosa. Their mission was to keep their pristine beach community clean, green, safe and beautiful. He devoted three years of his life to fighting the oil company, putting everything else on hold. His fight was successful.
Kevin’s life has given him great perspective. Both he and Patti recovered from thyroid cancer about four years apart. Ever the seeker for deeper meaning, he manages to put a positive spin even on those experiences. “Beating cancer has helped me be a better clinician, understanding and dealing with grief and loss, because I have been on both sides of the bed.”
He is also able to help others with addiction and trauma because he comes from a heavy background and has experienced drug and alcohol addiction himself. He is living proof of what is possible, underlining the authenticity and effectiveness of his practice.
Now 15 years sober, one of his most rewarding experiences as a therapist was working with a 14-year-old kid from Mira Costa who had really tough beginnings. Kevin managed to steer him from being involved in gang-related activity toward a better path, which finally led him to being accepted to Berkeley via El Camino College. He was in Kevin’s office when they found out together that he had been accepted.
“I had been working with him for seven years, and we just sat and cried together,” Kevin shares. “It’s moments like that that mean so much. I have worked with kids and parents struggling with depression, addiction, grief and loss. It’s such heavy work, but I feel so honored to do it here in this incredible community.”