Sean McConnell is one of those artists that you can’t shake from your mind once you’ve heard his music.
He’s been working hard at building his fanbase in the UK and his current headline tour is proof that it’s paying off. Last year he released his incredible album Secondhand Smoke and he recently launched side project My Sister, My Brother.
I caught up with Sean backstage at St Pancras Old Church in London before his show at the iconic venue last week to talk about his return to the UK, My Sister, My Brother and his plans for new music.
Welcome back to the UK Sean. You’ve been here a lot over the past year…
Man, yeah! I’m trying to make it make it happen over here. I love being here and it’s been a really great tour.
The last time you were here was with Ashley McBride in September. How was that tour for you?
It was great. Her crowds are so positive. It was such a great experience. She was nice. Her band was nice. It was great to meet up with them every night and just be in front of big audiences here that might appreciate the music so it was a great experience.
Last time I saw you Secondhand Smoke hadn’t been released yet. How are you feeling now that the record is out there and had time to breathe?
I feel great about it. For me, one of the biggest differences was that with records past I put out a new record, then went and toured behind it. It normally took me maybe six months or a year, like two tour cycles, before those are the songs that people were expecting to hear, as opposed to the older songs that everyone wants to hear. With Secondhand Smoke with the very first tour it was those songs that people were expecting. I think it connected more quickly, which was really exciting, and I think it just seems to be really connecting with people all over the place, which has been really positive and I’m excited about it. I’m proud of this record.
When I saw you at Bush Hall supporting Ashley Monroe last year, it was the first time in a long time that the audience fell silent and actually fully paid attention. It was such a special moment. How does that feel for you?
It feels great. That’s all I can ask for is that people listen, because then I can do what I love to do, which is perform my songs. When people are chatty it becomes more of a job whereas when people show up to actually listen and enter into that experience, it’s just a joy and you can reach this place where you don’t feel like you’re trying and just sing. Those shows were definitely that for me.
You’re in the midst of your headline tour right now. How’s that been going?
It’s been great. We’re not even halfway through yet so we’re just getting our feet wet. It’s been really great to come over and have more than 20 minutes to play some music, and see who’s been touched by the opening sets and came back and invited friends. It’s been really special to see all these people coming out every night.
You must be getting a handle on your UK fans now and seeing them grow every time you come back. What’s your experience with them like?
Before this tour, it’s all been opening (that I’ve done) so it’s harder to see when you’re up in front of other people’s audiences who’s come back. Now with it being the headline tour, people are like ‘yeah, I saw you at The Long Road festival’. It’s just a slow and steady increase and it definitely feels like it’s happening over here, which is exciting.
As well as your solo music you have new project My Sister, My Brother. Tell me how that came about…
Me, Garrison Starr and Peter Groenwald, who are the three members of the band, were put together in a writing camp in Nashville about two years. ago and we just hit it off. We wrote a song called Nothing Without You, that’s our first single. We were just all moved by that song and we felt like there could be more songs in that well, so we kept getting back together and writing and they just kept happening. It was more than just the songs. It was the way that our voices fit together and the way that we played our instruments together. We just fell in love with it and we wanted people to hear the songs and put them out in the world as a band so we made an EP that’s coming out March 6th. It’s been great. I’ve had Garrison opening up my last two tours, and we’ll do some of the My Sister, My Brother songs in the middle of my set. People are loving it and it’s one of my favourite parts of the show.
Does it give you more artistic freedom to do something as a collaboration because it means you can step away from what you’re known for?
It feels so similar to the music that I create that it doesn’t feel like a departure, it just feels like an addition to. In that way, it feels just like another another record that I would put out because it feels just very honest to me as a writer.
Are you thinking about your next album as a solo artist yet?
Yeah, I’m working on writing and recording it. I’m still in the very early stages of it so I don’t know. It’s kind of like Secondhand Smoke, where it’s a slow exploration. I have my own studio so I have the ability to take my time and figure out what the record wants to be and I’m still very early on in that process right now, which is exciting because it’s kind of like you don’t know how the painting’s gonna look yet. So we’ll see.
I’m sure it’s going to be amazing. Secondhand Smoke is such a special record. It’s going to be a hard one to top…
Well I hope (laughs). I talk about this with a lot of other artists about not thinking in terms of topping because then you start creating art out of this place of like, strangling it instead of just letting it be what it is. Hopefully people will enjoy it and I’ll enjoy making it.
You co-wrote a few tracks on the new Little Big Town album Nightfall. How did you get involved in that project?
Me and my friend Tofer Brown went on the road with them to write for two days. They would show up and soundcheck, and then we would go write songs until their show (started) for a couple days. We wrote probably five or six songs in those two days and two of them wound up being on the record and then another song I wrote with Karen Fairchild, and my friend Ashley Ray called The Daughters is on the record as well. It was really cool to not only create with them but also become friends with them. They’re really, really great people. It was a great experience.
The Daughters felt particularly poignant because we see through social media your life as a father with your amazing daughter. What does that song mean to you?
It’s a special song. I put it in the category of sometimes there are songs that write you. They just write themselves and you’re lucky enough to be in the room, and obviously being in the room with two strong women was a huge part of that song. I was lucky to be there. It just feels like there’s still a long way to go with equality for women. There’s a political side to it and there’s a spiritual side to it. There’s so many things to take from that song and to be honest, I think, it was kind of in charge of writing itself. I’m still learning things from what it was trying to say. It sounds like a little bit of mumbo jumbo but it’s true, sometimes the song’s just kinda happen, and you look back and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s what it was trying to say’ and of course, everybody takes something different from every song. .
I remember hearing that song for the first time. It was so different to everything else that was out there and it’s so powerful and poignant…
Yeah, I’m very proud of that song and I love the way that they recorded it. I’m glad that happened.
What’s the rest of this year looking like?
We’re doing the side project. We’re going to keep creating and doing shows hopefully getting possibly some tours with the with the side project. I’m starting a new record, which will be one of my top priorities of this year. I’ve got a full band tour in March back in the States and then more more shows being booked so a lot of touring, and then a lot of time home to be creating and figure out what this next record is gonna sound like.
Might we see you here again before Christmas?
I hope so. Well, once we get home, we’ll reassess and come up with the next plan but we will definitely keep coming back and back and back. Absolutely.