Interview: S. Carey Talks Learning to Sing, Writing Personal Music, & Fly Fishing

This past week, we had the pleasure of speaking to Sean Carey, who is known for being the drummer and supporting vocalist of Bon Iver, about his solo act S. Carey. Sean’s music is extremely thought-provoking and introspective through its deep instrumental soundscapes and personal lyrics – perfect for just staring up at the ceiling and pondering over your life. If you feel that you need a sanity check because of midterms or finals (as I so desperately do), then S. Carey’s music is the perfect way to calm you down and bring you back to the present.

Sean is performing with Bon Iver for Vivid Sydney later this month, as well as at Justin Vernon’s Eaux Claires festival in Wisconsin this August – both as a solo performer and with Bon Iver.

So I read that before you joined Bon Iver, you were more of a closet singer. Was it difficult for you to switch gears at first and start singing in public?

Sean Carey: Yeah, for sure, I mean I had done some stuff, but it was pretty much just playing in bands in high school where we were in someone’s driveway or something – a lot of it was just on my own. I was definitely nervous but I think singing has always been kind of natural for me, so it’s just about taking that plunge and getting in there. And now it’s probably my main instrument.

Yeah, it would be strange if you were afraid of it now.

I’m not afraid of it but it’s definitely a thing where it’s way more of exposing yourself than when you sit there and play drums – it’s just different. Now I kind of think about what I would sound like if I had been trained as a singer. Sometimes I feel great and other times I’m like, oh man, I can’t do this thing I really want to do since I don’t really know any of the technique. But I don’t really believe in training anyway *laughs*, it’s kind of a catch-22.

And you’re doing well right now so it seems like you don’t really need too much technique.

Just keep going with what works – yeah I like it.

Yeah unless something terrible happens, just stick with it.

*Laughs* that sounds good.

Also, your music is very personal – is it strange for you to perform songs that are based on such intimate memories in front of large groups of people?

It kind of is, but only the first two times. You know, it’s like after that it just becomes the song that you sing – it’s just the song you sing and play and you might not necessarily always think about what the song means. But those first two times, for sure. Even just playing in front of your friends or showing someone your demo.

Is there anything that’s off-limits to write about and perform, or do you leave it all on the line?

I don’t know if there’s anything off-limits but I don’t think I necessarily leave it on the line. There are some things I’ve tried to mask or leave sort of vague because you can’t give it all. I like being personal and honest in my song writing, but I think it’s all in the song. People figure out what it’s about or interpret it in a way and that’s great for them, I’m not going to walk through every line. I want it to be open for interpretation but not extremely abstract, so I think you have to mask things in a way you can explain yourself while not being super copious or literal, but be symbolic or metaphoric.

When you’re not performing, how do you spend your time between shows?

It depends on the kind of tour. I like to try to do stuff as much as possible – explore and have experiences. I try to treat it as much as a vacation as it can be even though it’s still work, but S. Carey has had a lot of living room tours which gives us more free time since we have less time commitments at the venue, and so we’ve been able to do a lot more. We bring our fly-fishing gear along and try to fish if there’s time. You get back and you think it was like a road trip, and so it’s been real fun. We just got back and out of the two weeks of shows, we got to fish six of the days and so we were pretty lucky. We bring our camping stuff too and try to camp if possible – it’s definitely important. But there’s been times during other tours where every day you’re just watching TV – so both extremes. And you never regret going out to a restaurant or a bar since it’s an experience, and we’re extremely lucky to get to tour and be able to go everywhere, which can be taken for granted.

That sounds incredible. While listening to your album, I found that your songs have a dreamy and introspective sound which is reminiscent of something out of a movie. The intro to your cover of Radiohead’s Bullet Proof.. I Wish I Was reminds me of Hans Zimmer’s Time before it gets really intense. Do you ever draw from film scores when making music?

Yes, definitely. I can’t think of anything super specific, and actually don’t get to watch a lot of movies now – I did when I was a little kid *laughs*. I’m way behind on film, but that sort of aesthetic for sure is something I didn’t necessarily plan. I love the instrumental ambient simple music that ends up being in movies and TV shows all the time. It’s something I’d actually want to get into at some point – it’d be a lot of work but I think that comes natural to me and it would be exciting.

I would definitely want to watch a movie that you contributed music to. On the Supermoon EP, there are a few alternate versions of previously released songs – what made you want to recreate them?

I think I just wanted to strip the song down to it’s most simple form and see what happened. Sometimes when you sit in the studio, you end up filling a lot of things and see what sticks, but after you make a record and go back to performing live, you think about the core of the song, so that’s what it stems from. And doing these living room tours, you have to strip it down even more and it was kind of an experiment to make something fast. Instead of taking two years to make it, it would take two days.

Like you said, you’ve been doing these living room shows – how has that been, and are you excited to have some time off from that?

It’s really fun. Different every night so it’s nice and keeps you on your toes. It’s great to be home now but I’m leaving on Friday for Australia *laughs*, but my June and July are pretty open so that’ll be good.

Well that should be nice. So last question: is there anything you hope to do next, like a project or idea you’ve been wanting to expand on?

I think my next record will focus more on the song than, like you said, the soundtrack-y ambience. Not that it won’t be there, but I’ll try to focus on the song and have that be the focal point rather than the texture. The chords are maybe a little more folk-y and straightforward and less washy and vague, so that’s kind of a challenge I’ve put to myself.

S. Carey will be performing at the Eaux Claires music festival in his hometown in Wisconsin on August 12 and 13 with some other big names such as his other band Bon Iver, James Blake, Jenny Lewis, and more. The amazing lineup can be found here on the official festival website. Sean will also be performing with Bon Iver at Vivid Music,as part of Vivid Sydney 2016.

Be sure to keep up with S. Carey through his website and Facebook page.

Originally written by Sara Masjedi for Indie News. Syndicated with permission.

Image: Cameron Wittig