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Interview: Sean McConnell opens up about his forthcoming album ‘A Horrible Beautiful Dream’

The artist reflects on the past 18 months.

Sean McConnell
Credit: Alexa King

Singer-songwriter Sean McConnell has become a firm favourite here in the UK after wowing us with his incredible live performances.

McConnell was last in the UK in January 2020 where I saw him performing at St Pancras Old Church in London. During the past year, McConnell has knuckled down making his new record ‘A Horrible Beautiful Dream’ and he’s kept busy writing and producing for other artists.

I spoke with Sean recently to talk about the new record, discuss the past 18 months and to find out how he chose his collaborators for this project…

You were one of the last in-person interviews I did before the pandemic shut everything down. How have you been the past 18 months?

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We’ve been doing well. Obviously there’s been a lot of difficult times but there’s also been a lot of really positive things that have happened in the last year. We’ve been going through all of it like everyone else. Since tours got canceled, I started producing a lot more in the studio and recording, which has been really fulfilling and a nice way to keep my creativity flowing. I’ve recorded a bunch of records for other artists as well as my latest record that’s coming out. I’ve had more time with my daughter and my wife. There have been some some positive things other than all the obviously difficult and scary things.

You’ve been so used to touring all around the world. Has it been nice in a way to be able to hit pause and spend time at home with your family?

Yeah, it has been nice. I definitely miss touring and I’m excited that we’re starting to get shows back on the books. I don’t know if we’ve ever had a solid year of me being home so that was definitely nice to be part of the day-to-day with my family. I really enjoyed that a lot.

Your new album ‘A Horrible Beautiful Dream’, which is the most perfect title to reflect the past 18 months, is coming out. What inspired that title?

There’s a song on the record, that’s where the title comes from. There’s a line in the bridge that says ‘what a horrible beautiful dream’. It felt like it encapsulated the record and encapsulated the last 18 months. There is this weird dichotomy. Obviously, it’s been horrible in a lot of ways with so many people dying and getting sick and so many businesses going under, and feeling like the whole world is set on fire. Then on this awkward other hand, there are beautiful things like the time with my family and getting to be in the studio. I think a lot of the things that are coming to the surface, just of the human race that we are having to deal with even though they’re difficult, there is a beauty in everything being shaken up and forcing us to look at ways in which things are working and things are not working, where we thought we had a lot of progress but maybe we don’t and we have a lot more work to do. The record, I wouldn’t say it’s a pandemic record but a lot of the themes do mirror the internal horrible beautiful dream that is very similar to the external of what we’ve all been going through the last 18 months.

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How much of this record was written before the pandemic?

There were some songs that were written before. There’s actually two or three songs on this record that are decently old, that I’ve written over the years that I never felt fit the records that I was making at the time. I’ve always held on to them and wanted to put them on records. Two or three of these songs are older. A few of them were newer but maybe written pre-pandemic, and then the bulk of it was written during this time. It’s hard to remember, it’s all kind of a wash right now in my brain (laughs) but a good chunk of it was written during this time.

The album has some fantastic guests such as The Wood Brothers and Fancy Hagood. How did you pick these collaborators for the songs?

Everybody on this record is a friend of mine that I’ve become friends with over the years through music, through working with them either as a songwriter or producer or touring, I met the The Wood Brothers opening up a tour for them, probably two years ago now, and we just became really good friends and stayed in touch. Dan Tyminski, we started writing songs together and then he would come over here and record sometimes and then we became really good friends. Audra Mae, I produced a record for her and we’ve been really good friends for a long time. The McCrary Sisters, the same thing. It just so happened that because I have a recording studio and people are in and out, it just organically became like, ‘hey, why don’t you sing on the song?’ or ‘why don’t you add this to this track?’ That was really so much fun for this record to have so many people being a part of it.

