Local Current Blog

Music History Spotlight: Sean Na Na

Sean Tillmann as Sean Na Na (Publicity photo by Matthew William Rubin)

Not long after graduating high school, Sean Tillmann and Jeremy Allen hit the road in a Honda and began touring as an early version of Sean Na Na.

Soon enough, the pair recruited Ben Webster from Austin, Texas, forming the band’s core lineup. From about 1997 to 2006, the trio toured almost continuously, adding musicians from the cities they played along the way. Sean Na Na landed shows as far away as Japan and England, and opened for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Strokes. Throughout their roughly 10-year span, the group released three albums, as well as a few EPs.

“We decided as a touring band, we had a fun times reputation,” Allen said. “That was our deal among ourselves, that we were going to have the most fun out of anybody and then everyone who came to the show would have fun. It was really up to us, no matter what, that an hour every day we’d have the best time ever.”

The “fun times reputation” led them to easily adopt new temporary band members. Sean Na Na would reach out to musicians they met and find ways to schedule their tours so they could play with the band. Some people even left tours with other bands to join the Sean Na Na trip, Allen said.

“For us it became really about friends everywhere,” Allen said. “Whoever was the most fun in that city, we’d be sure to hang out with them again. When you find someone who’s the best ever to spend time with and you’re able to make it so you can spend more time with them, nothing beats that.”

The band had a strategy for maintaining its revolving lineup: keep the parts simple, and the rehearsals to a minimum, Allen said.

“The music lends itself to a more standard kind of song structure and we know a bunch of super talented people that could pick stuff up pretty fast,” Webster said. “Each person, from bass player to bass player, they kind of changed the band unintentionally just with their personality … That’s the thing I really like about adding and subtracting people. It changes little things about the band and makes it interesting.”

Tillmann said fronting the band helped him develop a stage presence, and that goofing off and covering R. Kelly helped give him the confidence to try performing as Har Mar Superstar.

“Everything was so open that we could do anything, and that was kind of the first baby steps of where I am today,” Tillmann said. “Sometimes we would do a cover of Knockin’ on Heaven’s door … Sometimes we’d play for two to three minutes so we could watch the next band play after us.”

Jeremy Allen, Sean Tillmann, Denver Dalley and Jeff Quin of Sean Na Na

Tillmann started Har Mar Superstar around 2000, often switching his focus back and forth between his two bands. After Sean Na Na toured with the Hold Steady in 2006, the band became less active as the members took on other projects.

Last week, the band announced they would join Marijuana Deathsquads, Blackthorne, The Khayembii Communique and Cadillac Blindside (with more bands TBA) for a July 9 memorial concert for Nick “Blood” Thompson, founder of Blood of the Young Records, who passed away earlier this month.  

“[Thompson] was a huge contributor to the scene around here, as far as putting out amazing punk records and being a huge fan of music that was very selfless about it, and we all knew and loved him a lot,” Tillmann said. “When he passed away, we felt like the only proper way to memorialize him, that he would be into, would be to have a big show where a bunch of people get together and have a great time.”

Sean Na Na’s lineup will include Paddy Costello, who toured for about five years with them, and his wife, Christy (of Pink Mink). After that, band members say, Sean Na Na has no official plans.

“When the chance came up to see all your friends in one place and play some songs and celebrate [Nick], then everyone is all about it,” Allen said. “We’re just gonna see what happens when everyone’s all together.”

 

Jackie Renzetti is a student at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. She is an editor at the Minnesota Daily and co-hosts Radio K’s “Off the Record.”