Tim Carr, Charley Crockett
"Before We Turn to Dust," San Francisco based songwriter Sean Hayes' newest release was written and recorded in the same year he became a father. You can hear the love and struggle throughout. In one moment Hayes is singing "you may spend all your money before you turn to dust / but you'll never spend all your love.” In the next moment, reminiscent of Bill Withers' classic "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone," he flips it with his line "I miss her when I'm gone/ but I've got to make my money" and goes on to intone "bring it home, bring it home, bring it home/ to my lady and my baby."
There is something raw and down-home about this music. Simple and straightforward the piano, guitar, drums, bass, occasional horns and back-up singing surround his warm, vibrato-laden voice that leads the way, down "side street alleys" or to "that spot with the jukebox where we can sing your favorite tune."
Like great Country or Soul music these songs tell simple stories that also make you want to move. "Damn, the way you walk that thing/locked in the pocket make a body ring" from the song "Bam Bam" almost has your hips in motion from the lyrics alone.
Frazey Ford from the folk group The Be Good Tanya's joins the singing for a duet on the album's last track, a lullaby "Innocent Spring."
Hayes is notably accompanied by veterans Andrew Borger (Tom Waits/Norah Jones) on drums, Devin Hoff (The Nels Cline Singers, Xiu Xiu) on bass and relative new comers Ezra Lipp (Thao + The Get Down Stay Down) on drums and multi-instrumentalist Eric Khun (Silian Rail) on keys, drums and percussion. The record was mixed by Eli Crews (tUnE-yArDs) at New and Improved Recording in Oakland CA.
Sean Hayes was born in New York City, raised in North Carolina, and came of musical age in San Francisco. "I remember going to sleep listening to the radio next to my bed," he says, listening to a wide variety of music from the get-go. It was not until I went to college for a year in east Carolina that I heard a banjo and a fiddle and bluegrass." He began to play a mix of traditional old-time music, bluegrass, Irish music, and original songs in Asheville, NC and Charleston, SC.
On a whim, Hayes threw some clothes and a guitar into the back of his friend's car and made his way to San Francisco. "I spent a few years in a great little folk scene in San Francisco with Jolie Holland being the queen bee. She is an amazing talent." Later, he would open tours for Holland. "San Francisco has always felt like a do-it-yourself town," he says, continuing, "There’s not a lot of music industry, but there is a lot of spirit."
Hayes cites various influences from the soul, folk, R&B, reggae, and gospel worlds, such as Otis Redding, James Brown, Joni Mitchell, 'The Anthology of American Folk Music,' 'American Primitive, Volumes 1 and 2' (pre-war gospel compilations), and Nina Simone. He adds, "I also love Bob Marley and his rhythm section. I think of him as more folk than reggae."
Over the years, Hayes' songs have been re-mixed by DJ Mark Farina ("Dream Machine"), covered by folk group The Be Good Tanya's ("A Thousand Tiny Pieces"), been featured on HBO's "Bored to Death", and used in a TV ad campaign for Subaru ("Powerful Stuff"). He sang a duet on Aimee Mann’s latest record and has toured with acts such as Ani DiFranco and the Cold War Kids.
His hometown SF Weekly has raved, "Take him anywhere, play him for anyone, and the response is always the same: People want more. They'll write down the name if they don't know it already… an impressive treat in your pocket. Hayes' music succeeds on the tension between warm, resonant soul and dirt-road folk, all laced with a wandering troubadour's
coo…. the danceable folk singer… Hayes gets his groove on, laying his buttery, quavering voice over swinging drum patterns, mellifluous piano, and funky horn parts… what sets him apart is his voice -- a wounded, wavering tone that sounds like a fragile creature, very crushable.”
Meanwhile, the San Francisco Chronicle called him "a singular urban/backwoods sound and vision… extraordinary… Hayes achieves… a certain intimate rapport between the performer and audience…”