San Francisco-based singer-songwriter Sean Hayes knows you heard about him from your folk-music-loving lady friend. He says he gets that a lot. "I feel like women are the gateway," he jokes.
Maybe you recall his timeless voice paired with Aimee Mann on "Ballentines," the closing song of her 2008 album @#%&*! Smilers or mentioned frequently on NPR or adding some emotion to that car commercial. He's one of those artists who camps out on the fringes of the music world, but once your ears catch wind of his natural, rhythmic, reggae-tinged form, you wonder where he's been all your life.
"I definitely record in a style that's very organic and live," Hayes describes, "It's one to three takes and maybe an overdub here and there. Mostly, it's the whole band altogether playing the song. Stylistically, that's the way people recorded years ago, but it's actually rare, now. My influences are more from a different time period, like Otis Redding, Nina Simone, Van Morrison, and Bob Marley. I really don't think about genre at all. I never think I want to make a folk record or a reggae record. It's a documentary style."
Hayes has accomplished much as a musician without the help of a major label.
"I realized I was waiting for some big hand to reach down and tell me I was alright and show me the way. I realized I just needed to do what I needed to do to make to happen," he says.
Hayes' emotional lyrics connect with the heart, while his background in theater allows the audience to see his vulnerability on stage. He has the ability to articulate the basic human needs of love and sex in a distinctive way but can tell a story through song like Harry Chapin. The track "Dolores Guerrero" tells the mysterious history of his apartment, while "Rosebush Inside" was inspired by the struggles of released death row inmate Moreese Bickham.
"They are all personal things that affect me or I read about or just feel emotionally," he responds to the question of what he mines for his music's subject matter, "Sometimes at it's worst it's like journal writing. At its best it connects to people and enlightens. With Moreese, it really struck me and because of his voice it was something I wanted to remember. His story had a lesson to it."
Nearly 15 years into his career, Hayes is spinning quite the yarn for himself, too.
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