Inspiration comes natural to folk-soul strummer Sean Hayes
Looking back, Sean Hayes says he worked on the title track of his latest album, Before We Turn To Dust, for about eight years.
The lyric, “You may spend all of your money before you turn to dust, but you will never spend all of your love,” had been bouncing around in his head for close to a decade, the singer-songwriter says. It would crop up in his mind from time to time, but Hayes never really knew what the line meant until his first son was born.
“I don’t think I could have ever figured out that line unless I had a child,” Hayes says. These days, the father of two knows exactly what his younger self was attempting to express. The love he feels for his family is unlike anything he’s ever experienced.
“It’s massive,” he says of the impact his boys have had on his life. Hayes has always written songs about personal experiences. He says he thinks of himself as a documentarian—constantly searching for inspiration within and in the stories of those around him.
Through his soul-searching, Hayes has found that he has a knack for soul music, which he blends with his equally strong passion for folk. Hayes crafts warm, acoustic guitar-driven songs that feel as loose and as free-spirited as they are spiritual. His voice is smooth and tender, with a hint of whiskey and cigarette grit. Think a more ragged version of Dave Matthews from the early days, or a much less glossy John Mayer—with all the charm and none of the frat-boy smarm.
You can almost hear the pick-scratch marks and unvarnished wood of Hayes’ guitar on tracks like “Garden” and “When We Fall In,” from Before We Turn To Dust. You can feel the years and the hard lessons learned in Hayes’ crooning-croaking delivery. And you might be able to catch a glint of kind-hearted wisdom in his cool stare, scruffy beard and wild hair when he plays Moe’s Alley on April 26.
Hayes’ music feels genuine and easy, even as it is decidedly roughly hewn. And considering how he describes the way he was “pulled into” music, it seems as if Hayes becoming a musician was less of an active pursuit and more of an eventuality.
“I never felt like a music kid,” he says of his early years figuring out chords on the guitar and piano. The technical side of music never appealed to him.
That explains why he describes hearing a fellow college student in his dorm playing the banjo, fiddle and mandolin as a “pivotal” moment in his life. “I think it opened my mind up a little bit,” he recalls. It must have done something. Shortly thereafter, Hayes says he gave up on college and started playing traditional Irish music for a spell.
“I don’t know what the true, deepest meaning of it is, but I’m still really attracted to traditional music and primitive melodies,” Hayes says. “It’s just this primal thing that gets me going. There’s usually an urge to dance and move people in a lot of that music.”
When Hayes puts it this way, suddenly soul and folk don’t seem like such strange bedfellows. After all, they are both music for the people by the people—created to have a good time and let it all out. It’s certainly hard not to tap a toe when listening to Before We Turn To Dust. And that’s the way Hayes likes it. He doesn’t want his fans to think too hard about his tunes—he certainly doesn’t think too hard about writing them. He just starts playing what he feels in his gut. It just so happens that what he feels most often is the motivation to play “four on the floor, move the couch out of the way, dance all night kind of music.”
Sean Hayes plays at 9 p.m. Friday, April 26 at Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. Tickets are $18/adv, $22/door. For more information, call