The first solo release he's recorded with a full band, Adelaide musician Sean Kemp enters 2021 brimming with plenty of positive energy with his newest single 'Smile'.
A song he partially collaborated with The Audreys' Taasha Coates, the artwork for the 'Smile' single features Sean's late grandmother.
Sean is also a fixture of Adelaide's live music scene (either with a number of previous bands as well as his solo material) having toured with the likes of Leo Sayer and Hot Chocolate as well as supporting the likes of Dionne Warwick, Sarah McLeod, Tim Rogers and Phil Jamieson.
Your new single is titled 'Smile', a song you wrote about seeing others happy; how did the song first come to be?
My usual writing process is fairly organic. Starts with me strumming a few chords on guitar until I'm happy with some sort of 'structure', and then I'll automatically get an idea about what the song should be about. Of course, this can be a vague idea. I will then start lyrics and pass the story to Kirsten [Glover], who starts to piece it all together.
I'm a big collaborator. My brother Drew will also transform songs on more of technical level. He's been known to teach me a few new chords or just putting various chords together to suit choruses or bridges etc.
I wrote this song during the first lockdown in SA. I must admit, my happiness had gone out the window for a while there so seeing others use humour to get through was a big part of the inspiration.
The writing process for 'Smile'; a birdy informs me you had a little assistance from an ARIA Award winning artist – how did they help the evolvement of 'Smile'?
Taasha Coates from The Audreys and I have know each other around the Adelaide traps, and I casually told her about this project and to my luck she accepted to be involved.
Taasha is such a creative genius. She already knew what the song would sound like within the first five minutes of writing. That is true cream of the crop talent. I'm also a massive fan of her work and love all the albums she has written.
It was great when I started writing with Taasha and seeing all of her ARIA Awards. I am very fortunate as Taasha and I are also friends.
'Smile' is the first release you've recorded with a full band since going solo; what does each player bring to the project?
To be honest, I always visualise and hear the music with just acoustics and voices. But when I was writing with this particular mentor, Taasha encouraged me to play drums on the recording and to have bass, keys etc. Whatever brought out the best in the song.
Being a drummer as well that gave me a chance – for the first time – to play drums on my own music. When you're a guitar player and a drummer the process is crazy-easy. You know how it's going to go from the beginning. So, my brother Drew sings and plays lead guitar/ bass, Kirsten sings backing and shares lyric writing, and for this song I brought in Jason Coe who played keys but is also an incredibly talented singer and drummer.
The artwork for 'Smile' features your grandmother Phyllis; she was obviously an important figure to you while growing up; can you share the story of the confectionary fairy that would arrive if you were well behaved?
Ha! Grandmother Phyllis was gem. The only grandparent apart from my grandfather I knew. I lived with her for a while when I was quite young to keep her company.
She'd tell me stories about this and that to keep my interest, especially her apparent friend 'Fairy Twinkle Toes'. If I was well behaved, the fairy would leave chocolates and lollipops for my brother and I. Basically a bribe, ha! My grandmother was the best and I still feel like she is around from time to time.
I found an old photo of her smiling out the front of her place in the western suburbs of Adelaide and knew it'd be perfect for my single artwork.
Is this the first of more new material from you; is there a larger body of songs in the works?
Yes, most certainly. Have already started working on the next song and plan to do more and more with Taasha, Drew and Kirsten – my dream would be to do a full album. Maybe I'll get there one day. I feel that the support and encouragement is there plus the know-how.
You have a local launch show at The Wheatsheaf Hotel this month; what can punters expect from the show?
Me in a cowboy hat? Ha! My brother, Kirsten and I have really honed the live show. We thrive on our singing voices and the delivery.
Drew has been a great influence on my guitar sounds and getting the best from my Fender and Maton acoustics. We also delve into some tribal-percussion live (that's the drummer in me). It's unformed, experimental, unwritten sounds; exploring the more percussive side of acoustic guitars. They're such a spectacular instrument.
Also, The Wheatsheaf is such a GREAT live music venue in Adelaide. Absolute professionals with a state of the art sound system, accomplished mixers and generous with the Wheaty-beer rider(wink, wink). The Wheaty are world-renown for their in-house beer. The 'Thebartonia' is a particular favourite of mine.
You released a 5-track EP, 'Flicka', in 2018; how does your new material relate to that batch of songs?
Actually, not in any way. That was a bunch of songs I'd written that just needed to be recorded. It was quick and didn't take much time. I recorded that at Mixmasters Studios, which is one of the best studios in the world.
For what it was I was happy; triple j played the EP and it got some excellent reviews. But with this recording, way more thought has gone in and planning.
Also I have worked with Matt Williams for the first time on my solo music. I play drums in a yob-alt-rock act called Surviving Sharks and we did a recording with Matt a couple of years ago. The experience was a memorable one. So, I knew he was the producer for this recording.
You're an advocate for mental wellness, even releasing a track titled 'RUOK'; the stigma around mental issues continues to subside but what more can be done by individuals to create an inclusive environment for all?
Just be kind to each other and if people need space give them space, but check in anyway. Keep control and talk to each other in a polite, calm manner. That has been a major learning curve for me. Always make sure you are available in some way for people.
I am a fairly public person, but also enjoy my alone time. Saying that it's also about finding balance and having that time to meditate away from everyday life – to re-group.
