It’s truly hard to classify Sean Tillmann, who is Har Mar Superstar, as one certain type of musician. His voice is amazing, really beautiful. His style is super confident, crazy unique, and he pulls off outfits and accessories you only wish you could, (when he’s not performing nearly nude on stage). Har Mar has a huge cult following, and is a celebrity favorite all around Hollywood and NYC. He is so uniquely talented in singing, songwriting, dancing, and performing, but he doesn’t package all of that into being one generic artist. He has written songs for The Cheetah Girls, Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, and Nicole Richie, to name a few. He has also opened up for/toured with The Strokes, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, again, just to name a few. He makes killer music videos like the one he did for the dance-happy track “Tall Boy” from his most recent album Dark Touches that features a super hot Eva Mendes, Alia Shawkat, Eric Wareheim, and a bunch of super models. Oh and he also acted in, and contributed a song to the movie “Whip It”. WHO IS THIS GUY? He is a guy who hasn’t let other people tell him what he can or cannot do, and who never once strayed from who he is as an artist, or as a person. Plus, chicks really dig him. Read on for a great interview with the one and only Har Mar Superstar.
Serial Optimist: What up Sean aka Har Mar Superstar! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us. I’m a big fan! How were the holidays for you? Were you in the NYC blizzard under blankets or playing in the snow?
Har Mar Superstar: I had some great holiday times. I was in Minnesota for the Christmas portion. Got to see a lot of old friends, played at the First Avenue 40th Anniversary party, and got really far into mapping out a new movie script with my brother and a few pals I grew up with. It was very productive. We also started laying down the groundwork for the next Gayngs project/ album. Very excited about that.
Then, I headed out to NYC for a New Year’s Eve show. I got stuck walking in some slush, but New York is very charming when it’s snowy… Besides the ridiculously huge puddle traps. I got out there and PLAYED!
SO: I’m not asking about resolutions here, but what are just three killer things you hope to do this year?
HM: First off I want to grow a beard. I don’t know if it’s possible with my teen-like facial hair follicles, but I’m gonna try! Also, I am very excited to tour and record with Gayngs before getting the next Har Mar record together. We will be at Sasquatch, SXSW, and Coachella to name a few of the upcoming gigs. Beyond that, I feel like this is my year to really burst out with the acting and screenwriting. Many opportunities are coming my way, and I can’t wait to face them head on.
SO: You are Sean Tillmann, and Sean Na Na, and Har Mar Superstar. Tell me a little bit about you, Sean Tillmann. What influences growing up led to you becoming a writer and singer?
HM: I’ve been obsessed with music my whole life. I think Michael Jackson, The Association, Stevie Wonder, and Velvet Underground were my earliest influences. I’ve always been singing and messing around with instruments. It didn’t take long before I figured out that songwriting came naturally to me. I jumped in head first, and I just had fun with it. Also, my family is very musical and theatrical.
SO: How did the awesomeness that is Har Mar Superstar develop? The style, the sound, and the look? When did you first see the image or have the idea of: “This is who I am. Har Mar Superstar.”
HM: I was really into pop radio at the same time I was getting into all of the classic rock/ punk records, and I always knew my voice could go there. One day I thought “enough with this indie shit. Let’s write some TUNES!” I wanted to make people dance and have a good time. That’s what Har Mar is about. The beginning of Har Mar live can definitely be traced back to early Sean Na Na tours when I’d drop the guitar and sex up the crowd with a popular rendition of R. Kelly’s “When a Woman’s Fed Up”. It was clear that I needed to get naked.
SO: Your music is super eclectic. Pop, R&B, and hip-hop can all be found merged together within an album, even within a song. You have a beautiful voice, and are a super talented writer. I guess lets start with the writing part. Aside from yourself, who else have you written songs for?
HM: I’ve collaborated with a lot of people like Karen O, John Fields, P.O.S, Greg Kurstin, and the list goes on and on as far as my own material goes. I’ve also done sessions with and/ or for JC Chasez, Nicole Ritchie, Kelly Osbourne, Jennifer Lopez, Cheetah Girls, and Britney Spears to name a few. It can be fun, but it’s a real rat race writing for pop singers. Kind of like playing the lottery. The good part is that I have my own career, so whatever doesn’t make the cut is open for me to SLAY!
