Bass Frontiers Staff Writer
I recently had the opportunity to sit and chat with Sean who has played with many amazing artists which include Billy Ray Cyrus, Anna Wilson, Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts, Larry Carlton, Randy Brecker, Gerald Albright, and Kenny Rogers, among many others. I want to thank Sean for his time for this awesome interview! Read on!
(Ty) Where were you born and raised to where you got to where you are today ?
(Sean) I was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It was a cool upbringing because my mother was a professional blues and jazz singer who used to sing with some of the greats like Jack Teagarden. There was always music in the house with her singing and playing piano. I would crawl underneath the piano and rest my head on her pedal foot and I still to this day think that is where a lot of my sense of pocket came from. Of course the visual had to be a hoot.
Tennessee was great to grow up in musically. There was obviously the Nashville scene but the state is rich with musical influences. The Appalachian music and bluegrass scene ran rampant in East Tennessee where I was raised but it was the music of West Tennessee that called to me. Once I started hearing what was coming out of Memphis and STAX albums my path started to take shape.
(Ty) Your latest release is “Reflection”, could you share your thoughts on the inspiration that led to doing such a blessed and spiritual project ?
(Sean) We weren’t necessarily planning a faith based album as my second release. I had already written what was to be my second album but I found my self on a spiritual detour. My faith is extremely important to me and I was playing in our church when I wasn’t on the road. I kept hearing all of the worship music we were doing and wanted to arrange them for what I do. It was initially going to be an EP but as I dove into arranging the album it was obvious that this needed to be the new album.
The album was a bit of a journey to release. The easy part was actually getting the guests. Randy Brecker and Chuck Loeb committed to the project early on which helped solidify the album concept. Soon thereafter Gerald Albright and Malcolm-Jamal Warner (who are both excellent bassists as well) joined the project. The issue came later when we tried to shop the album. Three different major record labels put holds on the album wanting to release it but ultimately passed because of the faith based content. We lost two years with that process and ultimately decided to release it on my own label.
(Ty) Just a few months ago, the debut release of Polcat was released. How did the project come to be and can we expect more from Polcat ?
(Sean) That project was a fluke but a good one. I was in Chicago doing a bass clinic for Xotic and met Jim Gifford who plays drums in Polcat. We hit it off and he ended up playing drums on the clinic. We started kicking around the idea of playing together. Jim had been playing with Chris Poland from OHM/Megadeth and I had done some double bill dates with Frank Catalano at Park City Jazz Festival and in Chicago at Andy’s Jazz Club. We thought it would be fun to take the four of us and toss us in a studio since we are all four so different from each other. We locked up in a studio in Los Angeles for three days and cut the album. It was a scream and we just had this raw vibe that fans seem to be enjoying.
As for more from Polcat I think it all hinges on scheduling but I’d be open to it. My tour schedule is getting hectic and Chris and Frank have their careers as well so who knows. I wouldn’t be surprised if something more comes out of that project at some point though.
(Ty) Do you have any new projects in the works ?
(Sean) Ha. Always! I have multiple things consuming my time these days. Obviously we are heavily booking my tour for the rest of the year through 2013 but, I’m also a member of The Joe Taylor Group. Joe is a Grammy nominated guitarist/producer and we have been touring all summer and just wrapped tracking a new album entitled “Sugar Dust in the Devil Wind”. The group is a blast. It is Joe and myself and legendary drummer Steve Holley of McCartney and Wings, Joe Cocker, Elton John, etc. It is a very cool power trio and we are back on the road in a few weeks and the album is due out by Fall.
As for me, I just wrapped filming a live CD/DVD concert in Snow Basin, Utah. We are starting to edit now and the live album and DVD are slated to be out by Christmas. I also have two EP albums I’ll be releasing by Spring. One is another faith based project that will be a more traditional jazz outing and the other is a soul/secular project we are wrapping now.
I’m also guesting on a number of jazz artist’s albums across the globe. One album is entitled Flow and is due out any day and it is with German guitarist Axel Weiss and an amazing group of musicians and vocalists from all over Europe. I’m producing as well and booking a clinic tour so sleep is a commodity. Ha!
(Ty) Who has been some of your biggest influences in your music ?
(Sean) The person that made me want to pick it up was Donald “Duck”Dunn. His grooves on all of those STAX albums really splayed me early on. The funny part is I don’t really play like him but his groove sense is always with me.
What really set me on my path was discovering Marcus Miller. Once I heard his whole thing I was on my way and then I started really digging into different players. Brian Bromberg, Vail Johnson and Mark Egan were all major influences and I’m blessed that they have all become good friends of mine. The biggest influence for me though is Mark King. Once I heard Level 42 it was over. I wanted to take what Mark was doing and it incorporate it into my compositions and it helped me to create my own thing.
(Ty) What gear are you currently using ? Endorsements ?
(Sean) I have entirely too many basses if you ask my wife. Being an active studio musician there are about 30 basses in my arsenal ranging from vintage and modern to multi-string and uprights. I do have my main gear and some great folks that endorse me. My main basses are all Xotics. My main axe is an XJ 4 string and I also use two XJ five strings (one fretted, one fretless). For my passive instruments I use a pair of Bluesman Vintage P basses that were custom built for me. They are awesome and sound like vintage pieces. I use these heavily on the Joe Taylor Group Tour.
A large part of my career is also on upright and I’m proud to be using an NS Design five string almost exclusively for those needs. My acoustic bass is a ’65 Ernst Heinrich Roth that was hand built in Germany but it basically only gets used for sessions. There is something about the NS I love and that bass and I have married to each other nicely over the past year or so. I play it exclusively when I am touring with Anna Wilson and it gets used on my gig and The Joe Taylor Group tour as well.
Amp-wise I’m an Ampeg guy primarily. I have multiple rigs depending on the gig. For my tour I’m using a pair of Portaflex 500 heads for the lighter dates powering DNS210 cabs and for larger dates I use an SVT7Pro powering a 610HLF cab. For the Joe Taylor Group tour I use an SVT3Pro with a backup B1RE into an older Ampeg 4×10 and 1×15 cabs. I also have a late ’60s SB12 for the upright dates. Other than that I use a variety of effects from MXR and Xotic and I never leave home without my Radial Bassbone.
(Ty) Any advice to share with the readers ?
(Sean) I’d say the main thing would be to find yourself first. Once you determine who you are as a player and/or artist then hold true to it through the hard times. The music industry moves slower than we’d like 99.9% of the time but the one thing I have discovered in my travels is that if you keep true to yourself then people will see it in time. Too many players feel they have to give in and adapt to the fads, fashion trends, etc and some of them can be highly successful for a time but they’ll have a shelf life. If you own your thing from the beginning then you’ll establish your niche in the industry and that can’t be taken away from you because it is your thing.
(Ty) What are you currently listening too ?
(Sean) Strangely enough nothing that sounds like something I’d do. When I am listening for pleasure it is for a departure from projects so right now I’m digging into some ambient albums. I’ve been revisiting Robert Rich a lot because of his use of texture. I’ve also been listening to pianist Jeff Franzel a lot. He’s one of my best friends but also an astounding composer and I genuinely love his new ensemble record.
(Ty) Final thoughts ?
(Sean) I’d just like to thank all my friends, fans and mentors who have supported my work and I feel very blessed. I’ve had a vast career with major artists in virtually every musical genre but it I am finally happy now. I am playing the music I want to play, providing for my family, giving praise where I can and playing with some of the best musicians on the planet. I pray that others feel inspired by this and never give up on their dreams.
Want more of Sean ? Please visit his website here!