S. Carey is Sean Carey, the drummer and vocalist for Bon Iver. His path to success is a unique one, as he learned all of the songs on For Emma, Forever Ago, approached Justin Vernon after opening for him and told him that he wanted to play in his band. Vernon said yes, and it was written. His second full length record was released on April 1, and he brings his own band to Bottleree on Thursday.
Carey spoke to Weld about his relationship with Vernon, his new record and the unique sound of Wisconsin.
Weld: When you told Justin that you wanted to play with him, did he already have plans to create a band, or were you the first to give him that idea?
Sean Carey: He didn’t — I mean, I think he wanted a band, but I don’t think he knew who it was going to be or what it was going to be. I kind of got tipped off by a couple of my buddies that played the horn parts on For Emma and they were just like, “Yeah, I think Justin is kind of looking for a band.”
So, yeah, I learned all of the songs off MySpace, back when MySpace was cool [Laughs]. I think it just kind of fell into his lap.
Weld: How has the way that you treat your social media evolved since MySpace?
SC: With social media, I kind of love it and I kind of hate it. I resisted Twitter and Instagram and Facebook for a while. But I think it’s a great tool for artists to spread the word about anything that’s happening with their music and I think Instagram is probably my best or my favorite way to do that. Photography is something that I’m interested in. You kind of have to play the game, I guess.
Weld: It’s been four years since the last record came out. What have you been doing in the meantime? Has it all been leading up to this record, or have you been working on other projects?
SC: I’ve been really busy touring with Bon Iver — we were touring for about a year, on and off. I’ve been home from that for a little over a year, and that’s just been finishing Range of Light. And I’ve been doing some producing for this band out of Brooklyn. We’re close to finishing that record. And kind of doing some other producing and recording things around Eau Claire with other Midwest artists.
Weld: Are there any plans for a followup to Bon Iver, Bon Iver? Will you record it as a band or will Justin do that alone?
SC: I really have no idea. He’s been super busy since Bon Iver got off the road doing Volcano Choir and he does a lot of producing as well, so I don’t know what’s going to happen.
Weld: When you’re recording, what is your own process like? Do you record as a band or do you do everything in the studio yourself?
SC: The first record was kind of like that, but for this record, I used my touring band a lot in the studio. They were pretty much around all the time, so it has much more of a band feel to me. I let them come at the songs from different angles, and a lot of the songs I wouldn’t even play for them until we got into the studio and then they kind of run with it. All the guys on the road were very active in the studio.
Weld: Do they write with you or do you write alone?
SC: I pretty much do all the writing except the last song on the album; it’s called “Neverending Fountain,” and that song I co-wrote with Ben Lester, who plays pedal steel and keyboards and percussion. He kind of came at me with the structure of that song, and I wrote the melody and lyrics.
Weld: The evolution of both recording and touring as S. Carey really mirrors Bon Iver a lot. Is that intentional or accidental?
SC: I don’t know. I think it was kind of accidental. I kind of want to — I guess I’m just aware of not trying to have too many similarities, but sometimes, they just happen and you don’t even realize it. Or sometimes, I’ll find myself writing lyrics and I’ll think, “Man, that line seems familiar.” And then I’ll be like, “Oh, shoot, that’s something I’ve been singing in Bon Iver for the last year and a half. No wonder it kinds of slipped in there.”
So it’s hard to kind of separate because it’s undeniable that Justin’s a huge influence on me. I think we’re really different writers, but we kind of go for some of the same sounds.
Weld: Do you write with Justin now? How do you know when you’ve written a Bon Iver song and when you’ve written an S. Carey song?
SC: I don’t write Bon Iver stuff at all, really. That’s all Justin. His process is similar where he writes the songs and then he gets musicians to come do their thing on his songs and he goes back through and does editing and arranging from that. My writing is definitely focused on S. Carey stuff.
Weld: What’s the secret to sounding like winter? Is it a Wisconsin thing?
SC: [Laughs] I don’t know because this record, to me, is very much like Spring and Summer besides a couple — there are a couple of sounds that are wintery, a couple of lyrics that reference that, too. There’s obvious things you can do. In the song “Neverending Fountain,” Ben actually sampled himself walking in snow, and that’s the beginning. It’s this crinkly, rhythmic stuff. So that’s pretty blatantly winter.
But I don’t know. Maybe it’s just that we have such long winters here — by the way, it’s snowing today, in April…
Weld: Right now, it’s 72 in Alabama…
SC: I can’t wait, man. That’ll be nice.
Weld: Who are the top five American rock bands of all time?
SC: Well, Wilco comes to mind. … Bruce Hornsby has been a huge influence in my life, but that’s not that rocking.
Neil Young is up there. I don’t know about all time, but I really like the War On Drugs. And then I’d have to go old-school and go with Pedro the Lion, because I’ve been a fan of theirs forever.
S. Carey will perform at Bottletree Cafe on Thursday, April 10. White Hinterland will open. Doors open at 8 p.m., while the show is set to begin at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 on the day of the show.