I recently got to talk with Sean Sullivan — the man behind the “dependie-rock” act, Warbler — about the politics behinds his lyrics, musical memories, and his upcoming album, Sea of Glass. Read on…
EJ: What’s the first band you can remember listening to or connecting with?
SS: I remember hearing the Clash at a very young age. My Dad and Uncle would play their records, and it made quite an impression from very early on. Then, of course, there was Veruca Salt’s solo from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with Gene Wilder. “I want a bean feast”. Once I had learned a little guitar though, Pavement was the first band that really inspired me. I definitely “connected” with that stuff.
EJ: What are some of your biggest artistic inspirations now?
SS: Currently, nothing really. About eight years ago I stopped searching out music and started listening to a lot of talk radio and the like. I hear stuff more in passing nowadays. I heard a progressive bluegrass band called Punch Brothers the other day. They blew my mind. And friends still hand me stuff I can’t stop listening to for a spell. Sufjan Stevens is a big one. I love stuff that pushes genre. The Dirty Projectors kick my butt big time. Josh Jackson and Zach Winters have really impressed me. And let me not forget Physick. That stuff is amazing! Phil and Michael are a genius duo. Can’t wait for Death Is Their Shepherd to come out. The Brock’s Folly record made me cry several times. Some of those tracks are so beautiful; so full of truth and forgiveness. Those guys are great song writers. I also really liked The Fleet Foxes last release. I like Phosphorescent. I like Devandrah Banhardt, Joanna Newsome, and a lot of that Neo-Beatnik Folk (my name for it). It’s too bad it’s full of doubt and mysticism. I find as I get older, content is so important. Music that speaks of the truths of scripture in a truly heart-felt and creative way is my favorite. There isn’t much out there. But it grows. I walked into a church at 9:30 am on Sunday in downtown Monterey during a “service”. There was a sappy rock band devoid of meaningful content; so common in the Praise and Worship scene. They were playing in a near pitch black sanctuary, with minimal stage lighting, as if they were Tool. It felt gross. You couldn’t see anyone’s face. I realized how desperately we need the alternative.
EJ: Who did you get to record with when making Sea of Glass?
SS: Eliot Curtis (my sister’s high school pal/recording engineer), Ethan Lee (An English major Berkeley grad ginger with David Gilmour tone/style), Jeremy Shanok (A fantastic, wild, creative spirit; and Berkeley school of music grad. An amazing drummer.) Evan Bogunia (A backpacking buddy bassist, with a masters in Electronic Music Production from Mills College in Oakland) Fred Jenning (good friend and cannabis connoisseur/drummer) and Phil Hodges (musical genius), oh and my dad played upright on a few tracks. Bill Sullivan. I probably left a few people out
EJ: Who would you dream of recording with in the future, all logistics set aside?
SS: Michael Minkoff and Phil Hodges
EJ: What is your favorite venue to play?
SS: Ooh, that’s a tough one. I like Bottom Of The Hill in SF because the sound is so dialed in, but when Warbler was more of a loud electric 3 piece, we had this show at the Hemlock in SF where the walls were bending in to the rhythm of my delay pedal. Pretty magical. It’s a great little venue where you have to walk through a plastic meat freezer curtain on the other side of the bar to get to the stage.
EJ: In your Kickstarter project, you talk a lot about the philosophy behind the lyrics of Sea of Glass – a lot of these philosophies addressing the flaws of American culture and government. What do you see as this country and culture’s greatest strength?
SS: Currently? It’s religio-political wakening. But also, the constitution of course. The traditional folk music. The bayou blues. So much great modern music in general has come from here. The southern hospitality. The spirit of independence. The fight against tyranny. The philanthropy. The technological advances. The California coastline. The Sierra Nevadas. The micro-breweries. I could go on and on really.
EJ: While you talk a lot about the lyrics, you don’t mention much about the music. How does this new album deviate from the sound of your debut?
SS: This record is a lot more natural feeling. I got a lot better at capturing the spirit of the song, and the emotion is much more present. Though the production isn’t as polished, the performances are superior and therefore more engaging. There’s more power in general and the music is much more aware of the lyrical/emotional content.
EJ: Were there any particularly challenging experiences in the writing process that resulted from these new directions?
SS: This all came easier once I learned to get out of the way and let the songs do the work. It’s like trying really hard not to try. This is the juggling act of music. You breathe life into the song, then let it tell you what it wants.
EJ: At the end of your Kickstarter video, you express that you’re looking to ignite a change. What do you hope this will look like specifically?
SS: From the typographical age into the age of television, this culture lost a lot of its independence and free intellect. Culture has been dumbed down with very sophisticated propaganda, and conversation in general is dictated by a select few at the top. I want the culture to wake up to this. I want the culture to break the pop-culture chains, which has been co-opted and controlled. I want a new renaissance. And it’s coming. We are already seeing the signs of it.
EJ: What do you have planned for Warbler post-release?
SS: I have already started writing for the next release. It will likely be stripped down and largely acoustic (maybe). The content will be all about gratitude and the joys of sanctification. There will likely be more of a progressive folk construction and a lot of vocal layers. I will also be playing live to push the record, showcasing the fingerpicking and playing with a cellist and a backing vocalist. I would also like to rekindle the electric rock Warbler three piece with different players. I miss getting LOUD.
Our thanks go to Sean for taking the time to do this interview. Be sure to jump on Warbler’s Kickstarter project here. After that, check him out on the rest of the World Wide Web.
PS: Warbler is affiliated with the Nehemiah Foundation for Cultural Renewal. Visit their site and find out more here.