It's the latest installment of Everyday Eleanor, where I talk to regular people doing ballsy things. You might know him as Har Mar Superstar, Sean Na Na or Sean Tillman. Whatever the case, once you witness the Tillmann experience, you’re pretty much in love. A soul singer–songwriter with a hefty dollop of ’70s porn star swagger, Tillmann talks about finding confidence on stage, alter egos and why it’s still awesome to eat like a child (into your 30s and beyond).
How does a white guy (with an excellent mustache!) from Owatonna, Minnesota become one of the hottest R&B/Soul acts in the music biz?
I always listened to that kind of music and knew I could sing that way. I think a lot of lyrics on the first album were more tongue in cheek… And then as it grew into a thing, I got a little more serious, but I was still having fun and wild at live shows.
I’m 36 now, so I’ve grown into a point in my life where I’ve had enough experience to actually sing the subject matter with the pain of actual soul music. So I kind of waited for my voice and myself to mature. It worked because I kept doing it. There were ups and down and times where I’d just not do it for a couple years. But I just waited until it happened and it worked out.
Costumes or alter egos can be transformative tools. What things are you able to do as Har Mar Superstar that you probably couldn’t in your day-to-day life?
Har Mar used to be an alter ego. In the year 2000, I put out three albums, and one EP. It was too much stuff, so I needed another name and it was fun to play a personality. I’d pretend Har Mar was my brother. I could get magazine to pay me to interview myself and they wouldn’t even know. That was a fun experiment. But over the years, when you’re more associated with your music, you don’t have to rely on shtick. People know Sean Tillman is Har Mar Superstar and I don’t act or speak any differently when I’m one or the other. [Initially], I was faking it to make it. I was looking for confidence onstage, and eventually that translated into my real life. So I don’t really think about it anymore or need to hide behind an alter ego because it’s tiresome. We grew into the same guy.
I love the idea of dressing up and becoming someone else.
Yeah, well you put on stage clothes and it’s a whole different thing. You’re in character. It’s so fun. I don’t know, it makes you feel sort of invincible when you go out there. You’re like, Whatever. I’m bringing it. I got dressed up for this. I am going to blow these peoples’ minds.
People have nightmares about being naked (or near naked) in public. I’ve seen you strip down to your skivvies on stage numerous times, so clearly this isn’t your issue.
I’ve just always felt more comfortable in my underwear. When you’re in your jeans and you have to step into your car in a different way, I hate that. When you’re in your briefs, you can be like ‘Whatever, I’m just going to roll over this bed and jump off a chair.’ I don’t know, I’m just more agile. And I get really sweaty on stage too, so it’s a multipurpose thing. I’d just end up dancing around in my underwear. I don’t do that as much anymore, but I still typically end up shirtless ‘cause I’m sweaty as hell.
What’s your biggest fear/what keeps you up at night?
Man. I don’t know… they’re all health-based. Like my biggest fear is going on Web MD and diagnosing myself with, like, sickle cell anemia when I just have a cut on my finger.
Sexy time clearly plays a big role in the HarMar Superstar experience. Most good dates start out with great food. What’s on the menu if you’re looking to impress a special lady?
I never cook, I always go out. When I go out with my girlfriend… we eat like children. We’ll go to a diner and eat jalapeno poppers and omlettes and a hot dog. We’ll go to the Commodore and get an amazing chicken sandwich. We go for it. We like to live life and just eat delicious things. But we eat as if we’re 13-year-olds who were sent out on the town with money from our parents.
I do love soup dumplings. Soup dumplings are the best food. They’re hard to find. I love M Shanghai (http://www.newmshanghai.com/) and Shanghai Café (http://shanghaicafenyc.com/) in New York. There’s very Din Tai Fung near LA (http://dintaifungusa.com/)… I’ve heard there’s a place in St Paul, but I can’t substantiate that. There’s got to be one person [who’s an expert]. I never understood how they made [the soup dumplings] until someone told me that the soup was made into ice cubes and they make the dumpling around it. My mind was blown. It’s the best.
What’s on the boombox these days?
The new Spoon album. It’s so good. I’ve been listening to a lot of Betty Davis and a lot of William Onyeabor. I have a new Father John Misty and I am very excited about them too. He just mastered it last week and we’ve been rockin’ it.
Advice for someone trying to launch their own music career?
Touring is the most important for me. Just getting out on the road and getting really good live. And make music that you can stand behind, forever. People will scrutinize it and ask questions about it for the rest of your life. Also, have a carefree attitude and do what feels right and put it out there. Be yourself. Do it up. Have fun.
* * *
I want to hear your Everyday Eleanor story. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.