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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S. Carey Channels His Inner John Muir

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Sean Carey (known as S. Carey) is from Wisconsin. He grew up in Lake Geneva. He went to college in Eau Claire where he met, married and settled down with his wife. His day job is as drummer for Bon Iver and his latest solo album was recorded in Justin Vernon’s home state studios.

So Carey is from Wisconsin. But part of his soul—and most of his album—is permanently wandering the open spaces of the West Coast.

“Trips out there were love at first sight,” he recalled.

There is no shortage of links between Carey’s just-released sophomore album Range of Light and the great outdoors, not the least of which is its taking a name from naturalist John Muir’s description of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Or that Carey posted a nature photo to Instagram corresponding to each song on the album. Or that there are songs about mountains on the record and a big ol’ picture of a mountain on its cover. But there are no reasons stronger than the music itself. Carey’s modernized take on folk plays like Sufjan Stevens painting a landscape, with layers stacked upon layers interacting in a three-dimensional space taking full advantage of stereo speakers’ stereo-ness.

It’s a fitting tribute to Carey’s relationship with the Sierra Nevadas, one that started as a teenager and continues today. His trips out west aren’t like they used to be—month-long epics, road trips that’d hit Yosemite or the Grand Canyon or the beaches of Arizona.

“Coming from Wisconsin and going to mountains—any kind of mountains—was super exciting to me,” Carey said. “I remember the first time, driving up in the mountains. I could see them from 30 miles away and I was like ‘Oh man, there’s snow up there.’ And as we got close, it turned out it was the rocks reflecting the light.”

Like Carey, Muir was fascinated by the reflections, albeit in flowerier language (“[I]ts glorious floods of light…the sunbursts of morning among the icy peaks, the noonday radiance on the trees and rocks and snow, the flush of alpenglow…it still seems to me above all others the Range of Light,” wrote Muir in The Yosemite in 1912). Little wonder that, a century later, Carey would latch onto Muir’s writing.

“I started reading John Muir only a few years ago,” Carey said. “I brought The Yosemite with me on the first S. Carey tour. It kind of stuck with me throughout the last four or five years of being on the road. It became a really comforting thing to read, bringing me back to those memories.”

Fast forward to Carey as he assembled this most recent album. Among the allusions in both words and music to Muir’s west, he noticed a recurring lyric metaphor of light representing the spectrum of emotions accrued over a lifetime.

“I noticed a range of emotion with the songs. It wasn’t an album that was about one thing or one experience or one specific time of my life. It’s about a bunch of different things, some going back into childhood—walking around and visiting the mountains, and some songs that are really fresh—being an adult and planting roots in Wisconsin and starting a family. I liked the metaphor of the range of light. I think that everyone is on their own quest, as people in their own range of happiness and sadness, and I was using that metaphor for the songs as a whole.”

It was, he realized, an album about the Range of Light.

S. Carey headlines Club Garibaldi on Thursday, April 24, at 9 p.m. with White Hinterland and Old Earth.