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Sean Na Na, the band

Sean Na Na: Give Me a B-Side

 
story by tim mcmahan


 

 

Lazy-i: Feb. 6, 2002

Feb. 13
Sean Na Na
The Junction,
15th & Farnam
Omaha
8 p.m.
$5
18+

Sean Tillmann, a.k.a., Har Mar Superstar, a.k.a. Sean Na Na bellowed into his in-then-out-of-range cell phone as he barreled down I-35 between his Minneapolis home and Ames, Iowa.

For this mid-January gig on the campus of Iowa State University, Tillmann would don the sexy, skin-tight costume of his porno-star, funk-powered alter ego, Har Mar Superstar. It's a character that was about to reach a much larger audience than Tillmann's more mainstream alter-ego, Sean Na Na, as Har Mar was about to open two weeks of dates for the NYC-based Lou Reed/Velvets rip-off band The Strokes. The current flavor-of-the-month with the critics and the crush-groove TRL-set, The Strokes have the drawing power to make Har Mar a household Name, at least in homes that tune to MTV.

"They had seen me play before and wanted me on their tour," Tillmann said about his "stroke" of good fortune. "It should be cool."

Har Mar? Sean Na Na? Tillmann? Are you getting confused? Here's the skinny: Minneapolis-based singer-songwriter Sean Tillmann makes a living performing both as the light-hearted funkster Har Mar Superstar and the more serious, introspective Sean Na Na (though he's been known to tell the press that Har Mar really is his brother, Harold Martin Tillmann). It's the introspective one, not the sex-fiend, who's slated to take the stage at The Junction Feb. 13. For Tillmann and his Sean Na Na fans, it's a welcome return to a character that's been dormant for more than a year while Tillmann galvanized his Andy Kaufman-as-Tony Clifton-style Har Mar persoNality on the minds of an unsavory world.

 

 

 

"I try to keep the Har Mar thing totally separate from the Sean Na Na thing," Tillmann said between static-blares on his cell phone. "I've toured Har Mar so much for the last year that people are coming up to me asking when Sean Na Na is coming back."

You might think fans could get confused, but Tillmann knows listeners are smart enough to figure it out. "The live show sets the two acts apart," he said. "Har Mar is in-your-face debauchery, while Sean Na Na is like a clubhouse-type vibe -- four friends playing around.

"Some people take both personalities seriously," he added, "but anyone who knows me knows I'm more well-rounded than Har Mar. When I was on tour with The Faint in Houston, a couple meatheads in the crowd didn't get it and yelled 'fuck you' and threw cigarettes at me."

If Har Mar is Tillmann's personal tribute to egocentric rock-star sexism, Sean Na Na is his take on sensitive singer-songwriters with an edge, playing simple rock ballads about double-dates with groupies, shallow party people and the eternal search for a "sugar mommy."

Sean Na Na began in '96 as a side project to Tillmann's AmRep noise project Calvin Krime, but gained credibility after drawing raves for the 2000 full-length folk-rock masterpiece Dance 'til Your Baby is a Man on Troubleman. Now with My Majesty, his latest full-length to be released Feb. 22 on New York's Frenchkiss Records (home of Les Savy Fav, among others), Tillmann and Sean Na Na are pushing their credibility even further.

 

 

Sean Na Na My Majesty CD


"I'm more well-rounded than Har Mar. When I was on tour with The Faint in Houston, a couple meatheads in the crowd didn't get it and yelled 'fuck you' and threw cigarettes at me."


 

Sean Tillmann on a horse


"I'm not going to whine about it, but my parents haven't always been supportive and I've been looked down upon by my peers from an outside perspective."


 

Recorded over three months with producer Bryan Hanna (Waxwing, Papas Fritas), My Majesty slightly reinvents Sean Na Na's folk-ish acoustic sound with a healthy injection of good ol' rock and roll on songs that seem even more personal than those on his last full-length.

The straight-on Boz Skaggs-style "Give Me a B-side" for example, is a two-and-a-half-minute plea for the life of a loved one crippled by age or disease. The song is deceptively dark despite its jumpy melody, thanks to sobering lyrics like, "The Easter bunny came this year and brought no eggs / Just a heavy curtain and took away your legs."

"That song's about my grandma," Tillmann said. "It's one of those songs inspired by a shitty situation, but with a theme that's pretty universal. Whenever you lose somebody it's kind of hard."

Then there's the anthemic "Grew Into My Body." Rocking like something off The Who's Tommy, Tillmann makes a carpe diem-esque argument for self-realization by rising above those who yearn to keep you down, with the opening lines: "Listen all my children / Can't you hear a falling sound? / The short life of a butterfly ending in the ground / Like the people you know and love to watch sinking down / They're stuck in a hole for now."

"It's about not letting others dictate what you're doing with your life," he said. "It's more of a reaction to the way people feel they need to go to college and get a job and have a real life. That attitude works for a lot of people, but inhibits a lot of people, too. I'm not going to whine about it, but my parents haven't always been supportive and I've been looked down upon by my peers from an outside perspective."

Tillmann says after the Sean Na Na tour ends in late March, he'll begin working on yet another Har Mar record, and then hit the road all over again, trying desperately to tour every city possible. "I tour all the time," he said. "I get real anxious at home and like to travel all over the country."

And with that, his cell phone finally gave out. Good luck, Sean or Har Mar; we love you whoever you are.


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Published in The Omaha Weekly Feb. 6, 2002. Copyright 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.