Spotlight with Sean McConnell
Walking in through the ground floor at The Garage was a slightly surreal experience, although completely empty, the smoke machines were being tested for whatever event was to follow later in the evening giving it the feel of Dickensian London. A back staircase took us to the more familiar upstairs venue, which for some reason was unusually cold and so there was the slightly unusual sight of artists doing their sound checks fully wrapped up in coats and scarves. We are here to meet Sean McConnell who has released one of the outstanding albums of 2016!
If you imagine that when artists say “Thank you and good night” at the end of a gig and head off to their dressing rooms that it is in some way glamorous, then you’ve not visited upstairs at The Garage!! Nestled next to the toilets is a small dark room with a couple of leather sofas that look as if they had been road tested by sumo wrestlers for the last 10 years. In this small storeroom, we kick off the interview, the temperature still somewhat chilly so Sean keeps his coat on!
He’s in town for the Texas Takeover, an event that has seen a number of Texas based artists and their fans fly over for various shows across London, from The Bedford in Balham to The Pickle Factory, one of the lesser known venues even to Londoners.
#TEAMw21 - So how has the Takeover been going?
Sean: It’s going great, it’s been so much fun, we’ve done four shows! I’ve never been to the UK before so it’s been great driving around, meeting people - it is just gorgeous over here!
#TEAMw21 - Have you had a chance to see much of London?
Sean: I’ve not had a chance to go to the big tourist must-see sights, but I’ve done a lot of walking in the areas we’ve been playing and eaten a lot of great food!
#TEAMw21 - For many people in the UK you are going to be a new name, but you’ve been releasing records for some time.
Sean: I started recording records when I was 15, I have actually released 10 CD’s
#TEAMw21 - They are hard to find normally with eye watering price tags! “Midland” is a particular favourite of ours, the title track especially captures the mundanity of life in a small American town. We take it that it was based on a real event?
Sean: Thank you, yes Midland was a town in Texas! I can’t remember exactly where it was, I was on a radio tour, and stopped into this bar with one waitress, no-one coming in or out, my buddy and I were the only people there. Something about it really struck me so when I got back to the hotel I wrote that song.
#TEAMw21 - Also on that album is “Kiss” which appeared on the TV series Nashville – you’ve had at least four or more songs featured?
Sean: Yes, it is about 4 or 6 so far - It’s a great show and they like my music!
#TEAMw21 - Do you give them any advice on how to record it or do you just hand over the song and let them get on with it?
Sean: Well, the publishing company I’m with just take them songs, and they’ll try to find placements for them, through that they have got to know my catalogue, and then ask for certain things, so over time it has become a great relationship. It has been really fun!
#TEAMw21 - Is it strange seeing Jonathan Jackson singing one of your songs?
Sean: It is strange but a good kind of strange, it is different to hear someone sing your music whether it be on a record or on the TV.
#TEAMw21 - Do you tune in if you know one of yours will be on?
Sean: (chuckles) Yes! We TVR, just to make sure we catch it!
#TEAMw21 - Many people start with a self-titled album, you’ve left it until 10 albums in, is this drawing a line under those earlier records so to speak?
Sean: I feel like it is… (ponders a moment) This is very autobiographical, a lot of my songs are, but this is the first time I’ve put so many on the same collection. I think I’ve reached a place where this record speaks of who I am, where I come from and where I want to go. I think I’ve settled into being who I am a little better, getting older as a husband and a dad, traveling more, so this record definitely represents who I am.
#TEAMw21 - Is there a reason why it was self-funded?
Sean: At the beginning I knew the kind of record I wanted to make, I knew the songs I wanted to be on it, and I felt it was important to create it before there were other opinions involved. So that’s why we created it first and then went to a label to help us promote it. Rounder who ended up being the label, understood what I wanted to do so it has worked out really well!
#TEAMw21 - You’ve got a great production team on it in the shape of Jason Lehning and Ian Fitchuk, that have worked with Andrew Combs and Brad Paisley. We’ve seen Andrew go from playing to 50 people to 19,000 at the O2!
Sean: That is so cool!
