Take it from me, Cold Country

By Amanda Murphy

Phoenix-raised Sean McConnell may not have been born in what’s considered cold country. But after a few musical endeavors and a move to Chicago after a stint in Austin, Texas, McConnell found his warm-blooded self back in a cold-blooded city. After a year of writing, accumulating musicians and recording, he released the self-titled debut album April 10 for his project Cold Country.

The album boasts a perfect summer sound, a colorful mix of perky Americana tracks laden with harmonica and horns paired with others that are more mellow, bittersweet and beautiful and always seem to end sooner than one wishes they would. With shows booked around the city for the next few months and a video out soon for the album’s single, “Take It From Me (Nicole Marie),” Cold Country is quickly warming Chicago’s chilled winter bones.

The Chronicle sat down with McConnell over coffee to talk about the process of putting the band together, the difficulties that come with recording your own music and the roots of the band’s name.

The Chronicle: You formed the type of band that you wanted. What were you looking for in the other members and

the instruments?

Sean McConnell: In coming back to Chicago from Austin, I was already familiar with a pretty good network of musicians. People I had played with before, people I had recorded. So I already knew they were great players, and that allowed me to take my pick of my favorites of different groups and form this ensemble around the songs I had written. So that was really cool for me to be able to do that. I didn’t have the band first and then we write the songs. This was all material I had been working on over the last year and then decided to pull all of these guys and girls in to make the album sound the way I wanted it to.

The Chronicle: What’s different about this musical effort compared to what you’ve done in the past?

SM: Before this, I was in Austin, and I had started a two-piece project called You Are An Airplane. I was doing that for a little while, and it got me a start. It got me writing more and performing my songs. It was fun, simple pop music, but it wasn’t anything I thought to be too grand or ambitious. Then when I moved back, I started working on new material, and I had the idea to create a larger sound with more elements that I wanted and that I felt was missing from everything else, like strings, horns, other vocals. It wasn’t some specific thing I had in mind. It was a general idea that I knew I wanted more out of these songs and that I wanted to see what I could do if I had all of these components at my disposal.

The Chronicle: You are an audio engineer, and you recorded the album yourself. Did you run into any problems?

SM: Luckily, it was a pretty effortless process. The hardest thing was the same problem I have for organizing members for the live show—scheduling people to come in. I like having that kind of control over what I do rather than having a producer come in and tell me what to do or not do, or having to worry about paying money or deadlines with a studio.

It’s cool that I am able to do that myself and have that in my control. Producing and mixing your own music is an interesting dynamic. You just have to keep an open mind and distance yourself from it. When you’re listening to it, you can’t be like, “OK, that’s my voice, these are my parts that I put together.” You have to listen to it objectively as a piece of music.

The Chronicle: Why did the name Cold Country resonate with you?

SM: It’s mostly to pay homage to my dad, who is from the Midwest. I came out here, and he’s from here—Minnesota actually. He’s a really traditional, old-fashioned kind of guy. If you ask him where he’s from, he will always say, “I’m from the Cold Country.” There’s just something about the way it sounds that resonates with me.

For more information on Cold Country, visit the band’s Facebook page. To listen to or purchase the album, visit ColdCountry.Bandcamp.com. Upcoming shows include one at Township, 2200 N. California Ave., on April 29 and one at Reggie’s Music Joint, 2105 S. State St., on May 25.