Sean Meadows is likely best known for his contributions to June of 44 (once again active, to the delight of fans around the world) and was also involved with the excellent but short lived Sonora Pine, as well as the mighty and hypnotic Lungfish. An artist of many mediums with a love for coffee, Sean was kind enough to spend some time on the phone with me from his home in Chattanooga, TN.
Hey Sean, thanks for talking to me! I know you’ve been playing music for a very long time, because I’ve been listening to music you’ve made for a very long time. I’m most familiar with June of 44 and the Sonora Pine record, and I’m also a massive Lungfish fan. I know there are other bands you’ve been involved in that I’m not super aware of so maybe you'd like to talk a little bit about all the projects you’ve been involved in?
A little bit’s cool. The ones you just mentioned are most known for a reason. The folks I’ve been collaborating with in those bands are the most immensely talented people I’ve ever worked with, no doubt. I don’t know where to start. I was in punk bands as a kid in Chattanooga. The goal of being in a punk band in a small town was getting out of your small town. I’m back in my small town which is pretty awesome. The perspectives have changed.
Sean Meadows, photo by Lucio Febo
How long have you been back?
I technically moved back here in 2002 and we’ve lived here (my wife and I and our 2 sons) but I’ve never stopped traveling for work and playing music. But I spent the 90’s mostly in New York. Even moving back in 2002, I continued to work mostly in New York. So New York is a weird surrogate home for me. I actually identify as being a New Yorker at this point as an adult more than being from here, which is weird because I still live here.
What do you do for work, if you don’t mind?
I don’t mind. I’m a freelance survivalist because I just try to survive. I’ve done a bunch of construction work and for the last ten years I’ve been doing work for a company that does art logistics that have art fairs all over the place. I’ve worked with a lot of art handlers installing and shipping art. From my perspective, it’s cool. Most of the folks who have that job are disgruntled artists who don’t want to be art handlers. There is a really poetic misery to that job. When I moved back here in 2002, I cleaned chemical barges on the Tennessee River so I’m not that disgruntled handling art, I’ve had worse jobs. It’s a weird, ground-floor access to the art world. You get to see the same stuff and interact with the same people who are at every station in the art world but you’re doing the shitty work of it. You have a lot of beautiful artists who aren’t successful for whatever reason doing that job and they’re disgruntled about it. I just choose to not look at it like that.
I was recently reminded of the movie Half-Cocked. Is that how you met Jeff (Mueller)?
That’s a good question but that’s actually not how I met Jeff. Jeff and I knew each other before that. I had done some traveling with the band Crain who I’m sure you’re familiar with and before Half-Cocked, I had been driving and roadie-ing for Crain. I wound up being one of the collective of weirdos living in the Rocket House for a spell, a few months at most. Mr. Jon Cook picked me up off the road and shoved me in a corner of the Rocket House and forgot about me for a time and that’s where I developed a pretty fast track and deep friendship with Jeff and Tara. I have a vague memory of meeting Tara in the stairwell of the Rocket House, ghost-like just looking at each other like weird phantoms in that house. So I wound up palling around with her. Her and Jeff were both in the early stages of Rodan. We became friends a year or 2 before Half-Cocked, so the movie was just a continuation of that.
Do you want to talk about what it was like making that film?
I guess? But not really. [laughter] It was a long time ago and it’s in a weird space in my mind. The reason I say no isn’t that I have anything negative to say about it, I just don’t know what to say about it. We thought it would turn out to be more intense artistically than it ended up being. It’s like a yearbook picture that you’re not necessarily all that psyched about. Like a mullet shot.
I moved from Tennessee to Baltimore with a friend of mine and we didn’t really know what was going on. Things quickly began to look impossible in Baltimore and I wound up taking an opportunity to move to New York City. Being tight with Jeff and Tara, they knew I was moving to New York and they both separately were like “let’s make music, we’re coming to New York too.” That was the beginning of really playing with those guys in earnest.
Yes, but by only a minute. He was right on the heels of her coming there.
Didn’t ‘Engine Takes To Water’ come together fairly quickly?
Yeah, that was super fast. Jeff and I had the skeleton ideas of those songs for a handful of days and we played with Doug and then Fred came along and we played for 2 or 3 weeks and tracked that record in 3 days with James Murphy. So, that’s pretty fast. It was definitely under a month, start to finish.
