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Miss Him When He's Gone: An Interview with Sean Hayesby Ryan A. Bunch
Toledo is in for a soulful, singer-songwriter treat soon as Birds of Chicago and Sean Hayes bring a double-headling tour through town. Local music lovers might recall the Birds (pictured right) from a recent visit earlier this year. That duo features Toledo native J.T. Nero (a.k.a. Jeremy Lindsay, also of JT & The Clouds) and Allison Russell (of Po’ Girl) doing their own renditions of soulful Americana music. On the other hand, this will be Sean Hayes’ first visit to the area.
Known for his rich, gruff, and simultaneously sweet and sincere music, Hayes is likely familiar to some, and not so to many more. In this area at least. In his native San Francisco, Hayes is practically a household name in the music scene. But he’s hardly just a local. Hayes has earned acclaim from a wide range of sources, including Paste Magazine and JustinTimberlake.com. Over the course of his seven album career, Hayes has turned a lot of heads and achieved a decent amount of notoriety and success, despite remaining an independent, self-released artist. His songs have appeared on television shows such as Bored to Death, Brothers and Sisters, and Parenthood. Hayes is touring in support of his latest release, Before We Turn to Dust.
We were fortunate to have a chat with Hayes regarding his upcoming tour, his newfound experience with fatherhood, and the roots and nature of his wholesome, original, and ultimately uncompromising and unconventional sound.
Birds of Chicago and Sean Hayes perform live at the Village Idiot (309 Conant St., Maumee) on Wednesday, November 7. Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15. www.villageidiotmaumee.com www.birdsofchicago.com www.seanhayesmusic.com
You recently had some big changes in your life – you’re a fairly new father – and I was wondering if you have, and if so, how you’ve grappled with the romantic notion of being the wandering troubadour and the romantic notion of being a husband and father?
It’s definitely an interesting thing that’s run through my head. Definitely when I was a younger man I was scared of the idea of family and trying to be an artist. Which, I think is a little more common. But, I’ve gotten along in my years now and met the right person and it all seemed like the right timing. It’s definitely a whole different planet – that’s what I would call it – I think I usually say it’s the same street, but a different planet, that’s my qualifier for fatherhood. It’s fun, it’s inspiring. It keeps you up in different ways, either the baby keeps you up or you’re like, ‘Oh, wow, I do have to support these people!’ and all these crazy thoughts. Also, now, just touring – he’s so young and changing so rapidly – it’s harder now to go out on the road. It’s tricky, but it’s definitely the right time. I’ve been calling it a honeymoon, just hanging out these last couple years with my wife. We’ve had a blast.
How old is your son now?
He’s turning two in October.
In your own boyhood, you were born in North Carolina, correct?
I was actually born in New York, but I was raised in North Carolina. My family moved there when I was about six. My immediate family and my parents are New Yorkers, and I was a little New York kid for sure. We had this little New York microcosm around me when I grew up, but, by the time I grew up in North Carolina, I was a little more rounded at the edges and more of a southern kid, for sure.
Did you move back to New York?
No, I never moved back there. I traveled and moved to San Francisco and I’ve been here ever since. I’ve definitely had moments where I thought about moving back there, but San Francisco has held on to me.
I was curious about, as a kid, New York City is very different from really anywhere in the south, in terms of vibe and motion and speed and all of that, do you think about, or have you thought about how being raised in those two different places have influenced you or your sound over the years?
I do. And, as I’ve gotten older over the years, I think I’ve realized that moving to California too and looking back at the south and its influences – I think that the land you’re living in, and the people around you and the way they think of music makes a huge difference in how you approach music and how you approach the business of music and the sounds that come out of you. But, being born in New York and raised in the south, I was never really a southerner, and I think that had a big affect on me too.
It’s really interesting, how you come to things, when I was playing and I was about 18 or so, I was introduced to Irish music and bluegrass music. The guy that introduced me to that was a friend I had grown up with in high school, and he was this Jewish kid who was showing me Irish music, when my ancestry is actually Irish. That music affected my early musical years a lot. It’s funny where it comes from. It’s this weirdly immeasurable but really powerful thing, the place you’re living, and how it affects your sound.
