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Local Music Tap: 'Har Mar' @ First Ave

Har Mar Superstar
(credit: Charley Gallay/Getty Images)

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- It's going to be a Har Mar Superstar day in Minneapolis Friday.

Yes -- it's quite official.

Mayor R.T. Rybak -- who isn't too cool to show his love for Har Mar on Twitter -- recently declared Sept. 20 "Har Mar Superstar Day."
To celebrate the honor, Har Mar Superstar, aka Sean Tillman, is performing a (now sold-out) show at First Avenue Friday, kicking off a packed fall tour.

My first musical encounter with Har Mar was listening to "Lady, You Shot Me" (thanks to co-worker Jonathon Sharp) and, oh my, did it strike me immediately. It was all the right kind of full-band-fat-beat-R&B-thickness … if you catch my drift. Check it out and see (music video at the end of the page).

So, on Wednesday afternoon, I had the opportunity to interview the Marshall, Minn. native, who he talked about everything from his reaction to "his day," his new album, his unique performance antics and what he feels "sexy" is.

Check out the interview below!

Firstly, congratulations on having this Friday (Sept. 20) declared "Har Mar Superstar Day!" Was it unexpected news? How did it all happen?

It was kind of crazy. There was one point, a month ago, where R.T. Rybak was tweeting at me on how he likes "Restless Leg," my song. And I kind of jokingly said, "Give me my own day!" and everyone was like "not a bad idea." So, my joke became a reality. He's just so cool as a Mayor. He's so in tune with the arts and music especially. Anyways, you never expect that kind of thing to happen to you.

I also wanted to say that there's also a guy named Andy Holmaas. He was very instrumental at the office and making this all happen. They're just great music fans over there, so I wanted to make sure that they're well represented.

It's a jam in the fact that people support the arts so much. It's crazy, and I'm so appreciative to be from there. From a place where a Mayor would give me a day, because no other city would do that ever.

You're celebrating the day at First Ave Friday – you call it the "best venue in the world" – How so? What special memories do you have at First Ave? Stones Fest LA Sponsored By Jameson

I have so many. I've been going there since I was 15 and just seeing every show there throughout my childhood and coming up in bands. I was just a precocious kid – booking my own shows – and I'd make sure I'd be in the office nailing down support fliers for every big band that came through. It definitely nurtured my artistic vision in a way I don't think would happen anywhere else. It's a one of a kind place.

What should fans expect to see/hear at the show? What does the band consist of?

It's gonna be fun. There's five of us on stage. Lizzo's in my band on this tour. We have Jeff Quinn, Denver Dalley, Ryan McMahon. We're doing songs from every album I've made as Har Mar, so very career-spanning ... retrospective. It's sounding really good. I'm really excited.

You're known for being comfortable with your body up on stage – when did it first occur to you to "strip down" and how was that first experience?

It was early on in Har Mar, because I was used to being behind a guitar and singing on stage and then within a few shows, I didn't know what to do with myself just singing and dancing around, so I started, you know, f---ing with people and messing around – seeing what got a reaction ... and when you take off your clothes you get a reaction. I don't do it that much anymore, but I'll take off my shirt. People focus on it, but I'm not mad at that – I asked for it. (Laughs)

Now, I'm relatively new to your music, but from listening to the differences between Bye Bye 17 and Dark Touches, I noticed the new album is a lot more vintage/distorted/R&B sounding, which is great, but what inspired the change? How'd you get that full band sound – did you hire studio wind instruments, etc.? Where did you record it?

I wrote this album in New York right before I moved here. I think New York really influenced me with everything. But also, the big difference in the writing is that this is the first album I wrote on guitar. I mean, I wrote other albums on guitar, but not with Har Mar. Before it would be me with some beats that people would give me or that I'd make with people – it was more electro bass. This time I sat down with the guitar and worked on chord progressions and I was just kind of obsessed with Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, and I knew I was ready to write those kinds of lyrics and I knew my voice was up to the task, so I finally went for it you know?

Mainly, this guy, Mark "Speedy" Gonzales, from Grupo Fantasmo and a bunch of horn section from the band, got together. Mark charted all the horns and wrote parts. Then, he got all his guys together and they came in the studio. I met them through Jim Eno, who co-produced the album with me.

Considering your style of music and your on-stage performances, I assume you're somewhat of an expert on this subject ... So, if you had to sum it up in a couple sentences, what is "sexy?"

I think I can sum it up in just one word: Confidence.

Classic question: Who are your inspirations?

It was definitely Prince and Michael Jackson who I first latched onto when I was 5 years old. The Association was one of my favorite bands. Stevie Wonder forever, Sam Cooke, The Beatles – that goes without saying for most people – Velvet Underground was big for me. Now, it's mainly my friends.

Speaking of those friends, I try to write about/feature local music – what other Minnesota musicians/acts would you suggest for your fans to listen to?

Well, Lizzo is amazing and she'll be on tour with me. Her stuff is amazing. Marijuana Death Squads, Polica, I love Birthday Suits, P.O.S., everyone involved in Gayngs, everything Justin Vernon puts his hands on … Man, there are so many … Solid Gold … There's a lot.

Lastly, it's well established that your stage/artist name comes from the Har Mar Mall in Roseville, Minn. – if you were to head back there today … what would you get at the food court?

Man, there used to be an A&W hot dog stand, so I'd probably just get a root beer float! (Laughs)


Tillman was born in Marshall, Minn., later moved to Owatonna with his family and studied music at Perpich Center for Arts Education. His family is still based in Owatonna.

Click here for more on Har Mar and his upcoming tour and watch "Lady, You Shot Me" music video below!

Lady, You Shot Me - Har Mar Superstar by CultRecordsNYC on YouTube


Local Music Tap is a new blog aimed at promoting Minnesota-based musicians, bands, shows and events. If you have music blog ideas, please email or leave a comment below. Also, follow the Local Music Tap on Twitter and on YouTube.

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