That’s impressive. The recent remasters that Quarterstick put out turned out beautifully. It was like traveling back in time.
Yeah, I feel like the current phase of what we’re doing is more a time traveling band than a reunion band. It was a cool experience for me to hear them again after not listening to them for many years.
Is June of 44 going to continue doing anything?
I hope so. I was recently palling around with Jeff in Connecticut writing songs and we’re pretty happy after all this time traveling to be making songs.
June Of '44 recently announced European tour dates, listed below.
That show at the Bottom Lounge, which I think was the last show I saw before the pandemic, was really incredible. It was mind bending to be seeing you guys again.
Likewise, to see that room of people that we know so well, it was a mutual, crazy time traveling experience for us. It blew my mind.
That was really fun. It's great that you guys are writing new songs. David Yow once referred to the Jesus Lizard reunion shows as Jesus Lizard reenactments.
Funny you brought that up because the last show I saw before the pandemic, I took my 15 year old son to Nashville to see the Jesus Lizard. If he wants to call it a reenactment, that’s fine, but for me personally, we stood in the middle of all those people in Nashville and danced our asses off. It was amazing. Mr. Yow, call it a reenactment, but it’s just music to people who love it.
Absolutely. I’d like to talk a little bit about The Sonora Pine because when that record came out, it really floored me. If you have any memories of the making of that record…
Oh that’s nice, I didn’t know you were into that record. People don’t often ask me about that. I have beautiful fond memories of making that shit. In fact, once we got those songs together, before we did a version with Samara and Kevin, we did the demos at my parents’ house. As the years have gone on, I actually like the demos more than the record. I can’t find the demos anymore. I don’t think they exist. Corey (Rusk) might have those demos. We were so dumb, well not Tara, but we wrote all those songs in New York City and I had this weird ass gothic fucked up idea that those songs needed to be recorded in New Orleans so I tried to get a space and a studio and all this kooky shit. If I didn’t do all that goofy shit, we probably would have made it a year earlier than we actually made it in Louisville. I remember wandering around New Orleans trying to sort out how we were going to make that record down there, which was dumb and made no sense. I had this vampire vibe I thought should go with those songs. Does that make any sense? You spent some time with the record.
Yeah, it actually makes a lot of sense. I actually just pulled out the record, so it looks like it was recorded in Louisville.
Tara rented a house in Louisville and Bob (Weston) came down with an 8-Track Otari machine and we recorded it in the living room, dining room, kitchen, and bathroom of this house Tara rented. That seemed pretty cool and weird because we could have gone in the studio but we thought it might be more fun to record it in her house. Then we took those tapes to Steve (Albini)’s house before he had Electrical Audio and mixed it there, which was super righteous to even just walk in there. I was a fan of the records and music coming out of there.
That’s awesome. And Bob mixed it?
We mixed it with him.
Man, you guys have had a long relationship with Bob.
I love Bob.
You mentioned you were in and out of Baltimore for a bit and I always wondered how you ended up in Lungfish and if you wanted to talk about them a bit.
I can a little bit. You know the band so I’m clearly a junior member. They had a fully formed artistic universe before I stepped on their star ship. I knew them from when they first left the east coast and toured the states. A friend of mine booked them in a skate park in north Georgia and I missed that show. I was out of town in New Orleans and I came back to Tennessee and she had the ‘Necklace of Heads’ record. She was like “You’d like these guys.”
So I listened to that record about a dozen times and we were like alright, “Let’s go talk to these guys.” She and I and another friend drove up there and went and found them immediately, before they’d made the first Dischord record. When they toured they would come through here so I knew them all through their first 3 records. It’s a little complicated and weird to talk about how I started playing with them and maybe not that interesting. It’s tricky because I just turned down a Lungfish podcast and I didn’t want to be disrespectful, but as the junior member, I didn’t feel like the spokesperson to talk about that band. I knew this conversation with you would be more expansive. I was just friends with Lungfish and deeply into their music. I made a couple records with them and then we were friends when I wasn’t in the band for six or eight years and then they asked me to work on ‘Love Is Love' which I was psyched about. So it worked to play music with them for another few years. There’s a lot to it, it’s hard to describe how all that stuff works out.
