Sean Duck keeps it simple
Jack Riedy | Wednesday, October 12, 2016
Barcode images pulse in time with a lanky rapper, gesticulating wildly in front of kitchen appliances. A constant, descending melody fades in and out of prominence in the beat. The song, titled “Substances,” is simple and simply infectious. The accompanying video is professional while feeling homemade, including shoddy green-screen footage in densely layered rhythmic cuts. The polo-clad rapper rhymes about the basic functions of life like he’s bragging, saying “breathe so much that I can’t feel my face, sleep so much that I can’t even wake.” He takes ownership of his biology like Kanye does his ego, inserting a pitch-shifted voice to periodically intone that Sean Duck made it.
Sean Duck is the nom de mic of former Notre Dame student Sean Goebelbecker, an independent musician based in Chicago. As he prepares to release his forthcoming “Wits End” EP, the 21-year-old rapper spoke to Scene about keeping it simple.
After abandoning youthful attempts at piano and saxophone in favor of more time for video games, Goebelbecker traces his current output back to a fateful eighth-grade realization.
“I found GarageBand. I could just open up a computer and make beats easily,” he said. True to their digital origins, his first beats were mathematical and precise. As he started writing lyrics in high school, Goebelbecker’s rapping, he said, was “technically good, but disingenuous and inauthentic.” The early tracks were cluttered with multisyllabic rhymes, clearly mimicking influences like Eminem and Kid Cudi.
Goebelbecker found a genuine voice and a new name when he simplified his music. “Now, I don’t try to make my songs sound like anything,” he laughed. Recorded over the span of a year in a friend’s Chicago studio, “Wits End” is the newly-christened Duck’s debut. The collection is a quick five songs because “20 minutes is a lot to ask someone to listen to.” Lead single “Houses Spouses” consists of a single G-major chord. The lyrics are more chanting than rapping, listing “mice, mouses, world wide web browsers, trousers, blouses.” As the free association escalates, so does the intensity in Duck’s voice, doubled up on itself.
Despite his replications, Sean Duck creates alone. Barring some technical studio and mixing help from friends, he estimated that “95 percent of the songs and the videos are all me.” His most recent video “Tick Tock” is the first to feature anyone else in front of the camera. Duck handles the production, writing, recording, art and editing — all with a sense of humor. “I have such an easy life,” he explained. “And yet I am so depressed and impotent and unable to function in any meaningful way that it’s a joke.” He understands the near-futility of finding listeners among a sea of independent artists. “It’s weird for people to look at me on the Internet,” Duck concluded.
This ambivalence to modern technology is a recurring theme. Each video blends clip art and branded imagery with outdated devices like the iPod shuffle. The jumble of dated iconography is familiar to anyone who has been inside an American home. Sean Duck even used established brands for his marketing; he announced a new career at an existing company on his personal Facebook every time he released a new song. Each job tied into the song, like claiming a post at an infamous herbal supplement company to promote “Substances.” “If I was going to use my personal Facebook to promote my music,” he said, “I didn’t want to be boring.” It’s no surprise that Duck names surreal performers Andy Kaufman and Sacha Baron Cohen as influences before any other musicians.
Still, he wants to perform to a crowd that dances more than it thinks. His dream audience is “singing along without thinking about it.” His performances so far have been at open mics, and the audience has learned lyrics fast enough to sing along by the third or fourth repetition. Duck hopes to return to South Bend this fall to perform wherever he can.
Sean Duck plans to continue marketing efforts before releasing the complete “Wits End” EP, supplementing each track with a video. Even as he prepares one release, he continues to record “loosey-goosey” new tracks. “Every new song is the best song, better than all the others,” he said. The experiment continues. “Why should these people sit and listen to me?” he asks himself at one point. With a creator like Sean Duck, the answer is simple.