We caught up with Costello via cell phone, westbound on I-74 somewhere in Illinois, traveling from Indianapolis to a gig in Des Moines.
Creative Loafing: When did you discover your passion for blues?
Sean Costello: About the age of 11 or so. I was listening to classic rock music at the time -- Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, that kind of bluesy '60s and '70s rock. I always liked the bluesier tunes. I would read about who their influences were, and they always mentioned blues artists -- Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King. I remember being in a record store and running across a Howlin' Wolf cassette. Just the name Howlin' Wolf, when you're 11 years old, is pretty intriguing. So I picked it up and took it home and listened to it. And it flipped me out. I got hooked on it.
Was there a particular tangible thing that appealed to you?
It was the rawness of it, the sound of it. I remember [Howlin' Wolf guitarist] Hubert Sumlin's guitar. I'd never heard guitar played like that. And the ferociousness of [Wolf's] vocal. It affected me emotionally. It just grabbed me. The rock stuff, to me, was just a watered-down version of that. The blues was more exciting to me because I could feel what they were singing about, and the intensity of it.
What do you want to accomplish as a blues musician?
I want to keep it going and bring it to people my age. I want to make it interesting to people in their 20s -- college-age people. Traditional '50s Chess stuff (the label that recorded Waters, Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Bo Diddley), or stuff that's even older than that, can be just as appealing to people my age as whatever pop music that's prevalent. I just want to have an opportunity to play for younger people and get them interested in the old stuff, or just in the art form itself -- its directness and emotion. I also want to find my own voice out of it, to take and distill all of that and be able to write my own tunes that are still coming from that pure of a place but have it be purely my thing, my expression.
Do you do things deliberately, consciously, to reach a contemporary audience?
No, I don't think that I have to pander to do that. I play what I want to play. If it's marketed in the right way, if I can get in front of the right people or get on the right shows, then I can just [play] the music that I love and it'll naturally come across. Whenever I get in front of people that age, they dig it. They're just not exposed to it.
Will your music always be recognizable as blues, or do you see it evolving into something different?
Whatever I do is going to be very rooted in blues, definitely identifiable as some form of blues or rhythm & blues. Rhythm & blues is more of a broad term, because you can use different song forms and chord progressions. But to me, real R&B has the same kind of feeling [as blues] anyway. It's definitely going to always be blues and R&B -- just my own version of it after having digested the older stuff. I'm hoping it'll still sound like blues. I think it would have to, because that's what I listen to. And everything that I play is jumping off from that point.
Sean Costello and his band (Matt Wauchope, piano and organ; Melvin Zachary, bass; Terrence Prather, drums) play Fri., Nov. 16, at Chip's Roadhouse, 655 Patrick Mill Road, Winder. Show time is 9 p.m. $10. 770-307-2840. www.chipsroadhouse.com. For more info on Sean Costello, visit www.seancostello.com.
This column is a weekly feature covering music outside the Perimeter. E-mail or mail "outside" music news to Bryan Powell, 830 Josh Lane, Lawrenceville, GA 30045.
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