I’m not a big fan of Jeff Lynne’s productions and I’m not a fan of Elvis Costello. Timmy Sean’s new record sounds like a Jeff Lynne-produced Elvis Costello record and yet I just think it’s AMAZING!
Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Timmy about his Power Pop Rock Opera!
How did this record come together?
To make a short story long, I started the pandemic with a large pile of song ideas, most of them essentially without lyrics, which almost always is the last step for me. The music usually comes to me with much more ease than words, and to be honest, it often tends to feel a bit like homework to get the lyrics knocked out. That being said, 2020 gave me plenty to write about.
I live in Los Angeles, and I kept saying it felt like we were living in a strange supernatural horror movie. The songs that I did have lyrics for felt to me like the beginning of a story. So jumping off of that first chapter, inspired by everything happening in the world, and with some extra time on my hands, thanks to the lockdown, I decided to give a shot at stitching together something that I always wanted to attempt: a rock opera.
To write about everything without being too literal, the virus became a monster attack, the politics in the US became a cult called the “Red Eyed Army,” and at least at the beginning of the tale, the lead character was kind of an alternate universe version of myself at 18 when I dropped out of college to play music full time.
About 10 months later of sitting alone in my studio, I had A Tale From The Other Side.
When did you decide to start asking for opinions on the new songs?
I’ve spent the last year essentially just with my girlfriend, and I am constantly pitching new song ideas to her. She grew up in a musical family, and I always tell her she has the best set of ears of any flavor chemist around. To quote the great David St. Hubbins of Spinal Tap, “she is very honest, she is brutally frank,” but it’s a great sounding board to have. If I can win her over on a song, I usually have a good feeling of whether it’s working or not. With the pandemic, she ended up being about the only person who heard these songs before I had something close to a finished mix.
The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?
I’d be happy to move a few physical copies, get some streams, and maybe some nice reviews. I would consider that a success, especially because it has been a decade since I released my last full-length solo album (Songs From & Inspired By Noisewater, which was also my first.) That being said, I’d love for the album to be received well enough (and get a sufficient number of people vaccinated) that there would be an audience for a live version of it in some sort of hybrid concert/movie/musical form.
I’ve been privileged to play music for a living since I was a teenager, and it might be kind of sacrilege to say, but I get more enjoyment out of putting on a big production than the act of playing an instrument live (ducks for cover). So there’s nothing I’d love more than turning this into kind of a KISS concert meets big “popcorn movie” meets Off-Broadway musical. So, if there are any investors out there…
How great is the urge to stay creative? To keep writing songs and lyrics?
I’m constantly coming up with song ideas – whether it’s sitting at the piano, driving in my car, or waking up in the middle of the night to reach for my phone and hum a melody I dreamt into the voice memos app. I recently checked, and I have about 3,000 song ideas (though plenty of lousy ones) sitting in my phone, so it usually just comes down to giving myself deadlines to get things over the finish line.
After a bit of a record label and management debacle in the early 10’s, by 2014 I had a huge backlog of recorded material that I finally just decided to put out on my own. In the next few years, I self-released two EP’s from my synth-pop project Sir Video that I recorded with multi-platinum producer (and all-around swell guy) Kenny Gioia, several covers, and 53 fresh recordings for a “Songs Of The Week” project that I released to subscribers on Bandcamp in 2015.
I later compiled the covers and subscription tunes into a two-disc collection called Weeks, but even before the pandemic, I was ready to force myself to finish another proper solo album in 2020. Though it’s been a devastating year for so many, fortunately, all of my close friends and immediate family have been taking every precaution, and so far, no one has been hit seriously by the virus.
For me, the time has just been a gift to be single-mindedly creative and able to work through all of these half-finished recordings I’ve had piling up again.
You can pick 3 co-writers to write new songs with. Who? … and Why?
Number 1 will always be Paul McCartney for me. My father and uncles have performed in the world’s longest-running Beatles tribute show in the world since before I was born, so The Beatles will always be inextricably tied to pretty much every part of my life.
I played along with their version of Twist & Shout on drums in a school talent show in kindergarten, and I haven’t looked back since. To meet Paul would be enough, but to write together would be the ultimate “I’m good here on this earth” moment. If I did come back down to earth in that situation, I’d try to push him towards some of his earlier works’ melodic choices.
Number 2 would be Butch Walker. I’ve been a fan of his since I was a teenager staying up late to watch 120 Minutes on MTV and caught the Marvelous 3 “Freak Of The Week” video, but he’s mapped out such an amazing career of making great solo material, producing records for some of my favorite rock bands, and writing hits for pop stars.
He’s someone I would love to model my career after, and his American Love Story album that he released last year was also a big inspiration for the direction of A Tale From The Other Side. I’m someone who usually can find something to like in all kinds of music, so to pick his brain on his approach to “writing hits” vs. “writing for himself” as a producer multi-instrumentalist who can do it all, would be an invaluable experience. Plus, he just seems like a cool dude to grab a beer with.
Number 3 is a close call between some guys who can all write a great melody: Rivers Cuomo, Dave Grohl, Ben Folds, Brian Wilson, Jeff Lynne, and Jon Brion. (I’m kind of cheating at this by naming so many.) They’re all musical heroes of mine – Dave Grohl as a drummer turned one-man-band, Ben Folds as a lyricist, Brian Wilson as a composer, Jeff Lynne as a producer, Jon Brion as just an overall genius – but I’d probably give the edge to Rivers.
I very closely associate my journey to adulthood with Weezer’s first three albums. The Blue Album came out when I was in elementary school, Pinkerton in middle school, and Green Album my senior year of high school.
All three seemed to perfectly encapsulate what I was going through at those times and they all left a life-long impression on me. Just like Butch, Rivers also has a knack for writing for both modern pop and rock, and I’d love to just sit in a room seeing how his brain works writing a song. I feel like his mind is on a completely different level than mine. The guy’s truly just unique, and that seems like a really exciting writing session.
Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?
Absolutely. Especially as someone who can jump between multiple instruments and at least marginally knows how to lay some tracks down to sound close to what’s in my head, the recording comes fairly easy for me at this point on my own.
The hardest thing is getting people to give a listen to something when they’re inundated with content 24/7 from every angle. Also, as someone who doesn’t like to be pushy or a nuisance, “I don’t want to bother you” can sometimes be a failing strategy to get someone to take notice. The squeaky wheel gets the grease…but squeaking is obnoxious!
Recording music. What’s all the fun about?
For me, there’s usually a point during the recording of a song where it clicks into place. Sometimes it’s pretty early on and the basic tracks just “gel.” Other times, it’ll be a guitar part, or a synth line, or a harmony, and suddenly the song finally comes alive and grabs your ears. I live for that moment. I also just love to be able to get the sound from my head out for other people to hear.
When I come up with a song idea, I’m usually hearing drum parts, bass lines, and guitar parts in my head instantly. Then it’s just a race to try to get those ideas down before I lose whatever spark there is right out of the gate. I’ve found it’s a hard thing to recapture if I lose it, but it’s so much fun when it works.
They expect ‘the roaring 20s v2.0’. What kind of party are you looking for?
I wasn’t ever a huge partygoer, but I would head to a movie theater just about every week before the pandemic hit, and am a big basketball fan. If I can sit in a theater watching a Marvel movie or catch a 76ers game with some friends, mask-less drinking a soda and munching on some popcorn without any fear of catching a deadly virus…man, that sounds like a party!