What was it about Irish music that first really took you?
I think it was partially genetic [laughs], it was like, ‘OK, this is happening to me,’ and my blood felt it. But, also, I’d grown up on pop and rock and I just hadn’t heard that soulful folk that was mystical. I think it’s the voice, there are melodies in the voice that opened up a little spot somewhere.
I have been curious about what your influences are as far as your sound goes. It’s a unique mixture of … there’s a heavy groove, a gruff, classically manly element to some of your production style, but then on the other side you have this thoughtful, poetic, classic folk singer/songwriter kind of vibe that meshes well, but definitely makes you stand out from the crowd. For one, is that accurate? And do those elements come from that Irish influence? Or is there something else involved and at work there that has brought those two sides together?
I think you probably nailed a lot of things. I think I’ve been doing it for so long that I do it in an unconscious way – I don’t even think of myself as a musician in some ways. I came into singing through theatre, a little bit. I always wanted to sing, but I didn’t think I could and then I had to, to get through these classes in high school. I always played guitar through high school, but I never thought of myself as one of those ‘guitar guys,’ really. But, then I started writing songs and playing them and I thought, ‘Oh, this is something that I like.’ My first real band that I was in was with this guy, Michael Herwitz. I was like 15, 16, and we played Irish music and old time music and I just all the sudden got really excited about that music.
There is something that I love about making people dance or seeing people move, but, then I’m also very wrought with trying to be very honest with what’s going on with me when I write. I really don’t know any other way to write. I don’t write like, ‘I’m gonna write a soul song today.’ I just write whatever comes out of me and hope for the best. It’s a real messy pot in there. But, you summed up a lot of it. And, in some ways, it can be – from a music standpoint of trying to categorize it – it can be a little bit messy and a weird table of food. Like, ‘I don’t know if you should be putting that with that – that’s not right!’ [laughs]. Because, I see some bands that I really love and they’re really authentic and they stick to a certain sound and that works. But, all my influences, from the Irish music to soul music and hip-hop some and wanting people to just move and my style of kind of intimate writing – I guess it just all goes in there and makes for some strange little twists and turns. I just do the best I can [laughs].
You have a big presence in the San Francisco, but you don’t tour nationally a lot, especially in this part of the country, in Toledo. I was wondering how this came about, was it specifically the Birds of Chicago tour?
This tour we’re doing is definitely my biggest headlining tour. I’ve travelled around the country and opened for people and done some of my own stuff that’s smaller, but the main thing is – it’s difficult to explain to people, even through an article, that I am all self released and independently put out. So, there’s not a tour budget behind anything. There’s no industry behind it. It’s just me and my manager. And, it’s an incredible amount of money to take a busload of people out on the road. And, you don’t really know if people are going to come out, you don’t know how far your reach is. Especially being an independent artist, and in the internet age music gets passed out all over the place, but you don’t know how far that reach is. So, we’ve been able to do the west coast and go to New York, but it’s really quite a lot of work. But, we were able to get this record out and pull back and we’re really excited to be doing this full loop with a little bit of time in front of it too to let people know about it. So, Toledo worked out. I wish I could have been there ten years ago, but I’ve got to do it when I can.
Well, ten years ago, it wasn’t that impressive of a city, so you chose a good time to come.
Oh good! [laughs]
Did you have a previous relationship with Jeremy or Allison of Birds of Chicago?
I do, yeah. Jeremy I’ve known now for over ten years, I think. I was playing the upstairs lounge at a John Prine show at the Fillmore – they have this little lounge where local acts can play between set breaks or whatever – and got on stage. He and this woman used to run a songwriter night in San Francisco and they invited me out. There was a little scene happening there for quite a number of years and it was great. Then, Jeremy moved back to Chicago and I’ve done shows with him there anytime I go on tour. This is the first time with them, their thing is pretty new in terms of the Birds of Chicago. Its exciting to be out there with them, they’re super cool people.
Thanks for your time, I’ll let you get back to getting some rest.
[Laughs] I’m actually trying to play this guitar some, I’m getting ready. I’m really excited about getting to play music every night for six weeks. Hopefully by the time we get to Toledo we’ll be super warmed up.
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