© The Snige
Seán Dagan is a mellow man of many talents. When he’s not running THE original socially responsible national newspaper Positive News, he’s putting his energy into his feel-good folk music. Soft Concrete’s Marianne caught up with him between printing deadlines to get to know the man behind the guitar and paper…
Marianne: Hi Seán, firstly let’s start with you telling us something interesting about yourself
Seán: My name’s Seán Dagan, I’m 29, and I like cashew nuts. I was once partially hit by lightening.
M: Lightening? That’s pretty unique, what’s the story there?
S: When I was about 14 our house got hit by lightening. It came down the chimney and a spark about a foot long jumped from the stove (which I was leaning against) to my calf muscle. So I was only hit from the lower leg down, but it was enough to launch me across the room. The whole room went light blue for a second.
M: Ouch! Anyway, back on topic, how would you describe your music?
S: It’s a kind of atmospheric folk music. I sing and play guitar, mainly acoustic, but the influence of rock music can also be heard I think, in some of the guitar riffs for example. My music is very lyrically driven. Writing has always been something that I’ve loved, and in fact I don’t feel myself if I don’t write songs regularly. I started writing poetry and lyrics at an early age and then did a degree in Creative Writing, before working in publishing. Using words seems to be what my life path is about.
I think so much music lacks good lyric writing – many songwriters recycle clichés and string random stuff together without realising it’s a craft that needs the same skill, development and attention as the music itself, and without realising the potential and the power of words.
M: You sound like you’re not alone on your tracks, who else do you record with?
S: I’m usually accompanied my sister, Megan Sahara, on backing vocals, recorder and harp, which adds to the folkyness, and by Peta Yapp on cajon (a wooden box percussion instrument). Peta’s cajon playing brings a world music edge to our sound, which I think is also there somewhere in my songwriting from listening to latin, asian and other world music.
M: How long have you been a musician for?
S: I first picked up the guitar when I was 10. I had a couple of lessons but didn’t like the stuff I was learning, so from there I taught myself. I began writing lyrics when I was 12, but it wasn’t until I was 20 that I started singing them. I then played in a progressive folk-rock band called Earthona for a number of years in Manchester (England), and then went solo after moving to the rural hills in Shropshire.
M: How did you first start getting into music?
S: Music was always around when I was growing up. My Dad is a good musician – one of those people who can pick up most instruments and figure out how to get a tune out of them. So there were often opportunities to listen to or play music at home.
I always loved the way music opened me up emotionally and connected me to a deeper experience of life, to the great mystery of it.
M: Do you write your own songs? If so, what sort of approach do you have for songwriting?
S: Yes, I write all my own material, and it is the part I love best about creating music. I feel most myself when I’m songwriting.
My approach is to try to let my mind get out the way and allow the song to evolve itself. The best songs are when the music and lyrics arise at the same time, though sometimes one comes first (usually the music). The most important thing is to capture the essence of the song in the moment of inspiration, of heightened awareness and emotion. Once I have created the bones of it I’ll record the basic chord changes or melody on my dictaphone and will have written down some initial lyrics. So then I can evolve it and craft it further over time, because from what I have I’ll be able to reconnect to that initial experience which the song came from.
I find that solitude, stillness, being in nature, and travel are good for songwriting. You’ve got to get your head out of it to get your heart in it.
M: What or who are your musical inspirations?
S: I don’t listen to them now but the first band I liked was Dire Straits. I used to listen to my Dad’s Dire Straits LPs (and his Bob Dylan ones too) when I was a kid, especially Money for Nothing with its big guitar riff. I can still remember the smell of the vinyl as I took it out of its card sleeve and placed it on the turntable.
It was Mark Knopfler’s guitar playing that first made me want to play guitar, and to get a Fender Stratocaster in particular. Ignoring a few cheesy and formulaic disasters, they wrote some great songs. In particular it was their ability to create atmosphere that I think has filtered into my own music.
Xavier Rudd is probably my favourite artist. He sings about things that are important to me, such as love, spirit and the Earth, and his music makes me feel at home. Bands like Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Smashing Pumpkins shaped my music a fair bit, and then in more recent years new British folk artists such as Nancy Elizabeth and John Smith.
Recently I’ve been listening to quite a lot of Fleet Foxes, Ben Howard and Alela Diane. I also listen to a lot of local musicians here in Shropshire. I think it’s good to connect with the music of the place where you are.
M: What do you enjoy most about being a musician?
S: It’s wonderful to be able to express myself through music and to explore life through it, to have the experiences and perspectives that it brings.
It’s also fantastic when someone has told me they have been inspired by my music – to know I’ve helped to bring them some insight or joy or to have helped open their heart a bit, is very rewarding. That’s what it’s about for me.
Making music with other people is always a fantastic experience too, especially when the musicians are fully immersed with it in the present moment and you are communicating through the music.
M: What one person living or deceased would you most like to do a duet with?
S: My sister, Megan Sahara does backing vocals for me and it’s great making music with her – there is a very intuitive connection that makes it easy to create harmonies and also to be direct with each other in terms of feedback when working on a song.
But if I had to choose someone else, I’d probably go for Laura Marling, because I’m listening to her a lot at the moment and her voice is really expressive. Or Alela Diane, or Mariee Sioux maybe… or perhaps Ryan Adams, who is a fantastic songwriter. Hmm tough question.
M: What was the first tape or cd you ever bought?
S: I think it was the single (on tape) for When I Come Around by Green Day, from the album Dookie. I hadn’t heard it – it was bought on a recommendation from a girl who I thought looked like she knew what she was on about.
M: If you could master any instrument in the world what would it be?
S: I was in India earlier this year and had a couple of lessons on the sitar, so right now I’d have to say the sitar – it’s such an evocative instrument.
M: What else do you do aside music?
S: My day job is running Positive News, the world’s first positive newspaper, which reports on achievements, successes, possibilities, and solutions to the challenges facing humanity. It’s interesting how my work in journalism is a very different medium but essentially it has a similar intention to my music – to offer people a perspective on the world that is transformational.
My work in journalism deals with what’s inspiring in the outside world and my music is an expression of the inspiration from within.
Otherwise I like to meditate, get outdoors, walk, surf, travel and attempt to grow vegetables.
M: Would you rather fly to the moon or dive to the deepest depths of the sea and why?
S: Dive the deepest depths of the sea, because flying to the moon would be really bad for the environment! It would be amazing to see Earth from space, but I think rather than exploring space we should be putting that money into sorting out the problems on our own planet. Also it would be cool to hang out with some whales.
M: Lastly, what have you got planned for the near future?
S: I released my debut 5-track EP, Wild Treasure earlier this year and am now preparing material for an album.
Wild Treasure by Seán Dagan is available now on CD and digital download from http://seandagan.bandcamp.com (where you can name your price) or from iTunes, Amazon and other online music stores.