Sean Carey's Range of Light begins like the still quiet of a forest morning.
"Glass/Film," the opening song of Carey's second full-length album, comes with the distinct sense of an awakening, starting with a heart-beat drum and slowly building, a soft guitar, a flash of horn.
Carey says the album is named for what naturalist John Muir called the Sierra Nevada range, and that grand, panoramic beauty of the mountains is something that inspired his songwriting.
Carey, who lived in Arizona for five years growing up and spent much of his childhood with his father exploring places like the Mogollon Rim, the White Mountains, Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevadas, uses nature as a metaphor for understanding and describing the differing emotions that recently have guided his life.
"When the songs started to form into a record, I noticed that there was this range of emotion in the songs for me and I started thinking about what was going to capture that spectrum," Carey says. "There was just a moment I thought that would really work as a title for the songs. I loved the simplicity of it and I loved the metaphor of it, on an emotional level."
Range of Light, the follow-up to Carey's 2010 debut All We Grow, expands on his jazz- and classical-informed folk music, giving his songs more complexity and dynamics, a memorable sense of depth and beauty, and a panoramic quality that suggests those big, formidable landscapes.
The blooming quality of "Glass/Film" is intentional, Carey says, as was the April 1 release date for the album.
"A lot of the songs have references to nature and specifically to mountains," he says. "The release date was important, to me, that it was in the spring. A lot of the songs have a spring and summer connection to me."
Not only does the album reflect a range of emotions for Carey, but a range of experiences throughout the years as well, a new father thinking back to his own childhood.
"I was drawing from experiences I had, some of them were really recent and others were digging into my past quite a ways. With that there were some joyous parts, celebrating some places, really being nostalgic about my childhood and going on road trips with my dad," he says. "But also I feel like there are a lot of darker things, partially because I really like writing sad music, and some of those experiences I've had that weren't good, that were growing experiences. It's a whole range, from my childhood and even up to right now."
Carey, who also plays drums and sings in Bon Iver, says the experiences that led to his first and second albums were so different that he pushed to make the records very different. All We Grow came from a time when he'd suddenly become a world traveler, those experiences finding their way into songs.
"Starting out going from a 22-year-old college student to pretty much touring the country and then Europe and then Australia, all within a couple years, was a huge experience for me. That's really where the beginnings of All We Grow came from, those experiences and being really inspired and being exposed to a bunch of new music," he says. "We'd play festivals and I'd always go check out all these other bands that were up and coming. They were totally inspiring because they were just doing it. When you see people having success and owning their craft and their creativity I was extremely inspired by that."
Carey put together the songs for Range of Light over a two-year period, which allowed for more ideas - musically and lyrically - to have their impact on the album. And even as Carey was growing more confident in his own singing and songwriting voice, his touring band became more involved in the music.
"It was a great experience to have them around and have their input," he says. "We recorded in a studio this time, which changes the vibe and the sound quality a lot and makes it that much richer. We'd go in for three or four days at a time and do a couple songs and then I'd sit with them and figure out how to make them better and write lyrics.
"I think I did want to do something that was a little more expansive and more detailed at the same time. All in all it was definitely a different creative experience and I feel like the songs and the whole vibe is really similar, but it's just more thought out and more textured" he says.
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