I can recall seeing Sean Delson with Fozzy in New York City in 2010, one of the few bands he has been in throughout his magnificent career as a bassist. He also was apart of Stuck Mojo and played bass on the solo album, My Kung Fu Is Good from Rich Ward. Sean is currently apart of the well-crafted and graceful Southern progressive rock band, Agent Cooper. (along with previous JOAF interviewee, Mike Martin)
A man with skill, character, and a lot of heart, I spoke with Sean about life with Fozzy, touring various countries, and Agent Cooper’s beautiful and haunting cover of Walking in the Air, originally featured in The Snowman.
Alex Obert: What are your earliest memories of listening to music?
Sean Delson: Believe it or not, probably show tunes. Because my Dad graduated from the High School of Performing Arts (New York), which later merged with and became Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Performing Arts. (The movie and TV series FAME… That school!) He graduated and eventually taught there. Of course this was long before I was born, but this music was played in our house when I was very young. Music like West Side Story and other musicals. In addition to that, my older brother Corey grew up listening to all the progressive classics like Rush, Kansas, Yes, and Genesis, etc. So I was surrounded by music, and that’s probably what fueled me to latch into that “style”, learning a lot of Rush, Iron Maiden, and The Dixie Dregs. The stuff that was really hard as hell to play! I should probably use the word “challenging”. It sounds better. To me, that was really, really fun music to learn and play. And it’s still fun to this day.
Alex Obert: What were those first bass lessons like?
Sean Delson: Starting out, everything was by ear. That’s the way my brother did it. Back in the day, when everybody played actual vinyl records. You had to keep putting the needle down in just the right spot to pick out all the runs, etc. (The good old days? Hahaha!) Just trying to hear that “lick” and figure it all out by ear. He taught me so much. Not long after that, I think I was sixteen?, I graduated high school early just so I could get out to Los Angeles and attend the music academy, MI. It was a really small school back then, but it was truly an amazing place. That was a really great period of my life. Being a kid out there living in Hollywood learning from all the masters and other students. It was a GREAT environment to just experience music.
Alex Obert: Who are you listening to nowadays?
Sean Delson: We stay so busy writing our own music. It seems like every day I go into my little studio and work on our (Agent Cooper) music. We are half way through another record so I’m staying pretty “buried” with that. But to better answer your question, I’d have to say that, for enjoyment, just classic rock or keeping up with my peers. The new Fozzy or the new Tony MacAlpine. Basically just trying to stay caught up with what all of my friends are putting out.
Alex Obert: What are your memories of recording Chasing the Grail with Fozzy?
Sean Delson: “Chasing the Grail” was a fun record. So was “All That Remains”. That was the first serious Fozzy record (no more wigs and gimmicks) without cover tunes. It was at that point that I was pulled in. I recall all those tours and going over to England to record with Andy Sneap. Great memories! Just skipping around so many studios and working for hours on end with Rich. I had a long time to work on that record (a few months), which is good because I wanted to write the perfect bass parts and make sure that I brought in a lot of options for Rich to work with. He’s a great engineer. Memories are popping up now that you ask me about. We also headed down to Tampa and recording in Ed Aborn’s studio. All I can say is, we worked on it long and hard and I think the product turned out great. We did a lot of good touring because of it.
Alex Obert: Being a part of the band for All That Remains, what are your thoughts on Enemy?
Sean Delson: Enemy was the biggest hit Fozzy ever recorded. If that’s not true, I’ll stand corrected. We were all flown out to San Diego and shot the video atop some government building. It was directed by Paul Hough, and he did a great job. It was awesome working with a very, very, VERY talented producer named Rick Beato on that track. It’s just one of those songs. You never know what’s going to take off when you record an album. You’ve got ten, twelve, thirteen songs that you work on, and it’s fun, but you just don’t know which one is going to grow legs and which ones won’t. That song (Enemy) was the one. It had the big hooks, the harmonies, and a great video. For “All That Remains”, that was the one.
Alex Obert: What is your opinion of Rich Ward?
