by: Thomas D. Mooney
“Way back on the radio dial,
The fire got lit inside a bright-eyed child
Every note just wrapped around his soul,
From steel guitars to Memphis, all the way to rock and roll.”
–Will Hoge, “Even If It Breaks Your Heart”
Yeah, I know. It’s a Will Hoge song. But that first verse specifically, sums up Sean McConnell‘s soul driven ballads, country-tinged folk anthems, and rocking coffee-house blues–for me at least. There’s a fire that burns throughout.
It’s difficult to find someone with the same clean vocal purity that McConnell possesses. It’s effortless. It fills the room and surrounds you no matter the distance. For many songwriters with golden pipes, it’s be easy to become lazy and dull on the songwriting side of things. Often, they rely too much on it as their lyrical content suffers.
But with McConnell, even when he’s writing a pop standard, something bright and light, there’s a healthy dose of integrity to verse and chorus. Still, he shines brightest when telling narratives and confessions. They’re songs that demand your full attention no matter how he relays their messages.
And while McConnell has always set himself apart from the crowd with his sincerity streak, he believes that his forthcoming album, Holy Days, will the most autobiographical and personal this far into his career.
We caught up with the Americana singer-songwriter last week to discuss the making of Holy Days, tentatively slated for an April 2016 release. The crooning McConnell will be performing in Lubbock at The Blue Light this upcoming Tuesday, Sept 15. He’ll be joined by country-folk band Mulligan Brothers. Presale tickets are currently available here.
New Slang: The last time we spoke, it was back in April of last year. You were about to be releasing The B-Side Session EP. Where are you in the process for the next album?
Sean McConnell: Yeah, I’ve already recorded the entire full-length album. It’s going to be called Holy Days. We’re in the planning phase of figuring out when we’re going to be rolling that out. It’s completely finished though. I’m really excited about it.
NS: How long did you work on this album–being in the studio and recording?
SM: Top to bottom, recording wise, I want to say it was about two or three weeks.
NS: What’re you most excited about with this album? What’s the reason for this album other than it was time to make another album?
SM: This collection of songs is definitely the most autobiographical collection that I’ve ever compiled. I think it’s really who I am. The collection itself, it’s really personal. That’s probably what I’m most excited about with this record. The band we put together to record, obviously they’re fantastic. Most of it, we recorded live together. I did all my vocals with the band. It was a really organic approach.
NS: Autobiographical. Do you feel this is something that you could only do now? Something you had to work on as a writer and feel you’re more experienced and comfortable with?
SM: Yeah. I think naturally the music went there. That’s how I knew I was ready to make a record. I had this whole collection of songs that were from my perspective. First-person and very personal. The songs kind of led the way and let me know it was time to make this kind of record.
NS: Is there a line or song from this album that you feel sums up the album best? Is there anything you feel that’s a little more important or special?
SM: They’re all important in a way. But the one of the ones I’m most excited about is this song called “Best We’ve Ever Been.” It was the last track we recorded. We all got into live room together and performed the song top to bottom live. Really captured a cool moment. It’s one of my favorite to perform live these days. It’s definitely a highlight for me.
NS: What was the most difficult moment you had writing or recording on this album?
SM: Working with this team of musicians and producers, I wouldn’t say we caught up on anything really. They all kind of flowed pretty naturally. We were able to capture them pretty much the way we set out. Nothing felt really like a struggle.
NS: Writing, I’m assuming you’ve had ideas that you thought were going to be fruitful that you ended up striking out on. Is there any one specific that you wish you’d be able to bank on?
SM: I can’t really remember because if I’m working on something and it doesn’t feel honest or feel like it’s working, I just kind of fight it for a while, and if it doesn’t open up, I just kind of move on. I know this doesn’t really answer your question, but I’d say that when I’m writing a song, if I feel like I’m hitting my head up against a wall, after a while, I don’t think it’s too productive to keep working on that. The best songs always just come out of your subconscious. My favorite songs are kind of the ones that fall out of the sky [Laughs].
NS: With this next album being so personal, did it make this collection of songs easier or more difficult to write? I can see how it could be both. Sometimes being that honest with yourself is difficult. Sometimes it’s easy.
SM: I think it was easier. This really is a collection of songs that kind of wrote themselves.
NS: Obviously you do a lot songwriting that makes their way to other people’s albums. What else do you have coming out through that channel?
SM: Yeah. I have two new songs coming out on the new Randy Rogers album. I have one coming out by Scotty McCreery. He actually has a single that came out this week that I wrote with a friend of mine named Jason Saenz. It’s called “Southern Belle.” I have a few coming out on the Nashville television show. I’m always working on that side of things as well.
NS: Yeah. Do you ever play those songs or do you kind of feel that those artists who cut them first, they’re more their songs than yours?
SM: I don’t normally play them, but there’s been a few. More often than not though, the artist kind of makes it their own and I kind of have mine that I keep for myself. That ends up being the case most of the time.
NS: How much say–if any–do you have in how someone cuts a song? Are you even able to suggest certain things?
SM: No say [Laughs].
NS: [Laughs]. Yeah. How about if it’s someone like Randy, since you guys are friends? Would he take any advice on it or anything?
SM: Not really. A lot of times when Randy and I write, we’ll talk about the way it’d sound good production wise. We’ll through a few ideas out when we’re actually writing the song, but they’re just suggestions. When they go into the studio, him and the producer always do their own thing anyway–which is great. They always end up doing a great job on the song.
NS: One song that you wrote that’s on Hold My Beer, Vol. 1 is that “Ladybug” song.
SM: Yeah. I actually wrote that song as well with my buddy Jason. We had gotten together one day to write and it just kind of popped out. I think Jason had the idea for the hook. We kind of laughed about how silly it was. We were kind of laughing through the whole song, but it ended up being this little, cool tune.