S. Carey is the musical alias of Sean Carey, who also plays drums with Bon Iver. His new album, the haunting All We Grow, is one of my favorite debuts of 2010, reminiscent of touchstones including late-period Talk Talk and minimalist composer Steve Reich. (Don’t just take my word for it — you can listen to a couple tracks at the bottom of this post.) S. Carey is currently touring in support of a live performer I heartily endorse, Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson, aka The Tallest Man On Earth. In anticipation of their Seattle date at Neumo’s this Thursday, Sept. 9, S. Carey took a few minutes to answer some questions about making his record, rudimentary music theory, and his pal Bon Iver.
WAMS: When Justin was making the first Bon Iver record, he was locked away in a snow bound cabin, eating a lot of moose stew. Did you impose any such circumstances on yourself while making All We Grow? Any special location, weather conditions, or diet? You recorded it over a long period of time. Did that help/hurt the writing and recording process?
S. Carey: Most of the writing and recording process was done in the summer and fall. I’m definitely inspired by the explosive segments of spring and fall, where your surroundings are changing everyday. In the winter, I’d rather lay around and watch movies… or go snowshoeing. The record took almost two years to finish, but I think that really helped the process. It allowed me to improve as a songwriter and figure out what aesthetic I was going for. You can really hear the patience and attention to detail in the finished product.
This has quickly become a very private, personal record for me. I like to listen to it on my own (I play it on the radio, too, but I feel an ownership of it). And the word “intimacy” is being bandied about in the press. Can you give me some examples of records that evoke similar feelings in yourself?
Joni Mitchell, Blue; Björk, Vespertine; Paul Motian Trio, The Paradox of Continuity.
I’m especially fond of the song “We Fell,” which reminds me rhythmically of Steve Reich. Are you a fan of minimalist classical music? Favorite pieces or performers?
Reich – Electric Counterpoint. Different Trains. You Are (Variations).
Glass – Metamorphosis
Cage – A Flower. Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs.
Cowell – The Banshee
For performers: Steven Schick is my hero. He does amazing avant garde multi-percussion solos that are mind-blowing.
What do you like/dislike about your own voice?
It’s cool, even, consistent. It’s also kind of fragile — which is sucky sometimes.
You’re touring with the Tallest Man On Earth. Is it just my imagination, or are Swedish music fans more attractive than U.S. ones? Last couple times I saw Kristian, I felt like the Ugliest Man in Seattle. Or are you so preoccupied with the performance you barely notice the people?
I don’t usually pay attention to the crowd that much when I’m playing, but I would definitely agree that Scandinavians are really good looking people.
What’s the time signature of “In the Dirt”? Feels like it’s in 5/4 to me, but I need more coffee… and I’m terrible at music theory. Seriously. My sight reading is atrocious.
My sight reading is atrocious too. In school, I would have to basically memorize everything I played because I couldn’t read. “In the Dirt” is in 7/4, and then the B section goes to a 6/8 feel. Come on, dude!
Aside from being away from home, how did your experiences working with Bon Iver inform the making of this record?
The biggest factor was that I was exposed to so much new music, recordings and live shows. Justin, Mike, Matt and I all come from different musical backgrounds, so we would share out interests with each other. I heard a lot of music that I probably should have checked out a while ago, but somehow I just missed. Touring with other bands and playing at festivals allowed me to sit on side stage and watch some amazing musicians/bands like Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear, Wilco, Bowerbirds, Tallest Man on Earth, Megafaun, etc. Seeing these bands perform inspired me and gave me the desire to pursue my own thing.
DJ El Toro hosts the variety mix show on Wednesday nights from 9 PM to 1 AM on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle and kexp.org. His column, “Weird At My School,” (usually) appears every Monday on the KEXP Blog. Please follow DJ El Toro (aka Kurt B. Reighley) on Twitter!