Sean Delson: I’ve known Rich since the late eighties, back when Stuck Mojo was a baby and Agent Cooper’s name was Salem Ash (way, way back in the day). (laughs) We used to play so many gigs together. Mark Willis, who is still Stuck Mojo and Fozzy’s manager, used to book us all. That was back when Atlanta had a pretty thriving rock scene. I’ve known him forever, we used to work together. I had this cushy, but at times brutal, job at a landscaping company in Atlanta. I helped get a lot of musician’s jobs! Rich and I used to ride around in an air conditioned truck whilst everybody else sweated. (laughs) I love Rich. He saw me playing with Agent Cooper twelve years ago at music conference that Mark Willis was running. He came up to me after the show and said, “I’m doing a solo record. I’d really like you to play bass on it. What do you think?” I replied, “What do you think I think? Of course!” And that’s what started everything. Me playing on his solo record led to, “Look, I’ve got this band Fozzy. We’re doing a new record. You wanna do that?” “Sure.” “Well, Mojo’s gonna do a new record. Wanna do that?” “Sure.” It just kept going and going. I woke up and almost a decade had gone by…. Great years indeed!
Alex Obert: What are your thoughts on the new track, Lights Go Out?
Sean Delson: I have heard the new Fozzy track. Mark Willis sent it to me. The track definitely has a great “pop” quality to it and I think they’re doing exactly the right thing! To try and turn that ship a little more commercial was the right call. These are tricky waters to sail in these days. On that track, you only need to hear it one time and the hook stays in your head. It’s catchy! God love ’em, and I think that’s a good direction to head in.
Alex Obert: The first time I saw Fozzy was at BB King’s in New York City in 2010. And you were with them at the time.
Sean Delson: I remember that because Mike Portnoy was there from Dream Theater and he sat in with us that night on Freewheel Burning. I remember that club. That was good times, man. Except for the part where I offered Portnoy a beer in our dressing room and he informed me that he had just received his 10 year “chip”. (10 years sober) Ooops!…. All good though, he gladly accepted a nice cold bottle of water instead.
Alex Obert: Also on that show, ZO2 opened for Fozzy. Do you have any memories of them?
Sean Delson: We’ve played several times with them! Indeed they were a rockin’ band. They rocked out on those shows! How are they doing? Are they still out there hitting it?
Alex Obert: The band split up at the moment to pursue individual projects, but they are doing very well with those.
Sean Delson: Well, that’s sad. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s rough these days. Like I said, when I hooked up with Rich again to do his solo record, it was a different industry. When I came out of Fozzy and wanted to pick back up with Agent Cooper, the whole world had changed. CDs were gone, record stores were closing, the internet had completely rewritten the face of the desperately ailing Music Industry. My “Jennay” (said in my best Forest Gump Voice) showed me an article this morning reporting that six percent of a working band or musician’s income is record sales. Six percent! The rest is all touring, merchandising, and God knows what else. Six percent! It’s rough. Maybe I should have become a dentist or something. I think I may be better off!! (laughs)
Alex Obert: What were the setlists like for those Fozzy tours you were on?
Sean Delson: Usually before a tour began, a setlist was made, agreed upon, and sent out to all the members. Whatever particular tour that was, whether it was a full European tour, a UK only tour, or an American tour, (and I can’t leave out Australia) we stuck to the setlist for that tour. It’s what most bands do.
Alex Obert: You toured with Chris Jericho and outside of his music, have you listened to Talk Is Jericho yet?
Sean Delson: I have heard bits and pieces of it here and there. He’s one of the best entertainers that will probably ever live and he’s definitely one of the greatest frontmen arguably on Earth. All those years in pro wrestling, stadium after stadium, night after night, script after script. He is a pro. Anything he does is going be good. He would have to try really hard to screw something up. He lands so many good gigs. From game shows to Dancing With the Stars to movie parts. He never stops. That’s what he lives for. I’m looking for some really big things from him in the next few years. I’m surprised that he hasn’t (yet) landed a bigger movie presence, following the in footsteps of The Rock, Steve Austin, and John Cena to name a few. I’m a little surprised, but I know he will get it. It’s just a timing thing. He will land it.
Alex Obert: Getting into Stuck Mojo, aside from them, what are your favorite rap rock bands?
Sean Delson: To be brutally honest, Stuck Mojo is probably my only firsthand experience with rap rock. I know there are some other bands out there that did really well with it. Just by being involved, Stuck Mojo would have to be my favorite, of course! Especially the records I played on! (laughs) In that genre, I’m just not that well versed, really. Lloyd Nelson turned us on to a virtual library of that genre. He is an encyclopedia within that realm! I mean, if you want to talk rap rock, talk to Lloyd. He will tell you everything, every date, every artist. He’s brilliant!
Alex Obert: So I understand you designed a bass guitar.
