Archive Interview – Sean McConnell

Interview with Sean prior to a show at the Phoenix Saloon, New Braunfels…..

Growing up in the Boston, MA area may not sound like the best area for an Americana artist, but for singer songwriter Sean McConnell, it worked out just fine. Now living in Nashville, Sean has joined the ranks as one of the brightest stars on the Americana music scene. He’s had songs recorded by Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley, Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers, just to name a few. Sean was making a sweep through Texas when he paused long enough in his busy schedule to give me a call. He had a show scheduled at the historic Phoenix Saloon in downtown New Braunfels and I wanted to get a few quotes from him for my weekly music column. As always, we ended up talking much longer than expected. As soon as I pressed record on my tape deck, the batteries died! Not wanting Sean to learn of my stupidity, I started asking some questions. By the time fresh batteries were installed, I’d missed his comments on how he met Wade Bowen and how Wade was instrumental in getting him discovered on the Texas music scene…..we now join the interview already in progress….

DM: I’m a big fan of your music and even though you are very young, I get the feeling you’ve been doing this for awhile.

SM: I grew up in a musical family; my parents were full time musicians when I was growing up.

DM: You grew up in the Massachusetts area, near Boston, right?

SM: That’s right.

DM: So you can probably tell us all about really cold ass winters?

SM: (Laughs) Yes I can.

DM: Well, it’s been really cold here in central Texas and we aren’t used to this crap.

SM: Yeah, it gets really cold up there, I don’t know if you can ever get used to it. I was born and raised up there until we moved when I was about 10 or 11. So yeah, I travelled around with my folks to shows and watched them performing. I watched my dad write songs and I started getting interested in music. Then we moved to Georgia and that’s when I started playing guitar and writing songs.

DM: How old were you at this time?

SM: I think I was about 11, 10 or 11 years old. That’s when I started playing guitar. I started writing songs about that same time.

DM: That’s certainly young to start writing. Most kids are riding bikes and playing ball at that age.

SM: Well, like I said, that’s what my parents did for a living. They were full time musicians so I just basically followed in their footsteps. They did it fulltime until my youngest brother was born; he’s the youngest of four. So they did it for a long time and supported our family like that. After a while they got different jobs, but kept playing. They did it full time for a long time, then went to playing nights and weekends when they got jobs.

DM: I interview a lot of musicians and it’s not that often that someone will have parents that are full time musicians. Parents often influence their music or support their career choice but usually aren’t full time musicians.

SM:      Yeah, that’s right.  I don’t hear about that a lot either, but in my case it worked out well.

DM:     One of the things I hear the most from your fans is how much they like your voice.  When did you realize that people thought you had a good singing voice?

SM:      Uh, I guess when I started playing out in public and getting feedback from people. My family always told me I sounded good but when you’re a kid you kind of expect them to say that.  It’s not that you don’t believe your family, but after all they are your family so…

DM:     True, you don’t want to have the American Idol situation where your family tells you how good you are then you get on national TV and that’s not the case.  But, since your parents were musicians they were being honest with you.

SM:      Yeah, my parents were honest with me, especially my dad when it came to the songs I was writing. He was my go to guy for song critiquing. He was always pretty honest with me about that. That always helps especially at a young age when someone isn’t bullshitting you but is actually trying to help out.

DM:     This falls in the ‘stupid question you get asked at every interview,’ but when I hear your music, I hear a lot of influences from Michael Jackson to Tom Petty to pop. Just a wide assortment of genres, did that come from your parents?

SM:      They definitely exposed me to a lot of music, but most of the stuff they exposed me to was more folk, singer songwriter type music like Shawn Colvin, Harry Chapin, Springsteen, David Wilcox.  A lot of those real singer songwriters, like James Taylor. Then, just growing up being a kid I listened to a lot of different styles; mellow rock, classic rock, some Tom Petty and Springsteen. Stuff like that, some pop music. Then it started leaking its way into my songwriting.  So because of that, I don’t really have a filter when it comes to my songwriting. I don’t write for a specific genre, I just try to write a good song.

DM: You certainly seem to be a very prolific writer. On the new CD, ‘Saints, Thieves & Liars’ you wrote or co-wrote all but the songs.

