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Sean Tobin – Hands Like Mine: An Unforgettable, Soulful Journey Through Folk and Empathy

"Most of these songs aren’t about me. They’re about folks I empathise with… the people who make up my life and environment.”

Sean Tobin Hands Like Mine

            On the 10th of November, New Jersey singer-songwriter Sean Tobin released his brand new album Hands Like Mine, the very-much-anticipated follow-up to the critically acclaimed 2022 release, Ghost of the Arcade.

            Just before the album’s release, he sat down with For The Love of Bands to explain exactly what his new collection of songs are about, as well as the people who inspired them and who make up his life and colour his environment, although, as he revealed, that environment is shortly about to change, as he’ll soon be relocating to Nashville, the home of the Country and Gospel music that has always held such a powerful influence over him.

“I grew up in an Irish-American household on the Jersey Shore,” Sean begins. “The music that came with that environment was endless, and I wouldn’t trade any part of my childhood for the world. I started playing guitar when I was in high school. I was grounded, a very suburban punishment, for a youthful act of immaturity I’d rather not get into,” he laughs. “I started writing songs after having been influenced by Chuck Ragan’s Revival Tour among others. I had nothing to do to pass the time for a month but go to school and play guitar, so that’s what I did. Prior to that, I’d always been a band kid. I played trumpet for seven years or so, and piano before that.”

Sean Tobin Hands Like Mine

            So, who were his early heroes, and where did he find his inspiration? You can’t live in New Jersey without, “the Springsteen shadow,” as Sean calls it.

“I’ve always idolised him, as well as other Jersey Shore staples like Southside Johnny, the Bouncing Souls, and Gaslight Anthem. But Country music and Irish Folk has always been a big influence on me as well; mostly the outlaws like Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and more poignant acts like John Prine.”

            Hands Like Mine was written and produced by Sean, and includes his longtime band members David Patiño, Jack Breslin, and Jake Garbe, as well as a really notable contribution from guitarist Evan Dibbs. Recorded at the Audio Pilot Studio in New Jersey, and mixed and mastered by the studio’s owner Rob Freeman, the new album is a noticeable evolution, and a deliberately planned diversion away from, Ghost… Associated with perhaps more hard-hitting rock tracks, Hands Like Mine is a chance for Sean to show a far more vulnerable side: the new, strongly acoustic folk songs, lay him bare, whilst the searching, lonely vocals tend to leave him, and the listener, feeling exposed.

“There’s been a lot of change lately. The whole band sort of dissipated,” Tobin explained of his backing band, the Boardwalk Fire. “It just so happened that I was set on recording a solo acoustic album, and, at the same time, the Boardwalk Fire was scattering across the globe. The whole thing was sadly coincidental,” he reflects now, looking back at that period in his life. “That said, it’s the most selfless album I’ve ever worked on, hence the title. These aren’t my ‘hands’,” Sean insists. “These aren’t my thoughts, my experiences, but they might be yours. It’s an album about empathy, work, love, loss, and basic human emotion. It’s more about the characters!”

            So, can he take us through the album personally? Perhaps explain the songs and the meaning behind them?

Song for the End of the World,” the first single to be released from the album, “is really a tale about humanity as a whole, our flaws and our ending. Wolves, is the story of a man without work, nearing the end of his days. Though he desperately yearns for purpose, the world which he has become a part of has no interest in his skills, needs or desires. Caroline,” Sean continues. “What at first seems like a break-up song results in something much more than that. And, American Lands, is that the beginning of the American Dream is based on the ending of another,” he reveals of a song unable to completely hide its sadness.

Catcher in the Rye is my book report on the JD Salinger classic,” and, for me personally, my favourite track on the L.P.

6:10 PM, was my best attempt at writing a Bright Eyes song. I wrote this with unproduced indie films in my head, and had the narrator ask the question, ‘…do you have the time?’ When I finished the song, the time on the clock was 6:10PM. Hail the Carpenter,” the album’s latest single, “I wrote as an ode to my late grandfather, Jack Tobin Sr.. He was a carpenter and business agent for Passaic County in northern New Jersey, and a huge influence on me as a writer. [The song] came to me the way my best songs always do: quickly and in full form. My grandfather is almost always on my mind, a constant symbol of perseverance when times get tough. The song itself is an ode not only to him, but to anyone who works hard for something greater than themselves,” Sean adds proudly.

My Own Heaven is all about me, and really the only song on the album that is. It’s a personal string of word vomit,” he tells me, “that depicts my loves, my loathes, and my hypocrisy. Old Magnolia, is a love song written for my wife… It’s about a moment in time… The importance of living in the now! And, Never Coming Down is a constant reminder to myself to be relentless and keep course. As I said, this album’s not about me. It’s all about those around me, those that I meet.”

            So, what are Sean’s hopes and dreams for the future, and will we see him touring Great Britain?

“I have dreams of taking my songs on the road full time, but until then, I’m happy playing in dives and bars wherever I find myself.” And as for the U.K.? “Down the road…definitely… I just wish I could say when.”

Sean Tobin Hands Like Mine

Hands Like Mine was released on the 10th November.

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Simon Gale
the authorSimon Gale
Simon was born in London but now lives in beautiful Cornwall. Whilst waiting for his first novel to be discovered by the rest of the world, he spends his time reading anything and everything, and listening to and writing about the music he is passionate about.


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