Sean Delson: Yes. The owner of Halo custom guitars, Jeff Lee, approached me and asked if I would be interested in doing a Sean B. Delson “signature series” bass guitar. Halo had endorsed members of Fozzy and Mojo so I had several basses from them already. I knew Jeff did quality work. Being very particular, the basses I use in the studio are highly customized and I rarely take them out on tour. From there I started sending him photos of my various basses and the features that I had to have. In the past, I have taken stock bass guitars and really customized them, so I knew what it would take to at least make ME happy… We kept working on the concept and Jeff’s talented team brought this “dream bass” of mine into existence. I did have a vision for the bass from the outset. Today you see people going with all these crazy shapes, and I thought it best to take it back the other way. Old school. Go back to the origins of it all. So I thought “Beatle bass” Paul McCartney, meets a Gibson SG bass. And that was the basis for the shape. I think Jeff took that idea and mixed a little BC Rich on it. (laughs) (It’s a little pointy like an old BC Rich) The bass is a work of art and highly customized. I’m very happy with it. We are kicking around doing a six string model, but we’ll see how the four goes first! (laughs)
Alex Obert: On that 2012 tour of Europe with Agent Cooper, what was your favorite country to be in?
Sean Delson: That was the tour of dreams! I can tell you my favorite part of that tour and it’s odd, it’s not one particular country, but it started in Greece. After a debacle in Athens, we had to BOLT as fast as we could to catch a ferry that left at dawn. This ferry ride would last 24 hours, and take us into Italy to play a show in the town of Mezzago. So at the tip of Southern Greece, our tour bus and gallant crew set sail on the Mediterranean/Ionian sea. We headed due north and into the Adriatic. We were scheduled to pull into Venice at sunrise the next day. This was very exciting to me as I live on the water and enjoy boating very much. So, in my mind, I was thinking, “Sailboats and sand and it’s gonna be beautiful!” Dude, there were big waves hitting that boat so hard, people were falling over and stumbling because it so rough. Some people were even getting sick. Now this is a HUGE boat. Massive. Complete with a casino, several restaurants, bars, shops, and even little Church. The conditions outside were bleak to say the least. Not what I had imagined at all! One wave hit the boat so hard I swear we had crashed into something. I came rolling out of my bunk to make sure we weren’t sinking and I saw Tony (MacAlpine) sitting off in the distance across this huge promenade at a table having a tall pint. It’s like 7 a.m.? I stumbled my way over to him and he said “Come on! Have a beer, I’m havin’ a beer. Have a beer with me.” (For those of you who have ever spoken to Tony, you can almost hear the speed at which he speaks. Very frenetic.) I’m glad he offered, because that surely took care of the seasickness that was trying to creep in on me. It was a great and unique experience, the whole thing. We all just wandered from one area to the other, enjoying the various “offerings” made available to us on this boat. If memory serves, that also included a very nice bottle of twelve year old scotch. I remember the sun coming up over the sea as we pulled into Venice. Being on the deck gawking at all of the boats buzzing in and around this great city as the sun rose to start a new day.. Everybody was on deck filming this amazing sight, and that’s the memory that probably sticks out most to me from the tour. Every city was amazing in its own way. We had so much fun and it was a great tour. It was a long tour. Spain treated us really well. Paris was amazing. Romania was good. It was covered in snow, and the guy gave us about ten bottles of the worst gin ever made. I’m sure he gave it away to get rid of it. Hell, you could use this rot-gut swill to dissolve metal. But, eventually, we drank it of course…
Alex Obert: How was Agent Cooper approached to cover Walking in the Air?
Sean Delson: My wife Jenny is British, and since that is a UK classic song, she suggested it. You know we actually met on the “All That Remains” tour. She’s from the Liverpool area, and we have always talked about Agent Cooper doing a Christmas song. We just kept kicking the idea around because we all feel like there needs to be more “good” in the world. We wanted to do a song where all of the proceeds went to charity. It became official last summer when the house was full of British girls, and Doug (Doug Busbee, Agent Cooper Vocalist) was here, as is standard. All of the girls just agreed it had to be “Walking in the Air”. We live on a really big lake down here in Georgia with about a thousand miles of shoreline. (I’m currently doing this interview with you from an island) Every summer, we get a lot of visitors, mainly from the UK. “Walking in the Air”, sadly, is not that popular here in America…. Yet. Because we have received so much support from the UK, it just felt right to go with this decision. The idea was presented to the band and we started working on it. The hardest part was getting all the clearance and releases to do the song and use the animation! Seriously… that was a chore, but well worth the effort in the end. Michael Carr (owner of Mummy Cat Productions, LLC) has long been the band’s creative director when it comes to our videos and he really made it shine. Without him, the video magic would not have happened. We decided on Claire House, a children’s hospice in the UK, as the charity. Their work and efforts are outstanding. Daniel Craig introduced the video! I mean come on! These kids, they go in… and most of them, sadly, never make it out. It is a great cause and we plan to push the campaign again this year. Please feel free to check out the video here. http://vimeo.com/81089508
Alex Obert: Have you seen the movie that the song was in, The Snowman?
