If you think Sean Thompson and his weird ears look familiar to you, that’s probably because they are.
Born and raised in Nashville, he cut his teeth playing around the city in its thriving rock, folk and experimental scenes, both as a creative collaborator and a session player. Turning up with everyone from math-rockers Gnarwhal to Holler favourites Teddy & the Rough Riders, as well as joining Erin Rae as a one-man-right-hand band on her recent outings.
He first made an appearance as Sean Thompson’s Weird Ears a few years ago with the Time Has Grown A Raspberry EP. It was a perfectly selected tasting plate of his peculiar take on otherworldly psychedelic country; mixing the improvisational grooves of Barefoot Jerry and Grateful Dead at their funkiest with the songwriting of JJ Cale and Joni Mitchell.
Now, three years on from that first outing, Sean Thompson’s Weird Ears return with a self-titled full-length debut that builds an empire on top of those early foundations.
Recorded at Laughing Hearts Studios in Nashville, it features a who’s who of Nashville pickers and small-time legends like Jack Quiggins, Ryan Jennings, Spencer Cullum Jr, Eli Bishop, Emily Nenni and Erin Rae.
The sessions for this record would sometimes last seven or eight hours; Thompson and friends caught up in the thrill of collaboration and filled with the electricity of playing with musicians who knew one another deeply.
The results are beautiful - Thompson’s guitar playing is at its most ripping, his improvisational ear at its most collaborative and his newfound songwriting voice at its most tender and introspective.
From the swaggering country boogie of songs like ‘Ain’t Learned A Thing’ and ‘New Trailway Boogie’ to rattling chicken pickers like ‘Saturday Drive’ or the Madchester country funk of ‘Alley Scrapper’, it’s an album that thrives in its own eclecticism.
Released on Beachwood Sparks’ Curation Records, there is an obvious lineage that stretches down from Gram Parsons and the Byrds, through the rich California sound of Beachwood Sparks’ own sun-soaked Americana, to Thompson’s fresh take on cosmic psychedelic country.
Holler took time out to chat to Sean Thompson about what makes him and his Weird Ears so special.
What did you grow up listening to?
My first musical memory was seeing the music video for ‘Enter Sandman’ by Metallica. When I was first getting into guitar, I was obsessed with AC/DC and Metallica. That quickly morphed into Slayer, Motörhead and other heavier bands like Obituary. Somewhere along the way, it led me to Django Rinehardt, which in my dumb young brain, seemed like metal without distortion.
What songs would you put on a mixtape if you wanted someone to really get to know you?
I love this question.
‘Better Git Hit In Your Soul’ by Charles Mingus
‘You Can't Get Off Without Your Shoes On’ by Barefoot Jerry
‘Free Man In Paris’ by Joni Mitchell
‘What I’d Say Pts. 1 & 2’ by Ray Charles
‘Muddy Water’ by The Delmore Brothers
‘U Do U’ by The Kernal
‘My Favorite Things’ by John Coltrane
‘Didn’t It Rain’ by Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Is that too many?
No that’s perfect, side one at least. How would you describe your sound?
Weird and alive. Organic and never the same way twice.
Tell us a little bit about recording your debut album?
I recorded it with Jake Davis and the wonderful Teddy And The Roughriders. Me Jake, Jack, and Ryan have known each other since high school. We went into the studio early, stayed until very very late; working our hardest and having a really really great time. It was fun to see how close to the edge of sanity we could push ourselves by hour 12 in the studio.
Where’s the most unexpected place music has taken you?
Ha, that’s tough to say. Music had taken me on a very long and winding journey. To be honest, I didn’t expect that I would make my own record! Other than that, never thought I would play inside of a windmill in Utrecht, Belgium. When I was in high school, I got to go to Germany to participate in a youth International folk festival. I met kids from all over the world there. That was my first introduction to other cultures and it really blew my mind.
What inspires you?
Life, as simple as it may seem. Sitting on the porch, hiking, working in a garden, traveling. My dog of 8 years recently passed and I wrote a whole lotta songs walking and hiking with him.
What’s your favourite song of yours?
Dang, I’m not sure. It’s like picking a favourite child! Maybe compositionally, it’s ‘New Trailway Boogie’. I got hellbent on writing songs with more simplistic structures for this record. I wanted to do that because every band that I had been in prior were so intent on elaborate structures. But ‘New Trailway Boogie’ is maybe an ideal combo between riffage and simplicity. I've been chasing that ever since.
If you could time travel back to any time when would you travel back to?
Dang, I don’t know. It would’ve been really sick to see Miles playing in a small club in New York. Or Coltrane playing Village Vanguard. Or Willie Nelson’s 4th Of July Picnic 1974. Or the Vaneta, Organ Grateful Dead Show in ‘72.
Which person from history would you most like to meet?
What would be your Spice Girls style nickname?
What advice would you give to the younger you?
Dude, please pay more attention in Jazz Improv class when you get to junior year in high school.
What’s next for you?
Just keepin' on giggin'. I'm hoping to make another record sooner rather than later. Hitting the road doing a duo tour with the righteous Emily Nenni in October.
Sean Thompson’s Weird Ears is released on 26th August 2022 on Curation Records.