We had the good fortune of connecting with Sean Jewell and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sean, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I’ve always been a risk taker. As a kid I was a bit of a daredevil. I liked the feeling of fear fun. I was always the first to try things. I’d climb higher, go farther, or faster any time I could. It helped growing up in the desert, with a lot of room to tumble and roam. As I got older I didn’t really pay attention to how much the risks I was willing to take made others uncomfortable. I thought maybe they were scared, or that I was misunderstood. At some point you grow up, have a family, close friends. People, who worked with me in (of course I had risky jobs) began to point out some of the risks I was taking: drinking, drugs, working all the time. I didn’t listen very well. Eventually that all takes it’s toll. I took a risk on myself. I sobered up, stopped working so much. I was able to think clearly about the valuable lessons I’d learned taking risks. In the military we used a strategy called operational risk management, to predetermine our chances, and effectively eliminate risk. In the sober community someone used the term “healthy risk” once, and that really resonated with me. I started to think about risks which were healthy, survivable, to keep life fun, but fulfill my desire for adventure. It was then that I committed myself full time to art and music. I took a risk going to college in my late twenties to get a degree in industrial design. It was the best way I could see to have a career making some kind of art. I began to use my time and abilities to help the music community. I found out I was a good writer, good at discovering music, and presenting that to other people. Basically building a composition –a show, an album, a gathering that attracted people. I was essentially taking risks on unheard of bands. I began producing shows. Eventually you work your way in to being able to do very financially risky things –concerts, live events, releasing albums, — with very little loss and maybe even some profit. The more you’re willing to do yourself, the more work you put in, the more it benefits the community you’re in. It feels risky because music and art literally come from ideas, and creative processes that –from an outside perspective– look like nothing. Artists seem like actual magicians, pulling wondrous sculptures, paintings, songs out of thin air, but they’re really just blue-collar folks with a knack for adopting technology and keeping a good enough attitude to entertain people. I like to celebrate them. I like the process, the critique, the toil of art. Eventually if you can work hard, and be nice, people start taking risks on you. Artists trusted me to do press relations, bio writing, live interviews, social media management. Now I get to work with one of America’s premier music festivals as a social media manager. My family and a few close friends and I had been kicking around this idea of starting a record label for years. The risk there is complete failure while grandstanding during an awful year. We looked at our options and decided that while it felt absurd we’d take the risk, just to bring ourselves and a few others some happiness, something to smile about and participate in, in an otherwise ruined year. Sometimes going right up to an obstacle and over it is the way. It’s tempting to hit those brakes when trouble starts, but if you’re going fast enough you might get lucky and crash through. So far I’ve lived a dozen different lives. There’s moments of epiphany when the lessons I learned overlap in the arcs that connect one life to the next, and I get to help someone with my experience. That makes it all worth the risk.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
There are so many disciplines that go into putting a single record together. Artwork, recording, producing, mastering, writing, performing. It’s really the culmination of all my skills, from labor to tech. I started writing as an intern at a local weekly at the same time I started college. It was bad pay, odd hours, weird assignments. But it was fun. I did it because I didn’t see exactly what I was interested in when reading local press. That meant sticking to my guns when the things I was doing weren’t exactly popular. After college I used the constant travel in one of my jobs to to learn about the nightlife of cities around America. Chicago, New York, Houston, LA. I’d go to work in another city and forego sleep and a comfy hotel bed to spend the night out on the town, getting to understand the local music scene, meeting the people and musicians. I scoured the streets of America looking for things other people are happy to sleep through. I learned that what I was doing may not be popular today, but it would be in a few years. That gave time to develop a vision. Develop an artist. Gain their trust. Create relationships. Every little task contributes to the next. Very few people are going to stop by the first ten years and let you know you’re on the right track. You have to build the track, the audience, the experience yourself. As far as the record label goes, it’s an extension of the online magazine American Standard Time. We want to highlight everything good about America’s greatest export: music. This begins with and still includes the music of communities of color and queer communities –because that’s where rock ‘n’ roll began.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I don’t feel very qualified answering this question. I’ve never lived in LA, I’ve only worked there. Go to Gold Diggers. Take a drive through Topanga. Walk on the beach. Check out Watts Towers.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I learn so much everyday from my two kids. You think you’re going to raise a human, mold them, but the truth is if you just listen, pay attention to them, they teach you more than you’ll ever teach them. My wife is extremely understanding about my personal drive. She recognized early on that I’m actually happier with more to do, and in some sense I need to be out finding the next band, seeing the next show, or putting on a show myself. There’s people in the community that really believed in me that made me think I could become a music writer, a record label boss, a DJ, an industry professional. Devon Leger at Hearth PR. Greg Vandy at KEXP. Robynne Hawthorne at Underwood Stables. I’ve known these folks for years and they still take time to get in touch, help me with whatever it is I’m creating, and offer their professional advice.
Sarah Kathryn Wainwright Jason Neuerburg Anthony Pidgeon