SEAN HAYES: A Young Old Soul

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

If you were listening to NPR’s Weekend Edition a few months ago during your Saturday lay-in, you heard Sean Hayes’ twee North Carolina  (née New York) voice talk some about himself, and then dulcetly and politely acquiesce to a song request. Shortly after playing the first verse of his song “Time” off of 2007’sFlowering Spade, you turned up the volume on your alarm clock radio utterly bowled over.
If you were listening to NPR’s Weekend Edition a few months ago during your Saturday lay-in, you heard Sean Hayes’ twee North Carolina  (née New York) voice talk some about himself, and then dulcetly and politely acquiesce to a song request. Shortly after playing the first verse of his song “Time” off of 2007’s Flowering Spade, you turned up the volume on your alarm clock radio utterly bowled over. By the second chorus “We could find a willow tree/and climb the branch absurd/sing to those down below/warbling like two coo-coo birds/crazy coo-coo birds,” you were, no matter how groggy, enthralled.

This is juxtaposed to the circumstances under which the song itself was written. At the time he composed the music and words Hayes had just gone through a break-up and was essentially homeless. Dispossessed of the comfort and kindness of love and a place of one’s own to rest, he reclaimed some love and reclined with his instrument and pen.

“Songs reveal themselves in the context of a moment. Sometimes music will help us through rough nights or joyous nights. Then I just feel lucky to have some music to share or fall back on,” he told me in a recent interview. In “Cool Hand,” a song ostensibly based on the prison-set flick Cool Hand Luke, he sings accompanied by a plucked banjo, “There’s no way I’ll ever beat that man/I will get up again and again/You can bury my body wherever it lands.” This, among other signs, points to Sean as a survivor and a serious contender with reality.

Hayes dabbles in wit and the whimsy of the ethereal as well. “I would like my career to take a course in cooking, tap dancing and yoga,” he offers when asked what “course” he’d like his career to take-and when prodded about whom from the past he’d like to be if he could, “I would be Dionysus. Then I could go back and save Jesus from the cross and throw a big party instead.” The title track as well as the album art, a flowering spade, is a sigil, from the Latin sigilum meaning “seal,” and is meant to be imbued with a magical purpose-in this instance the endowment of the listener with the inspirations of music, rhythm, health and happiness, himself included.

He first took to belting it in barrooms in Northern California, and followed by the birth of his first album A Thousand Tiny Pieces in 1999, midwived by a few contemporaries on as many four track recorders, and has developed a strong and fervent following in San Francisco. “I make my living playing songs. I do and I just get by in this city of earth shakin’,” he says of being road-bound and 14 years in that hilly, quaky town.

His music has been heard in as disparate locales as a Thai dance club and the Milan outlet of Prada. His body of work, five albums in total, consist as a cornucopia containing a mélange of music-individual songs ranging from the threadbare to the accompanied and indelibly lush.

Check out the video of him playing “Time” from his page, http://www.myspace.com/rattlesnakecharm, a page which also includes a link to an interview where NPR called him a “young man with an old soul,” after remarking on his flair with a banjo and the old-time arc of his songs.


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