Great Big Sea Co-Founder Séan McCann Rides the Soundwaves Between Old & New with “Rolling Sea” — Available Now!
“Stay calm and shanty on.” — Séan McCann
Welcome, Sean McCann to the wonderful world of The Wire MEGAzine which has been on the music scene since 1989 as 1 of Canada’s longest-running entertainment tabloids.
Séan McCann is a Canadian singer/songwriter/musician who plays guitar, bodhran, shakers, and tin whistle, hailing from the east coast of St. John’s who currently calls home in Manotick, a suburb of Ottawa, Ontario. “Growing up in the 1980s in outport Newfoundland, I was influenced as much by traditional Sea Shanties as I was by the new wave videos I watched on that upstart, new Much Music TV station,” recalls McCann. “My mixtapes comfortably included The Chieftains and Men at Work on side A and The Police and The Pogues on side B,” McCann recalls.
DEB: Q. 1. Sean, who else would you say influenced you the most musically then and now?
SEAN: “Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, John Lennon, Nina Simone, Bob Marley, and Joe Strummer because they were all unafraid to share their personal truth in a song no matter how painful it was. I respect the ability to combine beautiful poetry with plain speaking. There’s real power in that. The power that changes worlds.“
Séan McCann bought his first guitar in 1989 which he affectionately calls “Old Brown”. Old Brown has been around. He was there for the first song Séan ever wrote. He was there as Séan founded Great Big Sea, the acclaimed and multi-million album-selling band that would change his life. He was there to hold Séan up many a night as he struggled with alcoholism, and he has been there to help guide Séan out of the darkness with music as his medicine as Sean co-founded for 2 decades, Canadian iconic award-winning Great Big Sea, a folk-rock band from Newfoundland and Labrador, in 1993 through 2013.
DEB: Q. 2. Sean, do you recall that magical and pivotal moment when you realized that music was your future path?
SEAN: “The collapse of the cod fishery in Newfoundland in 1992 devastated our economy and triggered another exodus of young people from our province in the seal of employment. While music definitely wasn’t the most dependable pursuit, it offered me both hope and a way out. I was young and fearless and figured in a barrel of bad options it was worth a shot. I’m still fearless.”
DEB: Q. 3. Some of the most historical and revered music has always played a deep role in the transformation of society. Some consider how their art relates to the current social-political landscape or how their music can address these themes. Does your music touch on social or political issues? In general, how does all this impact how you see the world and how you create such unique music? Share with your fans your songwriting process and how Rolling Sea came to be, as well, what it was like to record in the studio during Covid?
SEAN: “My solo catalogue (six independent albums) has definitely been more message driven than my work with Great Big Sea. While SHANTYMAN it does re-embrace my traditional side, it still allows for contemporary social-commentary and offers a voice to the oppressed. Sea shanties were historically designed to help people accomplish difficult tasks by working together in harmony and that is the only way we will all get through this difficult time. In many ways the pandemic seemed to exacerbate the growing division in this world. The poor and marginalized suffered most while the billionaires got richer. Music is the one thing we all have in common. The one language we can all speak equally. It is probably the only thing that can save us.“
DEB: Q, 4. A lot has happened in the almost 10 years since you exited the iconic and world-renowned Newfoundland folk-rock act Great Big Sea, that you co-founded. You have released six successful solo albums touching on a range of subjects from Canadian life and culture to spotlighting national hardships like the infamous 2016 wildfires that devastated Fort McMurray, Alberta, in which you partnered with the Canadian Red Cross. As a philanthropist as much as you are an artist, you also organized a songwriters’ benefit in 2017 in support of veterans suffering from PTSD and addiction, enlisting your fellow musician friends, Joel Plaskett, Sarah Harmer, and Jeremy Fisher. In recognition of these efforts and your other advocacy work for people living with mental health and addiction issues, you earned the Order of Canada in 2020. Contrary to popular belief, ‘making it’ in the art of music isn’t merely a game of luck. It requires talent, strategy, and determination based on your vision & goals, to which you have all 3 and then some. Could you highlight your favorite moment in your career and share with us any other outstanding awards you have received?
