If Sean Devine had it his way, the songs he wrote would be heard as soon as he finished writing them. And if things had gone according to plan, his album, Here For It All, would be one year old right now.
Unfortunately, not everything went exactly according to plan for Devine in the leadup to the album. Enter a global pandemic that halted work on not only his album, but countless projects throughout the music industry, and you’re left with a September 3, 2021 release date for Devine’s first album in six years.
With the release of Here For It All finally on the horizon, we chatted with Devine about his early start with songwriting, how the album came together, several of the songs that have been released from the project so far, what he hopes listeners take away from it and more!
Pro Country: Your bio mentions that you wrote your first song at eight years-old, which was about your parents’ divorce. What was it about songwriting and expressing yourself in that way that connected with you so early in your life?
Sean Devine: Well, I’d been playing and singing for a little while at that point, and that had been a place I’d go to because it felt good. I’m sure it probably sounded awful, but it felt really good. So when my family was suddenly tearing apart, I think I just naturally went to the place in my own life that still felt good. A song seemed to just arise out of that experience by itself, and I recall that it didn’t feel strange. Like, it was sometime later that it seemed significant that I had written the song. It was just there when I needed it.
PC: Your new album, Here For It All, is your first album release in nearly six years. What was your level of anticipation like as release day drew closer and you were offering new music for the first time in a while?
SD: We had the new album mixed by early spring of ’20, and I had planned to release it by June of last year. The pandemic shut my project down, so I spent most of a year trying not to think about it. I couldn’t even listen to it during that time, because I didn’t want to get tangled up in that terrible frustration. In my experience, a song wants to be heard as soon as it’s written, and some of these songs were written years ago. The recording process was expensive, as it was with Austin Blues, and worth it both times. I can’t really think in practical terms about making art, I just need to make a recording I can live with, and that I hope will outlive me. So I can’t really dash one of these things off every year, though I wish I could, but I had no intention that it would be six years.
PC: “Here For It All” opens its album with a song about companionship. What went into the decision to have “Here For It All” serve as the title track and open its album?
SD: “Here For It All” is a song I had written a few years ago, and I’d recorded a video of myself playing the song in my phone so I could see how I was playing it to help me remember later. Then, I forgot about it. It seems like a minor miracle that I happened on the video while I was gathering songs to send to Josh Thompson. The song really jumped out at me then, but I included it with about 25 other unrecorded titles with no particular mention. Then Josh chose the song for the album. When I knew we would record it, it just started to grow bigger in my mind. I think I was just beginning to realize what the song actually meant to me, and how the feeling it expresses of emerging from sadness and confusion into a new and stronger place in my life was like a personal anthem. And it’s an ode to my wife, who really had rescued me. I had purchased the penwash of the grizzly from my friend Robert Spannring during that same year. To me, the expression on the bear’s face is simply that of life itself coming at me. You’ve heard that old expression, “Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you.” Well, there he is. At some point, the idea that the bear and the song would represent the whole album just came together. So, it was less a “decision” and more like a slow-moving revelation to me.
PC: You filmed a music video for “Clay Bluffs,” which will soon be released. What drew you to film a video for the song and give a visual to the song’s story?
SD: “Clay Bluffs” had arrived in a real-life scene. My wife and I were driving from Montana to Texas in January. We were crossing Wyoming at night, and stopped for gas somewhere around Casper. There was a Burger King there next to the gas station and we decided to have a quick meal. It was late, and cold, with that icy blue light from the winter moon shining through the windows. A young couple came in with a baby in a car seat and sat near us. It was just us and them, and I couldn’t help overhearing their conversation. Back in the van, the lines of the song just came streaming through the windshield as we drove south. I guess I felt at the time the whole experience was like a movie I was accidentally in, and I wanted to show that somehow.
PC: “Texas and Tennessee” was released in July, and has since earned thousands of streams on Spotify along with hundreds more views on YouTube. What do you think it is about the song and its biographical offering on country music that has allowed it to connect with listeners the way it has so far?
SD: Well, Texas and Tennessee really are, in a way, the grandparents of country music. Singers and players of great country songs emerged from all over America, but by the time most people heard them, they were coming from Nashville. Texas has its own rich musical culture that it has managed to nurture for generations and then promote as its own brand, and in my mind, it owns its place next to Tennessee in the country music genesis. The Bristol sessions were the founding moment, bringing the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers together in the same place and time, and recording them to be listened to and remembered forever. I mean, if that story doesn’t give you the goosebumps, you just aren’t paying attention 🙂
PC: “The Palomino Mustang” is one of our favorite songs on Here For It All. Can you talk about the inspiration behind the song?
SD: I was asked to write songs for a soundtrack to a movie about the life of the horseman Buck Brannaman. The movie was never made, but I learned some things about Buck’s life, and how his relationship with horses had been healing for him, and there was a lot there I felt I could relate with. The scenes in the song reflect scenes from the movie script. In the story, and in real life, Buck’s mother died when he was a teenager. My mother died when I was in my mid-thirties, after a long struggle with multiple sclerosis. I’m not saying I think mine and Buck Brannaman’s experiences are comparable, just that I had some basis for empathy. Loss and grief are a part of life, and I’ve learned that grief isn’t something you finish dealing with. You live with it, and it becomes part of who you are. The catches make the money, but the misses make the man.
PC: Josh Thompson served as producer on Here For It All, serving as the first time you’ve worked with a producer. What was the experience like working with Josh, and how did having him at the helm enhance the project?
SD: Josh is a hard-driving, goal-oriented man. I get a lot done, but neither of those descriptions fit me at all. He was, in many ways, a perfect complement to my style of waiting and listening for the message from the universe. His message was, “Get after it, we only have so much time.” I gave him the left-hand seat on the project, and I did what he asked me to do. He chose the songs, he set the instrumentation (the Tone Deaf Hippies!), and I followed his lead when he asked to change keys or move a verse or chorus in the arrangements. The Hippies contributed immensely to the sound and feel of the songs, and they came up with the cool riffs and solos they played. I’ve been touring solo, for the most part, since ’15, so the way I play the songs didn’t leave a lot of room for other players. I did a lot of adapting in the studio, to allow more space, to extend arrangements, to let the full band feel be fully realized. I’m glad I did!
PC: What do you hope listeners take away from Here For It All after listening all the way through?
SD: This is a tricky one, because I don’t want to deprive anyone creating their own experience with the album. I think that’s where the real value is: you, the listener, respond to these songs from your own experience, and we’ll for sure find we have a lot of common ground. I think it’s right there in the last song, “Can I Get A Witness?”: “I could tell you some stories my friend, and you could tell ’em right back again …” I think that’s what we’re in this for. It’s a shared experience. We can feel each other’s heartbeats somewhere in all the noise, and that’s the beginning of music.
*All images by John Zumpano*
*Sean’s music is featured on The Best of Pro Country playlist!*