Sean McMahon released his album Shiner earlier this year and he continues to spread its rich batch of country-rock tunes far and wide with live shows with his band the MoonMen.
Sean’s heading up to Sydney this week to play a triple bill at the Marrickville Bowling Club with Adam Young & The Haints and Mick Daley & The Corporate Raiders on Friday Aug 23rd before they hit Newcastle on the Saturday (The Stag & Hunter Hotel) and Sunday at The Junkyard at the Grand Junction Hotel.
Ahead of the shows we took the opportunity to corner him for a swing through our regular Six Strings Q&A.
What was the album that first led you down the dusty path of Americana music?
It’s got to be a tie between Workingman’s Dead – Grateful Dead and the Byrds self titled studio/live double album from ’70. Before I heard the Dead I thought they’d sound something like Black Sabbath by the name. I heard that record and got a huge shock and it just clung to me. That Byrds record has got everything in it for me and Clarence White’s just all over it.
Describe your latest release…
Shiner is above all a rock’n’roll record. It moves through folk, country and blues terrain, just the way all my favourite rock’n’roll records do. Less of an acoustic singer/songwriter approach this time. A lot more electric guitar. All the tracks were recorded live over 24hrs as a three piece, then bits and pieces were added afterwards like the pedal steel and some parts were re-done as the songs took on more form. Most of the songs themselves are quite personal and reflect on some hard truths and some pretty painful times, so it made sense to try and make something that was upbeat, tough and defiant as a way of dealing with it.
What’s been the most memorable gig you’ve played?
My first band Downhills Home played a run of shows supporting Dandy Warhols, and just to be singing out into a massive theatre and having that much sound coming up behind you was an awesome feeling. In quite the opposite scenario, and worth a mention, my first gig in Europe, in France, playing solo to a full bar – dead quiet and hanging on every word and I’m wondering how much of what I’m singing do you understand? It made me really think about vocal rhythm and emphasis a lot as a way of compensating.
How did you learn to play your instrument?
Mostly from listening, first to my older brother, then to Duane Allman, Jimmy Page, then Bob Dylan. As soon as I could play three chords I wanted to be in a band, and then that’s when you learn the most, playing with other people and just working it out as you go.
What do you consider the finest song you’ve written?
There’s a track on the album called called Further Still To Run. It’s about companionship, hope and strength. I got to the heart of it once I decided I was writing about a horse and its rider. As much as a lot of the songs on Shiner are personal, I like to able to write songs that are outside of myself. Capture the scene or the sentiment but pull myself out of it and stand back.
If you could sit-in with one other musician (living or dead) who would it be?
I love watching drummers play. I remember seeing Jim White for the first time and not being able to take my eyes off him. I’d love to jam with Jim and just see where it goes because he’s such a spontaneous player, so right in the moment, pushing things and pulling back, he’s so expressive.
Do you feel there is a strong folk/country music community in Australia and if so, what does it need to keep growing?
There definitely is a strong community, especially where I come from in Melbourne. I’d love to see the genre get more radio support so that more artists can tour more successfully and more regularly.
What’s been your favourite Americana release over the last year?
I keep going back to Pops Staples Don’t Loose This. Great grooves, spacious, laid back. I love it.
What are your musical plans over the next 12 months?
I’m heading over to Nashville for AmericanaFest in September and plan on hanging out for a month. I want to get right up the east coast with the MoonMen when I get back. I’m loving playing live at the moment, the gigs are really rockin’ so I want to keep the shows coming.