Composed and Performed by Sean Proper
Produced by Kevin McCombs at Empty Set Studios
Painting by Blair Whiteford
Artwork and Production by Marcus Obst
Deft fingerpicking swells to epic fingershredding. Dark and isolated solo acoustic guitar sounds from the Sunshine State of Florida.
8 track album!
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Sean Proper – Interview
Playing an unelectrified steel-string guitar virtuosically as a solo instrument seems to be the new (Heavy) Metal. There are quite a few Metal Heads turning down the amp and replacing the ax with a wooden guitar.
This isn't exactly the case with Sean Proper, but read further to discover the connection.
Proper is one of the young, emerging guitarists exploring the territory of the so-called "American primitive" guitar music. It's impossible to not mention John Fahey in this context. His work is a huge source of inspiration for later guitarists and one can follow the paths down to the Delta Blues area, Fahey's explorations into conceptual avant garde music, or take a detour in his classical music approach. But even this broad spectrum gets too tight for some artists, and so new influences like Post-Rock find their way into solo guitar music.
Dying For Bad Music will release Sean Proper's first album „Design Engine“ in a few days and since he is still quite unknown, I thought it's a good idea to ask some questions and let him introduce his approach to this kind of music. I wanted to know how living in a sunny place like Florida can lead into those dark and sparse, yet epic, guitar sounds, normally associated with mountains and rivers and rural life.
Hi Sean, where are you from?
I was born in Long Island, New York but I was raised in South Florida. My mother and my extended family are from Brazil.
What are you studying right now?
I am currently studying philosophy at the New College of Florida. I am in the middle of finishing up my undergraduate thesis and am set to graduate in the Spring.
Does this influence your music?
When I started getting into artists like Fahey, Basho, and Jack Rose who seem to get put in the "American Primitive" genre I felt intensely interested in their music but disconnected from the 'aesthetic' surrounding it (not to say their personal aesthetic but rather the way it was talked about and things like the titles of tracks/albums). The idea of being a sort of one person band that the style allows for was really enticing.
I felt very disconnected from the music though due to the sort of 'natural world' aesthetic that gets attached to it. Songs named after mountains or trees, lakes, forests etc... and I noticed that many of these artists came from regions of America that felt incredibly foreign to me. Growing up in South Florida my 'natural environment' was suburbia (i.e. palm trees, beige buildings, neighborhoods full of identical homes, condominiums, beaches, and tourism). I wanted at least the titles of the songs and the sort of 'aesthetic' surrounding my music to reflect what I feel like are the mechanical or what some might call 'artificial' aspects of my environment. I wanted to make music that could perhaps be associated with whatever the American Primitive genre is and at the same time exist in an aesthetic space somewhat separate from it (i hope this doesn't sound too pretentious). I don't mean this as a criticism in any way, but for me it just feels more authentic to think in terms of machines and these more mechanical and so-called artificial landscapes.
When did you start playing guitar and how did you end up with solo acoustic guitar music?
I started playing guitar when I was 14. I got a Fender Squire for my birthday. I stumbled upon solo acoustic guitar music pretty much from seeing a YouTube video of Andy Mckee. It was really cool to see someone make that much sound out of one instrument. From him I discovered Kaki King and obsessively listened to her music and read interviews and tried to find people who played music like her. Eventually I stumbled upon Jack Rose and Robbie Basho and found my musical heroes.
Can you say something about the difference playing a 6- string and a 12 string guitar? Do you prefer one over another?
6-string guitar feels to me like a more patient instrument. I have less of a desire to play fast and creating 'riffs' is more fluid. I have no preference really. It's weird but playing 12-string has been great practice for my 6-string technique.
What is your general approach to make music? Is it about composition or more about creating a certain sound? I ask that because you also did some more experimental, noise pieces that played with degradation of sound and processing of sound.
When I first started recording music around age 14 I was really interested in recording guitar and then manipulating it through audio editing software. My desire back then was to create music of some kind and my technique was nowhere near close enough to create anything that was listenable without the help of computer software. Now when I do things involving processing of sound I try to be more conscious and have some kind of conceptual or at least thematic framework that I am operating under. Lately, it has revolved around my long running obsession with UFO's.
Generally my 'composition process' consists of me playing guitar for a really long time and improvising around melodies/rifts/tunings that I like. I have no background in formal composition and I can't wrap my head around music theory. I generally strive to make things that feel heavy. My dad raised me on a steady diet of Metallica and Iron Maiden.
What is your favorite Metallica album?
Master of Puppets is probably my favorite.
Thanks to Sean Proper and Dr. PSP.
Design Engine by Sean Proper will be released on October, 6th here on Dying For Bad Music.
Images Anna Maria Island, FL, March 2013 by Marcus Obst