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Bon Iver's S. Carey releases solo project 'Break Me Open'


The loss of a father, the loss of a marriage and the complexities of fatherhood are some of the themes explored on "Break Me Open," the first solo project in four years from S. Carey, the drummer and backing vocalist for the band Bon Iver.


SEAN CAREY: (Singing) And I'm waking up in another man's lifetime - all that I failed to see. Will you hear my plea?

SIMON: Sean Carey joins us now from Eau Claire, Wis.

Thanks so much for being with us.

CAREY: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Eau Claire's a beautiful place. And a lot of this album was, I guess, inspired by what we'll call - what those of us who are from Illinois call the great outdoors. Is that fair to say?

CAREY: Yeah. My music's always rooted in nature. And it's a feeling. It's a feeling of connectedness. It's kind of the place where I feel the most human, the most alive, you could say. It's sort of like a church, you know? It provides head space for writing, inspiration from learning new things. And now especially, you know, it's time away from technology, which is really important, I think.

SIMON: Let's listen, if we can, to a bit of your song "Sunshower."


CAREY: (Singing) Daily I still feel the silk sunshower dripping. Salt your eyes, my soft sunflower.

SIMON: My gosh, that's a beautiful song.

CAREY: Oh, thank you.

SIMON: And that phrase, I still feel a silk sunshower. Help us understand what that feels like and how you put it into music.

CAREY: You know, there's those moments when you're outside, kind of like when you see a rainbow, where it's, like, sunny, but it's - there's still misting or raining and you're - you kind of just feel a little bit outside yourself or feel small in the world. And I like to use those moments to inspire my music, my lyrics.


CAREY: (Singing) I don't know myself before I knew you.

SIMON: You've said in interviews this isn't a divorce album. But you do reflect a bit on love. Let's listen to a little bit of your song "Where I Was."


CAREY: (Singing) I see you still in dreams most nights. It's not getting easier with time. If you judge, please don't judge me from where I was.

SIMON: Was it hard to open yourself up like that?

CAREY: Yeah. I mean, absolutely - very hard, but something that I felt like I needed to do. And, actually, making the record and writing the songs was helpful. It was part of the healing process, for sure.

SIMON: And you lost your father, I gather, in the months leading up to this album. Can you tell us about him?

CAREY: Oh, he was - yeah, he was a great person, great dad. We had almost all the same hobbies and interests. So when we got together, it was just, you know, talking about fly-fishing, talking about wine, talking about sports, talking about camping, talking about music. He was an elementary music teacher and played a huge part in why I got into music and why my brother and sister are both musicians. And we miss him every single day.

SIMON: It's been my experience, when you lose a parent, you lose the pleasure of their companionship. It's also - inevitably, it reminds us we're next, particularly if we have children.

CAREY: Yeah. It's definitely put into perspective just how important being a father is. And I feel like - I mean, also the whole pandemic and everything. I feel like I've really been able to center in on what kind of dad I want to be. And, you know, being a touring musician, I just have to, like, make my time at home, like, extra special...

SIMON: Yeah.

CAREY: ...Make them the center of attention, not have distractions around and stuff, so the kids can feel it, you know? And you can feel it back.


CAREY: (Singing) And I'm in a daze. Almost numb, and I can't find the reasons. I still have you three. And now I know what I know. Break me open.

SIMON: Break me open. That's what children do, isn't it?

CAREY: Oh, yeah (laughter). Yeah, definitely.

SIMON: Well, that is S. Carey - Sean Carey. And his new album is "Break Me Open," out now.

Thank you so much for being with us, and good luck to you.

CAREY: Thank you - appreciate it.


CAREY: (Singing) I won't let you down. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.