SEAN: “I really don’t have a favourite moment. As a completely independent I get up everyday and fight the fight. There’s lots of disappointment and frustration but I never give up. I just keep moving forward and let the music lead my way. I’ve lost a dozen Junos and a couple of those were to better records. Have learned not to look for validation in others, especially in “the industry”. The ORDER OF CANADA for my work in RECOVERY was a pleasant and encouraging surprise. But ultimately the work is its own reward.”
DEB: Q. 5. What does success mean to you, Sean?
SEAN: “Success to me means ten years of sobriety. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done and the single thing I am most proud of.“
DEB: Q. 6. Had you seen or felt a major shift in the music industry compared to when your career took flight back in 1989 way before COVID-19?
SEAN: “The music industry has a reputation for corruption and it is not undeserved. Record labels routinely ripped artists off but at least they used to actually fund the making of albums. Under the new business model, artists are expected to be “content creators” constantly feeding social media to remain relevant with fans. The work we create is literally valued at zero (or .003 cents per stream on Spotify). I’ve survived the digital disintegration of royalty revenue so far but this new reality feels more and more like a race to the bottom. Instead of protecting artists, the major labels all bought shares in Spotify and reaped billions in dividends off our backs. The saddest thing about all of this is that they could easily afford to do better and ensure the long term survival of songwriters but they just don’t. Daniel Ek (owner of Spotify) is currently worth almost 5 Billion. He can afford to pay at least a penny per stream. You can listen to SHANTYMAN and all my work directly on my own website https://seanmccannsings.com/shantyman-songs“
DEB: Q. 7. Some artists seem reluctant to speak of just how frustrating and baffling the whole experience of navigating the general music realm is, let alone add in Covid-19, or how hard they tried to still be ambitious about getting their artwork seen or sold. Explain briefly how you pursued your career during Covid-19, how you went after opportunities, and some of the ways you chose to engage with your legions of fans whether that was within the top echelon of international art circles online or based on your involvement within your local community despite the challenges musicians faced during COVID-19. Also, share how you brought your art to the newly formatted audiences at home, thanks to the worldwide pandemic virus?
SEAN: “Like most artists, I was forced to virtually diversify into ZOOM and other online video platforms to make ends meet. At the very beginning of the pandemic, My wife Andrea and I published a musical memoir of our recovery together. ONE GOOD REASON https://seanmccannsings.com/the-book was a national bestseller and we were really looking forward to doing a national tour of Indigo bookstores and literature festivals together but all that promotion actually happened in my studio in front of my computer. It wasn’t ideal but we made it work. I’m glad we were able to at least do something to help people through some very dark days.“
After exiting the internationally renowned Newfoundland folk group in 2013 and publicly admitting a secret past where you used alcohol to mask the pain of sexual abuse by a priest. Séan, you found the courage to face your truths and overcome your demons and today you continue your journey as a singer, songwriter, husband, father, and now a sought-after keynote speaker and mental health advocate, always with Old Brown by your side. Your own battle with overcoming alcohol addiction, coming clean, and owning your truth has been key to your growth as a husband, a father, a musician, and a human. Armed with the strength and support of your wife, Andrea Aragon, you co-penned your first book One Good Reason (2020). “It’s the story of how love saved their marriage, and music saved his life. It is the story of a man freed from the weight of a lie; a man who is changing his narrative and never forgetting… that he is not alone.”
DEB: Q. 8. Sean, share how you feel and think about the importance of the awareness and advocacy of mental health and how music and mental health are linked? As well, what your views are on how Covid-19 removing music had changed mental health?
SEAN: “Music is strong medicine and I believe it will be the key to our collective recovery. We have all been through SO MUCH over the past two years and it will take a long time to process the trauma. Music is a safe and positive way to work our way through the mental health repercussions of what will invariable linger for a long time to come.“
DEB: Q. 9. What was the best advice you were given back in the day regarding the ins and outs of the business at such a young age of 22 back in 1989?
SEAN: ““Go hard now because it won’t last forever” and “Never let your guard down…”
DEB: Q. 10. Now that music is returning to the stage, what is it like to perform once again after a 2-year hiatus and what is it like to perform in your hometown with a sea of familiar faces in the audience?
