For more than a decade, Sean Carey has been a dummer, keyboardist and vocalist for the band Bon Iver while moonlighting on the side with his solo project, S. Carey. Ahead of his show at the Larimer Lounge to promote his 2018 release Hundred Acres, Carey spoke to Westword about collaborating with Justin Vernon and other friends, pushing himself creatively and how his new record is different from his older works.
Westword: How soon do you get sick of playing the same music during live performances?
Sean Carey: [Laughs] Not that soon. I’m sort of getting sick of playing songs from my first record now, so the new stuff is still very exciting. It’s just part of the job, too. You have to play stuff from your whole catalogue and play what people want to hear.
Was anything about making Hundred Acres different from your other records?
I had a much clearer vision of what I wanted this record to be for kind of a long time. It was about attaining that, whereas other ones were a bit more loose, kind of "Let’s just go into the studio and see what happens." There’s certain things that do happen that are great when you record like that, but I think this record just has a more complete picture that I was going for, and I think I got there.
I’m really proud of it. I’m probably the most proud of this one out of all of my records. That was different, and I think there’s some subtle differences in there, for sure, but still sounds like me. I think it’s just kind of a more developed, mature version of me.
Did that come from having more experience as a solo artist?
I think, yeah, definitely. I drew on my experiences and drew on my confidence as a songwriter and producer. I really tried to focus on the song and writing really good songs, simplifying certain things.
When you hear a really good song and you’re like, "Damnit, that is such a good song," it doesn’t even matter what genre it is or the production of it. That’s sort of what I wanted to challenge myself to do.
Is it easy pivoting between solo work and collaborating?
I think it’s pretty easy, yeah. It’s a really healthy balance, because you get to flex different muscles. I like both equally, probably. I really love being a support person in a band and helping someone do what they want to do.
At the same time, I don’t mind being a leader, and I’m doing that more and more. There are certain perks to that, as well.
When you’re songwriting for yourself, do you write from a drummer's perspective?
Not really. Actually, it’s kind of funny, because sometimes I don’t even hear drums on my songs. I had a friend who was playing the record for another drummer, and he was like, ‘Where are the drums? Where are the drums?'"
Drums are almost always such a driving force in a song, but I think sometimes if you leave them out, it creates a certain air and space that’s nice, too. It’s all about balance. I think about that a lot: I really wanted strings on the record, but if you have it on every song, it loses its effectiveness, and I can see drums being the same sort of thing.
You’re part of a very tight-knit group of collaborators. Does that start through music or friendship more?
I would say it’s more through the music. You meet a ton of people through music, especially touring and playing shows. I think it’s almost always through music, and then you sort of know these people because you’re playing shows with them, and you become closer and closer. Especially when you’re on tours with people, because you’re spending almost every waking minute with the same groups of people. You really get to know them.
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Does it feel like you’ve reached a mountaintop with other projects and now you’re going through that same process as a solo artist?
I guess I think more of trying to be creative with everything. With the music, but also with the way that you survive as a musician. Creatively and financially — all of that. You have to continue to think about ways that you’re able to do your job and be really happy doing it and being successful doing it and not burn out. It’s a job of extremes, where you’re either home and sort of bored or you’re out for a long time and you miss home. It’s all those things.
It’s all those things, and I’m on my own path. I have to continue to carve that out and figure out where that leads me and not really depend on other things. I think when you do that, you continue to open doors creatively, and that’s how we keep evolving. You can’t do the same things over and over again.