It's hard to believe a decade has past since local soul treasure Har Mar Superstar (AKA Sean Tillmann) went from cult favorite to international sensation with his titanic sophomore album You Can Feel Me. This month marks ten years since its initial release, and it seems the industry is still playing catch-up to the ahead-of-its-time record.
We spoke to Har Mar, who is currently working on a new record due out in March, to reflect on what went into the making of You Can Feel Me, as well as his feelings on it today.[jump]
The first self-titled Har Mar Superstar album was released on Kill Rock Stars in 2000. Was it a challenge transitioning into releasing You Can Feel Me on a subsidiary of Warner Bros. in '02?
No. When I made You Can Feel Me, it was on a Kill Rock Stars budget. We spent very little making it, and when Record Collection/Warner Bros. [picked it up] it was a big surprise. I got a bit more paid and paid everyone a little more than they expected, but otherwise it wasn't that different. They didn't change it at all, it was the same record I turned in. The U.K. label surprised me and released the "EZ Pass" remix as the single and didn't tell me, I wasn't into that, but whatever.
Compared to your debut, was making You Can Feel Me much different?
There were expectations at that point, and I had already been doing bigger tours, but those are the few differences. I started branching out more because I started going down to Omaha to work with a few guys in the Faint, but the rest was kind of the same.
I recall when the album came out, Best Buy locations (including the one near the Har Mar Mall) had full blown displays and banners for the album. Did you have much say in the promotional push?
No, but [that] wasn't a bad thing. I was the first album that Record Collection released. They were all guys my age, so promotionally we made a pink vinyl single and spray painted a bunch of pizza boxes for press kits. It was over the top, the marketing was great. I have no complaints about that. It was done up in more of a brand way than I was used to, and that kind of thing doesn't happen anymore. That kind of thing is unfathomable when you start writing songs in a bedroom.
Do you have a favorite bit of promotion you did for the record?
Kimmel was the first big TV I did in the U.S. for sure. I loved playing on TV because it's still weird for people because I look how I do and people don't expect me to sing like I do. I love performing live on TV, but I also love going on tour and playing live every night from the ground up. Blowing people's minds is one of my favorite things ever. Otherwise, I don't have a favorite way of promoting anything. I was still lying about who I was at that point so it was more fun to mess with people. Now I just feel awkward talking about myself.
What do you recall about the album release show at First Avenue?
That was the first time I ever headlined the mainroom, that was a lifelong dream. The fact that I'm still very close with the First Avenue people, a lot of the same people even still work there, and they've supported me my whole life. Just headlining that room was such a crazy, unthinkable dream at that point. Those guys still back me up, and it's still the same feeling getting out on that stage. That night was overwhelmingly amazing. I've played everywhere, and I still hold First Avenue up as the best place in the world.
Beth Ditto collaborated with you twice on the record, what made you decide to bring her into your soundscape?
Well, Beth has been a friend of mine forever. In Sean Na Na, we used to play shows with Gossip. They were always really supportive, and I saw their first ever show at a house party in Olympia, Washington on Halloween 12 or 13 years ago. It was one of those things where I'd always loved Beth's voice and Har Mar was the perfect way to bridge that and make that happen. It just made sense. I think they came on tour in Minneapolis, and I had her come into Eric's bedroom and sing the parts that were already written, and we did it in the course of an hour.
Looking back on the album 10 years later, is there anything about it you would change?
You know? Not really. No, I don't think about things in that respect. I think it's a really good document of the time. It was the first time I got to sample somebody and actually pay for it. Like, the Bar-Kays sample on "Freedom Summer" was actually legitimate. It was a weird time. That was the one thing Record Collection afforded me to do over Kill Rock Stars at the time was to actually legitimately sample things and pay for them and get ahold of the Bar-Kays to say "Sorry guys, I'm doing this. Here's your two grand." I really think we broke ground making the album beat-wise. There weren't that many people making beats at all. When You Can Feel Me came out, it was literally just me and Peaches doing that sort of thing.
So, no man. I feel great about it. I wouldn't make that record now, but I don't think I could either. Technology has changed, and the way they did it was pretty analog and pretty crazy. It was just trial-and-error in making something fun that's I can't believe has taken me to the places I'm still going. It really is a big deal for me.