If there were a map of Sean Hayes’ 20-plus year career, it would be circuitous. A tangled criss-crossing of backroads and blue highways denoting place, influence, and trajectory. You can hear it in the deep-roots syncopation, in the dusty folk-stomp and in the biorhythmic pulse that ebbs and thumps throughout his soul-tinged songs.

For Hayes, it’s never been about the destination. It’s always been about the journey: The words on paper, fingers on strings, impromptu dance parties, darkened clubs, late night mysteries, firing synapses, human connection, deeper meaning and the kind of beats that really make a body move. “I got moves the kids ain’t seen,” he sings on “Magic Slim vs. Dynamite.” The smoke-and-sparklers dance party video for the song aptly captures the serious fun of his music.

Born in New York and raised in North Carolina, Hayes headed for California two decades ago. It was in San Francisco that his career blossomed. But Hayes credits the Carolinas towns like Asheville and Charleston — places where he first wrote and performed tunes such as “Mary Magdelene” — with imprinting him as an artist.

Hayes forges songs that, even to the uninitiated, sound like hits. He's been compared to Bill Withers for his rhythmic sense and his soulfulness. His "Powerful Stuff," got a lot of mileage in a Subaru commercial. "Dream Machine" was re-mixed by DJ Mark Farina, "A Thousand Tiny Pieces" was covered by folk group The Be Good Tanyas, "Fucked Me Right Up" landed on the soundtrack to HBO's “Bored to Death.” He has dueted with Aimee Mann, toured with the likes of Ani DiFranco and the Cold War Kids, and his breathlessly sexy slow dance, "When We Fall In," inspired pop star Justin Timberlake to blog rhapsodic.

Listening to his songs on recording is one thing, live is another experience altogether. Hayes is at once dynamic and laid back on stage. His ability to be authentic in front of an audience comes, he says, “from having just enough of a theater background to realize that being yourself on stage is more interesting than any stereotyped character.” He adds, “I’ve always been interested in revealing and stripping down and being open.”

The musician has covered a lot of ground in his tenure, but now, seven albums in, he shows no sign of slowing. “Music has changed a lot,” he says of his time in the profession. “You used to have to spend time with a record. You had to take chances and buy records. They were real objects that took up space in your room. Now we have access to enough music, on our phones, to fill libraries.” So how to stand out among a sea of musical artists? Hayes continues to hone his intoxicating blend of ease, effortless cool and magnetism. There's a definite continuity over the span of his back catalog, which dates to his 1999 debut, A Thousand Tiny Pieces. There’s also a distilling of intention and refining of style. He revisits subject matter — sex, emotion, universal life experience — from album to album. “Themes will recycle some,” he says, but Hayes’ approach is more of a spiraling in and deepening of understanding than a simple return.

The blank tapes

The Blank Tapes is now and always has been Matt Adams, a soft-spoken kid from a Southern California suburb who learned to play practically every instrument a good garage band needs, and then started making beautifully idiosyncratic records on his trusty home eight-track because … well, why wait? When he first heard the Beatles and the Kinks, he knew he needed to make his own songs, too, and so in 2003 he did, with the kind of inspiration and confidence and personality you'd think have faded out in 1967. By the time he left his home in Orange County for San Francisco in 2005, he'd put dozens if not a hundred of his own songs on tape, all lovingly and painstakingly and perfectly recorded in a series of ever more modest bedrooms and sheds. The local press loved him and when he landed in the Bay Area, the press there loved him just as much, too. ("Somebody sign him, quick!" said Rolling Stone.)

But the funny thing is this is all the ancient history of The Blank Tapes now—or maybe just the prelude. Adams is the kind of guy who writes a song just as naturally as he wakes up everyday. He's got … maybe almost four hundred originals hovering inside his head, he says, and he remembers them all perfectly. He's got lost albums and unreleased albums and more albums for the future planned out to the last detail. He paints his own albums covers and posters—with talent enough that he worked for Mad Magazine!—and booked all his own tours and makes the show go on whether its him and a portable amp on a lonely bridge in Austin or him and eight other rock 'n' roll powerhouses cracking the stage in half.

In 2010, he got not one but two surprise smash hits in Brazil, leading to his first tour outside North America. He shared bills with sci-fi garage legends Thee Oh Sees and home-taper extraordinaire R. Stevie Moore in Europe. He provided much of the soundtrack to the cult surf film 'Stoked and Broke' and took a stripped-down Blank Tapes to Japan to tour with the film. And he custom-wrote a special song for Burger Records Weiner Dog Benefit comp, doing his utmost to help a little puppy pay a vet bill.

Now he prepares to release his newest LP Vacation on Oakland's Antenna Farm Records, the rightful next step after 2010's Home Away From Home and a string of singles and cassette albums on Burger, White Noise, Dome of Doom, Curly Cassettes and 20 Sided Records. It's the first-ever full Blank Tapes album recorded somewhere besides Adams' trusty 8-track. Ever since the birth of The Blank Tapes, Adams has figured out the classic part of classic rock—the kind of songs that aren't so much written as revealed. And Adams lately gets his revelations while traveling, so Vacation is an album written on the road with a little nod to the rootless spirit of the actual On The Road.

His songs are alive with style and sentiment of immortals like Ray Davies and Robyn Hitchcock ("Earring") or Kris Kristofferson and Terry Allen ("Working," "Vacation") or even Lou Reed ("Pearl," written about girlfriend and Blank Tapes drummer Pearl Charles the night he met her) and Buddy Holly (the adorable bridge of "Coast to Coast") or even Os Mutantes on "Brazilia," a bossa-delic song inspired by Adams' informal park jam sessions on his Brazilian tour. With studio help from drummer Will Halsey and a series of bassists, Vacation is an everything-old-is-new-again album—a record chasing down timelessness in its own time.

Now relocated back to Los Angeles, Adams finds the music he's loved since that first borrowed guitar is now the new sound of Southern California, thanks to standard bearers like the Growlers, Nick Waterhouse—who played the same off-the-path bars as The Blank Tapes, waaaaay back when—and Burger Records, who've already released an earlier Blank Tapes full-length. After a year of low-key shows, he's secured a spot with the Danny Rose booking agency and debuted what he calls the most fully realized version of The Blank Tapes yet—a lean and pristine trio with D.A. Humphrey on bass and Charles on back-to-basics Moe Tucker-style drums, with the kind of three-part harmonies the Wilson brothers used to love. There's a new energy, he says. For the longest time The Blank Tapes has just been him, writing and recording as time and circumstance allow. But now, after almost exactly ten years and a new album and a new line-up, The Blank Tapes have finally become what he's always wanted.

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Sean Hayes w/ special guests The Blank Tapes with The blank tapes

Friday, September 27 · Doors 7:30 PM / Show 8:30 PM at Signal Kitchen