Our special guest Sean McDermott has had the privilege of singing to the President of the United States at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. on three separate occasions. He made his solo debut garnering glowing reviews at New York’s prestigious Joe’s Pub, at the Public Theater and he has performed at Carnegie Hall and Radio City Music Hall.
Ladies and gentlemen, our special guest is Sean McDermott. First of all, thanks so much for joining us.
Good to be here.
My first question: who is Sean McDermott?
Oh gosh…well, I was born and raised in Denver, Colorado…come from a family of cattle ranchers…my dad’s from back East and both my folks were in the entertainment business. My mom studied to be a concert pianist so music was always in my life and I started studying voice and music around thirteen and went to college for music and decided I wanted to pursue musical theater so I moved to New York and started in my career there. A couple years after living in New York, out of college, I got my first Broadway show and the rest is history (laughs). Sean McDermott is someone who loves music and loves the entertainment business and, uh, this CD is a little different from the previous CDs that I’ve done that are big Broadway production CDs.
What singers have influenced you the most?
Well, you know, in the beginning my folks were very much into classical music so I listened to a lot of opera….Maria Callas, obviously Pavarotti…but as far as my genre of singing, Johnny Mathis would have been one of the singers that I saw live. My folks took us to see him. I must have been ten years old. Certainly Barbra Streisand, who I ended up then years later performing with on her European tour, was a big influence just cause she’s an amazing singer and had the ability to communicate not only through, uh, you know, sounds and tones but, uh, emotion. Early on, Mario Lanza, Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson…all of those movie musical singers…certainly Shirley Jones, who I ended up working with later as well…Robert Goulet, who I worked with as well…you know, these people influenced me and that’s why I did choose to go into musical theater because it was that combination of opera and not really pop, but it, you know, it was operetta op…you know, it was the American musical theater form of opera…how that began. So I was really drawn to that. It moved me and that’s who I listen to, of course, and was inspired to, you know, sing like. But of course, you know, I love James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, the Doobie Brothers, Kenny Loggins, I mean, that was all my time, you know…the 70’s were a huge influence too. That’s why this album has some of that on it, which I’d never been able to record before…some of those 70’s tunes; ‘Whiter Shade of Pale,’ uh, Journey with ‘Open Arms,’ not so much in the heavy rock but, you know, classical rock.
You mentioned there a lot of people…
And a lot of them you’ve actually shared the stage with. You’ve shared the stage with Bernadette Peters, Johnny Mathis and you mentioned Robert Goulet. Could you pick one that has been the most thrilling?
Well, I don’t know if it’s obvious…but Barbra Streisand certainly was the most thrilling to stand next to and, you know, sing the high note at the end of ‘Somewhere’ from ‘Westside Story’ or, you know, ‘Evergreen,’ singing a duet and, you know, part of a song with her. That was magnificent. But, you know, at the same time, Bernadette is such an incredible musician and, uh, thrilling to work withas well so….and Robert Goulet was…I did a show with him so we did ‘South Pacific’ together so to sit on the stage as Lt. Cable, you know, kind of sickly and ridden with malaria and look over and watch this legend…sort of icon of his time…sing ‘This Nearly was Mine’ is something I’ll never forget but I would say Barbra Streisand was the most thrilling to work with.
I want to talk about your new album, ‘You’re Not Alone.’ What do you think of the new album?
I love it! You know, I’m very much like Streisand that I’m a perfectionist. I will always find things that I wanted to do different and perhaps better, but I am very satisfied with and, uh, think it’s honestly great material and not only covers the old songs that I’m re-doing, but also the new material is great. I love the new material. I love the writers that I worked with. I think you did mention, uh, that you love the Charlie Midnight songs. He was my first producer that I worked with on this album so…and is just an amazing writer. His credits go back…you know, he started writing for Fleetwood Mac and the Doobie Brothers in the 70’s. He produced Joe Cocker for years. Later on, Christina Aguilera’s Christmas album. He was one of the producers on the ‘Body Guard’ with, uh, Whitney Houston. So when I chose to come to LA, or choose a producer in LA, he was the obvious choice and I met him through the composer on a lot of my tunes, uh, who worked on the arrangements, Mark Chate, who is an accomplished pianist and scorer, a film score writer. You know, we started working on the material and he had him on his phone so I wanted to do something different from the Broadway albums that I had done, which I love. I produced them in London with a producer named John Yap who is on Jay Records and we performed all of the material at Abbey Road Studios with the National Symphony Orchestra so it was thrilling to be doing the original scores from these songs, Broadway tunes, that we did an I wanted to do something different. I’m not a pop singer but I wanted to go, to go in that vein of pop opera or pop Broadway such as Josh Groban or Andrea Bocelli.
The thing about Charlie Midnight is I think a lot of people wouldn’t recognize his name but they would recognize a lot of his songs.
Yeah….like I said, he sort of has been in the background writing for a lot of these people. He’s a guy from Brooklyn who…he’s got that real kind of Billy Joel feel to him and, uh, you know, when he started writing I think, uh, that was a big influence, that whole era of music early on, but he was always behind scenes, you know, writing for people but then, sort of producing so…and he loves being kind of behind the scenes in the studio and is an incredible producer.
Do you have a favorite song from this album?