SEAN: “Music means more to me than money. I am not a part of any program and I don’t go to “meetings” but I do make myself vulnerable and share my truth at my own concerts and speaking events. These ARE my meetings and their absence has been a real challenge for my continued safety and sobriety. This pandemic has been a huge challenge to all who suffer from the curse of addiction so I need to get back out there in front of people. We all have some real work to do. “
DEB: Q. 11. You are a charismatic, honest, humorous, and passionate songwriter with an inspiring soul, who is no ordinary performer. You exude raw energetic emotion as a musician, and as a philosopher. Would you say your songs were based primarily on your personal experiences or life in general?
SEAN: “I used to sing a LOT about drinking and avoiding my problems but I’ve changed my tune. Now I sing about facing your problems, doing the HARD work, and helping yourself. Life is seldom easy but the biggest challenges offer the greatest rewards.“
DEB: Q. 12. Sean, when you reflect back to your first time in concert, did you ever imagine your career would unfold the way it has and that your songs would influence the world as they have? ALSO, What is your secret to longevity?
SEAN: “My first performance was a talent contest I LOST to a comedian who wasn’t very funny. It could have easily destroyed my musical ambitions but instead it galvanized my determination. The secret to my longevity is sobriety. Success comes through perseverance. If the guy from Great Big Sea can quit drinking, anyone can.“
Sean, thank you for sharing your powerful and inspiring personal story and songs with audiences all across North America over the past decade as a solo performer and musical keynote speaker. As the concert trail is opening up again as pandemic restrictions loosen, you continue to do what you love best, write and perform songs, and share stories accompanied by your trustest best friend “Old Brown.”
These days, the only ‘wave’ most of us care to hear about is the kind that lands on a sandy shore or carries a boat to its destination. Enter Canadian Celtic folk-rocker Séan McCann to deftly combine your love of old and new waves of the musical kind in your new, shantyfied single, “Rolling Sea” which is your third release to roll out from your 6th solo album, Shantyman (2021), “Rolling Sea” proves that a 200-year-old, traditional sea shanty, and a modern, new wave pop song can really be just a whistle apart stylistically. Another infectious (in a good way) sing-along from an album brimming with them, “Rolling Sea” honors both the recent and the ancient musical past by blending two of McCann’s favorite genres in a foot-stomper that is guaranteed to lift spirits after the many months we’ve all spent largely in isolation.
After all, “a song is never more powerful than when it is sung with a friend,” notes McCann. “So, all together now…”
O my little rolling sailor
Will you ever rolling be
How I miss my rolling sailor
When she’s on the rolling sea
Sailing on the rolling sea
In Séan McCann’s musical world the old and the new have always thrived together, side by side in the same tasty stew. The rhythms of Celtic bodhráns and tin whistles existed in harmony with synths and drum machines in his curious musical mind.
The video for “Rolling Sea” is a summerlicious compilation of high octane, high gloss surfing action, sun, sand, and McCann in the midst of the ocean-going fun.
Sean McCann rides the soundwaves between old & new, with the new single, “Rolling Sea” and album “Shantyman” and both are available now via http://seanmccannsings.com
Upcoming live dates include a run of Ontario shows in mid-March called The Shantyman Sings For The Saint: A Celebration of Irish Song with Séan McCann of Great Big Sea. McCann will visit:
Huntsville on March 16,
Orillia on March 17,
London on March 18,
Oshawa on March 19
Peterborough to perform at the Market Hall.on March 20.
More info at http://seanmccannsings.com
Rolling Sea, is the third single launched from the new album, Shantyman — featuring appearances by Hawksley Workman, Gordie Johnson, Jeremy Fisher, and J.P. Cormier.
The Shantyman Sings for the Saint
A Celebration of Irish Song with Séan McCann
March 16 — Canvas Brewery, Huntsville ON
March 17 — Opera House, Orillia ON
March 18 — Aeolian Hall, London ON
March 19 — The Biltmore Theatre, Oshawa ON
March 20 — Market Hall, Peterborough ON
Fans can stay in tune by visiting Sean at his social platforms below: