Sean Carey’s new album is one directly concerned with the great outdoors. Nature is its muse. One step outside and therein lies the inspiration for a song. Conservationist John Muir is a big inspiration. Centuries ago, Muir partially lost his sight, subsequently quitting his job before becoming the celebrated figure that he is today. It might be in Sean’s interests to kick in interviews and mundane activities that latch onto every musician, but he’s enjoying himself. There’s a new S. Carey record on the way, after all.
‘Range of Light’ is his second, the follow-up to debut ‘All We Grow’. What’s significant about this album is that without stamping on Justin Vernon’s parade, it’s the first made outside of the albeit glowing shadow of Bon Iver. Partly written while on tour with Vernon, most of the record was put together in time out from live duties. It’s a work that benefits from time and space, as well as Sean’s own personal direction, present more than ever. Having recently become a father for the first time, this year’s been one of marked change for Carey - the release of ‘Range of Light’ will only spur this on further.
Listen to an exclusive stream of ‘Range of Light’ on DIY here (UK & Ireland listeners only).
Was this record something you had more time to think about, compared to the debut?
I did the same thing as on the debut where I’d do a lot of writing on the road. We were on tour with Bon Iver for most of the period when this record was made, besides finishing it. I have more experience now, and you’re right, I did have a lot of time to think it out and really plan it. It’s a more refined version of my music. So I guess that’s reflected in the songs and the shape of the record. There’s a more - it just has a richer, more refined sound, given the way it was recorded, outside of a bedroom.
Did you have a vivid idea of what this record was going to be before you made it?
I knew I had to get working on the next thing. I had some new songs and some old songs that resurfaced. I didn’t have a concept. I started making it and then at some stages I’d take a step back, look at the whole picture, figure out which songs worked. Some didn’t work and those got replaced with newer songs. It was still unplanned and organic. I didn’t have a great picture of what it would be like. The only thing I really knew is I wanted to use more percussion and I wanted to use my voice in different ways as well.
If the concept is linked to nature, is it something you’ve always written about?
It’s always been a part of how I write, but I guess with this record I chose to really embrace it more. After the songs were starting to take shape and I could see the record as a bigger thing, I started to think of titles. ‘Range of Light’ was one I had for a long time. It was this idea that I started to connect with my life in various ways. It worked as a metaphor, about anything in life, specifically the range of someone’s happiness; their experiences. It linked to looking backwards, thinking about things that were joyous, or otherwise. Things that made me who I am. That metaphor really connected with the songs. The songs were all tied in with nature and my experiences but they’re all from a bunch of different places and time periods, from recently to when I was a kid. I like titles - and songs - that are broad and applicable to the listener, so everyone can connect their own story to the songs.
If you’re someone that appreciates nature, how do you feel about everyone being glued to their screens?
It’s hard! I try, I really try to detach myself from it all, to get outside. Right now my main hobby is fly-fishing. That gets me out and away from everything, a couple of times every week. I love it. I need it to refresh and be by myself and have time to get my mind off other things. Especially now, it’s the busiest time for me. As a musician when you’re not on tour or in the studio, your office is sitting at a computer, going through emails. I try and avoid it, but it’s definitely hard.
With the shows, are you wanting them to be big multimedia experiences?
I wanna make it more of an experience. I think, you know, our music relates itself to visuals really well. That’ll be a nice accompaniment. I wasn’t reacting against anything. I got together with the lighting designer that works with Bon Iver, The National, Grizzly Bear, and we started thinking of ways to do something on a smaller scale that would be simple, but really cool. He took it and ran with it.
You’re writing from a personal perspective, but are you also writing for other people, rather than just yourself?
The best songs are ones you can listen to and not really fully understand. You might know what they’re about or you might think they’re about something else, but you can assign your own feelings and story to the song. At least when I listen to music, songs that affect me are ones that hit me at the right moment, or they tie into something in my life.
How has starting a family changed things?
It just changes everything! I haven’t really gone on tour yet, so that’s going to be different. I think it’s very challenging to do music and have a family, especially when you’re on the road a lot. It’s all I’ve ever known as well. I met my wife two months before I went on the first Bon Iver tour, so we’re used to it!
Is patience still a very important part of making music?
I lean towards it. But I’m not a perfectionist. I know some artists that are a lot more perfectionist than I am. For me it’s more just about the way that I write. Lyrics take me a while. I have an idea and it lingers around my head. But I do think it’s really important to create and then take a step back and look at it from a different perspective. That’s more my style.