Sean McConnell is an artist in his own right with a string of independently released records to his name but the work he has done with other artists is impressive! Growing up he always had a background in music so it was inevitable that Sean would be successful in music one way or another! He is a writer who doesn't let the genre divides become his own boundaries and has worked with numerous different artists across the board. Since he was over opening for Ashley Monroe recently I thought it was a great opportunity to catch up with him and find out more about his writing process.
Can you tell me about the very first moment that you knew you wanted to make music for a living?
So my parents were musicians so I grew up in a house that was filled with music. I went to all my parents gigs and I think subconsciously I always knew that’s what I wanted to do. I was 11 years old when I started playing the guitar and started writing songs at the same time and very quickly from that moment on I knew that was what I wanted to do.
So you said there about your parents being musicians, what did they play to you growing up, what were their influences and what are you choosing to listen to now?
So growing up there was a lot of singer-songwriter, folk music like Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Mary Chapin, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, a lot of those cats were what I grew up listening to and I still do, that’s my Homebase for music. Now I listen to a lot of different styles anything from Rock and Roll to Singer-songwriter to classical, whatever moves me, there’s so much great music out there.
In your own music where do you draw inspiration from lyrically? Is it mainly personal experience?
There’s some songs especially on this new record that’s coming out February 8th called Secondhand Smoke, the title track is a very personal, autobiographical song. Then there’s a lot of songs that are a little more cryptic or metaphorical but still have an element of personal experience. Songs can come from anywhere.
Talk me through your writing process, is it different every time or do you like to start with a melody or hook?
It’s different every time but more often than not it starts with a guitar or a piano, I’ll start strumming or playing the keys and be drawn towards a certain chord change which makes me start humming or singing a melody that comes to mind and then the lyrics come to me but there are a lot of times when it starts with a title or a line that I’m really excited about and I put music to that idea.
Do you have favourite songwriters that you like to work with?
Yeah, I co-write a good bit, I just finished writing and producing a record with a friend of mine called Ashley Ra which will be coming out in the States and we wrote that whole record together which was a special experience so she would definitely be one. I’ve written with people for the last twelve years so there’s an endless list of people I’ve enjoyed collaborating with but the single of this latest record “Here We Go” I wrote with an amazing producer and friend of mine called Ian Fitchuk, he just produced the latest Kacey Musgraves, and my self titled record, that was the only time I wrote with him but we got a great song out of it.
Can you tell me a bit about the story behind that song?
That song is a little different because we wrote it not specifically for me but for a movie placement, it was a wide open idea but as we wrote it, I fell in love with it and it fit the theme of this record.
You’ve written a lot for other artists as well, do you go into a writing session knowing who you’re going to write for and how do you adapt your approach towards that?
Sometimes you do have a specific artist in mind especially if you’re writing with that artist so you’re constantly checking that’s something they would say or that they’re enjoying the vibe of the song but sometimes you’re just writing a song and when you’re finished with it you decide who would sound great on that song and send it to them to see if they want to record it. It happens all different ways.
Do you have a song that you’ve written that stands out as one of your favourites that’s been recorded by someone else?
There’s a lot of them, one of the more fun experiences I’ve had lately is that I wrote a song with an artist, a Country artist in the States called Brett Young, it’s called Mercy, he and I wrote it together and then last year it went to number 1 on the charts in the US and that was new to me and a great memory so that was one of them. I got a chance to work with Meatloaf a few years ago which was a big thrill as I grew up a fan of his music and he recorded four of my tunes for a record called Hell in a Hand Basket so working with him through that process was a thrill.
Growing up did you know you wanted to be an artist and a writer?
I don’t think I ever separated the two, I wrote and I performed and they were two sides of the same coin. As I got older and got a publishing deal it was the first time I realised there was such a thing as just a writer and even being aware of that I never really separated the two in my mind.
A few silly questions now, what’s the strangest thing you’ve ever written a song about?
So on this new record I have a song I wrote with a friend called Jason Signs and it’s called Alien and it’s a love song between an earthling and an alien from outer space so an alien love song is perhaps the weirdest thing I’ve written about.
I like that! I wrote a song at Uni, it had to be an unusual love song so I wrote about an Alien falling in love with a cowboy!
Great minds think alike!
Exactly! So when you’re on stage are you completely focused or do you let your mind wander, we call it your mid-gig thoughts?
I think if the gig is going well and everyone is listening and we’re in this moment together, I’m very…I don’t know if focused is the right word, something takes over and you’re off on this consciousness together and I go to a place where I don’t have to think about the lyrics. The gigs that are hard and I feel like they’re not going well then my mind wanders to what I’m going to eat but usually I go to that place where it just flows out of you.
On this new record do you have a favourite song?
I definitely feel like they’re all my babies but there are a few that stand out, there’s one called Everything That’s Good that I wrote for my daughter and that’s probably one of my favourites.
Do you notice any differences between audiences in the UK and the US?
The audiences here are very attentive and quiet, in the States if someone sings a note that they get excited about the audience might clap and yell but here it seems to be you don’t make any noise during the performance as it might be seen as rude but they’re both nice.
What’s next for you?
I have a festival in Florida when I get back and then I tour the US, as a headline act and also as support for the band Need to Breathe. So touring, touring, touring for about five months.