Sean Hayes

Powerful stuff

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

You might think you don’t know who Sean Hayes is, but you do. You may further think that I’m wrong, that you’ve never heard his music before, but you have.

No, he’s not the guy who played Jack McFarland (or “Just Jack”) on Will & Grace (although that dude is also named Sean Hayes, and his character on the sitcom fancied himself an entertainer), although I’m sure musician Hayes will deal with the kind of lifelong confusion that results when a man shares his name with someone more famous than he.

Most prominently, Hayes (the musician, not the actor) had one of his songs, “Powerful Stuff,” featured in a long-running Subaru commercial. I’m not certain how many Subaru Foresters the commercial helped to sell, but I do know Hayes’ song, which starts with the lyrics, “Oh yes, this is powerful stuff/Got me circling like the moon round the sun,” was probably the most memorable part of the once-ubiquitous commercial. And, in a world where radio play becomes less and less relevant to how so many of us learn about musicians and their music, commercial placement of songs is the new heavy rotation.

Commercials aside, Hayes is hardly a household name—unless you live in or around his home of San Francisco, that is. Now in his mid-40s, Hayes has been at this for a minute, but he seldom tours very far from home, preferring to play in places and for audiences who are known quantities. He’s content to make the mark he wants to make in the way he wants to make it—even if doing increases the chances he’ll toil in near-obscurity for the majority of his career, that one Subaru commercial notwithstanding. Frankly, in an era in which the seeking of celebrity has trumped just about everything else, Hayes’ attitude reads as a refreshing throwback to a simpler time.

But Hayes’ music may well prove to be bigger than the ambitions of the musician that spawned it. Born in New York, raised in North Carolina and residing in San Francisco for the past two-plus decades, Hayes has an Irish-influenced folk/indie/soul sound—and a wholly distinctive voice that rings with rawness and warmth at the same time—that’s easy on the ears and tough to forget. As well, his songs speak to simple, essential things—love, of course, and, more recently, fatherhood—in ways that are poetic yet elemental. In other words, his songs are about those things we all feel, presented in a way we can all relate to.

When Hayes makes his way from his beloved San Franciscan home to Bellingham, it won’t be his first trip here. And, if his last show at the Wild Buffalo is any measure, Bellingham is another locale that will feel a lot like home to this currently wandering troubadour—as it does to so many other bands and musicians who come our way. Further proof that we know “powerful stuff” when we hear it.

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