Sean Delson: Oh God yes! My knowledge and discovery of “The Snowman” is because of my wife. I’m over in England a lot, and come Christmas time, “The Snowman” in England is as popular as “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” or “Frosty the Snowman” is here. That cartoon from 1982, it always plays, and the first time I heard the song, I was like, “What is this???” It has such a haunting and beautiful melody. “Walking in the Air” was written and composed by Howard Blake. (He is currently living in London and had to approve our version before we could use it. Thank God he liked it, and signed off on it!) The song was composed for the animated version of a children’s book called, “The Snowman” written by Raymond Briggs, which was published in 1978. It’s a beloved classic and I can’t be happier with how it all turned out. I have it saved on my Playstation at home. Every once in a while I’ll turn it on and crank it up on the big screen. It’s very emotional and truly a great song.
Alex Obert: With the new Agent Cooper album coming up, “Far From Sleep”, how would you describe to readers a day of recording?
Sean Delson: I believe it’s probably similar to what most bands go through. You write the song, you work out all the parts, you rehearse it. You make sure, “Okay, this sounds good. This is what we’re going to get from the song.” I would guess the foundation is the same for just about every band. You go into a studio, and get the drums down. That is always Step 1. The drums have to be perfect, and we can all build out from there. We like to work in three song blocks. We’ll go into a good studio for the drums, get them all mic’d up, get three songs knocked out. Our drummer Ganesh Giri Jaya is a great drummer, so we usually have a short day of it. Once that’s done, we can all flesh out our parts. I’ve got a little home studio, where I can write and record my bass parts. Bass is usually the 2nd step. After that, it’s guitars, keys, and the vocals go down last. The bands production head and studio wizard is Eric Frampton, he is our keyboards maestro and head engineer. What is it with keyboard players? They all seem to make great engineers! He will do his magic, and then everybody gets together to discuss any little changes. It’s like four chefs trying to make this giant masterpiece of a cake, there’s a lot of ingredients. Everybody does their part, and that’s just typically the way it’s done. We’re very fortunate to have in-house talent in the studio. Eric’s keyboards can be heard on all of the Fozzy, Mojo, and Duke records that I played on. The Atlanta music scene is pretty close knit. Everybody plays on everybody’s records. That’s pretty much just how it’s done. The last steps are getting it mixed and mastered. After that, it’s time to start planning a release and the touring schedule. Today’s model is pretty different from just five years ago. Just releasing an album itself, that’s about to become a thing of the past, I’m sad to say.
I‘m being told now that the new way forward is releasing singles. Just a single at a time. And that was also in the article I was telling you about earlier. (The six percent) It’s hard to say where it’s heading because anything you record is free all over the world the minute it hits any airwave. You know how downloads are, it’s just so easy and fast. It’s the same with movies now. “I want to watch a movie on Netflix. Oh, they don’t have it?? Don’t worry, give me ten minutes, and I’ll have it downloaded. (Of course I personally would never do that, to be sure, but the overall message should be clear.) I mean it’s just that simple…that fast. So you’ve really got be out there touring, touring, touring, touring. I love to tour and we are actively seeking out another one. We’ve had a couple of big tours fall through because some of the bands just fell apart that we were supposed to go out with. It’s a lot harder than it used to be for several reasons: Fuel costs are nowhere near what they use to be. I remember when our gas cost about a dollar a gallon before Hurricane Katrina came along. We all know what happened. Price’s skyrocketed. It’s relaxed a bit, but over in Europe, it’s even worse! In the UK (as of this writing) the average price for a liter of gas is £1.37, so you multiply that times four ( 3.8 liters in a US gallon). Now do the math with the exchange rate (today a UK pound is worth $1.68) and you’re sitting at $9.20 a gallon. On the MacAlpine tour, I asked our driver what our big beast tour bus was drinking per day in fuel. He said with a smile… “About a thousand Euros a day on the longer runs, mate.” I guess we all must figure out the new way forward. The internet will play a HUGE part in it I think. Probably a lot of podcasting and live webcam shows will start to become the new normal.