Sure. I was talking about this not that long ago but I was a fan for years and just because of where I lived, I never had an opportunity to see them. I swear when ‘Love Is Love’ came out, I saw you guys in Chicago like 3 times in a just a few short years. I felt spoiled, it was great.
We played a bunch for those few years and then we didn’t play anymore. That whole period was a super beautiful Lungfish music period, absolutely. I’m very proud of that.
I’ve contemplated that tree on the cover of ‘Love Is Love’ as a tattoo in the past. It’s really lovely.
There was almost a different version, but in the end, it came together perfectly. It was nice. Those guys were really deep. The reason it’s tricky for me is I know there are people who love Lungfish music, and out of respect for them, I don’t want to say too much about it. At this point, it’s more theirs than anyone else’s. My opinions don’t matter.
I was just interested in your experience being involved, not necessarily trying to get you to weigh in on the output.
Cool. I can go there, I can share my experience. It spans a decade, it was a lot. I was young and then later, I was old and I felt more confident in my musicality and I felt like I could contribute. The first wave, I was just a kid and those guys were a lot older than me and had toured a lot and knew a lot of folks. They had a fully realized vision for what they were doing. I believed in their music and I wanted to help them realize it. I think a little later, I was able to contribute a little more, I hope.
They took a break for a while and then came back with ‘Necrophones’, right? I feel like those last 3 records just gelled in an incredible way.
I support your affinity for that music. There’s enough work there that people have different feelings about it. From a fan perspective, my own self, I remember I had gone to Spain and I wasn’t playing with them. I came back to Chicago to do June of 44 stuff and Jeff Mueller played me ‘Artificial Horizon’ and that’s the first record in my life that destroyed me in that specific way. I loved that record and yet it was like daggers that I wasn’t playing that music with them. If I want to pleasantly destroy myself, I’ll put on ‘Love Will Ruin Your Mind’. As a fan, not being part of what I played, where they were in the ‘Pass & Stow’ record, I saw them a bunch then before I got in the band and did ‘Sound In Time’. I’ve never seen a band in the spot they were in, in the 18 months of that record. They were scary and beautiful and gentle and ferocious in this way that I’ve never seen anything else like it. So for me, not having anything to do with them, it’s ‘Artificial Horizon’ and ‘Pass & Stow’. I love that you have your own trinity of records and people who love Lungfish music can get on board in different places. They're cool dudes in a cool band.
So you play on ‘Sound In Time’ and ‘Indivisible’, correct? And then, ‘Love Is Love’ and ‘Feral Hymns’?
I will say, there’s something about those 4 records, something that you bring to it that's not on the other records, even though I love other records by them... there’s something about those 4 that I’m always drawn to.
I’m psyched to hear you say that, thank you. That’s the area where it’s probably better if I don’t say anything about it. Because that’s your music, you know? If you can get inside that music from your perspective, that’s what I want. The music is available to access.
Lungfish was huge for us. Brendan and I are enormous fans and it was in heavy rotation for all the years we worked together at Touch and Go. We would fantasize about what Daniel Higgs was like as a person just because he seemed so mystical. We imagined lengthy band walks, where much was discussed and revealed.
Greetings, Brother Daniel.
I remember once, after Daniel had just released record of himself playing the jaw harp (Magic Alphabet) and Corey (Rusk) came downstairs and he was just like “What the fuck are you listening to?” and I was like “Well, this is Daniel Higgs” and it was one of the 3 or 4 times I saw him just laugh explosively. I did have the pleasure of briefly meeting him (Daniel) eventually and he was a seemingly normal guy. I met Asa once as well, he was also extremely pleasant.
Have you met Mitchell yet?
We’ve chatted on Facebook a little and I met him briefly at Logan Square Auditorium the last time I saw you play there.
Have you read his poetry? He’s a fuckin’ poet, man. His poetry is very deep and cool.
That was a beautiful show. I was bummed that Slint was playing against us. That was not cool.
Lungfish at Logan Square Auditorium.
I somehow made it to both shows. Park West isn’t around the corner either, I can't remember if they played early or something.
You must have been the only one because we got ditched by a bunch of people, understandably.
