Interview: S. Carey
Sean Carey is the guy who every gentle indie folk nerd wishes he had the balls to be. According to legend, Carey learned all of Bon Iver’s songs off of MySpace and approached frontman Justin Vernon at the band’s first ever show. He made his case and was taken aboard one of the biggest indie outfits of the past decade.
Still, Carey doesn’t need to be riding any coattails. With the August 2010 release of his gorgeous solo debut, All We Grow, he’s proven himself to be a soft-spoken force to be reckoned with. On the road between a kickoff show in his hometown of Eau Claire, Wisconsin and the first official gig of the tour in Iowa, Carey took some time to answer a few questions for TOB.
TOB: What has it been like for you striking out on your own as a solo artist after being a part of such a huge indie band for the past few years?
S. Carey: I just have a lot more responsibility and a lot more artistic leadership. But all the guys that are in Bon Iver and all the guys that I play with are just really great, adaptable musicians. Everyone is really aware of the sound they’re creating. I think when you have that approach it’s just easy to make music.
Speaking of musical adaptability, you’re a drummer; most people wouldn’t expect your solo album to be so focused on melodies and so delicate. Did it just happen that way, or did you consciously try not to make a drum-heavy album?
When I started writing the songs, I didn’t hear a standard drum set sound. I heard some percussion parts, but I wanted to keep them really minimal. I wanted to focus more on harmony and melody. Different instruments can be percussive, like the piano and the vibes and stuff. Using them like drummers do, you can shape the song and add a lot of dynamics.
You were writing this album in between stints of being on the road with Bon Iver?
Yeah, pretty much. When we were on the road I would get these creative urges and gradually just got all these ideas. Then we would be home for a couple of weeks and I would record an idea. I’d take it with me on the road and listen to it and add another idea or add some lyrics. Every time I was home I would just chip away.
It has to be exhausting being on the road playing music so much. Where do you get that creative energy to go home and record more and play more?
Well, being on tour is exhausting, but you also have a lot of free time. With Bon Iver, I was playing a supporting role. It was definitely Justin [Vernon]’s baby and I was just helping to bring that to life. I had this need to be creative on my own a little bit. But there would definitely be times where I’d want to just go home and sleep.
What do you try to bring to the live performance that maybe doesn’t necessarily show up on the record?
We try to be really dynamic. There are some parts that really open up when we play live—they’re really big-sounding and contrast the more delicate parts. There are a lot of places where we rely on our ability to improvise. The songs morph into each other. We don’t do the same thing every night. We improvise the soundscapes and I think that’s what is most interesting. People ask me if I compose all those things for the players, and I don’t at all. It’s all up to them to interact with each other.
How did you pick White Hinterland to tour with you?
When we were thinking about who was going to open for us, we looked at bands that we had already formed relationships with and went from there. White Hinterland toured with Bon Iver for a little bit, and I saw them two years ago and then again last night in Eau Claire, and every time they sound totally different. It’s really fun to go out on tour already knowing these people and being friends with them. I think the stuff they are doing now works really well. It’s really mellow. They have cool beats and they do a lot of interesting stuff with their vocals.
S. Carey and White Hinterland are at the Paramount Black Box Thursday Dec. 16.