Sean McConnell - A Horrible Beautiful Dream
Credit: Sean McConnell

I’m so excited to hear the song with Fancy. The thought of both of your voices on one track actually blows my mind…

I’m also excited. Me and Fancy have a million friends in common and we’ve hung out only a handful of times, but I really, really love him as a person. His music is phenomenal. I had a very specific voice in mind for the track that he’s on and I couldn’t think of who sounded like that, and then it just came to me one day. I was like, ‘oh my god Fancy would be perfect!’ He came over and of course killed it and I’m really, really excited for people to hear it.

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You recently debuted the track ‘I Built You Up’, which is such a beautiful and soulful song. What’s the story behind it?

Oh, thanks, man. A couple of these songs are songs that I co-wrote with people and I wrote this song with Bear Rinehart from NEEDTOBREATHE, who I toured with for a little while. We actually wrote this before that. When we were writing it, in my mind, we were potentially writing it for him or for the band and We were just discussing putting people up on pedestals, whether it be a parent or a god figure or someone else in a relationship, the propensity we have to project everything we want and need on to somebody and inevitably they let you down or your ideas let you down. It’s kind of a coming of age song, I think. It speaks to a lot of different relationships and as time went on, I really started feeling closer to it and wanted to put it out there as a song on my record.

When we spoke in January 2020, Little Big Town had released their ‘Nightfall’ album featuring ‘Wine, Beer, Whiskey’, which you co-wrote. That song has had a life of its own since they released it as a single. How has that been?

It’s been a ride, man. Another song I wrote on that record, ‘The Daughters’, it’s similar to that where it grows its own legs. With ‘Wine, Beer, Whiskey’ actually going to radio, that’s kind of a whole other ballgame. They’ve played it on so many late night shows and award shows. They just won an award for it (recently) for the music video. It just seems to be a song that people are really gravitating towards. I think that it coming out in the middle of a pandemic, everyone’s just been home drinking a lot (laughs) so it probably rings a bell with everybody right now. That was a lot of fun to write. I wrote that with the whole band and my friend Tofer Brown, we wrote a couple songs on this latest Little Big Town record. It’s been a ball. It’s been so much fun to see it get out there in the world.

You’re 100% right. The title of that song has served as more of a question during the  pandemic…

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Yeah. wine, beer or whiskey? What am I doing tonight? (laughs)

You mentioned that shows are coming back for you. Do you think you’ll be able to start international touring again next year?

We’re wanting to get back as soon as we can. We’re just starting to book the States. I’m starting to slowly get back out in August and October to start promoting this new record. Getting overseas, we’re already working on it. We’re talking with our people over there and figuring out when the soonest is that we can get back there because I’m just dying to get back there. That’s one of the things I’ve missed the most during this pandemic, is getting over there and playing music because I had just started to spend the last couple of years coming back and returning back, and seeing people coming and bringing their friends, and seeing the crowds grow a little bit. I just love it over there. We’re very, very excited to be back soon.

Something I’ve been asking people recently is if they’ve picked up any new hobbies during the pandemic. Did you discover any new passions or hobbies?

I went straight into producing. I’ve almost been busier during lockdown than before. I think this is an unhealthy thing but I always joke with my wife that I don’t have hobbies. I just have music and family, and that’s pretty much all the time in my life (laughs). I would love to have something else that rounds out my experience. I guess one random thing, this is less of a hobby and more of a practice that I’ve started over the last five or six months, is doing this cold water exposure as a health benefit. I’ve become kind of nutty about it. I’m kind of addicted to it. That’s become part of my my daily routine, which isn’t a hobby, but it’s a bit gives you something other than a non-answer (laughs).

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I keep hearing about this and I know Brett Eldredge has been talking about it a lot. The idea makes me cringe. I don’t think I could do it…

It’s absolute hell for the first couple of weeks. You start very slowly with cold showers for 20 seconds at a time and then you build up to a few minutes. Then you slowly work into full submersion in an ice bath. It is absolutely horrible and then it becomes absolutely addicting. It’s very strange how that happens but it does.

I might trust you and brave it…

If you stuck with it, I bet you would absolutely love it. It’s really good for you and it’s a great feeling.

Sean McConnell will release his new album ‘A Horrible Beautiful Dream’ on 6th August 2021. Watch the video for ‘The Price of Love’ below:

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