As a long-time Great Big Sea fangirl, I’ve watched all the talk and drama about Séan’s departure from the band over the last few months with particular interest. Anna and I both kind of see the changes in the band as being akin to a Doctor Who regeneration; my Great Big Sea had Darrell Power in it. That doesn’t mean a third incarnation would be a bad thing, but it’d certainly be different.
Séan has finally given an interview about his departure, and several people have reacted with variations on the phrase “see?! It’s just artistic differences!” – as opposed to, I don’t know, homicide. Or some other source of dissent, more conventional, more recognisable to most.
But that bothers me, because… because it’s wrong.
Because carried in all of that is the idea that “artistic differences” are not such a big deal, not really. There’s the idea that there’s nothing much personal about it. Like it’s some sort of career choice.
To be fair, there’s a bit of the latter in that if you’ve been so lucky as to make your art your primary career. But at the core, that is so wrong. At least, it’s so wrong in music.
Music, in my way of thinking about it, is transcription of emotion. Notes and phrases are the letters with which you write out your feels.
And if your music has been pushed to the side in your band, if it’s being stifled, or even, if it just doesn’t feel like your music is part of your group’s music… well, there are things more personal than that, I’m sure. But not many.
I’ve listened to Séan’s new album, Help Your Self. It’s little like my Great Big Sea, and even less like the second incarnation he just left. I’m reminded more of David Gilmour’s solo work than anything else – particularly the slower songs of About Face.
Some have called it bitter – I can hear that, and I hear it in the interview with the Telegram, linked above. But if he’s been holding his music in for as long as he says he has, then he’s going to need recovery time. He’ll need to clear all this out. Albums may and may not make for good therapy, but, in a very real way, that’s what this album is – it’s a concept album, and it’s about him feeling his way back to life.
Which brings us back to how big “artistic differences” really are.
A more successful musician than I once told me, “People don’t know what they like; they like what they know.” Great Big Sea fans may not know this Séan, and may, simply from that, decide they do not like him. I hope he’s ready for that. Putting everything out there as he’s done may not be the wisest of business moves.
But given the well-established economic downsides, it’s certainly brave. I’ll give all the credit in the world for that. And the fact that he feels he has to do this, as he obviously does, and that it’s worth walking away from what is – let’s face it – a cash-cow supergroup with one of Canada’s largest fan bases…
…that’s how big “artistic differences” are.
They aren’t a small thing. They’re the biggest thing there is.