SO: Was it hard finding a niche, I guess you could call it, to fit in? Being a mixture of pop and R&B, but with some songs seeming deep and personal, others seeming tongue and cheek, all while performing nearly nude at times and with a heavy sexual vibe, were you ever worried where you would fit in? Did you ever wonder where your place was in the industry?
HM: I am an artist’s artist meaning that other artists are drawn to me because I don’t particularly fit into one genre and have a weird, crazy live show. They love that shit, so they take me on tour. I’m really lucky that way. I never wonder where I fit. I just squeeze my way in the door and MAKE myself fit. It’s more fun that way.
SO: You have headlined tours, but also opened up for The Strokes, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and many more. How much do you give credit to those shows for the huge cult following you have? At what point did you notice you had a serious, dedicated fan base?
HM: Those big shows are like a circus to me. I appreciate all of the aforementioned artists taking me on, and I will definitely go with them again when asked. Those shows for me are more like a fight for your life or an exercise of outwitting 1000s of people at once. It can be fun, but it can also be spectacularly brutal. Either way, I eat it up. Getting arrested in less tolerant states definitely added to my myth. Outlaws are folk heroes. Not that I’m thinking in such big terms, but it’s a blast making yourself some sort of sweaty, sexual martyr.
That said, I would always rather play to 300 of my own fans at a small club at the end of the day. The vibes are positive because people come with open minds, know the songs, and have an idea of what they’re in for. It’s more rabid and malleable at the same time. I’m lucky I get the huge opportunities and can still go back to the clubs whenever I feel like it.
SO: How has your music changed since your self-titled album in 2001, to your 2009 album Dark Touches?
HM: I really learned how to manipulate my wordplay to fit the beats since I’ve started making Har Mar records. I love the early records because they’re more primitive, but there is something to be said for mastering big productions. I flip flop all the time. Who knows? My next record may be my voice and some pots and pans if I can make it work for the songs. I’m ready to try anything and everything. I have more tools at my fingertips now, so it’s all possible.
SO: What do you have coming up in 2011? Any tours? When can we look forward to your next album?
HM: I will be going light on the Har Mar touring while I strategize the next record. Though I do have a double residency with Har Mar and Marijuana Deathsquads (an all star noise band I sometimes play in from Minneapolis) at Spaceland in LA. We play every Friday in February, and will be joined by great acts like Giant Drag, Samantha Ronson (live band), members of Doomtree, and Shannon and the Clams. It should be insane!
Hopefully 2012 will bring in the next Har Mar album. I’m toying with the idea of doing a classic sounding melancholy soul album with all live instruments. Something in the vein of Otis Redding and Sam Cooke. I think it would really showcase my voice, which is my superpower.
SO: You have INSANE dance moves. I like to think I can kind of dance, a little. But if I could steal anybodies moves, they would most definitely be yours. Are you self-taught? Where did you learn your moves?
HM: I learned my dance moves in the mirror as a kid listening to records. No training. I always wished I had that Alfonso Ribeiro break-dance instructional VHS tape that came with the cardboard to dance on. I didn’t, so I was left to my own devices of mimicry… much like how I learned to write songs. You just go down your own path eventually.
SO: What music can you currently just not get enough of? Who are playing out right now?
HM: I’m obsessed with albums by Gayngs, Beach House, Julian Casablancas, The Soft Pack, Adam Green, and Free Energy.
SO: I’m pretty obsessed with that Gayngs album as well, so great. What is your favorite fashion accessory?
HM: I have two. One is a pair of yellow sequined dance thingy’s that cover my forearms only. Devendra Banhart gave them to me for my birthday a couple of years ago, and I’ve been rocking them on stage ever since. They reek.
My other favorite is a homemade knit sweater with the Rolling Stones logo on it that I found at a yard sale in Amsterdam. Every girl I’ve ever met thinks they should own it. That’s how you know it rules.
SO: What little things in life make you smile?
HM: Other people’s dogs make me smile. Especially an English bulldog named Chunk that lives with my friends Jonny and Steph in Minneapolis. I’m obsessed with him. He’s obsessed with me. It’s a two way street.
Beyond that all I need is TV, weed, Mexican food, and spicy Thai soup to remain happy.
SO: Thanks so much Sean! Have a great 11′!
*Interview photo credit shot by Angel Ceballos