Originally published in AU magazine, May 2008
HE’S THE man your mother warned you about. The man your father would board up your bedroom window to prevent you seeing. But in reality, there’s no getting around it: Har Mar Superstar is quite.. well, lovely.
When I meet him before his soundcheck in Dublin’s Crawdaddy (he’s here supporting Australian indie-popstrel Sia), Sean Tillmann is still recovering from the previous night’s antics. Running a hand through his thinning-but-lengthy hair, he recollects a “fun” evening that involved a trip to notorious meat-market Copperface Jack’s – a revelation that elicits uproarious laughter from the crowd when he recounts it from the stage later on.
“I asked where the sluttiest, easiest girls would be and that’s where I got sent. It was pretty insane,” he says with a filthy, infectious gurgle of a laugh. “Some girl sprayed perfume into my mouth, that was pretty disgusting. But I made out with her, so it was OK.”
The rotund electro-soul purveyor has forged a reputation as a bit of a ladies’ man: stripping to his Y-fronts is an integral part of any Har Mar show, and he famously managed to persuade Kate Moss to snog him in the video for single ‘Brothers and Sisters’. Does he worry that such a reputation – as well as his zany live show – will prevent people from taking his music seriously?
“I used to worry about that more,” he nods, “but it’s not something that concerns me as much these days. I think I’ve been going for so long now that people are starting to realise that I do have tunes. I guess I don’t really care as much about what people think anymore – I just do it because I’m having a good time”.
Is that something that comes with age (he recently turned 30), or just the experience of touring so much? “Kind of both”, he grins. “Just getting away from doing interviews and stuff for a while kind of brings things into scope. You think ‘Wait, I’m not doing this for you, I’m doing this for me’.”
Doing it for himself is certainly an adage that Tillmann’s become familiar with over the past few years; he openly reveals that he had label trouble several years ago, when a planned single and tour were cancelled because of his refusal to appear on Celebrity Big Brother.
“I was really pissed at my label and my management, I just kind of hated everybody for a while,” he smiles. “Why was I so against it? ‘Cos it’s like, basically, ‘See you guys later – this is the last £80,000 I’ll ever make as an entertainer’, you know what I mean? It’s cool if you need to make a comeback and get in the public eye, but I was already in the public eye. I felt like I had some more in me, and it’s working out fine. It just seemed cheap at the time. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching it, and I have no disrespect for the people that actually do it – but for me, it just wasn’t the right time. There’s points where I think I could have gone in and made it different, and been funny, but I just didn’t wanna live on camera. I’d rather be on camera on my own terms”.
Although there hasn’t been a Har Mar Superstar album release since 2004‘s excellent ‘The Handler‘, Tillmann has always been keen to keep his finger in as many pies as possible. Growing up in suburban Minnesota, his first band (noise-rockers Calvin Krime) was formed when he was in his late teens; they were succeeded by indie-pop act Sean Na Na, a mostly-solo project he’s kept on the go to this day, and whose third album was released on Dim Mak last year.
“Sean Na Na is just me, and I put together whatever band I feel like when I go on tour“, he says. “I just hadn’t made a record for a long time because I’d been really busy with Har Mar stuff, and then I took a break from music altogether for about six months or a year. I decided to record the Sean Na Na record just because I wanted to re-learn how to play guitar. I toured a little bit with The Cribs, and then the new Har Mar record (scheduled for release this Autumn) started to come together through that whole process”.
Despite the lack of high-profile Har Mar material, however, Tillmann’s far from rested on his laurels for the past four years. Sean Na Na aside, he’s also guested on the recent Neon Neon album. How did that come about?
“I’d met Boom Bip around LA a couple of times,” he states, “and (co-collaborator) Spank Rock was in town playing one night. The next day Naeem (Spank Rock) invited me over to the studio. I was just gonna go hang out, but when I got there he handed me a pen and a piece of paper and was like ‘Write to this beat’ – so we wrote the song (‘Trick for Treat‘) that day, and recorded it. I ended up singing a few more things on the record, and now I play live with them a lot, and I’ll probably be doing the festivals with them this summer. Gruff’s lyrics and melodies are just so good on the album, it’s awesome.”
Many eagle-eyed movie buffs may also be familiar with his cameo as ‘Dancin’ Rick’ in 2004’s Starsky and Hutch, and he‘s also involved in a film set for release next year called ‘Lovely, Still‘. Did the young Sean always want to be a star?
“I wanted to act and do music ever since I can remember,” he nods, sipping his pint. “I‘d definitely like to do more acting work – I’ve hooked up with agents and stuff in the US, and I wrote a sitcom based on Har Mar that I’m going back to pitch when I get back. It’s kind of like an absurd comedy, that takes that British sensibility of having the main character be the most unlikeable person of all time, but have viewers rooting for him nonetheless. I wrote the whole first season of that with my friend John Ringhoff, and I think we’re ready to get it made”.
A VH1 programme is also currently in the works; conceived by Strokes drummer Fab Moretti and hosted by Har Mar, ‘Shoot to Kill’ “gives two teams of two young filmmakers a classic music video to re-imagine and shoot on their own over three days, and with a budget of $500. We give them the equipment, they go out and make it, then they come back into the studio and we screen them for the original artists, who picks a winner. It’s pretty awesome”.
With so much on the go in the US, it must mean he gets recognised quite a bit. Can he walk down the street these days in LA or New York without being stopped?
“I get recognised there, but it’s a different culture,” he says. “In LA, everybody’s famous, so it’s not like anyone’s impressed by it. And in New York, everybody’s too cool to be impressed by it, so you don’t have to deal with it”.
I ask if he ever finds it hard to draw the line between Sean and Har Mar – whether he needs to slip in and out of character before a performance.
“No, I think it’s harder for other people to draw the line. People are always really shocked when I’m not like, totally crazy. I don’t need to be alone for hours after a gig, or anything. I’m not Daniel Day-Lewis. I wish I was”.
Finally, I ask him what his secret is. Lengthy tours of live shows that see him thrust, bounce and leave the stage mid-song to order three shots of Jagermeister (as he did in Dublin) on a nightly basis are draining to merely watch; is it an organic diet (unlikely), a bevy of vitamin injections (ditto) or a gruelling meditative regime that keeps him energised?
“Nah. It’s pretty much just the potential of hooking up with some girl in every town,” he cackles with a twinkle in his eye. Lock up your daughters: Har Mar Superstar is back with a vengeance.