RGM INTRODUCING – WE INTERVIEW LA ARTIST SEAN DAVID CHRISTENSEN
What made you decide to become an artist?
Sean: I’m restless and get impatient when I’m not moving, so more than anything, my music is the sound of me pushing through life the best I can so I can get these thoughts outside of my head to keep other people company. I think that’s one of music’s greatest gifts. It can keep you company for a while.
Introduce us to you and your musical history?
Sean: I’m one of the four co-songwriters of this special instrumental version of “I Miss the Old You,” which was originally recorded and produced by myself (singing lead vocals) along with co-producers John Schroeder and Ross Garren. John is a songwriter/guitarist, as is Ross, who plays piano instead. He can most likely find his way around a guitar as well, but I’ve never asked. Both are superb producers who work together as “John & Ross,” a duo behind some of Los Angeles’s most captivating, immerging artists. They also produced me, so…pardon the self-serving compliment. Apart from each other, they’ve played with Bon Iver, Nataly Dawn, Steve Miller, Ben Folds and many others. Ethan Chilton, who arranged & performed all the trumpet parts, is a Los Angeles based jazz composer who excels both behind the podium and on stage as a performer. He’s an exceptional musical mind. So gifted. I was very grateful to collaborate with all his unique improvisations throughout the process. We met through the USC Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California where he was completing a master’s degree in jazz studies.
What’s one question you’re sick of being asked when interviewed?
Sean: This one.
Do you sign up to any conspiracy theories?
Sean: I think all peanut butter is made in the same factory. They really think they’re fooling us with those different labels? Please.
Did you buy anything you don’t need in the pandemic?
What useless party trick do you have?
Sean: I can imitate a couple of voices. That kind of thing?
What was the most fun you have had on stage?
Sean: Performing with my bandmate Mark Christopher in our pop group Maggie Dave. We love to bounce energies off each other and roll with whatever we’re feeling in the moment. We also extensively rehearse and plan everything to the decimal, so those moments where we flip out against the grain are fun!
What was the worst experience on stage?
Sean: I once played for an empty bar behind an iron cage when I was in high school. 9 p.m. Tempe, AZ. 2003. That was rough.
Tell us something about you that you think people would be surprised about?
Sean: Ethan knows a lot about space and all the planets in our solar system. He composed & produced an entire album about it, called The Planets.
If you had to describe your band/music to an alien how would you describe it?
What makes you stand out as a band/artist?
Sean: Ask the alien.
Right now, what’s pissing you off the most?
Sean: At this very moment? The ice has melted in my drink too fast.
What’s your favourite song to play live and why?
Sean: I haven’t had the chance to play live with this band yet, but I can’t wait for that opportunity if it comes my way.
I hear you have a new single, what can you tell us about it?
Sean: This was a collaborative effort between John, Ross, Ethan & I, building off the original vocal version. For the instrumental, I was looking for a way to replace my voice with an expressive “instrument voice,” so to speak, which led me to ask Ethan about his trumpet. I’ll let him take it from here.
Ethan: What I loved was how open Sean was to allowing us space to be free and create whatever we felt like. So when he asked me about arranging this song I was literally giddy with anticipation to get started!
Talk me through the thought process of the single?
Ethan: I’ve made a few all-trumpet arrangements before, but never released them. It felt like a really fun challenge to take a song that was so warm, acoustic and rich and try to capture that on a cold piece of brass. Sean suggested that I look to Coltrane’s recording of “My Favorite Things” for inspiration, and this was super helpful! Coltrane took a show tune from Sound of Music and turned it into a modal jazz masterpiece, stretching the phrases, ornamenting each syllable, and layering it with his own signature sound.
What was the recording process like?
Ethan: First I just went through each section and re-created every layer in Sean’s original with my trumpet. I played the bass, all the guitars and vocal melodies on trumpet. I even tracked the drums by clicking my valves together rhythmically. The vocal melody took me the longest to get right. I’d go in two or three hour chunks because it gave me time to get deeper into the phrasing, the lyrics, and really get maniacal about every detail. The biggest challenge was getting my tone right on trumpet. There couldn’t be any brash or spitty sounds. It had to channel as much soul as possible to make that bridge from my jazz background to Sean’s more acoustic/country sound. Then I added things – fills, solos, doublings, harmonies. I thought about a lot of R&B, funk and rock music. Bands like Lettuce, Chicago and Tower of Power; tight and powerful horns but always very melodic. I took my intensity down a couple of notches from them, though! I probably took two or three dozen takes of the main solo over the verse chords, most of them ending part of the way through when I knew an idea wasn’t right.
What was the biggest learning curve in writing the single?
Ethan: Since there’s so much of my trumpet, I had to find ways vary my sound in as many ways as possible. I used a more warm, low-mid tone for the melody part and more drone-like brighter sounds for the pads and harmonies. I even flipped my mic around to get a warmer sound for some of the parts. Every detail really translates, and that’s what I love about intimate projects like this one. I looked to dynamics as a way to add or subtract energy. Luckily, I could bounce some ideas off Sean as I went, and he could help me narrow them down. Sometimes I used a bit too many. All in all, this was such a blast to make. I hope to do this many more times in the future!
Would you change anything now it’s finished?
Sean: Too late now!
What are your plans for the year ahead?
Sean: Making more music with the fellas. I’ll keep you posted! For now, I’m enjoying this stop-motion visualizer that my friend Charlotte animated for “I Miss the Old You” (the version with me singing).
Is there anything else you would like to share with the world?
Sean: Stay safe. Be kind to each other, it’s all we’ve got left.