SM:      I co-wrote three of them and the rest I wrote by myself.

DM:     You co-wrote one with Deanna Carter. I haven’t heard from her since ‘Strawberry Wine.’

SM:      Yeah, she’s still writing songs and she signed on with the publishing company that I work with and they put us together and it just really worked. She’s really a fantastic songwriter.

DM:     When I saw her name on the CD I thought, surely that’s not the same girl, but obviously it is.

SM:      Yep, it’s her and she’s great.

DM:     So you went to college in Murfreesboro and were you performing during this time or doing the open mic nights?

SM:      Man, I started with the open mic thing when I was in middle school.

DM:     Really?  That’s almost too young to get into some of the bars that host open mic nights.

SM:      You’re right, I did run into that problem sometime but usually they’d let you in with a wrist band or something. By the time I was in the 8th grade, I was doing a lot of open mics.  I kept this up through high school and college. I would book my own gigs, play coffee houses and the occasional bar, but I definitely played in public ever since I was that young. I’ve always supported myself with music in some form or fashion.

DM:     Another thing I wanted to mention is that not only are you doing all the singing you are also playing all guitar onstage. I don’t think a lot of fans realize just how good a guitarist you are.

SM:      Oh, thank you. I’ve only been doing the full band shows for about 3 years. When I first started out I did have a lead guitarist and I played rhythm.

DM:     I’ve seen you before when you had another guitar player onstage.

SM:      Yes, in the beginning we did, but you know, just a parting of ways forced us to be a trio with me, a bass player and a drummer. This forced me to become a much better guitar player.  We toured as a trio for about a year and a half but it really kicked my ass. I had to really step up my guitar playing game. I’ve got a long way to go in my own eyes but it definitely facilitated me becoming a better player. Now we have a keyboardist but I still play all guitars.

DM:     Well, take it from me, I’m a lot older than you and have seen a lot of bands in my time.  In the past year I’ve seen two bands that were a 3 piece and just kicked ass and that’s you and Adam Hood.

SM:      Well, thank you, and yes, Adam Hood is fantastic.

DM:     From my point of view, you and Adam don’t need to change a thing!

SM:      Thank you very much. That means a lot to me to hear you say that.

DM:     There’s something about a power trio that just has a raw intensity like ZZTop, Cream, Creedence in their final years, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble.

SM:      Yes, I know exactly what you mean. It makes us a tight band with just 3 instruments onstage.

DM:     I’ve seen you in concert in both configurations and I like the 3 piece best. I do think adding a keyboard will be fine. Probably help fill out the sound a bit. Not to make you get big headed or anything, but you put on a phenomenal show and I wouldn’t change a thing.

SM:      (laughs) Well, thank you. It is always good to hear that we are doing something right and that fans enjoy what we are doing.

DM:     When you first started playing guitar, did it come easy or was it a struggle?

SM:      It was a struggle, just like any instrument you start to learn on. Just logging away the hours, building up your callous’ on your fingers and your muscle memories so the chords feel natural. Like I said I started very young so I had a leg up on learning to play. Before I ever played live I had already spent many hours playing at home.

DM:     I won’t bore you with the dumb question of what comes first, the lyrics or the music, but you write really complex heartfelt songs.  Do you schedule times to write or do the songs just come to you and you have to rush to write them down?

SM:      With me it happens different ways. Sometimes I sit down and plan to write out a song.  Sometimes it comes when you least expect it, and then you have to make time and let it happen.

DM:     To me that seems like the hardest way to write, where you actually book time to write and the pressure is on. I have to be in the mood to write.

SM:      I think I’ve been writing for so long that I have trained myself to do it, especially writing professionally. You have to have that discipline of ‘I’m going to write a song today.’ Over the years I’ve just trained myself to sit down and write. There are definitely songs that are more inspired than others.

DM:     Do you have a favorite writer that you like to write with? Maybe one writer that the session always seems to be productive?

SM:      I honestly don’t co-write all that much because I prefer to write by myself.  But having said that, there are a handful of writers I write well with and Wade Bowen is definitely one of them.  Randy Rogers is another one.

DM:     On Randy’s last album, you had some co-writes on it.