Well, ‘You’re not Alone’ is the title track. I think it speaks to…well, it spoke to me. I, um, was actually wanting more for the album so I actually went with, after we finished with Charlie, I went with another producer and wanted, you know, to add things to it and this producer actually wrote ‘You’re not Alone.’ I found out later that Ivan ended up writing ‘You’re not Alone’ with Charlie Midnight so it was quite interesting that, you know, there are no mistakes and I really wanted to record this song and it kind of speaks…it spoke to me and I think everybody that listens to it, you know, over a few times says “Wow, this sort works really for what’s going on right now. We’re going through some really challenging times and we’re not alone in all this.” Everybody’s kind of feeling stuff, you know, the sort of shift in consciousness and whatever you want to call it and everybody’s kind of in this together so that sort of worked. I love that one. It’s based on the ‘Moonlight Sonata’ so it…that kind of brought me back my classical roots and, but also, ‘Ordinary Man’ is one of my favorites. I kept it on there. It’s a Charlie Midnight song. You know, those two would be two of my favorites. Of course, ‘Walking in Memphis’ was a great Mark Cohn tune that I, you know, performed several times so I would say those would be my three. What’s yours?
Well, that’s a good question. I thought your rendition of ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ was really, really interesting. Getting to discover those Charlie Midnight songs, I thought all of those songs were exceptional. There’s a lot of good choices. On that note, when someone listens to this album, what do you want the listener to get from the experience of listening?
Well, I want them to enjoy what they’re listening to….maybe be uplifted by it. I know I do get a reaction a lot of times that thereare tones in my voice that make people feel things…that makes them feel something physical so, whether it’s being moved by it or…and I find that in a lot of singers that I listen to and it’s sort of unconscious…it’s really kind of who I am and what I do so I always love it when I hear after a performance, “My god, you really moved me. You know, I felt something physically,” so I guess that would be…I always think we kind of can, you know, get to people…communicating that ultimate joy… when you’re listening to a piece of music that just makes you…gives you chills…or takes you to another place and that’s what I hope that people get by listening to this CD and certain songs from it…you know, the messages in some of the songs are really good….you know, really powerful…and also, the older tunes, you know, ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’, ‘Open Arms’, ‘Walking in Memphis’, you know, kind of taking them back. That’s why I chose covers or, uh, you know, tunes that had been recorded before so it’s not just all original. I do have three other albums. The first one that I did was all original material and some great songs and Paul I’ll send you that one as well but the response that I got was, “We love these songs but we don’t recognize any of them,” so that was sort of my point to choosing songs that were some of my favorites and that everybody knows.
As a singer, would you say that you’re more moved by the lyrics or the melody of a song?
That’s a good question and it’s different with the different songs. You know, I’ll listen to Rachmaninof’s ‘Concerto in D Minor’ and it is just…there are certain parts of that melody that really move me to real emotions yet, a Carly Simon song or, like, you know, a Carole King…there are lyrics that just really make you feel things and think things and I think it was a song recently that I was listening to that was a 2008 Grammy nominee by Vince Gill called ‘What You Give Away’ and if I…if you listen to the words it almost kind of…you know…I get moved to tears because it is about not what we have…it’s about what a man really is at the end of the day is what he, what we give away in love, or monetary or whatever…it’s whatever it is. Vince Gill is an incredible singer, but those lyrics are just amazing so it depends on the song, you know, and obviously with classical music or just instrumental it’s going to be the melody…kind of a mix of both.
What is the best thing about being Sean McDermott?
Oh…what is the best thing? That’s a, you’ve got some good questions…that I have the opportunity to have great experiences on the stage with some incredible performers…some amazing, talented people. Um…I’m very, very grateful I guess that I’ve been able to do what I do in an art from that is just so joyous and fun and wonderful…being musical theater, of course, and performing because I do a lot of concert work with symphony orchestras and being able to be in front of an audience and make people happy.
One of the amazing things about music is that a song can be in any language and there’re going to be people all around the world who identify with it. We have a lot of listeners from different countries who listen to this show so my last question for you: for anyone who hears this interview and for anyone who’s listening to your music as we play it, what do you want to say to all the people who are listening
Certainly for me, singing is an expression of the soul. It opens us up and lets us express just ultimate joy so for, uh…listening to a piece of music is a similar experience when you’re moved by it. Music is the answer. Music never stops. Having music in your life and searching for new music…there’s so much out there. It really does help us to evolve, I think. Tones are extremely healing in my beliefs so find a piece of music…several pieces of music to listen to that will make you feel things…make you feel…whether it’s chills, whether it’s tears, whether it’s happy, whether it’s sad…it’s making you feel and that, I think, opens up the soul and lets us…allows us to feel that ultimate joy which we need to have on this planet right now. We need to, uh, all be feeling joy and bring that consciousness up, up, up in sort of an esoteric way. Just be happy, you know. Listen to music. It’s an expression of the soul and moves you, I think, more than anything. Dancing is good too and so dance to the music. (Laughs) Find music you can dance to as well.
You know, you’re the second guest who has said to dance. The other one was, believe it or not, Adam Carolla. (Laughs) I don’t know why…Adam Carolla said that.
(Laughs) Oh did he?
That surprised me. I just didn’t see him as a dancing kind of guy, but he…that’s what he said.
Well sometimes you find something that not only you can sing to, but you dance around like a fool…maybe in your underwear…you know. There’s not a better feeling in life than dancing with people but you know, there is that, you know…just let it all out, you know…it’s who you truly are…just be…you become who you really are, I think, is what I feel sometimes and if somebody were video-taping it, I’d probably be really sorry.
Slip it on YouTube and it’d go viral or, who knows, maybe it would help a lot of people but…
Well, thanks so much for this interview. I appreciate it.
Sure Paul. Thank you.
TRANSCRIBED BY LORI DOMINGO