#TEAMw21 - What particular skills did they bring to the table?
Sean: They were both fantastic producers, their styles are somewhat different so they really complimented each other. They both play piano as well, so all of the piano and organ is either one or the other of them and then Ian played the drums, so they are great musicians as well! They are great people, very creative people to work with.
#TEAMw21 - The results stand for themselves, it is an exceptional record. We were going to ask about the early days but you’ve all but covered it in “The Queen Of St Mary’s Choir”! Was that an important song to get out?
Sean: It is one of my favourite songs on the record, I normally start the shows with it as I feel in introduces people to me, and who I am very quickly. It fell out of the sky one day, the idea of that chorus. A lot of songs have parts of me and parts of other people in them, but that song is pretty much word for word my story, so I really like that about it.
#TEAMw21 - There is a lot of reflection on the album about how you have got where you are today. Is that something that just happened as you made the album?
Sean: Yes, I didn’t plan the whole record to be nostalgic, it’s just where my spirit was at the time; though it did make life easier for thinking what was going to be on the record!
#TEAMw21 - There’s almost an element of Springsteen to your writing circa “The River”, the little observations like the girl who makes a camera with the shape of fingers. Are these real events you’ve just stored up just waiting for a chance to use?
Sean: I’m a huge Springsteen fan so I take that as a real compliment! A lot of these songs use real names and real places, from my memory. Maybe they do not sound as poetic as they could, but I’ve left them in there, to keep the song honest. People can tell on a certain level what is real and what is not. Springsteen is very good at creating those images so hopefully some of that has rubbed off on me!
#TEAMw21 - “Beautiful Rose” seems to be like a handbook for anyone starting off in the business with the “highs” but also the “villains and sad endings”?
Sean: I like that you think of the song that way, my music can be different for everyone, for me that song was just life in general, the up’s and down’s, the good and the bad. I’m just grateful to be here experiencing life, even when it is dark and difficult. So to your point, yes, the highs can be very high, and lows very low, the trick is to learn that every moment is special. If you are always waiting on the big thing to happen then you can end up a very disappointed person.
#TEAMw21 - There’s a lot of references on the record to water and the Bible?
Sean: Yes, someone else mentioned that! I hadn’t consciously thought about it. Water is very elemental like fire. Why do we stand in front of the ocean and just stare? Water pulls at something inside of us we are not really sure of (bursts into a chuckle) - Maybe I’m trying to make that way too deep!
#TEAMw21 - “One Acre Of Land” is also one of our favourites, is there a real one acre back home?
Sean: It is one of my favourites to play, just the simplicity of it! There is actually an acre and a half but that did not rhyme! (chuckles again)
#TEAMw21 - Is it pretty much as detailed in the song?
Sean: Yes - My wife and daughter and two dogs, a simple life that we love when I’m home. It is a great little slice of the world.
#TEAMw21 - Did you bring them on this trip?
Sean: I wish I could have, we’re only here for a week just popping over and then back so maybe next time!
#TEAMw21 - The album seems so complete did you end up having to leave any songs off?
Sean: There were two that almost made the record but didn’t seem to quite belong so I think that the ten that we chose deserved to belong together. This is the collection it was supposed to be.
#TEAMw21 - Once the Takeover is complete what is next for you?
Sean: The last 2 years have been a lot of travelling so when I get home, other than a few small shows I’ll be with my family until at least February, and then 2017 will be a lot more touring all over the US and hopefully back here sooner rather than later!
#TEAMw21 - One sombre note to close on 2016 has been a terrible year for musical losses from David Bowie to Bobby Vee, did one hit home harder than the others?
Sean: Prince was a big one, he was such a force, Glenn Frey was another, just because I grew up listening to him. 2017 can only be better!
Sean went on to play a storming set at the Takeover, including his own take on the Nativity story in the shape of “Mary & Joe” that would be released just in time as a single for Christmas. He stayed a little longer than advertised and played a short notice set in support of fellow US band Blind Pilot before returning to the States.
His self-titled album is out now and is an excellent piece of work. We hope to see him back on these shores in 2017!!!