A seasoned songwriter with nine albums to his name, Sean McConnell has gained a devoted following with his distinctive vocals and vividly told, emotionally charged songs. With his latest self-titled release - which recently debuted on the Americana charts - receiving accolades, McConnell is now poised to reach an even broader audience. While on tour, he kindly called from the road to talk about the album, its personal nature and more.
Having heard a few of these songs live and acoustic prior to hearing the album, I noticed you kept the production understated & focused on the lyrics and your voice as the main instrument. Was that intentional?
It really was. I feel like these songs are very simple, honest and understated and I wanted the production to reflect that.
It very much does.
Ten albums in, what if anything did you do differently with this album from your previous releases?
Every time I make a record, I go in wanting to make the best record I possibly can, so I didn’t have a majorly different mindset. I think every record is different in its own right because of the collection of songs. This record is the most autobiographical collection I have ever put out there, so the nature of the content led the way for it being a little different than the previous records.
You have written with so many other people, yet everything on this record is a solo write.
I have a handful of co-writes across the ten records, but the albums I end up putting out are generally songs I write by myself, although every once in a while, there’s an exception.
You spent a week at a cabin writing for the album; were all of the songs a result of the time spent there?
I wrote five in that week at the cabin and the others came shortly thereafter. It was really a good experience of having my brain freed up so there was nothing else to do but write songs. The songs came very quickly and I saw the thread of how personal they were: where I’m from, where I’m at and where I’m going. It actually felt effortless how easily it all came together.
Even though the songs are incredibly honest and personal, they are filled with a sense gratefulness, contentment, and excitement that the listener can relate to.
Oh yeah, for sure. I feel like even though the stories are specifically about me, people can find a way to put themselves in those songs and experience what the songs mean in their own lives, which I think is something that music does best.
Songwriting and music-making have been a part of McConnell's life since his youth. His mother was a singer and his dad was a guitar player and songwriter who would play in coffeehouses with McConnell watching them perform. Seeing his dad writing songs was a huge influence on him, and by the age of ten, McConnell was playing guitar and writing his first songs.
Just as you say in “Queen of Saint Mary’s Choir,” you grew up a music man and even released your first record at fifteen; was there ever any other path you considered, even for a moment?
There really wasn’t. I mean I had little jobs in middle and high school but as far as a career, no. I grew up in a family of musicians, so I knew that music could be done even if it wasn’t on a major scale. I knew that you could pay your bills by writing songs and playing out, so music was never this lofty thing that seemed unattainable to me so because of that, I never really considered anything else. It’s the love of the music and watching people come to a show and enjoy it is what kind of keeps me going. It’s definitely a love affair with the music, it always has been.
One of the tracks, “Running Under Water” is striking, not just lyrically, but sonically as well particularly in the introduction which, to me, vividly gives the sense a heartbeat underwater as you struggle to reach the surface. Is there any particular story behind the song?
I felt the same thing when I heard it and a lot of that has to do with the great band on the record. Ian Fitchuk, who produced the record [and also contributed drums], led the way with the beat that kicks off that song.
“Running Under Water” is one of those songs where there isn’t a big story behind it. Personally, it stems from a place where it feels like you’re running under water and not getting anywhere. It’s kind of a white flag moment which could be experienced in many areas of life - I’ve certainly experienced it in different areas of my life. So I think the songs is extremely open to anyone’s interpretation, which I like.
Is that also similar to the closer, “Babylon?”
A lot of people ask me about that song and I don’t really answer because I like when music can mean different things to different people. Like “Running Under Water,” there are a lot of different things, other than a romantic relationship, that that song could be about and I like that people can interpret it in different ways.
There is a real religious presence in seemingly every song, is that a big part of who you are?
There is a religious, or spiritual, thread in a lot of the songs. It’s something I’ve always been interested in, so it naturally kind of pops its head up in my music.
As a songwriter, you have written for, and with, so many people and are so well respected, is it different for you now getting recognition on a broader scope as an artist in your own right?
My goal is to have as many people hear my music as possible. I want to be able to continue to release creative records I believe in for a long time. So yes, it’s exciting to see things like being on the Americana chart happen and the album get more national attention. It’s different, new and exciting.
You recently headlined shows in Texas, but have been out with so many different artists as well. Will you be teaming up with anyone in the Fall or will you continue to headline?
I believe I’m going to keep going out on my own. I’m going back and headlining a lot of the places I have been to as an opener. We’ll do that on the West Coast in August, play at Americana Fest in September and continue to be out there hitting the road the rest of this year.
Finally, I always like to know – is there one recent release you cannot stop listening to that you’d recommend people check out?
I’ve been listening to a lot of older music that wouldn’t be new to anybody. But I did see a movie the other night, Sing Street, about high school kids in Ireland in the 80’s trying to get their music heard. It was a really inspiring movie and had a really cool soundtrack. I was really taken by it and would highly suggest checking it out.
For more information visit his official website
Find him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
Purchase Sean McConnell here
Watch the video for current single, "Holy Days" here