The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator


The time and place a person writes music in inevitably affects the end product. This environment that fosters creativity is an important factor for any musician. For Sean Carey, a 2004 alumnus, however, this environment was essential.

Only six years after he earned his degree in percussion performance at UW-Eau Claire, Carey has embarked on a number of international tours as the drummer of Eau Claire darlings Bon Iver, headlined immense festivals worldwide, collaborated with indie great David Byrne of Talking Heads, and just released his first solo album, “All We Grow,” on Aug. 24 for a nationally renowned independent label, Jagjaguwar.

“All We Grow” takes pieces in Carey’s classical training, such as minimalist composer Steve Reich, and Carey’s more modern tastes and combines them into something new, said Associate Professor Jeff Crowell, the coordinator of percussion at Eau Claire.

“He takes everything he heard and he’s just sort of melded it all together and when he writes his pieces,” Crowell said. “They’re still his.”

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Crowell compared the album to mixed paint, where it is almost impossible to see the specific pieces, but the whole represents what went into it.

“All We Grow” is tough to define from a genre-standpoint, floating in between folk, classical and rock within each track.

Carey’s own personal experiences are also heavily factored into his style on the album, especially playing with Bon Iver. While the story of Bon Iver front man Justin Vernon exiling himself to the woods and recording an album has grown as quickly as the album itself, Carey’s story with Bon Iver is just as worth telling.

Carey was playing in Lowtel, the band opening for Vernon for the first Bon Iver shows, so he listened to the songs that were posted online and picked apart each percussion part and harmony. The night of the first show, Carey approached Vernon and ended up sitting in on a few songs. Not long after that concert Bon Iver’s record exploded on the independent scene, and soon, the group was touring nationally.

“It shaped me in the biggest way,” Carey said. “I just gained confidence in my playing and in my own abilities as a musician and a writer.”

Carey, whose father was an elementary music teacher in Lake Geneva, has been playing drums since age ten and taught himself piano and guitar in high school. He came to UW-Eau Claire for music, and after a tough first year, found himself heavily involved in the music program.

It’s here that Carey met Aaron Hedenstrom, a senior music major, who contributed woodwinds on “All We Grow.” Hedenstrom has played with Carey in various ensembles in the last few years. Hedenstrom said Carey’s unique musicianship has contributed to his success, but it’s also Carey’s personality.

“(Carey) is easy to get along with,” Hedenstrom said. “He makes it fun to play and make music together.”

Crowell agrees that Carey’s personal traits have contributed greatly to his early success.

“Sean was always going in Sean’s way,” Crowell said. “He was doing everything that was required, but he always had this extra spark to him.” He added that Carey was always completely dedicated to any project he undertook and set goals for himself.

It was this spark that kept Carey working on “All We Grow” in between tours. Carey said the band would return to Eau Claire from the road and he would work on a few songs before they left again. “All We Grow” wasn’t initially meant to be released, but soon Carey realized that it should be heard. Because of this, the album was heavily homegrown. It was recorded in Haas Fine Arts Center and the producer Jaime Hansen’s house, and most of the musicians were close friends.

Carey said he fell in love with the city of Eau Claire while at school here and realized it was where he wanted to stay.

“I loved going to Racy’s, or going to The Joynt or going to The Co-Op,” Carey said. “It’s just really simple. There’s nothing fancy about it.”

On top of the city’s appeal was a tight knit group of musicians to play with, including Hedenstrom, Jeremy Boettcher and Ben Lester.

One of the strongest contributors to “All We Grow” was the natural environment. Many of the lyrics on the album involve nature and the simplicity of it. Songs like “In The Dirt” and “We Fell” revolve around earthly objects.

“I love being outside and I love the simple beauty of nature,” Carey said. “I wanted to portray that you can take the smallest little thing and you can appreciate it for how amazing it actually is.”

All of these factors combined created the environment that Carey wrote and recorded “All We Grow” in. The album has received praise from National Public Radio, Pitchfork Media and other publications. Carey is currently on tour in support of The Tallest Man On Earth and is looking to the future, which includes more touring in support of “All We Grow,” time with Bon Iver and maybe even a new record after a few years.

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