By John Taylor
On paper, everything about Cold Country shouldn't work—fuzz-folk is a genre that, by now in 2012, has surely been exhausted. But leave it to frontman Sean McConnell and his talented band to convince skeptics otherwise. McConnell's sense of rhythm and melody are, like McConnell himself, no-nonsense and infectiously optimistic. You've heard harmonica before, but you've never heard it played this cheerfully. The songwriting follows suit; awkwardly brilliant anecdotes such as “We could dance/ around your room/ we could fall in love/ I hope it happens soon” (“Fly On Your Wall”) are delivered with such heart and sincerity that you can't help but believe in McConnell and his band.
Read on for an interview with McConnell, and be sure to come out tonight for the band's free show at Live Wire Lounge in support of their newly released EP.
WCR: Tell me about the harmonica! Loved the playing.
Sean McConnell: I remember my dad had this harmonica and I used to play it all around the house. That was years ago. When I started this new project, I loved the sound of the harmonica, so I picked it up again. I actually want to go back home and find out where that harmonica is. It's in the house, in this drawer. It was always there. I would pick it up and play it sometimes, and then I lost track of it.
Dylan comparisons. Do you get that a lot?
SM: [Laughs] Luckily, no one's called that out yet. Every time I play the harmonica, I expect someone to say something. But no one's brought it up. It could be something where everyone in the room is like, “Don't say it.” I'm a huge fan of Dylan, of course, but I don't think just because he played the harmonica that nobody else could do it again.
The song “Austin City Limits”--did you use to live in Austin?
SM: Only a few months. I was in a two-piece called You Are An Airplane. I was living in Chicago for a year and half, and then I went down to Austin, Texas for eight months just to check it out. It was during winter too, so I got to skip out on that and check out a new city. [“Austin City Limits”] was written while I was down there while I was with that two-piece.
I was playing in that, moved back here. Quit that project, and moved here. Then, me and the other member split because she's still living down in Austin. I started writing other songs even though I was still performing under You Are An Airplane--just kind of started, feeling that I should go under a different name because I was exploring other ideas. That's when I got a new band.
What goes through your mind when you're on stage?
SM: I've gotten to a point where I can go wherever I need to go to play the songs naturally. I just try to be a part of the songs. I don't really think about the people out there too much.
I used to close my eyes throughout the entire set. When I first started playing, my eyes were closed the whole time. And sometimes people would bring it up. “Hey, your eyes are closed!” [Laughs] I'm better now. I keep my eyes open. Not much eye contact though. I look around the room. I find stuff to focus on.
I like to be part of the band because it's easy for me to be on stage and be like, almost, separate from everyone else. Sometimes I like to turn around and go, “Hey, I'm playing with people.” It's cool to just turn around. If there's someone I look to the most, it's Chris. If Chris and I are on the same page then everybody else is on the same page. I'll look at Chris and go, “Alright. Everyone's on the same page.”
What's that in your hair?
SM: It's a dread. Just a hair wrap. It's all kinda dreaded it up here. A mass of hair.
What's next for you and Cold Country?
SM: We play at Pancho's [now Township] a lot. Recently, we played our first show there under the new name. It was a tight set, and the place was packed. It was great to play a show to a full crowd. They do a few drink tickets and a 50% off a meal for the bands. That's pretty cool. And the guy who books the shows, he enjoyed our set, so I think that might end up being a venue that we play a lot.
And the name “Cold Country,” where did that come from?
SM: I was looking for a new name, and “Cold Country” came out of nowhere. It's a homage to a thing my dad used to say. He's like an old timer...When I told him I was moving out here, because I'm from Phoenix, he used to always be like, “Oh, you're going to the cold country.” Instead of saying where he was from, he used to say, “I'm from the cold country.”
Cold Country plays Live Wire Lounge tonight, April 12th at 10pm. The show is free and the drinks are strong. (At least that's what the band told us.) What more could you ask for?