SM:      Yes, on his last one we wrote ‘Buy Myself a Chance’ and the other single off that record.  Then on the new one we wrote the first single together, ‘Too Late for Goodbye,’ and we wrote ‘Interstate’ together and ‘Looking for You So Long.’

DM:     So you are in Nashville and he’s in Texas, that’s when you really have to coordinate time to write together.

SM:      Yeah, we’ve always written in Nashville. He comes here enough that we find time to get together and write.

DM:     That’s what I meant earlier, when you book time to write and you are separated by a thousand miles, that’s when the pressure is on.

SM:      I guess, but we seem to be doing ok, we’ve been pretty successful so far.

DM:     I’d say!  Speaking of songs, I love ‘Lie Baby Lie.’ I haven’t compared the version on the EP to the version on the new CD, but I’m assuming you re-recorded it for the new CD?

SM:      Yes, we totally redid it, it’s a new version. The record it was on before was actually three records ago and it was a little dated and we had changed it so much. It was such a fan favorite we decided to give it a new life.

DM:     You and the band are so powerful in a live setting.  Any thoughts of releasing a live album?

SM:      I would love to do a live album but I don’t see it in the near future. I’d like to get a few more records under my belt. I’ve always said I wouldn’t make a live record until I could spend the money to make it sound great. I’m always disappointed when someone I really like releases a live album and it sounds rushed or bad. All the stars would need to align before I make a live album but I would definitely love to record one.

DM:     You have a show coming up for Lone Star Music at The Phoenix Saloon for their ‘Live At The Phoenix’ sessions. Drew Kennedy will be opening for you.

SM:      That’s right; I’m looking forward to playing there.  Sometimes I’m not sure where we are playing next since we tour so much.

DM:     I understand that. With several albums and 2 EP’s out now, how do you pick the set list or do you do a set list?

SM:      Yeah, I do a set list but it’s kinda hard because I always feel like I’m leaving something out.  Someone will come up after the show and say ‘I can’t believe you didn’t play that song!’  There’s just too many songs I want to play that we can’t fit in every night. We have a pretty solid list we play every night but we change songs in and out. On any given night I might throw in an old one here and a new one there. The set list is split pretty evenly over the past 3 records.

DM:     Tell me about ‘Dirty Diana.’ That’s not a normal song an Americana artist usually covers.

SM:      I’ve just always been a huge Michael Jackson fan and I was just obsessed with his music.  I had all his records and videos.

DM:     He was very talented for sure. Regardless of what people thought of him as a person, you couldn’t deny his raw talent. It took me awhile to admit I was a fan of his music.

SM:      Oh, he was fantastic. We love playing that song and it’s one we do almost every night. I love to watch the crowd reaction when we play it.

DM:     That brings up a good question. How do you pick what cover songs you want to do?

SM:      That is a good question. Sometimes I’ll be listening to some music and I’ll think, ‘Man, that’s a great song, we should do that one.’ But we really don’t do that many cover songs. In a 90 minute set we will do two cover songs. Lately we’ve been doing ‘Dirty Diana’ and ‘One Headlight’ by the Wallflowers. We really don’t do that many covers though. Maybe we should! (laughs)

DM:     But you have the luxury of having so many good original songs, you don’t have to rely on cover tunes. Now the show for Lone Star Music, will that be more of an acoustic set?

SM:      I’m not really sure. I’ve played New Braunfels a lot but, we’ve never played The Phoenix Saloon so I haven’t really figured out what we’ll be doing.

DM:     It’s a beautiful venue and The Phoenix Sessions have been great. You’ll have a fantastic time.

SM:      I’ve heard good things about it, I can’t wait.

DM:     Now, if you decide to do an acoustic set, does that change your approach to how you do the show and the songs you play?

SM:      Normally with an acoustic show it’s not as rigid with the set list so I might throw in a couple of brand new songs. I’m actually on the road right now with Wade and Cody and it’s an acoustic show so they are always a lot of fun.  You have a lot of freedom.

DM: Very cool, well Sean, thanks again for calling, enjoy the show at the Phoenix. I always enjoy talking to you. Take care and see you soon.

SM: Thanks Dale, see you at the Phoenix.


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