For Séan McCann, leaving Newfoundland folk rock group Great Big Sea was a matter of life and death.
He said he was in denial for over 30 years when it came to his alcoholism.
“Our lyrics are literally about drinking in large volumes. People ask me ‘why did you leave the band?’ I was an alcoholic, the choice for me was death or life,” McCann said. “A band seemed insignificant to me when it came down to that.”
The “party band” was an excellent place to hide for an alcoholic, he said, but despite those odds he sobered up five years ago. A success dependant on facing his past, including being sexually abused by a parish priest when he was a teenager.
“I used music to kind of deal with those issues as they arose as a form of therapy,” McCann said.
He wrote and produced Help Yourself with Joel Plaskett, which he put online for free.
“It resonated with a lot of people. At the time I felt very isolated because when you quit drinking, you lose a lot of friends,” McCann said. “I was also facing these memories that re-appeared. I was really tempted to reach for my anesthetic which was, you know, single-malt Scotch, but I didn’t. I reached for my guitar instead.”
A guitar he has had for 30 years that has literally held him up on stage.
“I just poured my pain into my guitar and these songs just started coming out,” McCann said.
He has more energy as a sober man, but admits he was unsure he would be able to write songs sober. Turns out McCann had a lot to say.
Guitar therapy didn’t just work for the album, it worked for McCann as a person, helping him through the ongoing process of sobriety.
Now, he shares his story with others in hopes of providing a relatable and inspiring story.
“I’ll get up, shed my skin and share that story and it does resonate with people and I think it does help,” McCann said. “Being an alcoholic in a band like Great Big Sea, which is such a party band, and being able to quit drinking in that environment and walk away and still be able to function, still be alive … that means something to people.”
Unfiltered honesty is his new mantra. McCann believes that a secret can kill you, and a song can save you.
“If there’s proof to be seen, then I’m that,” McCann said, noting that his story is one with a happy ending.
He has found a sense of purpose sharing his story and working with mental health and addiction initiatives.
“It helps people and it helps me,” McCann said.
He is finding that the interactions between himself and the audience when he is speaking about adversity is much more genuine than a stadium show or a pub.
“It’s an interaction that wasn’t a cartoon, it wasn’t a hockey rink, it wasn’t drunk. It’s more than that,” McCann said. “I’ll take you to sad places in the show but it always ends up in a happy place because that’s where I am.”
McCann visits the Dream Café on June 24. For tickets call 250-490-9012.