How could he possibly perform these new songs naked? Har Mar Superstar, known off stage as Owatonna native Sean Tillmann, has made a career out of shimmying and stripping down to his skivvies to ’80s dance-pop and singing with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. But with his new record, Bye Bye 17, out April 23 on Cult Records, Tillmann has suited up and driven his Har Mar brand straight to Motown.
“I’ve been thinking about making a soul record for a long time,” Tillmann told David Campbell recently (their full interview will air on the March 24 Local Show). He wrote the songs during a month-long stay in New York City for a Marijuana Deathsquads and Har Mar Superstar residency, and eventually ended up moving there permanently from his previous home of L.A. “It’s the first Har Mar record I’ve ever written on guitar, and I kind of did it in a Sean Na Na kind of way, but I made it soul,” he said. “It was really just natural.”
While everyone from Mayer Hawthorne to Justin Timberlake has tried capitalizing on the classic soul sound lately, Tillmann’s approach stands out for a few reasons. He’s a hell of a songwriter (he previously saved up his more “serious” songs for the Sean Na Na side project), and the new songs are overflowing with hooky choruses and horn parts; plus, the album is recorded with just enough lo-fi Strokes fuzz to put a fresh spin on that old, golden sound.
It makes sense, then, that Tillmann’s longtime pal and former tourmate Julian Casablancas of the Strokes liked the new material enough to put it out on his new label. As Tillmann tells it, Casablancas took a hands-on approach to helping him finish the album once he had recorded it with Jim Eno of Spoon.
“[Julian] gets really involved in listening to the mixes and editing, it was really amazing, the level of detail he had,” he said. “It was a sort of friend and mentor situation, it worked out really well.”
Other players on the record include Chris Bierden of Polica on bass and backing vocals, and Spyder Baybie Raw Dog “singing his little heart out.”
Tillmann will debut his new material live at the Triple Rock on March 28, when he comes through town on the Cult Records Tour with his new labelmates the Virgins. Grab a free download of the new track here.