I got to learn more about Sean McKinney in an expansive...
and revealing interview. Morning Tourist is the alter ego of the London-based singer-songwriter. He has been gigging for a year and received local and digital radio-play. He talks to me about shows he played in Germany; how this year has been; what he has planned for the end of the year – some of the gigs he has left in the diary.
McKinney discusses his E.P., Quiet Lives (out on 10th November), and the sort of themes/songs we can expect. I find out about the musician’s influences and what music means to McKinney – and the albums that have made the biggest impact in his heart.
Hi, Sean. How are you? How has your week been?
Good, thanks. I’m on holiday this week - which is a good start as far as weeks go.
I just moved house so have been kept busy with that. Doesn’t feel like much of a holiday when you don’t go anywhere; so I’ve been trying to replace that feeling with productivity. I got some writing done, put a dent in my book; got to the movies; saw Blade Runner 2049 (mixed feelings) and The Death of Stalin (class).
For those new to your work; can you introduce yourself, please?
My name’s Sean McKinney; I’m from Surrey and I play under the name Morning Tourist. I gig every week somewhere in London - sometimes with help - mostly by myself. I recorded my debut E.P., Quiet Lives, at the end of last year. The E.P. sounds like a band but it’s just me - and Tom Davis - who recorded it, playing the drums. The songs are somewhere between Folk, Alt-Rock and Power-Pop.
I’m really proud of how the record came out so, since then, I’ve been trying to get people to hear it - whilst slowly building towards the next one.
Tell me about the E.P., Quiet Lives. It is out on 10th November. What can we expect from it in terms of themes?
I started collecting the songs that ended up forming the record just after leaving university. So, the record seems pretty informed by that period of time; feeling a bit lost at sea, trying to figure out what to do next. I was increasingly discouraged by the traditional avenues of starting a career or entering an industry - and felt a general disconnect from my generation and the way the world was going.
It all sounds pretty sceptical and gloomy but, I guess, the resolution and levity comes from an ownership of those feelings and turning them into something you can put your faith in and take control of – which, in a roundabout way, is the record itself - or whatever your version of making a record is.
Is there a song or line from the E.P. that hits the heart hardest, would you say?
Rabbit Hole, the last song on the E.P., has a weight to it that, maybe, feels different to the other tracks. It’s kind of a tornado of unanswered and unanswerable questions; avoided truths, omens; reminders - without really resolving any of them. The repetition, and the Pink Floyd-esque inflexions, kind of give it this ‘descent-into-despair’ feeling. It was a song that fell out fully-formed more or less - which isn’t that common for me. It usually goes down well and can turn heads at gigs when people aren’t really listening...
So, yeah - probably that one.
I am in interested finding out how you got into music. Was it something that spiked the imagination as a youngster?
When I was really young; Rock music was just tied up with skateboards and Bart Simpson: something rebellious and cool. It was more an aesthetic interest than anything else. I don’t think the music actually came in ‘till later. I have a clear memory of my uncle, who played a little guitar, singing us Simon and Garfunkel songs at Christmas and stuff. I think, as well as liking the songs - which I still do - it was him holding court and having everyone’s attention when he played – and, as an ‘everyone-look-at-me’ kind of kid; I think that captured my imagination.
When I was a teenager, and I really started playing, it was Punk and (all about) being angry and contrary to everything. But, playing in bands at that age, (also) meant you were involved in a community of young creative people doing something similar; trying to break off and do your own thing.
The music wasn’t always great - but we had the right idea.
A lot of musicians are self-taught – others attending schools and academies. To me, it sounds like everything you play stems from hours or practice and intuition. Would that be a fair assumption?
Yeah, you’re about right: I did study music but I’m not sure how much my musicianship actually improved from it. That came from years of messing around on the guitar, making the pieces fit and, as you say, intuition. Not sure why this sounds wrong or right but I know what it’s supposed to sound like. You don’t need to be a great musician or a trained musician to be a good songwriter or to start a band. I think it’s about making your ability, or lack thereof, work for you.
Anyway; I’m sure I’ll be learning guitar for the rest of my life.
This summer, you performed in Germany. What was the vibe like out there? Are you keen to explore Europe more?
Germany was fantastic; I toured with my friend Bristol singer-songwriter, Ead Wood. We booked it ourselves not really knowing what to expect and, at the first date in Cologne, about thirty people turned up (this number is increasing every time I tell the story). None of them knew who we were: they just came to see whoever was playing that night. They all sat there politely for an hour-and-a-half and dropped money in a hat for us at the end. Sure enough, the exact same thing happened the following night in Berlin. There’s just a support and interest for independent music out there that is harder to find over here.
We didn’t pay for accommodation the whole time we were there - and people couldn’t have been more friendly or helpful. We partied, swam in lakes; saw friends and family. It was class. We’ve started booking another German tour for February. We were asked back everywhere we played and they seem to think we can do even better in the winter months.
It was an experiment that we are going to try and replicate with a bit more efficiency and then, following that, I will absolutely look elsewhere in Europe.
Is there going to be more material next year? Are you working on any more stuff at the moment?
I’m putting the next one together now...
