11 Questions: Sean McKee
by Brent Cole
photo by Jesse Schooler
I’m not sure when I first crossed paths with Sean McKee. It’s kind of like we’ve always just known each other (or, at least, the last 20 years). I do remember when I first became interested in his old band, The Narrows, in the early 2000s. It didn’t take long to figure out Sean was great and a hell of a bass player. Now, on top of playing bass in WorldRunner and Deadly D, he’s opened up a new venue, Boscoe’s (in the old Swillery space). Plus, if you find yourself in trouble, Sean can be your lawyer. He’s this month’s 11 questions.
Who are you and where did you come from? Tell us about yourself.
Hi. I’m Sean McKee. I was born and raised in Seattle but moved to Bellingham right out of High School to go to Western. I actually didn’t like Bellingham at first but it didn’t take long for it to really grow on me. While in school I lived with my cousins and we started a band, The Narrows. After college I spent about three years just playing rock and roll and touring around the country and working at a crappy job that would give me the time off I needed. The music scene was amazing in Bellingham at that time. I went back to school down in San Diego and started the band Oaks with another northwesterner; J.O. who used to play in the Tight Bros. After graduating I came back to Bellingham, got a real job, and have been here ever since. Still playing as much music as possible in WorldRunner and now Deadly D and even a little singer songwriter stuff here and there.
After years of playing in bands, what inspired you to buy a bar and turn it into a music venue?
This just kind of fell into place. My fiance was working for an insurance company but she really didn’t like it at all and left when they changed ownership. Instead of looking for a new job I thought we should just start our own business. I knew a guy who was selling a bar, had a quick chat about it, and we got the keys and put our own bar in that space. As far as making it a music venue it was really a pretty easy choice. I wasn’t a huge fan of how it was set up for music before but after getting to know the space a little better I figured it could be a good spot for live music and I could be happy with it if i just took the time to set it up the way I wanted. I played The Swillery many times in a variety of bands and it was always fun but it had some limitations. It’s never going to be the rock venue of my dreams but it’s a good space for smaller shows. This town really has a wealth of amazing local artists. Plus I always wanted to give a little something back to performers. Venues changed the course of my life. I love having the opportunity to give musicians a place to play.
There aren’t many folks left from old school Bellingham music scene – what kept you in town?
I am one of the few people who was able to get a career going in this town. So many people go to school here and leave because there aren’t enough good jobs. I’m still here because I was able to make it work. I love this town. I love that it’s small and I can just run into people and can also get away and be in the woods at a moment’s notice.
It’s a peaceful winter Sunday’s morning, what are you doing?
Sleeping. Sunday mornings are about the only time I ever get a chance to catch up on sleep. Working a day job and a night job at the same time doesn’t give me much time for that. I like my Sundays to be as lazy as possible.
If you didn’t live in Bellingham, where would you live and why?
Alaska. It’s more Northwest than the Pacific Northwest. More trees and rivers and wilderness. I would love to have that kind of peaceful isolation. That’s where my fiancé, Hannah, is from and it just sounds perfect.
What is your first memory of music?
The Beatles, Rubber Soul. My mom had a vinyl record of it and I loved it as a kid. I think that was the first album that I ever really loved. That and Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Midnight Special.
What is your favorite place to eat in Bellingham?
These days it would have to be the Teriyaki Bar because it is directly across the street from Boscoe’s. You can’t argue with convenience. After that I would go with D’anna’s. My cousin Matt has worked there for many years and I always have a good experience when I’m there.
What do you hope Boscoe’s accomplishes within the dynamics of the local music scene?
I want to cater to smaller acts and solo acts and hip hop. I love a rock venue but all the while when I player rock I was also a singer songwriter. That music doesn’t have a stage. I mean, it didn’t use to aside from open mic nights and the occasional coffee shop. The Honey Moon hasn’t been there forever. I think that I can really accommodate that kind of music and I think I’ll be able to get more and more great shows like that booked. I am also going to try to cater to my other musical interests like Hip Hop. There’s actually a decent Hip Hop scene these days but not a lot of good venues for it. I’m also wanting to start one night a week of metal shows. Local metal bands do great in a small space and I love it so why not?
The other thing that’s important to me is to have a place where people have open access to live music. It is frustrating as a musician to have the number of friends you can have come to your show limited by how much the cover is or how many guest list slots you have and people not wanting to pay for bands they haven’t heard of. We decided that we would make all the shows free. Anybody can come in anytime and see some music. Instead of charging a cover we pay out a percentage of the till. I like how that feels. It’s like us and the bands are in it together. No cover and the band still gets paid.
The Narrows spent a lot of time on the road – can you articulate to younger bands the importance of being on the road?
The number one rule of playing shows is that you can not overplay your hometown. I’ve seen band after band do this and their attendance at shows always drops to next to nothing. Same rule for the amount of time you spend on stage. If you overplay then people will lose interest. So if you want to play a lot of shows and sell some records and get your name out there a little you need to travel. It’s good to rotate a local circuit. Here we have easy access to hit Seattle and Olympia on your way to Portland and you can play them all on a long weekend. Touring nationally is just really a lot of fun. It’s great to be able to play for different audiences and see new music. It’s also about the only way to pull off a road trip like that. Every time you stop you do something get a little gas money to get you further down the road. Seeing America that way is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. Plus you get good rock and roll friends that you can trade shows with when they come through on tour.
What was the last great book you read?
It’s unfortunate but all the years of school textbooks, and really boring case law, and statutes, the constant research and endless e-mails have made it so I don’t really enjoy reading anymore. I’ve had to read stuff all day long every day for years and years. When I get home I like to unwind with listening to music or watching some tv. I’m not really proud of that because I think literature is amazing but I’m just not interested these days.
Any last thoughts?
People have brought up the potential conflict of being a defense attorney who does handle DUI cases and being a bar owner. Really, owning my own venue has been a lifelong dream of mine from way before I ever even thought of law school. They keep records of which bars people get DUIs from. I want Boscoe’s to not make that list…
I managed to get my hands on an Intoximeter Alco-Sensor III. That’s the same portable breath test unit that police and probation officers use across the state. If anyone is ever contemplating drinking and driving please walk up to the bar and ask to take a breath test. We give free breath tests to any designated drivers or anyone thinking about driving. Even if you don’t drink at Boscoe’s you can still stop in and take a breath test on the way to your car and hopefully rethink driving at all.