Sean is a drumming powerhouse, and member of the band Pissed Jeans. All of the members of the band are parents of young children, but the group remains active and ferocious as ever. Sean spoke with me about carving out time to prioritize music while raising his son.
Please tell us about both your creative life/practice and your experience with parenting.
My name is Sean McGuinness and I live with my girlfriend Erin in South Central Philadelphia. She manages a small restaurant group 5-7 days a week. Together, we have a 3-and-a-half-year-old son named Iggy. I play the drums in Pissed Jeans; we practice infrequently. This year we have played 16 shows, nine of which have not been in America. Two of them we played on the same day and one was in Atlanta, a place we had never played before. I would like to believe that we are halfway done writing songs for a new record.
I started playing solo shows at the end of 2014, mainly to regularly to put myself into varied situations of tangible discomfort and vulnerability, and to see how I dealt with that.
Over the last six years, I have slowly worked with my buddy Chris to put together and finalize 18 minutes worth of music. If you are keeping track, that is 3 minutes per year. We just got it mastered and it sounds sweet.
I have recently been emboldened by a newly rekindled working relationship with my old pal Mike. We work very well together, fluidly and really without thoughtless judgement, so far. I hope we continue to make tunes that we really enjoy listening to, it would be a shame to cancel the jamming on an account of hating everything we make!
Parenting and music have a lot of parallels I think. There are many methods to yield many results. Just because something worked one day doesn't mean its gonna work the next day. There is a lot of compromise and teamwork and shifting of the weight. A lot of it can be very boring, uninspired and barely an excuse for killing time. When I manage to string together a series of small victories, it can make some of the dirge fall away. The argument could be made that listening is paramount in both fields.
What were some of the fears you had (if any) about how becoming a parent would impact your creative life? Would you say now, in retrospect, that they were well founded?
My desire to make music is like a leaky faucet that I am content to let drip away. I can ignore it for periods of time, but it always ends up capturing my attention. I actually really like this feature of my inner musicality, there as a reminder that sometime very soon I'm gonna need to tend to that. I am happily addicted. I fear a situation later in life that would require having to shut it off all the way for longer than I'm comfortable with. I don't know what that situation is, when it would come or even how to prepare for it. I have no idea if this is a well rounded fear or not.
What does your creative life look like currently? How is it different from before you were a parent?
I work towards 10-12 hours of actual playing time per week between band practices and working by myself in the basement or playing with whoever agrees to make some time to get together and blow off a little steam. Every time I sit down to work I try to make something new, whether it's crappy or not. That is the hardest goal to consistently meet.
I view time differently as a parent than when I was just a dude. I scrutinize it. It's more valuable to me now than ever before, both in a cosmic sense and on a daily level. It's devastating to feel like I'm wasting it, but that still happens and that also needs to be coped with. One of the worst parental conundrums I have faced is having an odd extra free hour of time and not knowing how to use it. Not long after our son was born, I vividly remembered a forgotten childhood goal - that when I grew up, I was just going to hang out with my friends and play music with them all of the time. That has since transformed into an ultimate adult goal.
How do you carve out time and space for your creative practice as a parent?
The space is usually there, we just need to dedicate the time to it. Then, when the time comes, do the work. There is an element of compromise to it, with lovers or families or bandmates. None of it matters if I fail to follow through. More often than not, when it's time to practice, all of a sudden I just won't be in the mood or feel like I'm not very creative that day, or find some other mundane chore that I can take care of "real fast." That's when it's the most important to sit down and play, do the work, fight through that.
What kinds of adjustments did you make to your creative practices when you became a parent?
It certainly gets harder to schedule band practice, and adding babysitting to everyone's budgets is strange. It forces us to really look at how we are using our time. I have to remember that, at times, we have off practices or get stuck on ideas, or just sit around pitching brick after brick. In spite of the commodity of time, I can't take it too hard and risk having it spiral into the inconsolably unfun. The point of all of this is that it's fun!
What do you tell your children, if anything, about the role of creativity in your life?
I tell him it keeps me centered and that I hope he has something that keeps him centered.
That it should be fun and there are really no rules!
Do you talk to them (if age appropriate) about the role of creativity in their lives?
Not necessarily, but I do marvel at what he comes up with. I find having a kid to be somewhat surreal and in hindsight, being a kid is kinda that way too. Dwarf in a land of giants. I do my best to nourish and make available the resource. Tend to it, care for it, and then it maybe can grow.
In what ways do you think being an active artist/writer/musician/creator helps make your parenting stronger?
I enjoy looking for ways in which approaches to parenting and playing music are similar. I think they require a lot of the same disciplines in similar ways, routines and expectations.
A lot of the time, 30 minutes of whatevering all over the drums can set my brain in the direction it needs to give me the confidence to think on my feet and harness what enjoyment there is to be had from being a dad.
In what ways do you think being a parent has made your artistic practice stronger?
It has made it very clear to me the ways in which I am totally disorganized. I have to dedicate my actual time to doing the actual things that get me what I want out of music. Then actually doing those things that I said I would do, at that time. I like and I dislike that it becomes very clear who is accountable when the time is there and the work is not getting done. We realized pretty early on that having a bunch of routines for what happens on a daily basis works for us. Maintaining and adjusting those routines is a challenge, but it also translates to the practice of making time to do the work and then doing the work.
Are there other people who inspired you in the ways they approached creative work as a parent?
I feel that just about everyone around me, peer and otherwise, are all doing a much better job at balancing the whole work/life aspect as well as generally being a better, honest, more patient parent than I am. Most of the time I feel lost and flailing and really wanting to find a rhythm but still somehow clumsily navigating what used to be simple daily tasks. Again, the small victories thing. To answer your question, just about all of the other people in total.
What do your children think of your creative work?
For his birthday, I recorded a version of the theme song to a construction show my son really digs. He really liked that. I feel fortunate that we have instruments around for him to pick up and play and I think I can see that he gets enjoyment out of the fact I play drums. I'm not sure he necessarily grasps the importance of the role that creative fulfillment plays in the makeup of my persona, but maybe he has figured out that I am a way chiller dad after I play drums for 30 minutes.
How did becoming a parent affect your creative partnerships with other people?
It made me want to pursue it more. Just reach out and play with whoever I can get my hands on. There is a pretty good chance I'll learn at least one thing from it. I care a lot less about how I am perceived. My fear of rejection musically has gone way down.
Do you think that some of the challenges parenting presents for creative practice are impacted by your gender? Please share any thoughts you have about this.
Erin and I recently discussed gender roles and we acknowledged that we both have expectations based on them. We surprised ourselves a little bit. I think there is a greater connectivity that exists beyond what gender roles lay out and it takes a bit of teamwork to get deeper than that. The scenario is about growing together and growing forward, in my opinion, and we are into the idea of redefining each of our roles as often as we need to for as long as it takes.
Has your creative community been supportive of you as a parent?
The Jeans are all dads. We didn't really leave ourselves an option. I did have one now ex-friend call up to say, "Fuck you and your new family, we are done asshole."
I thought it was a little brash, but I had badder asses to wipe.