Always trying to write. I’m about four/five songs in - I’d like to have seven again this time. I think that’s a good length to (still have) the arc of an album - but, on an E.P., I’m trying the George Carlin ethos of releasing one a year but, songwriting being the way it is, you don’t always get to decide when things get written. It’s also got to be a bit better than the last one - so, I’m being discerning and diligent. Hopefully, near the beginning of next year, I’m back in the studio.
Although; I do want to make sure Quiet Lives gets it’s day in court as well - before the next one takes its place...
How easy/hard is life like for an independent musician in 2017? Do you think young artists need more support, from the Government, funding and fuelling their passion?
The way technology has opened up independent artistry has, obviously, democratised things in a way that is revolutionary. It is easier now – than it ever was - to put something together and get it out there for people to find but, equally, it’s now arguably harder than ever to get paid for it. Also, now that everybody ‘can’ do it; it, sometimes, feels like everyone ‘is’ doing it - and decent artists can easily get lost or discouraged in a world of people all vying for attention. This is something I hesitate to label as ‘bad’ because, from another angle, it’s a great thing that people who want to express themselves can and are doing so. But, I still I think it’s made the landscape difficult to navigate. I do think arts funding is important at this time - but it’s also not the Government’s responsibility to ensure we all get what we want in life.
Unfortunately, anyone trying to do anything for themselves has to recognise, or at least assume, the world will be indifferent. The way Government needs to help is by protecting live music and live music institution - and making it as easy as possible for communities to offer artists the ability to create, practice and perform. Just because something doesn’t make loads of money doesn’t mean it’s not important and, in this climate, those things need to be protected. Plus, if we all had a bit more money in our pockets at the end of the month, people might be more willing to start paying for music again…
But, we would probably have to turn our guns on the banks to solve that one.
Looking back on your career so far; which memories stand out as especially fond and treasured?
I played Oxjam before I had a record, a name for the project or anything online. Due to someone pulling out, I ended up on a relatively big stage; it was the first time I’d really played a full set of these songs. Needless to say, it went down really well and I remember thinking for the first time that I might be on to something. At the end; the compère said: “Where can the people find your stuff?” and I said: “..they can’t”.
The tour of Germany was obviously a great experience and a revelatory one at that; like stumbling on the doorway to Narnia or something. It was entirely of own making and it was a success…plus, we had a lot of fun. Making the record was an amazing experience - watching something finally coming together after months and months overturning it over in your head. The process, the product - the whole thing - was incredible.
IN THIS PHOTO: Big Thief/PHOTO CREDIT: Shervin Lainez
If you had to select the three albums that mean the most to you; which would they be and why?
Ask me on a different day and I’d probably give you three different answers:
Elliott Smith – Either/Or
He’s the best. He made beautiful music that stands at a crossroads between lots of things I like. His songs have a 1960s classicism to them as well as the rough edge of Punk - and the delicacy of more intimate music. His music is undeniably melancholic and his story only feeds that - but manages to be simultaneously optimistic, outward-looking.
All of his albums are brilliant but, for me (as for many others), Either/Or is where you start.
Nirvana – Nevermind
It’s one of those ‘everyone-who-heard-it-went-out-and-started-a-band’ albums. But it’s true. it made me want to play music, scream; shout and jump around. It was just so sloppy that it made you think that you could do it too - but not so sloppy that it lost its accessibility. At some point or another, I’ve learnt how to play every song on it and, with the exception (maybe) of Smells Like Teen Spirit, I will still get excited if I hear them come on in a bar or something.
Kurt Cobain died when I was three but, undoubtedly, Nirvana was still one of the most important bands of my generation…and beyond.
Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water
As I said before; this music was around a lot when I was a kid - and I listen to it as much now as we did then. Beautiful songs, immaculately put-together and performed. It makes me nostalgic (in the best possible way) for an era that I didn’t live through; but, it still looms large over the present - as well as for my childhood.
What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?
You really have to love doing it - all of it - good and bad. If you like your songs, I’d say that’s all the encouragement you really need to keep writing and pursuing it. Have faith that you will improve and things will move forward - so long as you keep it up. Take the work seriously but don’t take yourself too seriously.
Be nice to people.
Where can we see you play this year? What dates do you have coming up?
At the moment it’s looking like this, but keep an eye on my page - more will pop up:
02/11: Hard Rock Cafe, Hyde Park Corner
05/11: Hope and Anchor, Islington
14/11: Apples & Pears, Aldgate
06/12: Boho, Camden
10/01: The Bedford, Balham
14/01: The Spice of Life, Soho
Christmas is not too far away. Do you have plans already - or will you be busy working?
I’m actually going to see my dad in Thailand. He’s living on a beach somewhere out there, stoned; laughing at the rest of us. I haven’t seen him in a while so we are due a check-in. Should be fun. I’ve never done Christmas outside the U.K. before so that will be interesting.
Needless to say; I won’t be at the pub on New Year’s Eve…sorry fellas.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
Can you play Hot Dreams by Timber Timbre
For no reason other than I saw them at End of the Road festival this year, not knowing who they were - and haven’t stopped listening to this song since.
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