An interview with Singer/Songwriter Sean Spillane
by Tina Hall
Sean Spillane first gained notice from his time in the critically acclaimed band ARLO. His career in music has led to various national and international tours and four full length albums. With work that spans genres Spillane makes music with a genuine touch of soul that is hard to find. Most recently Sean composed and recorded the delightfully edgy soundtrack for the film The Woman (based on the writing of Jack Ketchum and directed by Lucky McKee). He also released the 80’s inspired soundtrack to Brian Keene’s Ghoul. At the moment he is working hard to score the soundtrack for Jug Face.
Maximum Ink: When you first moved from Texas to California did you experience any culture shock? What was your first though upon arriving in California?
Sean Spillane: I didn’t really have any culture shock. Most of my family is from the San Francisco area so I knew California was where I wanted to be. Los Angeles was bigger and more diverse than I ever imagined, and that’s why 20 years later I’m still here and still loving it.
MI: As a major fan of the Stones what did you think of Mick Jagger’s recent appearance on SNL? Why do you think their music has such timeless appeal?
SS: I actually missed that performance on SNL, I was at a friend’s birthday party this last Saturday night. What makes the Stones timeless? I have to say it’s the hooks Mick and Keith write. All of their best songs are great pop songs, but the way they were recorded and arranged disguises the pop with a grit and coolness that nobody else can duplicate.
MI: Your music has an honest feel to it that gives it a more genuine feel to it?
SS: Thanks! When I’m just cutting loose and being myself like I was on “The Woman” Soundtrack, my songwriting process won’t allow me to be anything but honest. Anytime I’m writing and it feels pretentious, it’s like a buzzer goes off in my brain and any song I write that gives me that feeling, never gets finished and never sees the light of day. Being able to inject emotional honesty into music is something that took me a long time to get comfortable with. I think that now more than ever, I can write with the same voice in many different musical genres and still feel like it’s me, even if I’m having a laugh like I was on the “Ghoul” soundtrack. Really, what it comes down to is that I don’t care if anyone thinks I’m cool. I’m writing for myself and if anyone thinks it’s cool, then great. If not, I don’t really care. That’s most likely where the honesty comes from.
I’d say I’m an honest fellow, sometimes to a fault. Being honest just feels better. It makes your relationships in life better. I’ve found as I get older that I say this phrase more and more “It’s not personal, it’s just business.” Most of the time I use that phrase, it’s due to me having to protect myself and my music in a way where I’m being honest with myself. Rip the band aid off and just move on from there. Also, being able to say No is a very honest reply most of the time that can be extremely tough to say in certain circumstances.
MI: Jack Ketchum has said that you are a good person. Do you find that a compliment coming from him? Can you tell us a little about the conversations you had with him on Bob K’s porch while filming The Woman? What is it that makes Jack such a fascinating individual? Do you think it fair to say he is one of the truly kind?
SS: The last time I saw Jack was in New York City about a year ago and he told me that he considers me a friend. I consider that one of the greatest honors of my life. Talk about honesty, the man writes in such a unique voice that his characters have lasting effects on me long after finishing his books. He’s a truly creative person and for him to call me a good person feels amazing. When you start out trying to be creative for a living you hope someday that you can call someone like him a peer.
Ahh, the porch. It was a wonderful mix of interesting people coming together to create a great film. There was humor, storytelling, and intense discussion about many subjects. Mostly it was a group of intelligent people sharing an experience that we all knew at the time was special. There was a connection between all of us. Jack really legitimized the whole thing because he’s been around using his wildly creative brain, taking risks, and succeeding in a very crowded creative world. When he writes a story, doesn’t hold back. Yes, Jack is one of a kind for sure and I’m a lucky guy to know him.
MI: Lucky McKee wanted a soundtrack for the film that would mess with the viewer’s heads. Did you enjoy having the chance to do that?
