Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Drumming up a dream
Badger grad taking stage on ‘SNL’

by Lisa Seiser

February 02, 2012

When a band plays in concert, it's the frontman everyone watches — typically the lead singer or guitarist.

That won't be the case for many Lake Geneva area residents, teachers and band students as they tune into "Saturday Night Live," Feb. 4.

Instead, their eyes will be drawn straight to the drummer, watching his every move any chance they get.

Sean Carey, a 2003 Badger High School graduate, will be thumping and tapping as a member of the up-and-coming Grammy-nominated band Bon Iver, which will make an appearance on the late night sketch comedy show also known for showcasing new and rising artists.

"You can bet that all my students will leave school Friday knowing that a former (school) band member will appear on Saturday Night Live," said Lake Geneva Middle School Band Director Ray Ames.

Ames, who had Carey as a student and watched him progress through high school and then to the University of Eau-Claire, Bon Iver and his solo efforts, said he is thrilled by Carey's success and won't miss the performance Saturday night.

"I watched some time back when they were on 'Late Night with Conan,'" Ames said. "I will definitely be watching Saturday night. The Packers let me down this year. This is my Super Bowl."

The unassuming and humble Carey said he expects performing on "SNL" will be an enjoyable experience.

"It just seems like a fun, laid-back environment," he said. "But who knows, it could be madness."

Carey, 26, lives in Eau Claire and is a full-time musician, mainly with Bon Iver, but also performs solo and has his own album, called "All We Grow."

"This is every drummer's dream," Carey said about playing in the band. "Although I never imagined I would be doing what I'm doing. I'm incredibly lucky and blessed."

Apparently, luck has little to do with the success of the talented Carey and Bon Iver.

Their appearance on "SNL" isn't the only excitement Carey and the group will have in the upcoming weeks. Bon Iver also has been nominated for four Grammy Awards, including some of the biggest of the night that will be handed out Feb. 12.

"We're just excited for any cool opportunity and fortunate that people really like what we do," Carey said.

Since Bon Iver was formed in 2007, the band has played in coffee shops, rock clubs, small and large theaters, outdoor festivals and has toured Europe and Australia.

Carey said it's difficult to describe the music Bon Iver plays, but said it is "dynamic and colorful, using pianos, guitars, drums, horns and electronics." He said the band has a unique sound and approach.

That's a far cry from his start in drumming as a fifth-grader.

"I remember watching my older sister play in the jazz band and the drums just always attracted me," Carey said. "They are attention grabbing and exciting and primitive."

In middle and high school, the drum kit became his main focus. Carey said Ames and Bunge encouraged his learning and believed in him as a drummer.

"Sean has always had a deep love of music," Sean's mother Lisa said. "There wasn't a question that he wanted to major in music in college. He chose UW-Eau Claire because of its strong jazz program and overall music program.

But, neither Lisa nor Ames knew Sean's passion would take him to SNL or the Grammy's.

"I always knew Sean had a special talent and drive," Ames said. "I honestly thought that he would end up being a band director because he had natural leadership skills in addition to music talent. Like professional sports, there isn't much room at the top. Think if the number of kids who play Little League baseball as compared to the number of players who get to the World Series."

Initially, Sean was headed in the education direction.

"His first year, he started as a music education major because people advised him that was the practical path," Lisa said. "But it didn't take him long to know that he wanted a performance degree. I don't think he has ever regretted that decision."

In 2007, during the first Bon Iver show, Carey was not a member of the band, but was an acquaintance of the leader, Justin Vernon.

"I approached him and told him that I had learned the drum parts and could sing harmonies with him," Carey said. "I think he was pretty surprised that someone could do that. But I was in love with the music and knew that I could be a good fit."

Carey joined Vernon on stage that night. The pair hit it off and Carey became a band member later that evening. Turned out it has been a perfect fit since and has resulted in the band making a name for itself.

"I found out that Bon Iver received the Grammy nominations when I saw the announcement on TV," said Lisa. "I was very excited and called Sean right away. I think it is a wonderful honor to have that recognition for playing the music that they love."

"Above all things, Sean is a good and humble person," Ames said. "He has never been and never will be full of himself. There are many students with his raw talent. There are very few that develop the talent and follow the dream to this level."