Sean Cronin’s Very Good is a band unlike all others. The members of this imagination-filled collective are crusaders for the new reign of passivity and focus on the age-old concept of showing things without actually saying them. The band may seem at first, to be elusive and secretive with the mission behind their music, but they like it that way. They create a sense of wonder that can only, truly be ceased when watching them perform live. I guarantee my chat with Sean won’t unveil the mystery for you. In fact, it may create more. But that’s what life’s all about, right?
“My ‘solo’ career as it exists within the band Very Good began in about 2006, when I started writing songs with lyrics again,” Sean began to explain how his love for music was initially sparked. “I hadn’t really written songs like that since high school when I played in a small town punk band. In 2006, I had been a working bassist for several years and I was kind of trying to find myself in music again, so I locked myself in my parents’ garage in my old hometown for a couple of weeks with just my bass and my voice. What I came up with eventually evolved into the music of Very Good.”
“As for my initial inspirations in music, it’s tough to say because I’ve been playing music since before I can remember,” he confessed. “My father was and is a great country finger-style guitarist and I started learning the piano and recorder when I was about four years old. My mom was always singing too, Joni Mitchell or CSNY, usually. I do remember that I would freak out whenever I heard the song ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky.’ I would beg my mom to put on the record and repeatedly jump off this one chair we had which was called “the jumping chair”. Or maybe it was called that because I would always jump off of it when my mom would put that record on…” he pondered the idea of that infamous chair, while I raised the next question; who is root of inspiration behind you, musically and personally?
“If I currently had a ‘jumping chair,’ a person that would insight me to jumping frenzies -it would be Dimitri Shostakovich. Although, it would really depend on the piece. Certain pieces would probably just make me want to sit down in the chair and cry,” Sean explained. “I guess any chair can be the ‘crying chair,’ really,” he went on. “I love Duke Ellington, especially his music from the 40’s. The Art Ensemble of Chicago’s record Baptizm, early Muddy Waters, Deerhoof, The Band, Leonard Cohen… Also, I really think The Beatles had something going,” he joked.
“In non-music-related matters, I’m a very big fan of the writing of Russian absurdist, Daniil Kharms. His writing changed the way I think about reality, and made me realize that a human needn’t be more or less significant than, say, a rock or a jar of jam. Then there’s, William Burroughs and Dostoyevsky.”
Sean’s vas spectrum of inspiration amazed me as you normally hear things from artists like, “my parents” or “my second grade teacher.” That was really just it, though. Sean isn’t a conventional artist. He thinks differently. Heard things differently. And ultimately brings a much different perspective on the world of music and telling stories through it. He’s also very comedic with his introspective outlook:
“Suddenly I feel like I’m filling out an online dating profile,” he laughed. “Although you shouldn’t say you like William Burroughs because he shot his wife, and most girls don’t like that. Especially the ones you would actually want to date.”
And his inspiration didn’t end there.
“I’m also inspired greatly by the plays of Eugene Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, Jean-Paul Sartre…you know, stuff that the average person doesn’t know about but that people who are really into weird theatre think is pretty basic, I guess. Same with films – David Lynch, Kubrick, Herzog, Tartovsky (the most beautiful of all). I wish I had more women on this list. Not just because I think it’s better for dating to include women on the list,” he circled back, “but because I really have been meaning to explore more female artists and directors. I neglected to mention Joni Mitchell and Bjork earlier but they are a couple of my absolute heroines.”
Your mind may be racing while picturing all of these influences coming together as one and that’s okay. Mine was too. But I think it helps paint the picture of Very Good and how they came to formation. If Kharms and Beckett and Duke Ellington had drinks and cigars together one night, Very Good is what would be left; along with ashes and drops of whiskey on ice, that is.
“I wrote and recorded a bunch of song demos that had a pretty wide variety of instruments overdubbed. So I said, ‘well, I guess I’m going to have to have a really big band. Shouldn’t be too difficult!’ Oy,” he sighed in a sarcastic tone.
