NEW TUNES Sean Finn’s debut album ‘End of Summer’ will be released later this month.
IT isn’t unheard of for musicians to retreat to quiet rural locations to compose new material. British rock legends Led Zeppelin famously decamped to Bron-Yr-Aur cottage in rural Wales, where they penned some of their best tunes.
“I think the difference between me and Led Zeppelin is is that I didn’t have the option of going to a state-of-the-art recording studio,” remarks Seán Finn, who has recorded his entire debut album in a shed in his native Tourmakeady.
Even as modern DIY musicians go, recording an album a garden shed is quite a novelty.
It is even more peculiar when you consider the amount of fine recording studios in Ireland and in the UK, from where Seán is speaking to The Mayo News, in his house in Putney, London.
Like many, Seán Finn found himself back home in the summer of 2020 with not a lot to do after completing a master’s degree in physics in Amsterdam. A vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, he had been writing and recording demos in his house for some years previously. However, writing and producing an entire album would have caused no small amount of disturbance to his mother and grandmother.
Instead, he turned his attention to old storage room at the back of the garden shed where he used to lift weights from time to time.
“I thought this could actually really work as a small little [recording] space, so that’s all it was,” he says over a Zoom call.
“If I was recording late at night, I wouldn’t be bothering anybody in my house. Of course, it’s in the countryside so I wouldn’t be bothering the neighbours much – maybe the sheep, perhaps, at most.”
Over the course of late 2020 and 2021, Seán would spend many late nights writing in this shed, recording and tweaking his equipment, sometimes until four o’clock in the morning.
Bar the drums – which were taken care of by a session player – he plays every instrument on his ten-track debut album, ‘End of Summer’.
Working with mastering engineer Jack Roulston, Seán has crafted an album that you’d never guess was cut in a shed in the back end of Tourmakeady (there are some references to this, but more on that later).
As a vocalist, he displays an impressive range, descending to a Johnny Cash-esque baritone during parts of ‘Old and Gray’ and ‘Cakewalk Day’. Likewise, his keyboard skills sparkle in several tracks, particularly the Elton John–like ‘I’ll Be Me’.
The chilled out, lazy late-summer vibe of rural Ireland is captured in acoustic-driven easy listeners like ‘No I Won’t Deny’ and ‘Pencil In Regret’ which features a guitar solo from Seán friend Peter Foley. At the more exotic end of the spectrum ‘Mexican Lady In Red’, which is as jazzy as the name suggests, but still accessible.
The album’s sonic palette, though limited, is apposite for Seán’s brand of jazz-tinged pop, inspired by artists ranging from The Beatles to Frank Ocean and Canadian DIY superstar Mac DeMarco.
He says that recording in a shed with basic equipment and no proper soundproofing often meant painstakingly adjusting dials and microphones to get the exact right sound.
“If you have equipment that’s several grand worth, it probably sounds great. The moment you turn it on, you don’t even need to do anything,” he explains.
“In terms of production I’m entirely self-taught. I’ve never really got lessons,” he adds.
Sprinkled on some of the tracks are snippets of speech, including 34 seconds of a conversation with his grandmother on ‘Rest’.
Seán says this was done to remind the listener of the DIY nature of an album that is ‘DIY’ in every sense of the phrase.
“The idea was that someone could be listening to the album and then they might just realise halfway through ‘Oh, this is just one guy recording’. It just makes it all sound a little more homely. I guess it’s kind of the intention.”
Coming of age
Thematically, the ‘coming of age’ lyrics sit well with the young man who wrote them. Breakups, hope, expectation and facing the realities of life are themes that most people his age can relate to.
“It’s also about kind of coming to terms with that, and being a little bit more accountable for yourself, and being a little bit a bit more realistic in your expectations, but not completely losing your hopes and dreams either,” Seán says.
His album is due out on Friday, August 5, but already he is making and executing other plans.
In the near future he intends to undertake a master’s in music production to improve the skills he sharpened in the Tourmakeady garden shed.
He is also kept busy playing keyboards for Sligo native Jack Dora, another up-and-coming young Irish talent based in the UK.
Seán makes no secret of the fact that he would like to go to America someday, if that’s where the road takes him.
“It’s very unlikely going to end up going back to the shed and doing another album. Maybe I would, but it doesn’t seem very likely,” he admits.
Or maybe it could become his very own Bron-Yr-Aur.