So, I really like the way you talk about making music. I read an interview with you years ago about ‘Four Great Points’ and you were describing being in the recording studio and having an out of body experience while you were recording. That always stuck with me.
We’ve had some face time. I’m a deep, old school weirdo. I’ve had some out of body experiences, my friend. This relationship to this temporal plane is tenuous.
Is making music something that opens that up for you?
I don’t know that I’ve thought about it like that. I don’t think about it necessarily like that. Creating music is something I do as a practice on a daily basis just to achieve a sense of balance. It started at age 13 when I was able to get a shitty heavy metal glam candy apple red bass guitar. Sound and music, I discovered early on, is something that has helped me achieve balance within myself. It’s something I’ve continued to do on a daily basis since then. Sometimes things get out of balance, depending on the scenario or the personalities or whatever you might be working on, the equations can get pretty weird and stretched out. I love listening to music. I love playing music. I feel better when there’s music I like happening with my body between a community. ‘Four Great Points’ was a pretty special, weird time. Things got stretched out, but they could have gotten dilated if you know what I mean.
Yeah, that record felt like a transition. I remember it hitting pretty hard when it came out.
It changed stuff for us exponentially. We traveled more, we played bigger shows. There was a little more excitement. I think all of our lives changed at least a little bit with that record.
We did a lot of work on that record at Jason Noble’s house on Woodbine in Louisville, but Jeff didn’t live there. It was just a collective commune style. Jason bought that place with Kyle and they had multiple spaces to play in and we piled in there. We had friends with us and we stayed deep like seven or eight people in that house for the better part of the summer and built that record. Then it was easy to go to Chicago and track it. Jeff’s address was technically in Philadelphia then, if I’m not mistaken.
That’s cool. So when you say you guys were traveling more, you mean touring more?
Yeah, we were steadily touring more with that group of folks in that period. The couple years around that record, we worked a lot together.
So you were saying you continue to write every day. Do you ever record? Do you keep documentation of what you’re doing or just write for the sake of writing?
Both. Right before you saw us in Chicago I had a little studio down in Tennessee and I burned it down by accident.
I do remember that. I was going to ask about that.
There was a lot of documentation in that studio of us playing music and recording which I now no longer have. It’s a clean slate. But there wasn’t a Tchaikovsky record in there, ya know. Presently, I just play to play. I just play music to make music. Every day I have instruments around and I listen to records and I play music. I’m not especially good at recording. Early on I thought I might want to take this warrior path of being an engineer like the other great characters we know but I’m just not technically proficient to be that guy. At some phase in building my studio, I knew it wasn’t going to be SOMA or Electrical Audio, but it was a place for me to make music. You don’t need a studio to make music so I make music every day. Right now I’m making iPhone recordings on the dictaphone app.
What was your studio setup like?
It was fucking rad! I didn’t have a lot of great gear but I built a control room, I had 2 dead rooms, I had another super vibrant live room. It was in an old horse stable. I was making paintings in there too which I was super psyched about. Really laborious, long, slow paintings. I had most of my record collection there, it was just like a little church to just feel in balance. I had various tape machines and synthesizers but nothing like any of the rad dudes in your town have. It was pretty rudimentary. Nobody would be impressed by the gear but the space was something I had geeked out about for years. It was the one thing I could control with some recycled materials. It was like this wooden box in the woods. I had imagined some of my deep friends like Bob with his 8-Track Otari tape machine coming down and making a sick record. It did seem to function in my brain as a place you could elevate but a drone strike took it out [chuckles]. I worked on that building for 17 years. It was pretty cool.
The love in your voice talking about it just seems like a really special place that allowed you to be creative in all the ways you needed to.
It was exactly that. You go into an amazing studio and you know the hourglass is ticking and it’s going to cost you money. Living in lofts in New York and Chicago, you just want a space to live and work and that was my live/work space.
That sounds really beautiful and I’m sorry that it went up in flames.
No one was hurt is the most important thing.
Yeah and it was impressive that you guys were able to continue playing dates without missing a beat...
That was the most important thing during the trauma of that it was like “Whoa, this is a collective of heavy dudes making music.” I was super proud of us and felt like “Let’s make more music.”
You mentioned that you’re a painter as well.
