Spotlight with Sean McConnell
The last time we met Sean McConnell was during the 2016 Texas Takeover, where we did an interview in one of the grottiest rooms ever back stage at the Garage with leather sofas that had not seen a working spring in some years. Tonight we are in altogether more salubrious surroundings as we chat in the bar area at Bush Hall.
Sean is in town promoting his new excellent album "Secondhand Smoke" while also supporting Ashley Monroe on her European jaunt.
As we arrive he is surveying the Hall where he will later put in a five star performance, mainly out front with his trusty guitar, but performing "Wrong Side Of Town" on the impressive piano. He'll also later do an unexpected duet of the Cranberries "Linger" with Ashley which he makes a good job of despite clearly having to refer to his crib sheet of lyrics!
#TEAMw21 - Did you have a good night last night? - Eagle eyed W21 spotted Sean taking in Sam Palladio's show at The Roundhouse
Sean: Yes we got into town and headed straight out to see my friend Sam Palladio, so a great way to start our London experience.
#TEAMw21 - With The Roundhouse, last night and Bush Hall tonight you are seeing some of our better venues on this trip.
Sean: Yes I just had a look around it is a beautiful venue.
#TEAMw21 - Last time here you were promoting the Sean McConnell album, some people would be content making one great album but you then released it again acoustically a couple of months later as an equally great album "Undone".
Sean: (laughs) I tour acoustically a lot, and I wanted people to be able to leave with what they had heard on the night as opposed to just having the fully produced option. Also it gives people a chance to hear how some of the songs started which is normally just me and a guitar or me at a piano. It was a passion project something I really wanted to do for myself and I thought it made sense.
#TEAMw21 - It does come with an additional track "Nothing On You" written and performed with Lori McKenna
Sean: I've known Lori for a while now, I was already a massive fan of hers but we've written together and become pals over the years. we're both from Massachusetts although I didn't know her when I was there. It was just a pleasure to have her be a huge part of that "Undone" record, that was a real treat for me.
#TEAMw21 - She gets recognized for being a great songwriter but not enough for being a superb singer as well she's made a number of great records over the years.
Sean: She deserves a lot more credit she is one of my favourites.
#TEAMw21: - Not wishing to spend to much time talking about the past but the Sean McConnell album 2 and a bit years on still sounds as fresh and vibrant as when it was released
Sean: I hope so, to me it does,. Sonically and lyrically it is a very honest record, and honesty never goes out of style. Hopefully it holds up and people will continue to enjoy it.
Knowing that Sean has done a plethora of these interviews all day we thought it was time to ask a question that no-one else would ask.
#TEAMw21: - Probably not the time of year to ask but how did the Christmas single "Mary & Joe" come about.? It's a completely different spin on the normal songs released for Christmas.
Sean: Yes ( laughs) I wrote that song a long time ago it was one of those songs i would put out each year for people to listen to and i'm not really one to cover a classic Christmas song. I don't know where it came from, it just happened and I really love singing it around Christmas time.
#TEAMw21:- We're here of course for the new album which is being drip fed to us via the Pledge campaign - Pledge obviously hitting the headlines for the wrong reasons, Have you been caught up in the non payments scandal?
Sean:- Someone just told me about that recently, I think we're ok.
#TEAMw21:- The bits that have come up out so far have all been distinctly different it's hard to tell exactly what kind of an album it is going to be? "Secondhand Smoke" is the title track, it contains a lot of the things that we so much admire in your work, the detailed descriptions of unwrapping a packet of cigarettes and the sound of the burning tobacco - do you keep a black book of little phrases to use?
Sean :- No they just come to me, that song in particular, I remember I wrote in my head as I was driving to a show in the States and by the time I got there it was finished. I was imagining the melody and I got to the hotel room and recorded an acoustic vocal on the iphone - It's pretty close to how you hear it on the record - it was one of those songs that just fell out of the sky. It all happened very quickly.
#TEAMw21 :- And we get to meet someone we met on the previous album on the Queen Of St Mary's Choir in your father - when you actually meet in the second verse it takes the song off in a totally different direction to what one may have expected from the opening verse
Sean :- It's a very honest story about exactly what is says - There's definitely an evolution of emotion and life happening between the two records.
#TEAMw21:- The second track that got released was "Shakey Bridges" with a great performance by the McCrary Sisters. Completely different almost minimalist and then the McCrary Sisters kick in - not sure how many there are of them?
Sean:- There's four of them, I've had the pleasure of working with them a number of times and its a pretty magical process, they come in the studio and you play them the song and they almost psychopathically just know their parts and only need to practice one or two times and then they record it and it is what you hear on the record. ( suddenly laughs) Maybe psycopathically was the wrong word
Sean :- Yes that's better they are not psychopatchic!!! ( laughs)
#TEAMw21:- it has a great line about having "Gambled on your muse"
Sean :- It's just a reference to the decisions we can all make - I could maybe cheat in what is my path - its a soul check, about staying true to yourself and not diluting who you are to get bigger or make more money.
#TEAMw21:- "Niagara Falls" on the new record is in some ways a companion piece to "One Acre Of Land" from the last record, a record for the family back home.
Sean :- Yes, Its a song for my wife and my daughter and I sing it every night, and I always feel like i'm singing it to them. It's about chasing your dream and how it can take you far away from home, especially as a musician, as its always a family business - it's a joint dream.
#TEAMw21:- Listening back to our last interview, we noted that there was water theme running through most of the tracks on the self titled album, and you mentioned there were a couple of tracks leftover - "Here We Go" on "secondhand Smoke" carries on the water theme, was that one of the songs?
Sean :- No that one was a song I wrote with an amazing musician and producer Ian Fitchuk, who was one of the producers of the self titled record, it came along more to the middle of this process,
#TEAM W21:- One final song "Rest My Head", sonically is something quite different from what you have done previously?
Sean :- I actually started writing that song for a movie about Billy The Kid, and as I was writing it I fell in love with it and wante dit for my record, so I tweaked it a little bit and kept building it. It was something very different and that is what I liked about it - it was a venture into another world with that electric guitar sound, that was a departure that adds a whole other sound.
#TEAMw21:- We always find this fact slightly astounding - this is your 13th album? The older ones are very hard to find even in the days of the internet!! Once they
Sean :- They're very old, they were released so long ago, I started when I was 15 so its been a long time
#TEAMw21:- Have you thought of reissuing any of them?
Sean :- Possibly, I hadn't really thought about it but i'm not against it. I'd have to find a master copy somewhere ( laughs)
#TEAMw21:- Are there any plans to return and maybe play a longer set?
Sean:- Hopefully so, this tour has gone really well and we'll hopefully return before 2020.
Sean went on to deliver a great set that kept Bush Hall suitably spellbound including a stunning version of "Wrong Side Of The Town" at the piano. The album "Secondhand Smoke" is available now and his back catalogue is a virtual treasure trove of classic singer songwriting material well worth investigating.