S. Carey Maps Lush Terrain on His Gorgeous New 'Range of Light'

Bon Iver percussionist plots a second solo full-length travelogue of his memory/imagination

Wisconsin's April Base Studios, Sean Carey, S. Carey
Wisconsin's April Base Studios Photo by Sean Carey
Kyle McGovern WRITTEN BY
Kyle McGovern

Sean Carey takes his time. For the past two years, the Bon Iver drummer and backing vocalist has been assembling Range of Light, his second solo album under the slightly pseudonymous moniker S. Carey. "You have to be patient," he says. "You can hear the patience in the music."

Due in April through Jagjaguwar, the album was recorded over a handful of four-to-five-day sessions wherein Carey and his backing band would hone in on three or four songs at a time. In one sense, that piecemeal approach mimics the making of Carey's debut LP, 2010's All We Grow, which was also put together across a two-year span, in between bouts of touring with Bon Iver. But Carey considers his first album to be "very much a bedroom-made record, kind of done all over the place," while its follow-up gestated in a proper studio — specifically, April Base Studios, the Wisconsin fortress maintained by Justin Vernon.

And while All We Grow was more or less a solitary affair, with Carey attempting to do as much as he could on his own, Range of Light finds him welcoming input from his live band and from Vernon, who cameos on several songs. "I just wanted to include them because these guys are my brothers," Carey says. "Some of my best friends."

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Still, the 28-year-old — who holds a performance degree in classical percussion — plays a host of instruments on his latest offering, including, drums, piano, guitar, keyboard, and organ. Layer on Carey's tender whisper, unassuming lyrics, and dewy production, and you get a nine-track effort that confronts both spirituality and fatherhood (Carey and his wife became parents in 2013), but also feels deeply rooted in geography, referencing locations both real and imagined.

"The 'Range of Light,' to me, is the range of my own happiness and the range in anyone's happiness, sadness," Carey says, adding that the phrase originally comes from the naturalist John Muir, who founded the environmental organization the Sierra Club and held a deep love for California's Sierra Nevada mountains. "It became a very California-inspired record for me. California and Arizona, specifically, because when I was a kid, my parents got divorced, and my dad lived in Arizona. Every summer we would go visit him and explore — basically road-trip around and camp and fish and hike, and do all that stuff in Arizona and in California, because we had a bunch of cousins and aunts and uncles that lived there. Some of the songs are about those memories, which again goes back to the 'Range of Light.'"

But the album's closing track, the cathartic, harp-enriched "Neverending Fountain," illustrates a stretch of terrain found only in Carey's imagination. "I can picture this place in my head, but it's completely made up," he says. "It's this big mountain. There are all these cliffs and mountain creeks just coming out of the ground and flowing into each other. It's kind of desolate — there aren't really any trees. There's green, but it's a brown-green, and it's kind of mossy. Part of my writing process was trying to picture that I was a falcon up on the cliffs."

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