Bon Iver percussionist Sean Carey’s creativity is second nature. For example, his debut solo effort All We Grow (released under the name S. Carey) was pieced together between Bon Iver tour outings. And the same is true for his forthcoming four-song Hoyas EP, which began as a fleshing-out of ideas with fellow Eau Claire dweller and musician Ben Lester (who also plays drums/pedal steel with A.A. Bondy). Neither were planned efforts — they just happened. A more recent project with Gayngs’ Ryan Olson, Bon Iver creator Justin Vernon and rapper Astronautalis was so on-the-fly, he didn’t know he’d be a participant until the day they recorded. As reported by the Minneapolis City Pages, the three-day session yielded a lot of material, though Carey says there’s no planned release date or even a band name yet. They did discuss playing live shows, eventually. Hive caught up with S. Carey this week to learn how Hoyas developed, what handcrafted instruments and “junk” informed his sound, and the potential for freestyling on the Astronautalis/Bon Iver/Gayngs untitled project.
You recorded most of Hoyas in your attic. Is the set up high-tech there?
I’m pretty new to recording so I have very, very basic setup. I have four microphones and some other stuff and I’m still learning … but it has a really cool vibe up there in that me and Ben, actually even before we started working on this music, he helped me take some barn wood off of an old barn and we put it up in the attic. So it has a really comfortable and warm vibe up there.
I read you employed handcrafted instruments and “junk.”
Ben made this instrument called a Lester Log, and it’s a really big wood block that I’ve used in Bon Iver and I’ve used it on almost all my recordings just ‘cause it’s a really great wood sound. But I guess what we meant by [junk] is that we it wasn’t high tech, it wasn’t fancy, it was just some of it was recorded on the computer microphone. It sorta had that kind of whatever raw thing, and we didn’t really care about the sound quality. We just were kinda creating weird, cool sounds. And so I guess we call that junk, just that using whatever, I guess not having any limits to what sounds we were going to use and what recording technique we were gonna use.
How did your collaboration with Ryan, Justin, and Astronautalis happen?
That was literally Justin texting me the day of the session and he was just like, “Hey you want to come out? Me and Ryan Olson are gonna be messing around with some new gear.” That was how that started. Then Ryan sort of had the whole vision … he has these crazy ideas, and he’s really a great curator and he’s really hard to understand. Sometimes you’re like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, you want me to play like this?” And then, but somehow he gets you to do it, without making any sense, really. So I went over there and we just started messing around with some tracks that he had the skeleton for, as far as bass and some electronic drums. Me and Justin sang a bunch of stuff on top and I did some drums on the songs and then Astronautalis came the next day and did a bunch of freestyling and then I went back for another day. But it was only about three days of work, and then Ryan I guess now is going through all the stuff and putting it together in interesting ways.
You mentioned that Ryan had a vision with it, though it’s sometimes hard to understand. What was the vision, exactly? Did he make that clear?
Uhhh, not to me. I think, yeah. I don’t know, I think he just kind of he had these tracks and he wanted to hear Astronautalis rap over these tracks and he wanted to hear how Justin and I could sort of help shape them more into songs. Yeah, I’m not really sure.
Well it’s really intriguing, but I’m trying to envision what it actually sounds like. How would you describe it?
I’m not sure it’s like fully realized yet, but it’s, hmmm. I mean it’s very, it sounds similar I guess to other projects that Ryan’s worked on – Gayngs and Polica. It has that sort of vibe in the way that he arranges things together, but obviously different with me on drums and then the way that Justin and I sing, and just our melodic ideas and stuff like that.
Did either you or Justin freestyle rap on this?
Definitely not me. That would sound really funny. Justin didn’t freestyle per se, but we all sort of freestyled in our parts. We didn’t rap, but we were sort of freestyling/improvising melodies and just trying out a bunch of different stuff and that’s what was cool about Ryan. You can just try whatever, and then he’s gonna go through and pick out what he likes. So, that was liberating in the recording, in the studio because I would take one take and try 12 to 15 different ideas, and then he might just pick one, and it’s fine because it’s fun to just try a bunch of different stuff.
Would you say the process was looser when you’re working on a project like this versus when you do Bon Iver or your own solo work?
It’s so different, yeah. It’s really refreshing because it’s almost all just instinctual stuff. And you don’t really have time to get inside your head or get to overthinking things, or get tentative or whatever, you just do it and Ryan’s personality is definitely, “Just go with your gut, and no inhibitions.” It was really interesting and really refreshing and fun.
Hoyas EP is due out May 8 on Jagjaguwar. Check out the song “Two Angles” below: