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S. Carey Grows to New Heights with Debut LP

Declan Sullivan | Thursday, September 16, 2010

Whereas the focus of Bon Iver is usually on founder Justin Vernon, drummer S. Carey — real name Sean Carey — has been more in the limelight as of late.

His debut album, “All We Grow,” an awesome album to just put on and relax to, was released on Aug. 24 to solid reviews, and he is currently on tour with The Tallest Man on Earth.

Recently, I managed to get a phone interview with Sean and ask him a few questions about getting into music, making his own album and life as a bonafide celebrity … well, sort of.

So first the basics: Where are you from, how did you get into music, when did you first want to be in a band, all that stuff?

Sure.  I grew up in Lake Geneva, Wisc., and I started playing drums when I was 10. I was into music even before that: my mom is a singer, and my dad is a musician and music teacher. I was listening to a lot of music as a kid, for sure. I remember I saw my oldest sister play in the middle school jazz band, and I thought that was the coolest thing, especially the drummer.

Really, for jazz band?  I used to be in it. I never really pictured it as a cool thing.

(laughs) Yeah, I thought it was really cool. I played in jazz bands until … well I still do. I definitely thought it was cool; I guess I’m a nerd.

Yeah, I guess everyone who played an instrument in high school was kind of a nerd in one way or another: Join the club on that one. You can’t really bust out the trumpet to get girls.

(laughs) You just picked the wrong instrument.

What other instruments do you play?  It’s not really beat-intensive like on a lot of other solo albums by drummers. Yours was a lot more melodic and ambient, which I found kind of surprising. Did you play any other instruments on the album?

I played most everything on the album except a little bit of pedal steel [guitar]; I don’t know how to play that. I also didn’t play any of the woodwind stuff. My friend Nick played a little bit of the guitar stuff, and this guy Jeremy Boettcher played bass, but yeah, the rest was mostly me.

Where’d you find the time to pick up all those instruments?

Well, ever since I was growing up, I wanted to play other instruments, especially guitar and piano. I worked on them for a long time, trying to learn Ben Folds songs, or Weezer and Radiohead songs.  You can learn drum parts, but it’s more fun to learn the other parts. I learned a lot of the melodic percussion stuff — vibes, marimba — at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

I didn’t know there was a big music scene in Wisconsin; I always pictured you [and Bon Iver] being from Greenwich Village or something.

Yea, there are a ton of awesome musicians up here, but yeah, especially growing up, it was like ‘Oh man, I’ll never be able to do anything unless I’m in L.A. or New York or Chicago or whatever,’ but now it seems like there’s a bunch of Eau Claire bands getting some recognition. It’s a really cool, really supportive community.

Yeah, that sounds great: we need some more stuff coming out the Midwest. What was it like creating an album? Like, how did you even start?

Well, I didn’t start out thinking I was going to write an album. I had a couple song ideas, and it just went from there. I recorded a few songs, and as time went on I got further into those songs and recorded more layers, then I had friends come over and record stuff I couldn’t play, and by that time I had come up with more songs until finally I just had this full length thing.

When did you find time to do all that with Bon Iver going on?

Well, we would go out on tour for a month and then be back for three weeks. I didn’t have anything to do when I was home besides rest and hang out with family and friends, so I had some time to focus on it. It’s not like I was coming back and working a day job or anything.

That’s got to be sweet just to make your living just doing what you want like that.

(laughs) Yeah, it’s amazing.

So with Bon Iver and now being a solo artist and everything, are people ever just like ‘Oh my god, it’s the guy from Bon Iver: It’s Sean Carey!’

It’s happened, yeah, mostly in Eau Claire — It’s a pretty small town — but it’s happened in Minneapolis and places like that, but not a lot: it’s kind of random. It happened once while I was in Target.


(laughing) Yeah, some suburb of Minneapolis. It was weird, but it was flattering too.  I mean meeting fans … yeah it’s cool.

Do you ever know what to say?

Yeah, sometimes I have no idea what to say. I just kind of say ‘Hey … thanks for coming to say hi …’ Yeah, I’m probably not the best at just jumping into conversations like that.

Embracing the whole famous rock star person?

Yeah, don’t really want to be that guy.  I like being successful, but I’m not going to be Mr. Cool Rock Star (laughing) or whatever.

In the grand scope of things, your music isn’t exactly on the Hot 100 Billboard. As the kind of the musician that plays relatively noncommercial music, what do you think of pop music today?

I like pop a lot; my wife only likes that stuff, so that’s what’s on in the car. I don’t know all the artists, but I’m definitely into hip-hop and a lot of pop.  Some of it’s bad, but I like it: you know what I mean?  I’ve definitely warmed up to that stuff in the past few years.  It’s part of our musical culture, and it reflects a lot of things that are going on right now.

Ok last question, a bit of a tough one. If you could pitch your album as a movie, how would you do it? Like, do you think it tells a story, and what is that story?

Oh man, that’s good. There’s not a specific story. I can see certain images and scenes for songs I can see the album starting off. It’s like morning, like it starts on a ship or a boat, but the camera is not on the ship. It’s focusing on everything around. It’s all foggy and dark blue. The sun is just coming out, but it’s still all cloudy and foggy.

You’re going somewhere, but you don’t really know where. Then you start to see the edge of land and the different textures of the shore. You get to some pier, and you’re docking at this pier, but you’re still not sure what your journey is: I’m not sure what happens after that.

S. Carey is making a stop in South Bend of all places on Sept. 23 at Subkirke — and old church turned concert hall — where he’ll be headlining his first show on his tour. His album is great, haunting and melodic, and hearing it in an old church should only add to the vibe. It will be an awesome show.