introduction by sammy maine
Sean Marshall manages to find warmth in the hopeless. The Columbus, Ohio singer/songwriter displays the kind of old soul that presents the world with the weight of his past mistakes. Having learnt from them, Marshall produces not just a relatable narrative but one that proves things will get better, no matter how despondent we become.
There’s a message of never finding our feet and the transitions that come with leaving one part of your life for an entirely new one, especially on penultimate track “Mixed Up”. There are echoes of nostalgia and regret but the songs on New ultimately contemplate these alterations as something to substantiate as a welcome growth.
Supported by his band, The Near Miss (Dakota McElley on bass, Corbin Pratt on guitar and pedal steel and Brady Oxender on drums), New brings a lush richness to the complexities of change. The instrumentation is the personification of an early spring evening, with the smell of barbecue smoke wafting through the wooden boards of a beloved front porch. It’s both a comfort and a confrontation and undeniably human when it comes to the anxieties of steering off the road you had always pictured in front of you.
words by sean marshall
I relocated from NJ to OH a few years ago, and the whole process of moving halfway across the country was sometimes scary, uncomfortable, and hard. When I was able to bring a new energy and perspective to it, though, it was also exhilarating, bright, and just fun. I wanted to celebrate that feeling of being both exposed and vulnerable, yet challenged, invigorated, and at times extremely happy.
So, lyrically and thematically, New is invested in taking a moment of exposure and interpreting that moment instead as an exciting and defining chapter of one’s life. Sonically speaking, to match that idea, I tried to strip the songs of anything that felt too musically familiar to myself, or even that might feel too comfortable for the listener. I wanted to represent that vulnerability, both in process of recording the songs and in listening back to them.
Obviously the title track, I wrote “New” the morning I left New Jersey, in about 30 minutes. I was anxious and excited, and I wanted to capture that wave of ambiguity. You can see a corny reference to my old bartending job, and a very stereotypical reference to the pastoral settings of the Midwest.
I wanted to cite a myriad of historical cultural icons- Neil Young, Langston Hughes, and Marvin Gaye, specifically- to ask a very time-tested question I had been muttering to myself: “What is going on?” I realized I probably couldn’t say it any better than any of those artists, so I just made the song a more straightforward homage to them and the important questions they asked.
This is a walk through my wedding day and the absolute paralysis I felt. With all the outpouring of love and attention, at times I had to coach myself through the motions of keeping it together. That’s what the lyrics are, essentially. Even just thinking about that day conjures how overwhelming yet beautiful it was.
In the Bare
“In the Bare,” is the album’s single, partially because I like the way it came out musically, but also because it typifies the whole album’s sentiment. I use a pretty cliche symbol of nudity to represent vulnerability. Essentially I am saying, “I hope you need me as much as I need you right now.”
Just yesterday I realized that I’ve recorded this song on 3 separate releases now, but it’s been different every time. On New, it came out as a more angry and dismissive way of telling someone you love to go away and take some time on their own.
In My Mind
When we play “In My Mind” live, the guitar lick tends to stick in people’s heads and get their bodies moving. We wanted to bring that feeling to the record, so we recorded it just as we would at a venue: loud and fast.
This is an old one that I actually never recorded up to this point. The song has always felt so familiar and easy to play, it was about time it made its way on a record. The lyrics are totally fictional, actually, but definitely hearken on some too-familiar sentiments. Big ups to Corbin, my pedal steel player, for nailing those vocal harmonies.
Currently my favorite tune on the record, “Runaround” serves as a real palette cleanser. It’s laid back and mellow, and has a wide open section at the end that makes me feel like I am driving down a long highway. It also helped bring Dakota, my bass player, out of an arresting case of anxiety in the studio. The memory of his resuscitation makes me smile every time I hear it.
“Mixed Up” was probably the inception of this album. After I wrote it, I saw that I was onto something, and tapping into a real feeling I had. From thereon, all songs followed its lead. Musically, I wanted to bring some 90s ambience and rock tones to the record. I think it worked.
We had just 30 minutes left of studio time, so Dakota said, “Why don’t you do that last song just solo acoustic, with a mic in the room?” I don’t know if we had time or money for much else, so that’s how we did it. The lyrics compare my childhood fear of lightning to my adulthood doubts, which contrasts greatly to my wife’s unwavering conviction.
“New” is out on April 14
You can buy it here