Har Mar Superstar
Like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, Har Mar Superstar returns this fall with Dark Touches, his first album since 2004s critically acclaimed The Handler. The new Har Mar retains his defiant sexiness and uncanny knack for irresistible R&B hooks, but fans his colorful wings in the spirit of inclusion. Har Mar has always represented the most out-there and outrageous and in your face aspects of me, says Sean Tillmann, the Los Angeles-based singer, songwriter and producer behind the Har Mar Superstar moniker. Ive gone through phases where theres been angry Har Mar and different versions of this guy, but lately its all been this vibe that everyones included and everyones part of this thing, and you feel like you added something to it just by being there. Its about me going out and getting as sweaty as possible, moving around as much as I can, and in a sense glamour-ing everybody for the night and making them feel better about themselves.
Tillmann spent the past several years playing music with his other projects Sean Na Na and Neon Neon, whose album Stainless Style was nominated for the 2008 Mercury Music Prize. But he also found time to launch a new career as an actor and screenwriter, earning roles in the upcoming feature films Whip It (directed by Drew Barrymore, and starring Junos Ellen Page and Arrested Developments Alia Shawkat) and Lovely, Still. Hes developing his own movie scripts and sitcom pilots, building on the success of his Crappy Holidays videos; in each of the comedic shorts directed by Ryan Rickett and written with John Ringhoff Tillmann suffers a different cruel twist of fate for each holiday.
I kind of got sick of the Har Mar persona for a little while, says Tillmann. I thought it was time to go away for a little bit, so hung up the Har Mar jacket and went back in my shell and made a new Sean Na Na album and had fun doing that and toured a lot with Neon Neon, and started these film projects with my friends out here. But Tillmann kept writing tunes throughout those years, and after awhile he found himself feeling much the same way he had when he started Har Mar Superstar ten years ago. I just got sick of playing guitar music again, he says. I realized that I really missed Har Mar.
For Dark Touches, Tillmann recorded with friends like Greg Kurstin of Los Angeles band the Bird and the Bee, rapper P.O.S. of the Rhymesayers collective, singer-songwriter Adam Green, the Faint beatmakers Clark Baechle and Jacob Thiele, and The Handler producer John Fields, whose credits include Andrew W.K., Rooney and the Jonas Brothers. The results soundtrack a retro-futuristic dance party, an exuberant pastiche of late Eighties R&B grooves, crisp synth samples, Tillmanns soulful falsetto part Usher, part Todd Rundgren and cheeky lyrics describing the courtship practices of the lothario known as Har Mar Superstar. I Got Next, for instance, was inspired by Tillmanns habit of asking a cute girl to sign a contract agreeing that, if she should break up with her current beau, Har Mars got next. Its like, sign this contract, and Ill come back and make out with you next time, explains Tillmann, who co-wrote the track with his Neon Neon band mate, Bryan Boom Bip Hollon and Bird And The Bee singer Inara George. I have a lot of contracts signed, on napkins and things. Its a fun, flirtatious thing to do that feels naughty when youre on tour.
Tillmann started writing Dark Touches a few years ago, but it took him a minute to realize that the initial ideas worked perfectly as Har Mar Superstar songs. Tall Boy (written with Kurstin) and Girls Only (written with Fields), for instance, were conceived as tunes for Britney Spears and the Cheetah Girls, respectively, but have twice the spice coming from Har Mars perspective. I realized a song like Girls Only is so much more amazing if I sing it, he says. I wrote that one for the Cheetah Girls a while ago, and I feel like Disney freaked out a bit after doing a Google search and seeing pictures of me performing in my underwear. I understand why they would pass on that. But its one of those things where I was stepping outside of myself and writing totally uninhibited for somebody else. Then, when you come back at the end of the day, you realize you wrote a Har Mar song, and theres a light bulb that goes off and youre like, Oh yeah, thats ME.
Har Mar Superstar was born ten years ago, when Tillmann was living in Minneapolis, playing guitar-based indie rock. The Har Mar idea, he says, was a reaction to boring indie rock and how people were taking themselves way too seriously, and any aspect of playing and touring was no fun after a while, and I realized if I go to a dance party and sing an R. Kelly song on a couch, the girls are going to go fucking crazy. So I started transferring that to the stage and doing more R&B-oriented songs, and it really was a no-brainer after Id done it a few times. Like, why dont I just make this gross, why dont I just start writing songs like that? And as soon as I did, it was obvious, it was like a light bulb went off and I went on my way and got more and more aggressive, and the shows became this weird exercise in sexual tension, and I really learned how to play with that fire and make it work for me.
By the time Tillmann had accumulated eight or nine new tunes last year, he started to embrace the idea of making the album that would become Dark Touches. I just kept going with it, he says, and this record was born. Embracing the various threads of his personality the humorous, the self-deprecating, the potty-mouthed, the lusty Tillmann came up with booty-shakers even more irresistible than The Handlers hit tune D.U.I. Dope, Man, a sunny funk tune about the agony and ecstasy of being a weed dealer and Dont Ask Dont Tell co-written with his buddies Josiah Steinbrick from the band Heavens and Matthew Cornbread Compton of Cursive and Engine Down are the epitome of what Tillmann calls fun party jams with a deeper subtext or double- or triple-entendre going on in the lyrics.
Elsewhere, hes more direct: Gangsters Want to Cuddle Me, with its lo-fi electro beat and a slinky Sly Stone-style horn loop, tells the story of a how a hoodie covered in puffy neon dinosaurs made Tillmann into the most huggable dude walking down Sunset Boulevard. And Game Night featuring a beat supplied by Minneapolis rapper P.O.S. and a whisper verse by Adam Green narrates the singers habit of inviting friends together in LA for board games and trivia. (He even hosts a popular Sunday night pub quiz at Silverlake Mexican restaurant Malo.)
Har Mar is as much Crappy Holidays as it is an album, says Tillmann. The place that Im coming from isnt going to change, and it all really is an extension of myself. Theres not too much of a division between Har Mar and Sean at this point. I guess it sort of fulfilled the prophecy: Ive just become my own guy, and thats what Har Mar records present to people.
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