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Interviews & Features

Sean Hayes

Originally published in Synthesis Weekly: November 2014

Photos by Arielle Mae

As an avid podcast listener, my first introduction to the music of Sean Hayes came with the song “Rosebush Inside (Moreese Bickham),” when Snap Judgment told the story of how this song had come to be. Although his featured song on the podcast was the thing that initially drew me in (I listened to it on repeat for the next few days straight), I was kept inextricably intertwined in the Sean Hayes fan net by his soulful, rough-around-the-edges voice and haunting songs that stuck with me.

With Hayes’ upcoming November 8 show at Chico venue The Rendezvous, I was afforded the opportunity to talk to him about his interview on Snap Judgment, how fatherhood has affected his music, and Han Solo, naturally. Before we got into things he warned me that his newest baby was asleep in the next room, so he might have to interrupt the interview to pick him up if he woke.


How did you first get into playing music, and was there anyone in your life who was particularly influential in driving your interest?

Well, I didn’t start playing guitar and writing songs until I was older, in my late teens… I’m so bad at these questions [laughs]… When I was a little kid I remember I used to get these terrible migraines, probably around fourth grade. I think I was somehow stressed out about going to school, so I’d get to stay home, and they’d just magically go away when I didn’t have to go to school. I’d sit and listen to records, and sing along with them. So I remember singing along with The Beatles, Billy Joel, and Blondie [laughs]… and I have an older brother who had a lot of records too, so I’d borrow those. I remember I just loved to learn the words and sing along to them when I was super young.  

I first came across your music after listening to the Snap Judgment episode where you talked about your song “Rosebush Inside.” Can you talk a little bit about that song, and how it felt to create something that affected Moreese Bickham’s life?

Well, I don’t think I caused a huge change for him, but the fact that he ever even heard it was amazing. I just heard his story; read about him in a book that someone gave to me that was mostly about outsider artists and strange people, except that there was one story in there about people who had survived death row.

There were transcripts in there in his own words, and I was so impressed by the dignity and hope in his voice, and lack of anger at what he’d been through. He was still in jail at the time… the song came out of reading those words and me wanting to remember that person’s attitude. I’ve never experienced anything close to that, but we all forget every day to be grateful. So it was just a really personal meditative rant to myself, and then it made it on a record I was doing; I put—after “Rosebush Inside”—(Moreese Bickman) in parentheses so maybe people would find his story.

It was probably about six or seven years later that he emailed me and totally surprised me out of the blue, because I didn’t even know if he was alive. He came out to see me play, and it was just amazing to get to meet him. The Snap Judgment [episode] was a really interesting thing too, because of the continuation, and just the realization that when you tell somebody’s story, you then become part of it. And you don’t realize it sometimes, because you tell stories about things that are so far removed from you, but they walk right into your life. It’s been really interesting. I love singing that song.

What kind of projects are you currently working on?

I’m working a little bit in sample-based stuff, playing around with some different software like Ableton Live, and teaching myself how to record and use some of these other programs. I’ve done a lot of pretty basic document-style recording, so I’m getting deep into learning about synthesizers and, I don’t know, just sounds. Creating sounds in the box a little more. And playing with buttons [laughs].

What kind of music do you listen to in your spare time, and do you listen to anything that you think people would be surprised to find that you like?

I listen to such an array of things. I’m attracted to music that people would probably guess I’d like, because they can hear it in the music I make, like anthology of folk music and these really rough and raw recordings. But I also really love listening to Kanye records, and Kendrick Lamar, and the hip hop that’s been coming up. I really love James Blake. There’s also a guy named King Krule, I’ve been enjoying his stuff. He’s an English guy. I’m always searching it out, but I listen to music in little spurts. I listen to music much more intentionally probably than, I don’t know… I think people that make music don’t just put music on in the background…

[At this point his baby woke up in the other room.]

I hear the baby crying, and I think he’s talking, so I’ll just have to pick him up.

[Baby talk and generally adorable baby noises ensue.]

I’m with the one, Mom’s out with the other.

Do you think becoming a father changed your outlook in way that’s bled over into your music?

I have two of them now, and the last record we did, Before We Turn To Dust, has a lot of baby things on it. A lot of those things I’d written on the way to becoming a father, knowing I was going to be a father, and then the first half a year of being a parent. And then deeper into that. I think the phrase I used was “same street, different planet.” You just wake up one day and everything’s the same, but you’re on a totally different planet because everything’s not the same. Your friends and everything else is the same, but you have this new creature. But it’s all about time and ability to travel, and that changes drastically just because they’re so… well, you spend 24 hours a day taking care of them, unless you can get help. It’s a really intense thing from the standpoint of trying to work and get things done. It changes all of that, my ability to spend time doing that. But then it inspires you in brand new ways, and terrifies you in brand new ways, and it teaches you a lot about the world, once you have kids. It’s a very different thing. You don’t just walk out of the house anymore. [laugh]

Tell me something about yourself that I don’t already know.

Hmm… well I pretty much just put it all out there, I don’t have any secrets. A radio announcer asked me the other day, “do you have any secrets?” and I said I don’t. I guess if I did, I probably wouldn’t say it on the radio. So let me think… I don’t really know. I’m really uninteresting. [laughs]. It’s funny, when I did that Snap Judgment thing, they were like, “do you have any stories?” and it took me a while to even remember. I’ll have to call you back when I think of something. I’m wearing red socks right now [laughs], I don’t know if that’s interesting.  

Lastly, this is kind of a silly question that I like to ask people I interview, which Harrison Ford do you prefer, Indiana Jones or Han Solo?

[laughs] Probably Han Solo. Because I remember being so very young and seeing Star Wars in a movie theater, and that’s just the original to me.

Catch Sean Hayes at The Rendezvous on Saturday, November 8. Tickets are available at www.chicotickets.com.

Arielle Mullen