Instrumental Guitarist Sean Lister Is Living Proof It's Never Too Late To Pursue Your Creative Passions

Sean Lister is an instrumental guitarist based on the Gold Coast.
National Music Editor, based in Brisbane, Australia.
'Passionate about true crime docos, the Swannies, golf and sleep, I’ve been writing about music for 20-plus years. What I’ve learnt? There’s two types of music – good and bad.’

The past two years for Gold Coast-based instrumental guitarist Sean Lister has seen him not only reignite his passion for the instrument, but also pursue the craft full-time setting up his own home studio with mentoring from Sydney's guitar maestro and teacher James Norbert Ivanyi.

After not picking up a guitar seriously for 15 years (not since his Pantera moshing days at least), Sean was driving home from work when a Plini track came on his playlist.

It was the spark that produced a desire within Sean to follow a long dormant dream to record and produce his own collection of songs and release them into the world. So began a two-year journey with plenty of trials and tribulations.

"After building my home studio from scratch and teaching myself production, learning how to write drums, bass and keyboards to accompany my guitar, along with piecing together an interesting and exciting song structure has definitely been the hardest thing I've ever done musically."

Last month, Sean saw his goals come to fruition with the release of a three-track EP 'The Colours of Space'.

"It has been a pretty steep learning curve, but I'm really proud of how it has turned out. I think any fans of Opeth, James Norbert Ivanyi or instrumental prog in general will really enjoy it."

You've spent the past two years writing and self-recording your debut EP; I'm sure there have been plenty of ups and downs along the way – how much of a learning experience has it been personally?
Wow! A massive one! Getting back into guitar, deciding that I wanted to release something and then finding a mentor that could help me shorten the learning curve was just the beginning.

Next was practicing guitar and writing songs at the same time to get my guitar chops up to somewhere close to where they needed to be. I then started writing crappy track after crappy track until I had something I was proud of and that was a true reflection of me as a musician at the time.

Going through the whole release stage including filming videos and photography (both of which put me way outside my comfort zone, lol) was the final process in putting this EP together. All of these steps, plus many more, all kicked my ass personally and presented their own mental challenges to overcome.

Was there a specific moment when you decided you'd have a crack at creating your own collection of songs and recording them?
Yeah definitely. I hadn't really played or practised my guitar properly for about 15 years.

Then one day driving home from work, Plini's 'Handmade Cities' came up on my playlist. I just got inspired again like when I was 15 listening to Pantera and those old instructional guitar videos of Paul Gilbert and Vinne Moore.

'The Colours Of Space' is the end result – a three-song EP; how does this collection of songs introduce Sean Lister the artist?
I guess I'm an '80s/ '90s-inspired instrumental metal guitarist with a progressive twist. I enjoy pushing musical boundaries and will always continue working to improve my skill set and create something better than the last.

You mixed and mastered all three songs as well; did you take a course or learn from online tutorials? Any assistance from anyone IRL?
Yeah, I did a diploma years ago at SAE (Sound Audio Engineering), but really my main guidance and mentorship has been and continues to be from James Norbert Ivanyi.

What about playing guitar excites you to create instrumental music?
The freedom to do what I want musically with no rules and having no one else to answer to.

For the guitar geeks/ heads out there, what arsenal of axes do you have at your disposal? What other gear populates the studio?
Man, I keep a very basic setup. My main guitar is an Ibanez AZ. I have a Kiesel which I also really like. I don't need anything else at this stage.

I used to play a seven-string years ago but now I enjoy the challenge of writing in standard 'E' with six strings. They run into my Fractal FM3 and UAD Apollo twin and that's it really, everything else is in the box.

How much time do you spend in your home studio?
Probably too much but then again, not enough (lol). I don't know, maybe one-two hours a day if I can.

You built the studio from scratch – how time consuming yet rewarding was that process slowly piecing it together?
It's really been a process of simplify and streamline. It's been time consuming for the fact of trying out gear, having too much gear and getting rid of gear that isn't really practical like tube amps and isolation cabs.

I think now I've finally got a nice simple setup that is more than enough to get the next EP done. I've just upgraded my monitors and acoustically treated my studio, so I can really work on my mixing skills for this.

Biggest music-based lesson you have learnt the past two years?
Playing in time is hard. It has always been a struggle of mine that I continue to work on daily, but this process has highlighted this weakness and forced me to focus on it.

Fair call to say it's your happy place to escape the tension of the outside world?
Ha ha – sometimes. It can also be a place I dread, depending on what I'm working on and how many times I've heard it. I don't see it as escapism, I see it as a love-hate passion.

You've done all of this while working and parenting full-time; so when do you sleep? Seriously, how have you micromanaged everything and is a passion for music a must to undertake the journey?
I have no idea, that's probably why it took me so long to complete (lol). I think you definitely need the passion, but a high pain threshold is more useful!

Seriously though, I already have a passion for music and the guitar but I would have never got through the process without James mentoring and pushing me. Having him help me set small weekly goals and just chipping through it week after week is what it took.

I did have to leave my job at the end of last year just to get the mental space but, when I did that, it opened up my creativity and motivation to complete this EP.

For any bedroom guitarists or musicians contemplating going a similar path like you have, what advice do you have to share?
I've found that the hardest obstacle to overcome was my mental attitude towards having realistic goals that I was actually able to achieve with my abilities and not compare myself to other guitarists that I look up to. Push through these mental barriers and each time you do, the closer you'll be to your goal.

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