Bon Iver drummer S. Carey ventures into nature and fatherhood
After the band's Grammy-assisted explosion into the spotlight in 2012, it seemed as though every Milwaukee group was trying to find a way to associate itself with Bon Iver. Enter band here sounds just like "For Emma, Forever Ago." Enter a different band here recorded at Bon Iver's studio. Enter a completely different singer-songwriter here that once served coffee to Justin Vernon while they worked at Colectivo. And so on and so forth.
Eau Claire native S. Carey (full name Sean Carey) certainly has a pretty solid claim to connection; he is, after all, Bon Iver's drummer. Recently, Carey has taken some of his down time to head into Vernon's April Base Studio to record his latest album, "Range of Light." The results, released April 1, will likely please fans of Bon Iver, delivering a nine-song collection of soulful, gorgeous and evocative odes to nature and life.
Now, Carey (who also produced his sister Shannon Carey's "The Wilder," released under the name Luray) brings his rich harmonious work on the road, including Club Garibaldi Thursday night. Before the show, OnMilwaukee got a chance to talk to Carey about the new album, his immense connection to nature and becoming a father.
OnMilwaukee.com: With "Range of Light," where did you really go musically from "All We Grow" and "Hoyas"?
S. Carey: I kind of wanted it to be like an older brother or something to "All We Grow." I wanted it to have more of the organic quality that is "All We Grow," but we did it in a studio, so the sound of it is a lot different and a lot better. A little bit clearer and richer.
That's not something I really thought about that much, but then as it started to evolve, I kind of realized that's the direction it was going. Justin (Vernon) actually helped me figure that out by being around for a lot of the recordings, popping in and out like he does in the studio and yelling things from upstairs.
OMC: What are some things in particular that he guided you toward on this album?
SC: He mostly just encouraged me to keep doing what I was doing and make beautiful music. He would just pop in and say, "Oh, that sounds cool." He really added a lot with his voice especially. He kind of took the song "Crown The Pines" and took it to where it ended up because he wrote the melody – the part he sang – and it kind of shaped the A sections of the song in that more choral way.
OMC: How many of the songs does he vocal appear on?
SC: Let's see. I think it's three songs? He plays a few instruments here and there too.
OMC: Your love of nature is clear and obvious in your work. Where did that love come from?
SC: Since I was just a tiny kid, my parents were really good at taking us kids out and going camping or hiking, ever since I was a baby. It's always been a part of me. There are pictures of my dad with me in one of those backpack things, hiking around. It's just always been a part of me.
OMC: Is there one spot in particular from your childhood that really sticks with you?
SC: Yeah, there's this place in Arizona. My dad lives out there, and we lived there for about five years when I was a kid. There's this canyon there that's a super special place for our whole family. We go there every year and go backpacking into this canyon and go trout fishing. It's just my favorite place on Earth, I think, and it's really special to me.
That's what the song "Crown The Pines" is about is that place. Geographically speaking, there are a lot of different spots on the map that each song sort of has a home. There's definitely some Wisconsin going on in some of the songs. But yeah, that was definitely an inspiring place for me.
OMC: You've noted that John Muir is one of your heroes. Why him in particular?
SC: I just connect with him in a lot of ways. He was crazy about wilderness. He would go spend months at a time just out in the mountains with nothing, sleeping under the stars. Part of that is something I've always wanted to do. I've never done anything really extreme, but that's an inspiring lifestyle.
So we connect in that way, with his love for the wilderness, nature and the beauty of the world. He had this, like, spiritual connection to his surroundings and the things that he found. I think I share that same sentiment with him, being out there and feeling something that's beyond yourself, something that is super beautiful and you can't explain what it is.
OMC: The title of the album comes from the Sierra Nevada mountains and this metaphor for life itself, with its moments of lightness and shadows, and you've said previously that it's personal on that level to you because your life has had its share of those in recent years. Can you elaborate on that?
SC: I'm definitely not going to claim to have a rough life at all (laughs), but I think everyone deals with happiness and sadness – I suppose unless you're a Buddhist monk or something, and you meditate to 18 hours a day. Most people I know are somewhere on their roller coaster of life, and we all deal with all sorts of stuff. Relationship things and self-confidence things.
For me, some of it is about growing up with divorced parents and the inherent sadness that comes with that. My dad kind of shows up a lot in the songs. We have a great relationship, but it's hard being a kid only seeing him only a couple times a year. There's some of that; there's some lost love and regret that shows up in parts of the album. Recently, I've started a family and had a baby girl in August, so that's a whole range of emotions that you have with that too.
OMC: Obviously she's very young, but have you been able to get your daughter introduced to nature?
SC: Yeah! A little bit. We've had a super rough winter as you know, but on some of these nicer days before I left on tour, we'd take her out and go for a couple mile walk. And she loves it, just staring at everything.
I've also gotten her into music and try to play piano with her everyday. She plunks around a little bit and seems to like it.
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