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Interview: Har Mar Superstar

Full-throated soulster with an amazing set of lungs; sweaty, slightly unnerving madman; or, in his own words: “Soulful, shirtless, powerful, fun time party starter [who] gets you laid.” Har Mar Superstar‘s Sean Tillmann has been called many things over the course of his 13 years performing under the moniker. When he released his divisive – but favourably received – fifth album Bye Bye 17 earlier this year, it opened up a whole new conversation around Tillmann’s music; instilling a smokey-voiced rawness and gravitas you might not have necessarily picked up on past Har Mar records.

That’s not to say Tillmann’s left behind the party life altogether though; far from it. On the eve of his first UK tour playing the Bye Bye 17 material, we find him rolling in as much sexually-charged charisma as he ever has: telling us about nights in Minnesota where we’d definitely end up getting laid, of singing ‘The Power of Love’ with Back to the Future‘s Tom Wilson, and how Scotch eggs are the worst thing ever.

PlanetNotion: So, with Bye Bye 17 you’ve withdrawn some of the more overt raunchiness to your music – though that’s not to say there isn’t still some surefire sexuality. What made you want to pursue this slight change in direction towards something more soulful?
Har Mar Superstar: I think I’ve grown up a bit. I’m a 35-year-old man now. It’s weird to think about it in those terms, but it all adds up. I’ve always loved soul music, but I was never able to write an album like Bye Bye 17 until I accrued the life experience necessary. Some serious joy and pain had to be lived through to successfully tell the stories in these songs. To me it all makes sense.

PN: And, who were you listening to at the time? Were there any particular records that inspired you in the process of creating Bye Bye 17?
HMS: I was listening to a lot of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding at the time I made this album. I still am. Stevie Wonder has always been a constant influence as well. Josh Tillman (Father John Misty) had just turned me on to a songwriter named Dory Previn too. Her songs about ’70s Laurel Canyon are amazing stories.

PN: Can you tell us a little about the title of the album? To me at least, it has implications of coming of age – was that intentional? What was your thought process behind it?
HMS: You got it! I was 34 when I wrote the album, and I feel like I really came of age and finally made songs emotional enough for my voice. I decided to cut the number in half because there’s something more tender about turning 18 than 35 [laughs]. Also, I like the creepy undertones… As well as the sweet ones. I also wrote the album on guitar which is how I started in my teens.

PN: Your live shows have a reputation for being really off the hook affairs, have you had to change the way you approach your on-stage persona to keep with the more soulful tinge to the most recent record?
HMS: My shows are still super high energy, sweaty affairs. I stopped getting down to my underwear just because people expect it, and I think expectations are boring. The shows have gotten better because I have so many songs now that it feels like a greatest hits festival set every night. I’m a born performer. I’ll never stop entertaining. The new album just feels great to share.

PN: With that in mind, if you had to sum up – in 10 words or less – what to expect from a Har Mar show for potential attendees, what would you say?
HMS: Soulful shirtless powerful fun time party starter gets you laid.

PN: What have been your favourite on-stage moments from the last 13 years spent performing as HMS?
HMS: Oh man. There are so many. The first time I played Notting Hill Arts Club in 2002 was a crazy energy I’d never experienced before. I remember feeling a ferocious power that really caught on with the audience. That show opened a lot of doors for me.

Also, earlier this year I was playing my friends Jonah and Deanna’s wedding in LA. We had gotten together a cover of ‘The Power of Love‘ for it: a little Huey Lewis always gets the party started. Anyway, unbeknownst to me Tom Wilson, the actor who played Biff in Back to the Future, was in attendance. He charged the stage, took away the mic, and finished the song in full on Biff character. It was incredible! Mind-blowing [laughs].

PN: You’ve also toured and shared stages with an incredibly eclectic assortment of musicians over the years. Whose fans have you found to be the most and least accepting of you as a performer?
HMS: The Yeah Yeah Yeahs‘ audience really accepts me . It’s a great pairing. We’ve been playing together a lot lately and I love that band. Support slots can be really hit or miss for me. Like, I’ve toured with Red Hot Chili Peppers twice now. In Australia I felt the wrath of a rage I’ve never experienced from an audience one day, but the next day in the same town/same arena they’d love it. When they took me to Mexico though, the audience was pure love. You never know. It keeps you on your toes.

PN: What’s your favourite part of performing in Britain? And your least favourite?
HMS: British audiences are amazing music fans. The enthusiasm is really addictive. People know my songs, and that’s really satisfying. My least favorite part of touring here is the amount of scotch eggs that show up on the rider backstage. Disgusting. Unacceptable.

PN: Finally, if you were to take me on a night out in your native Minnesota – what would we eat, where would we go and what drink should I buy for you to say thanks?
HMS: I would take you to an amazing restaurant called Haute Dish. We’d eat bone marrow, short ribs, and General Tso’s sweetbreads. Then I’d take you to a show at First Avenue, the best venue in the world, where Purple Rain was filmed. After that, we’d go to a bar called Grumpy’s where you’d buy me 4 shots of Powers and a Heggie’s supreme pizza to say thank you in advance for how laid you’re about to get just for being associated with me.

- Alex Cull

Bye Bye 17 is available now on Cult Records. You can buy it here.

Har Mar Superstar is on tour with Lizzo right now. UK dates below:

November 14 – Hare & Hounds, Birmingham
November 15 – Sound Control, Manchester
November 16 – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
November 17 – The Welly, Hull
November 18 – King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow
November 20 – The Fleece, Bristol
November 21 – The Craufurd Arms, Milton Keynes
November 22 – Esquires, Bedford
November 24 – Prince Albert, Brighton
November 25 – Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea
November 26 – Scala, London

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