Galway native Seán Kangataran released his debut album in 2010. Now living in Los Angeles, I caught up with Seán to find out how things were going for him.
Hello Seán, How are you and where are you?
I’m good! I’m on a flight to New York !
You’ve been a bit of a wanderer, firstly playing your music in Europe and now in the USA. What was it about Los Angeles that made you say, ‘Yeah this is the place for me’ ?
I came here totally open to whatever would happen. I have been quoted as saying that I came here to die. That’s not me being dramatic. I was stagnant in Galway. I wasn’t living a life that mattered to me. I was ready to accept whatever the city would give me even if I wouldn’t like it, but I came here ready for a fight.
I first came here last year knowing no one and when I returned in January, I did so with no money. I was homeless for months, moving from couch to couch and rehearsing with the band.
You’re in LA a while now, what’s your musical set up like? Do you have a full band or do you work solo?
It’s always a full band. A core of four excellent musicians, Courtney Lavender, Paul Zero, Lauren Hayes, and Aaron Stern, and we’ve had a range of others come and play brass and strings with us. This is my favourite band.
Are you happy with how your career is progressing in LA?
LA is the only place to be for music. Things literally happen overnight here but you have to put up with so much shit and keep going flat out. I do love it here though. People are not afraid of work, and they’re never ashamed of having dreams.
For the independent artist, the internet is a vital way to get your music and your information out there. L.A. Has a reputation of being full of artists and actors trying to make it. How do you lift yourself above this to get noticed?
Do things a little differently. There’s no such thing as luck. If it’s not working for you, and success has many incarnations, and you’re not finding yours then you’re the problem.
From your point of view, how different is the LA music scene from what we would be used to in Ireland?
The work ethic and mind set is totally different. People work so damn hard here, there’s no shame in working hard and being ambitious. I love Ireland but the negativity there kills so many wonderful talents.
You say that you began ‘playing music late in life’. What clicked to make you start making music? Was it a gradual thing that you came into music?
I didn’t sing a song in my life until I was twenty-three. I only began because my friend Mic Christopher passed away and I wanted to sing his songs to people. Mic was an amazing person and musician.
It seems that a lot of songwriters find it easier to write when things aren’t going particularly well for them. When do you feel you write better?
I’m writing more than ever. I’m halfway through writing a book of poems. . Writing comes first (actually, it comes second to living well), but without it I’m not me. Haha!
We got married in Vegas on our four week anniversary. It sounds intense but it’s been so incredibly easy. I love her. It’s simple. There is the temptation to seek misery to get words on the page, I’ve done this, but that’s fraud. Living well is the key. Life is hard enough. You will find sadness in your genuine attempts to find joy. If you force this, people have every right to laugh at you and to be disgusted by your efforts.
Some of your lyrics seem quite intimate, are there times when you stop yourself from saying something or are you always quite open?
They are intimate but they’re just statements of fact. The only time I stop myself is when I’m getting in the way of the work. When my emotion becomes the subject. That’s bad writing and poor delivery. The audience understand everything already. It is not my emotion they’re interested in. If the work connects them to themselves, then it’s correct.
You worked with Glen Hansard and The Swell Season on ‘Strict Joy’. How did this happen?
He was snowed into his apartment and we were exchanging demos online, then I jokingly asked if one song in particular (“Back Broke”) was written in the Chelsea Hotel, and it was! From then on he sent me all the songs as they were recorded and I gave production notes and made the first track listing. We were writing the same style of break-up album separately, so it was all very synchronous.
Has the fact that you’ve done this and the fact Glen has a nice shiny Oscar statue, help you in LA?
Not at all! He’s very supportive, but quietly so. He’s letting me be my own man.
After working with The Swell Season you started work on your own debut but then scrapped it. What did you not like about it?
It was miserable! If I’d have put it out like that I’d have to go on stage and relive that all the time. I’m having way too much fun to do that to myself and others!
Approaching your debut for a second time, what was different?
I was happy! I added a ton of busy drums and brass, it’s a far more joyful and optimistic record than it might have been. I often sound serious in my writing and delivery, but that’s just ’cause I take the work seriously, I’m never serious though!
Your album has being getting a lot of positive feedback and things seem to be going well. What’s the thing your most proud of that’s happened?
Wow… I really can’t think of anything. A big part of me coming here was losing all sense of shame and pride and just getting on with living. Glen Hansard wrote some amazing things about it, and Ryan Stively from Port O’Brien too, their words meant a lot.
Have you thought about album number 2 yet or do you constantly write?
It’s already half written. We’re demoing it now. I’m always writing. I have to.
On your debut you worked with some great people on the production. Who would be your ideal dream team?
I’d love to one day record something with Steve Albini… Though I really love how Peter Katis does drums too… Jim O’Rourke did an awesome job mixing Joanna Newsom’s “Ys”… But working with Karl Odlum was so much fun, I hope to have him again.
Will you be back in Ireland gigging soon?
I hope so, but I’m based here now and it costs a lot to run any band. Getting everyone over there would cost too much right now..
Can you ever see yourself living in Ireland again or are you settled where you are?
I can’t tell the future! All of Ireland’s sons return.
Now for the tricky ‘Smash Hits’ style questions…Who was on the first poster you had on your wall?
I think it was an Iron Maiden one!
If you had a pet monkey what would you call it?
Charles. I call most of my pets that. I’m getting a miniature rabbit next week in the Sante Alley Downtown that I’m going to call Charlie Nibblesworth. He’ll fit in my pocket.
If you could star in any TV show, current or past, which one would you choose?
The Wire! Pure art. That no one got to see! 77,000 people in Britain watched the series finale when it first aired!
Thanks for taking the time, Seán, appreciate it!