SS: Lucky deserves the credit for messing with people’s heads with the music. It was his placement of the songs that really gives them weight in the film. The dailies, the conversations on the porch, something Pollyanna said one day, were all things that helped inspire the music. When I’d finish a song, I usually had an idea of where I thought it might go, but I was mostly dead wrong. I merely gave him the ammunition to blow gaping holes through the viewer’s skull.
MI: Are you surprised that the film has been as well received as it has? Why do you think people love the film so much?
SS: I’m not surprised that the movie was well received. When were in postproduction, it was evident that what we had was special because the performances the cinematography and the sound were so damn good it made us very confident that we had something that was of a very high quality. All we had to do was tell the story right. The first evidence of that was when we went in to mix the sound and I saw the final cut with all the sound design and the soundtrack in place. I was transfixed and utterly absorbed from beginning to end. I love movies of all genres, but I’m also a harsh critic. “The Woman” just had all the things that you need to make up a great film. I had a feeling some people might not get it, but that can be said about any film that offers something new. So I was happy to see that so many people got it
MI: The songs off this one stick in your head for days! Was that your intent when writing them?
SS: I like to write hooks. Every song I write needs to have some kind of hook, or it doesn’t make to anyone’s ears. Lucky chose me to write songs and with that comes hooks. If you can walk away whistling the tune what’s the point?
MI: You have been working on several soundtracks of late. What do you love most about doing those?
SS: My favorite thing about writing soundtracks is getting to be wide open with the songs. Writing songs in a specific genre gets stale and can get you in ruts. Switching up the instruments and sounds keeps it all fresh and inspiring. When you’re in a band, there’s an image and sound wrapped up in the music, and people expect you to be a certain way. You also kind of have to worry about being cool, or dangerous. I’m much more comfortable just writing and recording. Don’t get me wrong, I love performing live, but it’s very time consuming and not terribly important to me at the moment.
MI: How does your work as a solo artist now differ most from your work in previous bands?
SS: As I touched on before, I can be myself and indulge in any musical curiosity I have from day to day. When I played in bands, it was more about the social aspect of it. Performing is a huge rush, especially when you’re in a good band with fun songs and at least a few people at the shows. The flip side is that you spend most of your time perfecting songs that were written a while ago and new material sits on the shelf. It’s frustrating sometimes to get another musician to play a part the way it’s intended. It requires a lot of trust and patience which I’m not all that jazzed about providing these days.
SS: What do you love most about making music?
MI: Definitely, writing a new song, recording it and listening to it a bunch of times to tweak it until it’s good. Then writing another one. Music is a cosmic force that binds us all. We’re hard wired to enjoy some form of it or another. Can you honestly say that you’ve ever met someone who genuinely says they hate all forms of music?
MI: As someone who works on creative projects to offer fans a chance to escape the stresses of the normal day to day, how do you yourself most like to escape from reality when life warrants it?
SS: I’d have to say surfing is my most cherished hobby. It’s rewarding both mentally and physically. I don’t think anything else blocks out all the bullshit like sitting in the water on a board waiting for waves.
MI: What do you think you’d be doing right now if you hadn’t of fallen for music?
SS: I always wanted to be a doctor, but math made that unrealistic. Most likely, I would be working in some other aspect of film.
MI: What one think would you most like to do that you have never had the chance to?
SS: I would like to father a couple kids someday. Anything else seems like an amusement park ride. Once you’ve toured in a band for a few years all else is a little less exciting.
MI: Do you think you will be touring anytime soon?
SS: Touring is unlikely but not out of the question. It’s such a money pit these days with gas prices being so high and club payouts so low. Touring is a great way to ruin your credit, kid, however, if you’re going to accumulate some debt anyway I guarantee it’s the most fun way to go about it.
MI: Is there anything you’d like to say before you go?
SS: Be good.
CD: The Woman (original motion picture soundtrack) Record Label: MODERNCINÉ
• Purchase The Woman (original motion picture soundtrack) on Amazon
• Download The Woman (original motion picture soundtrack) on Amazon