Well, maybe I’m a painter. I’m not sure.
Is that something you continue to do, as well as write every day?
Over the span of time you’ve been creating music, how do you feel like your influences have evolved, if they have? Obviously, you’re still able to lose your mind at a Jesus Lizard show. Have you seen your tastes evolve and change over time?
Absolutely. It’s a good question, I’m not going to groan.
Can you give some examples of stuff that used to inspire you versus stuff that now might?
I can try. I bought the new Floating Points/Pharaoh Sanders record that came out a while ago. I bought that and it stayed on my turntable for a week. To think about Pharoah at 80 making this patient music that’s contemporary, that’s got some Alice Coltrane vibes, that’s some present, cool music. I’ve been weirding out to this really thin sounding Segovia record, this classical guitar stuff. I reference it with this dude George Cordoba. Do you know about this dude? The Guitarra Exotica record? It’s a weird, secret, fucked up, beautiful, awesome record. If you like Romany jazzy Django Rheinhardt kind of music, I think the guy played with Django at some point. He was a weird prickly type of character. My wife bought this record for me a few years ago at a thrift store. I love this record, I’ve just worn it out. It’s really beautiful. That wouldn’t have spoken to me when I was a kid. To address your question specifically, I want to bring up Mitchell again because he’s a beautiful poet who is a little bit older than I am. He and I talked about how it’s important to constantly consume new music as well as appreciate old music as a practice. I try to listen to new music and go backwards and forwards at the same time. Even the way I listen to music is evolving with just being alive.
There’s nothing more frustrating than getting stuck in a rut with records. Your brain flips through ten things you want to hear and I have ...maybe 4000 LPs. Like, what am I doing?
You were excited when you bought them, you need to re-interface how you felt when you bought them.
Selfishly, when I ask this question in interviews, I’m just looking for recommendations for new music to check out.
There’s an unearthed Don Cherry record I haven’t heard yet that was made the year I was born in 1972. Like everyone else, I’m fixated on the music that was made around the time I was born. My wife was a dancer but sometimes she’s super sensitive to the fact that I need to listen to music non-stop. Having children also re-interfaced my evolution of listening to music. It was cool to drag my son to see the Jesus Lizard but I don’t want to play it in the house non-stop. So we listen to a lot of happy music. My sons are pretty musical. My younger son is like “I don’t like experimental music” and I’m like “Cool, let’s listen to Jimmy Cliff.”
So, have your children listened to bands you’ve been in? What do they think?
Yeah totally. They’re positive and supportive. It doesn’t speak to them in that they need to play it twice but they’re not yet curious on their own so much to hear it. By the time my oldest was 5 years old, he heard more music than I heard in 25 years. They have a weird impression of a lot of music just from being around and living together. If they want to like pop music, that’s fine, because I know the (weird stuff) is in there somewhere. I imagine if they go to college and someone is like “You gotta check out this Jimi Hendrix record”, they’ll be like “I know this record.” I don’t push music or practice on them but they’re both better musicians than I am already. My older son plays piano and the little guy plays drums. They come to it on their own terms.
Have you ever collaborated with them?
Yeah, totally. We just make music when we can, which is kind of all the time.
Let me ask you, I know there’s a coffee angle to this. Coffee's roots are in Ethiopia? What coffee nerd stuff do I need to know about the history of coffee?
The cultivation of coffee started in Ethiopia, which still produces the best coffee on the planet. Coffee grows around the equator and the terroir of different regions will affect the flavors. When you get coffee from the Americas, you’re getting more chocolate notes and caramel because of the sugar cane and cocoa that’s growing. When you get to Africa, you’re getting really bright, citrus-y coffee.
In that thought, are you also really into Ethiopian music?
I’m super familiar with a lot of those Ethiopiques comps and some of the artists highlighted on them. It’s never a wrong time to put some of that stuff on. It always makes the situation better.
Do you think there’s an acceptable synesthesia avenue for people to get the music and coffee together, like certain coffees might go with certain music?
Coffee, as drawn by Sean.
Oh wow. That’s an interesting concept. I’ll have to think about that and get back to you.
