THE rather spiffing Sean McVerry has been talking…
about his latest work, Private Lives. It is an E.P./mini-album and one I was eager to learn more about. The New York-based songwriter talks about the area and its vibe; whether more material will come later; which albums and artists are important to him – I ask whether he is coming to the U.K.
McVerry tells me how he spends time away from music; which new artists we should get behind; why he takes influence from the 1980s; when music came into his life – he provides a rather excellent song to end the interview with.
Hi, Sean. How are you? How has your week been?
Hey, Sam! I’m pretty good for the most part. Currently on the brink of over-caffeination, which is a state I find myself in almost every day. It’s been a few weeks since the release, so I’ve been on a steady regimen of biking to Prospect Park, writing a few songs a week and trying not to slip into existential dread!
Also, a pipe burst in my apartment so currently there are a few dudes sawing a big ol’ hole in my ceiling. It’s sweet.
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
Nice to meet you. My name is Sean McVerry. Do you want a sip of this iced coffee?
Tell me about the E.P., Private Lives. What themes and ideas inspired the song?
When I finished Hourglass Switchboard I and II (feel free to google those by the way!) I was kind of all over the map, stylistically-speaking. I’m turned on by so many corners of Pop music and never really committed to any sort of genre to focus in on, for better or for worse. When I moved to Brooklyn, I found myself kind of living in these New Wave records and more current-age Dance records from DFA and the like.
I pretty much set out to write a record with the same sort of themes I talk about normally in my music but, through the lens of a late-'80s-inspired Dance record. It really was a creative constraint; perhaps the most fun kind I could think of.
There are influences of the 1980s in the songs. Is it a decade you are particularly affected by? Why do you think so many new artists are looking back to the 1980s?
Well. I think there are many factors leading to this '80s wave. I could really talk about how genre/aesthetic/style is all this big cyclical nostalgia wheel, but who wants to hear about that?! I think some of it coming down to this resurgence in analog synthesizers and the wave of bedroom producers and artists that have come out with the advent of home-recording in the last decade. I think synth and drum-machine-driven records are having a moment because those two things are so readily available to people.
I’m no exception to this - when I moved from music conservatory to Brooklyn bedroom I was given a smaller and more finite number of tools to create with. It just so happens that I bought Songs from the Big Chair on vinyl when that happened and took a dive into New Wave and Dance records from that era.
For the next one, I may just jump over the '90s and head straight for early-2000s Pop-Punk.
Is it true your third album is coming soon? What can you reveal about its progress?
Oh, nice; that last part was a nice accidental segue! I definitely will be putting out more music this year. Album? Maybe not? I don’t know. I am sitting on an ever-expanding pile of songs and ideas that something will happen with. To be honest, with how much everything has changed with streaming (I swear I’m not about to go on a tangent about the state of the ‘industry’), releasing single songs just may be a more efficient way to do things and get music into the ears of your fans.
An album is always on my mind and I have a whiteboard and handful of journals amassing and sculpting some larger concept for that at all times. In the meantime, though, expect more songs.
How do you think your work has developed since 2016’s Hourglass Switchboard 1 and Hourglass Switchboard 2?
The craziest thing about those first two records was that some of those songs had been around and finished since, roughly, 2013.
I think, at my core, not a lot has changed in terms of how I write (or aim to write). I find myself constantly seeking a more efficient way to create. That’s been a journey I’ve been on since I started writing and one that I don’t think I’ll ever be totally completed. My taste has changed I guess? My pace in which I write has changed as well - and I’ve stepped in more as a producer now as well. I’m still learning so much or putting myself in a position where I can learn.
Which artists did you grow up around? Who inspired you to get into music?
I grew up in a small town in Connecticut called Middlebury. I’d say it’s like growing up in a bubble but that would be an understatement - so I’ll say it’s like growing up in a bubble that is inside of a hyperbaric chamber. Until the internet came along, I listened to whatever I heard on the Classic Rock stations, or a few choice selects from my parents (who have great taste, thank God).
As soon as I had the know-how to set up my dad’s record player, I would listen to my mom’s Jethro Tull records, (Bruce) Springsteen and a bunch of British Invasion bands. My mom is also an incredible pianist and got me into piano when I was in elementary school. My dad sang in college and VERY loudly in church growing up, much to the dismay of my sisters and I - I was lucky to grow up in a very musical household, though.
I distinctly remember having Kazaa and literally typing in ‘indie music’ when I was like a seventh grader and downloading the first ten albums I saw. That’s how I got into Spoon, Kaiser Chiefs; The Shins and The Strokes. I also, simultaneously, had an affinity for Hip-Hop. I think the first C.D. I ever bought with my own money was from this Def Jam rapper Keith Murray (it holds up still). Going to SUNY Purchase, though, opened me up to a whole other realm of incredible music I probably wouldn’t have found otherwise. Freshman year of college was transformative for what I was listening to. I’ll take the time in case she read this - that my friend Ashley Sosa was responsible for hipping me to great music.
Brooklyn is where you are based. Can you describe what it is like for a songwriter there? Do you take a lot of strength from the people and neighbourhoods around you?
You can ask my girlfriend and she will tell you I am literally a walking commercial for the borough of Brooklyn. I love living here. I’ve been in my apartment for a few years now and am lucky enough to have neighbors that don’t hate music. Obviously, there are so many great bands to see around the city and I feel like we are always subconsciously listening to each other. I do believe your environment will always a find a way to influence or make its way into your art.
As I bike around on a Sunday and hear a handful of church bands, the guy biking through Von King Park blasting Sam Cooke, and music coming out of every window, I feel like I got the pretty ideal environment to create.
Do you have any gigs lined up? Where are you heading?
Setting up a few shows in May and June, currently. Playing in Asbury Park on the 23rd, opening for Tor Miller; then, May 29th at Pianos. Lining up a little tour up the East Coast for the end of June - more on that you can find at my site.
What do you hope to achieve in 2018?
Tour a lot, meet a lot of new folks; write some great music and make some big, incredible stuff.
Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music – the one that sticks in the mind?
Being an independent musician comes with its particular brand of anxiety and it’s easy to overlook the positives. I will say that I’ve been fortunate enough to have a pretty incredible last couple of years filled with memories.
Touring the first E.P. is pretty tough to beat; particularly the show in Toronto at the Drake Hotel. That show was electric and one of the few times I felt truly present and grateful in the moment.
If you could select the three albums that mean the most to you; which would they be and why?
Oh, man. Uhhh...
I’m going on my Spotify right now because I feel like this answer is always changing. In my mind, right now, I would say:
Talking Heads - Remain in Light
David Byrne’s career arc is my goal.
Sufjan Stevens - Illinois
I could say the same for Sufjan, but this record has such a gentle power to it. It lasts about a million years, but I’ve listened through to it probably more than any other record.
Beach Boys - Pet Sounds
I’m seeing, now, the theme with these records is that I am drawn to people who push the boundaries of what Pop music can be…
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
Write every day. Listen to yourself/body. Stay off the internet. Wear earplugs
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
Famously bad at unwinding, but I try to stay on a consistent exercise schedule. Also, since we are FINALLY coming out of winter in Brooklyn, you can catch me biking anywhere/everywhere/all the time.
Also, cooking. Oh boy, do I love cooking.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Yeah. Go listen to Sick Beat by Kero Kero Bonito
Follow Sean McVerry