All we can do is just keep writing, recording, playing, and hopefully keep touring. All while trying to catch up with technology. It’s leaving us all behind! (laughs)
Alex Obert: Favorite one hit wonder?
Sean Delson: I keep coming up with this Martin Briley song, Salt in my Tears. Only because I won good money at a trivia contest by knowing it! That’s going to have to be my answer.
Alex Obert: The one album that changed your life forever.
Sean Delson: That would probably be Hemispheres by Rush. I got that record when I was young and I was like, “What the hell?” And that was that.
Alex Obert: Favorite bass line?
Sean Delson: Can I pick one of my own? (laughs) I love the bass in La Villa Strangiato by Rush. The bass line I’m most proud of from myself is the track off Agent Cooper called The Heat. I spanked it on that one! If I do say so myself.
Alex Obert: The one band you’re still dying to see live.
Sean Delson: I would like to see an old school Genesis reunion. I’ve seen all the bands I love. I’m in the music business, so I get to see a lot good bands that I like. But I never got to see a “full on” Phil Collins Genesis production. Think, “Three Sides Live”.
Alex Obert: Favorite band name?
Sean Delson: There’s this band out of England called The Cunning Runts, that’s pretty clever. But I wouldn’t call that my favorite band name! (laughs) Rich showed me this band one time. It was this skeleton, and on top of his head, there was fire. And I think the name of the band was Hell Toupee. We used to love looking at all those old school Century Media band names, the really crazy ones. Blaspherion and Cannibal Corpse (with their “hit” Meat Hook Sodomy. WTF?) Just the most crazy names, seeing how offensive you can be. Deicide, etc. Do you remember in Spinal Tap, the review for Shark Sandwich, which was “shit sandwich”? Well there was a band in Germany, not Shark Sandwich, but they were called Shark Soup. (laughs) We must have laughed about that for at least three weeks. That still makes me laugh. On a Mojo tour some years back, we were in Germany and Rich introduced me to a guitar player friend of his…. I was changing strings or something and half listening to their conversation. Rich asked the guy what he had been up to? His answer made me spit out my drink laughing. “Well… earlier this year, I was out with “Pestilence”, then later, I was with “Entombed”. (you have to imagine the heavy German accent to really appreciate it) NOW…. That’s what I’m talking about.
Alex Obert: First song you learned how to play on bass?
Sean Delson: From Rush’s “Moving Pictures”. I remember it being “Tom Sawyer”. Way before that, I played first chair trombone in school for about 4 years. Sadly, I needed to get braces for my teeth, and those big railroad tracks in my mouth made it impossible for me to play trombone anymore. Because of the trombone years, my knowledge of the bass clef and my ear for bass was pretty well honed. My brother played guitar, he played drums, and he played bass. So I tried to play guitar at first, but it just didn’t work. Then came bass. That first bass changed everything. From there, things just fell into place. It all came so easy. I don’t want to sound lazy, but I really didn’t have to work for it. It just came to me! Hearing the band Rush so much while growing made me realize that I wanted to be in a band like that. Something integral, something challenging, something progressive. So I’m sure it was off of the “Moving Pictures” record.
Alex Obert: Musician you wish you went to high school with?
Sean Delson: I’m going to say Steve Morse.
Alex Obert: Rock song you are tired of hearing?
Sean Delson: I’m gonna go out on a limb on this one. I’m have to say, (this will probably get me in trouble) it’s a great song, but it’s going to be “Nothing Else Matters” by
“Metallica”. And this is ONLY because I just had to play it at our photographer’s wedding. Brent Craft does all of our photography and he’s a great photographer. We had to make a wedding rendition of it so I had to hear it over and over recently. I need some time away from that one. The good news is, everybody loved what we did. Doug and I that is. The Agent Cooper “light” wedding duo.
Alex Obert: In closing, what are your websites at the moment?
Sean Delson: I do have a face book page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sean-Delson-Fan-Page/109299435808349 and please feel free to “follow” me on twitter at https://twitter.com/SeanDelson — Then there is http://www.AgentCooper.com, which is in dire need of help. Do you know any good web guys? We are in the process of updating it, but there is still a ton of stuff there with working links. Please go to the site and yell at Ganesh for not updating it more often! Because everybody’s doing so much, the site just gets neglected. That’s no excuse…. I know. I’m terrible at it, I admit it, I’m guilty, I need to be fined and caned!
Alex Obert: Thank you so much for your time!
Sean Delson: Alex! Thank you so very much. I really enjoyed it.