Sean Hayes released his 7th solo album, Before We Turn to Dust, on September 11th this year. He has had a longstanding and very successful career as a musician with hits like “When We Fall In,” “Powerful Stuff,” and “A Thousand Tiny Pieces,” which have been featured in broadcast television shows and even a Subaru commercial. Commercial success aside, his career has been bolstered by a very loyal following in San Francisco; the city he has called home for the past 20 years. A master of the guitar, he also has a very unique capability of transitioning from a melodic, softer tone to a more gruff sounding spell after a single bar. He harnesses a powerful fusion of folk, blues, and rock on stage. His national tour will be stopping in New York City at Le Poisson Rouge, which was originally set for October 30th, but is being rescheduled due to Hurricane Sandy. Untapped Cities caught up with Hayes to discuss the new album, the influences on his music style, and what he is looking forward to while playing in NYC.
Untapped Cities: Is the title track of this album, “Before We Turn to Dust,” the most significant to you or is there another more favored track?
Sean Hayes: Favorites are always a strange word for me even with colors and stuff like that. I would say “Before We Turn to Dust” is the most interesting in some ways to me because it was a line that was floating around for many years now. The chorus or the main line of the song is “You may spend all of your money before you turn to dust but you will never spend all of your love”. I would sing that line sometimes– just it would come to me when I was sitting around playing music and I would either have a verse come to me or I would just feel like “Oh I am not ready to touch this or it seemed like I could potentially write a really bad song”. Sometimes also, I would have a little image of a child in the streets start coming up, but I never touched it. After I had my son probably within three months or so, then the little line came “My little boy smiling, soon he’ll be sitting up, holding his own weight, grabbing for you”.
The song just kind of revealed itself in the meaning of that line in a much deeper way. The deeper meaning of that kind of aspect of being a parent and all of the sudden knowing you are the provider for somebody. Which can also add a lot of stress when you are worried about having enough money to do all of the things I want to do for this child and support this person. Then realizing, that is not the most important thing here, the most important thing is that extra five minutes you give to this person as they’re growing up. I will always have that and will always have the love to provide and that doesn’t cost anything. It is just a little mantra song, a little way to remind yourself to relax and know you’ve got everything it takes. So that song is maybe the most interesting to me since it was around as a lyric for a while but I wasn’t sure what is was about until after I had my little boy.
How has fatherhood impacted your music style?
It has impacted some of the themes, because I think I write very document oriented, even chronological oriented. Just looking around at what’s happening around me and inside me. I think it impacts that. I think in some ways with this record — part of it has nothing to do with having a child because definitely there is just some baby making tunes on it. Then some of it is kind of the preamble to having a child. In some ways, I don’t even know yet how having a child will impact me because I feel I really am in the midst of that right now. I know definitely that time is the most interesting thing; it always is — trying to carve out time. I pick up the guitar and he comes over and wants to take it from me. You can’t even open a book or anything; they want to be right there with you so I will have to learn to write like that.
From your perspective what are some of the differences fans are going to notice between your two most recent records “Run Wolves Runs” and “Before We Turn to Dust”?
The biggest difference, I think is that I ended up using the keys a lot on this record. The piano is in there a lot. I had access to a little studio with a piano in it for the first time after all of these years of playing. Most of my songs are usually with me with a guitar in hand and singing. This time I did a lot of singing but without a guitar in my hands and I wasn’t playing the piano. I actually wrote a lot of the songs on the piano, but I got Eric, who actually plays the drum as well, to play the keys mostly on this and I just sang. It was a different experience to not have the instrument in my hand and just be singing. It was a subtle difference in the studio. But while I tour, it will actually be a lot of guitar too. The piano is definitely a different sound and the keyboard in general. Besides that, I’d say a lot of the elements are the same. We use some of the same players and I really do record in a very similar way, which is just kind of go in there and just bust ‘em out and not be too precious with it all. I think it is still a continuation of “Run Wolves Run” though and I haven’t departed that much.
You kicked off your tour with the show at Outside Lands Music Festival. What was the experience like playing on the Sutro stage?
The Sutro stage I think is probably my favorite stage. I’ve been able to go to Outside Lands every year since it is right here in our backyard and that stage is just the kind of perfect size. The main stage is way too big usually for me because I can’t even understand what is going on. It was really a treat to be on that stage and then I just kind of sat there for the rest of the day after playing because there were The Be Good Tanyas and then the Alabama Shakes played there, which was probably one of the highlights of the day– they really knocked it out. Nora Jones was on there later. Last year I saw Erykah Badu on there and the first year we played it, Beck was on that stage. It’s a trip, it is a much bigger spectacle, you know playing outdoors and creating this big giant sound. It is fun, I feel like it is a whole other sonic world to explore. I haven’t done that many big shows like that — I’ve played at lots of bars.
What other venues are you looking forward to playing at on your tour?
I’m looking forward to Le Poisson Rouge in New York for sure. New York in general is just fun to be there. We usually try to hang out for a couple of extra days. Chicago, I haven’t played at the venue, but the band we are travelling with they’re called the Birds of Chicago and one of the players, Jeremy is from there, so we are excited about that. Chicago is another one of those towns that is just a blast. Austin of course will be fun. There are some smaller things we do too, like weird Yoga studios and warehouse spaces which can be really fun. They’re not as formal, so people let loose a lot more than bars. You get small studio spaces and people feel just like they’re at house parties so they get a little bit crazier. I am also going to play in my hometown in Greensboro, North Carolina for the first time in many, many years. So that should be kind of fun to play there since I have been away for 20 years. I have gone back to visit but haven’t really played there much.
When you are in New York, what are some of your favorite haunts to revisit?
We end up going to New York at least once or twice a year it seems like. Over the years it has been really interesting to see Brooklyn explode and become really so vibrant. I think we end up staying over there a lot. We’ve been playing at Le Poisson Rouge because it has been a good room for us. We also used to play at Union Pool, which I enjoyed that little back room there, it had a nice vibe to it. There’s the place called the Diner, for food. We end up eating there it seems like three or four times within a day because Chris, my manager, is a serious foodie. We’re very lucky because don’t have to think at all as he has every meal planned out five days in advance. He is obsessed with eating good food, which is very hard to do on the road, so we’re lucky to have him doing that. Then of course with New York there are endless possibilities. We usually use New York as a home base for at least two or three days and then go out from there.
You are closing out your tour at the Independent in San Francisco. How do you plan to celebrate the end of your tour?
This time it will be a two day celebration which will be very different because we usually do the one day. So we will break it out and do two different days. I’m super excited to be travelling for a long time and playing music every night and just typing up the music and exploring the music. Excited about learning what this trio that I am going to be with is all about. In some ways in my head, I feel a lot of it will be super exploratory and the goal will be getting the most dynamic couple of shows to put on in San Francisco. So hopefully by the time we get there, we will really be cooking in the music department— that we’re just well oiled and really have worked out a lot of things. That is really what I am aiming for.
Get in touch with the author at @jacks2487