“I was living in Vancouver, Canada, and I was wanting to explore music in all directions. You know, like without limits of convention or genre or even medium. I guess I had things that were not being allowed to come out in the music I had been playing, and I needed a place to puke.” By this time in the conversation, I was almost expecting imagery like that from, Sean. He paints a vivid picture not only with his music, but quite obviously everyday conversations as well. “Around the same time, I started a Marching Band that anyone could be in called ‘Too Big To Care Marching Band,’ which would collaborate with Very Good by crashing our shows. But that’s another story, really. Anyway, I guess the other goals were to create a perceptive experience for the audience that felt like it was taking them through different rooms or states of mind. I hoped it could be familiar enough that it would invite them in with open minds and then I could maybe introduce some things to them that were less familiar while they were in that open state. That’s why you could call it ‘avant-garde pop.’ Whether or not that is what I accomplished remains to be seen, because I found most people still felt it was pretty weird,” he almost concluded, but went on.
“A few years later I moved to New York and had to form an East Coast version of the band. Luckily, a couple of the members from Vancouver moved to New York in the meantime, so it’s kind of a beautiful beastly hybrid.”
By this point, you may have the same question as me. Is very good a band? Or is it an initiative to forefront something so much bigger than music? Don’t worry, I asked for us.
“That’s an interesting question to ponder and I hate to crap out, but I feel like it’s both,” Sean said. “One thing I will say is that I find the more and more I can treat it like a band, and write for the specific members or invite their input, the more depth the music has. I don’t think it’s ever really my goal to be creative or unique when I’m writing for the band. I just want to allow myself to create freely, and explore possibilities from different angles. There’s the intuitive side that just follows a melody or a sentiment and then there’s the side that analyzes and imagines what that sentiment might mean in a different context. For me, that context needn’t be restricted to the usual musical elements. Like, my brain goes ‘what would this love song mean to the audience if the person singing it was painted green,’ or some such ridiculous thing. That’s part of where my brain goes, and I allow it, and sometimes even put it into action.”
You may be feeling like Very Good compares to no other band you’ve heard of and you may be right. But if they had to be pigeon-holed in some way, Sean says,
“I feel like we probably fit generally in the ‘art rock’ bag. Bands like The Dirty Projectors, Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear and Joanna Newsom. Very Good is on the quieter side of this spectrum, more like song-based chamber music that occasionally gets to a rock and roll volume,” he depicted. “Plus there’s the old time Jazz element – several of the members play primarily 20’s and 30’s Jazz and American folk music, so there’s an element of that, as well. During that time period, popular music was quite complex and had a lot of improvisation in it as well as being singable and fun, and I feel like my version of ‘popular music’ aspires to a similar balance.”
“When Very Good used to perform along with Too Big To Care Marching Band, the marching band would emerge from the audience in the climax of Very Good’s performance, and suddenly there were kids with instruments and grandmas and dogs and happiness,” he said when I inquired about the band’s most inspiring or ground-breaking performance. “I think that was probably a pretty interesting thing to experience if you weren’t expecting it. But the band just gets better and expands in different directions, so I’m always excited about what we get to do next. I feel like after the initial explosions of imagination in the early performances, we have been refining things into a more subtle experience that’s not just about blowing your face off with craziness. When I finish what I’m working on right now, which is an absurdist rock opera based on Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, I think that will be really interesting and hopefully unlike anything people have experienced.”
I know. Your mind is blown. Mine is too. But don’t you feel smarter after all of that?
As far as the band’s live performances go, they openly talk a lot about using space and toys to enhance the experience.
“One of the directions we like to explore during our performances has to do with how we occupy a space and how that changes the observer’s perception. If you see a band on a stage, playing through a PA system, it creates a sort of conditioned response in a way, which might be to listen intently or to talk loud because the speakers occupies the same frequency range as the human voice, but the “fourth wall” is a convention in performance that people are quite familiar with.
A musical experience changes when the band moves beyond that plane to another part of the room and goes from the sound of the speakers to the sound of the instruments played acoustically. I grew up hearing music in the living room a lot, and on porches, where the fourth wall didn’t exist. I also like the idea of music coming from more than one direction at once, or alternating from different parts of the room.
As for toys, necessity is the mother of invention, and you can do a lot on a shoestring budget if you find the right dollar store.”
Sean was nothing but candid and real in our conversation, holding a lot of elements their music represents. He is the type of individual who’s thoughts and ideas will bring new one’s to your mind and there seems to be less and less of that in the musical world. Take a listen and who knows, maybe Very Good will become your “jumping chair.”
Listen on Spotify!