With the music industry, gender diversity is getting better but it can improve. Any promoter that just has 'all male' bills needs an education. C'mon, it's 2021. Some people may not approve of that, but we need to keep it inclusive.
You do a gig, make sure someone with a disability can attend. You want younger fans to come and see you perform? Make sure they know what they can and can't do. Just look into things and inform others of stuff.
Many people have asked me about 'RUOK'. I wrote that song after someone I knew took their life. We had a night for this person and I met the crew from RUOK. It was beautiful. Mental health and making life inclusive for others takes lots of hard work.
We as humans must work together and look out for one another. Don't be intimidated or scared to ask your friends and family regularly – are you ok? It's life-changing. Three simple words.
I asked someone this very question tonight and they just blurted out some stuff that's been troubling them. We chatted. They felt better. And then they had to go to bed as they'd eaten too much spaghetti, ha ha!
A quick trawl of your Facebook page and you've supported a who's who of Australian musicians (and that's just the past couple of years); to get so many support gigs means you doing something right, right? Most memorable support show and why?
As Lemmy says: "You have the be in the right place at the right time." And that's been the case with me. I've been very lucky to have opened for some legends of Australian music and also Grammy Award winning international stars. It's a trip!
Walking out on stage in front of hundreds and sometime thousands of people is a feeling like no other. The adrenaline rush is the best. A fresh audience to win over, game on!
I'd have to say and this is hard question to answer, but opening for Dionne Warwick in front of a sold-out crowd at Thebarton Theatre was mindblowing. I mean, it's Whitney Housten's aunty! She then asked me back a couple of years later. I was like "is this even real?".
Also, and just thinking, opening for the Bay City Rollers multiple times was just out of this world. Their crowd is one of the most caring, attentive bunch I've played to. I didn't even have to try. They gave me full support from the first note, and the tartan. Lots of tartan!
You're a stalwart of Adelaide’s music scene; what makes the city such a hive for new, emerging bands/ artists?
Thank you! I guess I have been around for a while. I used to go and watch Sia Furler play at local pubs here and opened for the Hilltop Hoods at a nightclub in a band I was moonlighting in.
In Adelaide, the musicians here are super passionate – and they love each other to death. I can't keep up sometimes, but what the younger crew do now, I used to do back in the day. Go and see Superjesus rock the Madlove Bar, Crisp with Sia Furler at Cargo and then down to the Austral Hotel to catch Revolvar.
I was out every single week watching local acts. I'd go up to bands like Goofy Footer (one of Adelaide's best bands back in the day) and hassle 'em about the gear they used. When they saw me coming I bet they thought 'Oh lord he comes that guy again', but they were such gentlemen; they'd tell me about their songs and amps etc. and then have a drink at the bar.
Just meeting people – I feel Adelaide musicians even now do that very well. They hang at each other's shows and then play together. Bring a tear to my eye. Ha ha.
Are you a musician who enjoys indulging in other musos' work, drawing inspirations etc?
I am a big fan of many local musicians work and have always been. I really like The Audreys, Alana Jagt, Emily Davis, Bec Stevens, Cosmo Thundercat, Koral and the Goodbye Horses, Twin Decoy, The Backyarders, Ollie English (and many more), and draw inspiration from artists such as Hootie and the Blowfish, Josh Pyke, Cat Stevens, Eddie Vedder, Pete Murray etc.
How special is your connection to the stage and performing live for an audience?
It's really been my only connection over the years. Performing live comes number one for me. That feeling of euphoria when someone books me on an awesome show? I still get it.
Audience interaction is important to me, and connecting with people after the show. I have lost count how many times I've walked off stage and punters just want to talk to me. It'd be daunting for the uninitiated, but I lap it up.
There's been times that I have talked for so long I am still standing there, covered in sweat with a guitar stand in my hand. But that's the role. And it's a fun one to play.
Do you have a pre-show routine you generally stick to prior to performing?
Not really. We just like to get into the venue as early as we can and get a good soundcheck in. If an actual band is on the show then they can line check, but just being organised is important.
I am always generally a little nervous before any event. But once the lights are on and all eyes are on you then it's game time. I treat it a little bit like when I was a football player. Once you cross the line, then it's time to perform and make a good job of it.
Away from the stage, I'm told you enjoy cooking; what's your go-to meal to bring everyone together?
Yes, I love to cook. This past year, I have spent more time on tutorials and learning more and more also about planting and from garden to table. I grow my own vegetables and have friends that I draw inspiration from in that area.
Go to meal? Maybe not from me, actually. My brother Drew is a keen BBQ fanatic. He is always checking out various barbequing styles etc. The BBQ is one of my favourites to bring everyone together.
For me though, I enjoy cooking Indian food and anything that involved Asian or Italian cooking. The Xmas Day just gone, I collaborated with my mother cooking a pork roast with a side of roasted potatoes and pumpkin. Was incredible and a first for me (as bad as that sounds).
My lifestyle was too busy to cook. Music, out with work mates, football training and dinner with team mates and an absolute myriad of take away! All that sort of food I was buying I now make myself, and if I don't know how to do it, hello YouTube.
Thanks for your time Sean; anything else you'd like to add?
Thank you for speaking to me and all the best in 2021 to all.
Sean Kemp launches 'Smile' at The Wheatsheaf (Adelaide) 22 January. It's a free show, but numbers are limited.