I ask because a couple years ago, a friend of mine who lives in Germany now, we were talking about that with wine. We were tasting certain wines and trying to imagine what key they might be in. I’m just curious if there’s a way to access this crossover because people do have synesthesia, that’s a real thing. I think there might be a way to pair music and other alkaloid compounds to give people who don’t have synesthesia a type of synesthesia experience.
For most people, they’re probably drinking coffee in the morning versus drinking wine in the evening. I wonder what kind of effect that would have on what you’re listening to.
There’s a musical quality to really beautiful wine. They have a fucking musical note.
So I have some coffee related questions since you brought it up. What do you like in a cup of coffee?
I like medium roast. I like the beautiful Ethiopian coffees. I’ve spent some time in that central part of Costa Rica and they make beautiful coffees there. Is Vietnam the world’s 4th largest producer of coffee? What’s up with Vietnamese coffee man?
I believe that’s true. I don’t know if they’re 4th, but I do know they produce a lot. In the last 20 years or so? China has also started producing a lot. As far as regions, my least favorite region would be Indonesian coffees. I’ve tasted coffees from Indonesia that taste like leather or tobacco or beef broth. It’s not what I’m looking for in a cup of coffee. If I'm not mistaken, I believe that Vietnam and China’s production mainly goes to huge producers like Starbucks.
What happened to the chemistry set coffee that was popular a few years ago? You don’t see that anymore.
Like vacuum pots and stuff? I have some, my mother in law would get my coffee gadgets every Christmas until I had to put a moratorium on that due to a lack of space. It’s laborious. It’s fun to watch but there’s nothing about it that truly sets it apart? It’s a lot of work and someone’s waiting 10 minutes for their coffee and they’re like “Oh, it’s coffee”. A lot of smoke with no fire, really.
How do you make coffee at home?
I make drip coffee. Just normal coffee. I had the Moka pot but it started giving me anxiety attacks so I had to throw it away because I’d drink the whole Moka pot and freak out.
What do you like to drink if you’re just ordering a coffee out in the world?
It depends on where I am. I like drinking the weirdo Cortados in Spain but I don’t care to drink the European style coffees here. I’ll just have an espresso or normal coffee. I didn’t see anybody talk about the Cafe Corretto in any of your interviews.
I don’t even know what that is.
When you have a beautiful multi-course meal with loved ones in Italy, you might have a digestif of espresso with a splash of Sambuca. You should investigate this because a Cafe Corretto is a beautiful thing. The Italians know what the fuck I’m talking about.
Speaking of beloved Italians, I have one more music question about June of 44. The first reunion show was for the Uzeda 30th celebration right? What was your experience in that process happening?
Wow. I didn’t think we could do it. The initial response was “That’s amazing, there’s no way we can do that.” It was lovely to be asked but we thought it was a little nutty. Then, Agostino was like “Why can’t you do it?” and nobody could think of a reason. It went from an impossibility to a challenge based on our very sophisticated friend.
Were you guys asked to play the Touch & Go 25th anniversary?
I think so but at that time, that was not facilitated through Agostino so the diplomacy would have been different. I didn’t come to the 25th anniversary experience and I’m a little bit sour about it to this day. We were collectively not in a place where we could do it.
Last coffee question. Do you feel like coffee has ever affected your creativity?
Yes. It’s hard for me to expound on that because, unlike alcohol, coffee is a more subtle compound. Like Warren Ellis said in your interview, I am a coffee addict so I need it every day. That’s the slow lane and then the fast lane might be creativity. You get into a very specific, nimble place because if you do too much, it short circuits the creativity in my experience. I’m not a surfer but it’s like a really tight wave that crashes on a small space. Balance. If you look at any practice, balance is the goal. Coffee should be used to great effect in moderation.
The last question I always ask people is if they’ve heard any good jokes lately.
I just got a bunch of jokes from Jeff’s little daughter in Connecticut but I’m going to give you a dad joke instead that I told my kids when they were little:
Q: How many Surrealists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: A fish.
Many thanks to Sean for the lovely conversation and deep insights. June Of 44 recently announced a series of European dates, and maybe we'll get to see them over here again in the future. Do yourself a favor and check out The Sonora Pine, June Of 44, and Lungfish if you are not yet familiar. If you'd like to check out Glassworks Coffee, please use code ENGINE at check out for 20% off of your first order.