I love living an hour away from Manhattan; it makes traveling to the city for band performances so easy. On Friday, August 3rd however, I was surprised to learn that a band I wanted to see, Sean Bones, was making a trip out to the suburban town along the north shore of Long Island, Huntington.
He performed an hour-long set on an outdoor stage in Heckscher Park. It was a great evening to enjoy music and an even better time to hang out after the show and personally invite Sean Bones to be the full-length interview feature for the Music Historian Blog, Hear; Don’t Listen.
“A charming take on the 3-minute pop song”
Anyone who listens to Sean’s music will hear a range of styles- from surf rock to folky psychedelia –all under the influence of Jamaican music. He explains, “I started to discover a lot of interesting older reggae. When I discovered rocksteady artists, like John Holt and Alton Ellis, I found that they really had a charming take on the 3-minute pop songs. And that eventually lead to more experimental dub music.”
Since I was unfamiliar with the term “dub” that often shows up in reggae music, I asked Sean to enumerate.
“Dub music began with Jamaican producers removing vocal tracks from singles and experimenting with the instrumentals. Producers like Lee Perry would break song down to just bass and drums, and sometimes add a layer of sound effects and delay.”
For Sean, reggae is a genre in which he can integrate his own musical experience with some of his favorite influences. In the album, RINGS which was released in 2009, he incorporated a Barrington Levy beat in the single “Dancehall.”
“He [Barrington Levy] is a reggae singer, and he was at the forefront when reggae started turning into dancehall,” explains Sean. “One of his albums, Poor Man’s Style inspired the song “Dancehall.”
Sean performed the single “Dancehall” for the Huntington audience at the end of his program. Most of the songs he played though are featured on his second release, Buzzards Boy.
The most obvious musical difference between the albums Buzzards Boys and RINGS is the pace in each song. Sean shares his experience recording these two different records.
“Production on both albums started with live band tracking. On RINGS I spent less time rearranging songs. On Buzzards Boy I took more time and focused on making more of a deliberate statement – something that was specific to a “Sean Bones” sound.
“The second album included a lot more layered recording than the first. I made the first record while I was in another band. When I created the second album, I wasn’t in a band anymore, and I acquired a bit of an audience as a solo artist. So, I focused on making an album that was specifically mine.
“Also, RINGS was very faced-paced, and I wanted to slow down Buzzards Boy.”
In addition, the word “Buzzards” is also “…a reference to the area I’m from – on Buzzards Bay,” adds Sean.
“Tell Me Again” is another song that struck a chord with me. At Heckscher Park, Sean described this track as “… a song from a colder place; no where tropical, more like the North Fork and beyond.”
Several of Sean’s songs paint pictures of faraway areas and take listeners to places that are far away from the busy city – places of a nautical origin. Sean would say that many of his songs are about “getting away from Brooklyn, and coming to a nice place like this.”
The most enjoyable part of making music for Sean revolves around the ability and opportunity to create music with great musicians and experiment with sound engineering.
“I would like to appropriate some of what I learned from sound engineers and people that I’ve worked with”
“Recording at any time is the high point for me; as well as working with great musicians and in great recording studios.”
Sean is currently preparing to record more music in September and October of this year. He will focus more specifically on music that is fast-paced, like the tracks on his first major release RINGS. He is also preparing for a possible tour at the end of October. In the meantime though, he’s undertaking another exciting project.
“I’m building a studio in my basement, so I can make more of this record on my own” Sean explains, “it’s going to sound more home made.
“I would like to appropriate some of what I learned from engineers and people that I’ve worked with and make something a little cruder or maybe unclean. I’d like to maybe show that when there is a ‘learning-curve’ in making a homemade record, it can sound interesting in its own way.”
This ‘learning-curve’ is something that several artists have experimented with and revisited. I recall the White Stripes 2003 release Elephant where the band specifically played and recorded music with out-of-tune instruments.
Lately, I have also taken up listening to an independent group that wrote an album called Teenage Hate, a compilation of over 20 songs that sound like they were recorded in a small room with a tape recorder. On a more personal note, listening to this album sometimes reminds me of a time when I composed my own songs on guitar and used a hand-held Panasonic tape recorder to put them on a cassette tape. When I did this, I often used what little amplifying equipment I had in arms reach, like a karaoke microphone that I taped to a tripod.
Although I partook in this kind of music making as a high school student and in my early college years, I hadn’t written anything since then. Making music is not just a career; it is part of one’s life. This is especially true for Sean, who from early on was sure that music would always be a part of his life.
Starting as a supporting instrumentalist then developing “the core of the Sean Bones project”
“I started playing music in grade school. My Dad taught me the piano, and then he taught me the guitar at 12. I played with my friends from high school band well into my 20s, and we all eventually relocated to New York City for different reasons. After that, we went our separate avenues, or looked for new musical projects.”
The New Bedford, Massachusetts native had been a supporting instrumentalist up until he made RINGS in 2009. Once it was time to look for a new musical avenue, Sean became interested in developing his own sound and pursuing his own musical projects.
“The Sean Bones project allowed me to pursue a style of music that wasn’t being replicated a million times,” he explained, “and that was the reggae style from the 60s and 70s.”
Very well, Sean admits that reggae music is definitely a part of the popular music landscape, and “it shows up everywhere,” from the Beatles’ music, to songs by Sean Paul. However; several fans of popular reggae music might forget that this genre includes a wider range of artists beyond the Bob Marley phenomena. Reggae and its relatives like dancehall, rock steady and more always leave room for experimentation; and Sean Bones might have found that as he embarked on an exploration for his own sound.
Wherever his curiosities take him musically, Sean is bound to gain attention from people in the arts and entertainment world. He has already made an appearance on an episode of HBO’s Girls acting in a fictional band named Questionable Goods alongside actor, Chris Abbott. In addition, NME.com recently put up the video for “Here Now” on their site.
As for New York City audiences, they can expect to see Bones perform with his band at The Glasslands Gallery in Brooklyn this August 29th. Tickets are currently on sale here. In the meantime, you can also view the latest video for Sean Bones’s single, also from Buzzards Boy “Hit Me Up” on Nowness.com.