Seananigan, Nashville, TN
When Sean Patrick McGraw first arrived in Nashville from upstate New York (via a stint in L.A.) - his hopes high and hopped up on Steve Earle's "Guitar Town" and some music-biz connections - the notion of national airplay, an opening-act gig touring with some of the biggest names in Country, and a performance on a major-network late-night talk show would certainly have qualified as "success." McGraw, through his 20/20 rearview mirror, would beg to differ.
In fact, by the time "Country Weekly" selected him for their "Who to Watch in 2010" feature, McGraw had already experienced first-hand the chameleonic nature of "The Dream" (one of Success's many aliases). Within a couple of years of arriving in Music City, he'd been signed by Liz Rose to her newly-formed publishing company, and "ended up getting a producer and a manager and we 'talked to labels' and cut about two albums worth of material," he recalls. He thought he was on his way. "Then the money ran out, or at least ran away." He landed another writing deal with Curb and spent "three years writing a song a day [for] the likes of Tim McGraw (no relation) and Kenny Chesney," before funding once again "ran away," leaving him, in his estimation, "less of a 'has-been' than a 'never really was.'”
Because Hope Springs Eternal (or so they say), it must have seemed like the Hand of Fate, that call he got one weekend at a cabin on a salmon-fishing trip with his Old Man. Except that McGraw initially turned down the offer to audition for "Nashville Star." His father - with a simple, sardonic, "seeing as how much you've got going on in your career these days..." - convinced him to reconsider, which led to his first national exposure, and just enough "Success" to keep him from "going back to college or getting a real job." He put together a band and hit the road, booking upwards of two hundred shows each of the next couple of years, "playing mostly for lousy money, damaging all of our personal relationships, absolutely paying some dues."
In the meantime (because in the Music Business there are more paths to "Success" than three-chord train songs), a chance conversation his sister in California had with a friend led to McGraw's music reaching the ear of a CMT executive, "and the next thing I knew I was playing in front of 60,000 people at (California music festival) StageCoach and then my little bar band appeared on the Jimmy Kimmel Show and then we got to spend a weekend on the road opening for Toby Keith, which led to a whole summer of opening for Toby Keith in huge venues in front of a lot of people."
Finally, the pieces of the puzzle of his career were falling into place. Or so it seemed, because that's one of “The Dream's” favorite little tricks.
"And then we went back to playing four-hour shows for lousy money in small venues," McGraw laughs. "And then most of the guys quit."
Still not deterred, he spent the next couple of years opening (mostly solo) for artists such as Eric Church, Dierks Bentley, and Josh Thompson, while managing to hit "pretty much every country radio station in America" promoting a handful of singles released by "Little Engine Records," hich had been formed by his sister and the aforementioned CMT executive. In addition to moderate airplay, his songs were licensed by the Super Bowl and NASCAR, his "My So-Called Life" was released as a single by Montgomery Gentry, and he was being heard on popular TV shows, including "Nashville," "Sons of Anarchy," and "TrueBlood," as well as several programs produced by "The Hallmark Channel."
And yet, the seeds of disenchantment were being sown...
"The song that did the best on the charts is one I'm embarrassed by," he admits (without naming the song). "The song that I'm embarrassed by got licensed by the SuperBowl." Gradually, this disenchantment transformed McGraw's idea of "Success" from the stuff of wild-eyed dreams of fame and fortune to the contentment which comes from being true to oneself. "After playing as many shows out in the real world as I have in the last decade," he reflects, "I started figuring out what works and what doesn't and came to a conclusion that it's time to stop chasing what I think country radio wants.” He laughs again, then adds, "If I'm not going to make crazy money doing something I'm not proud of then I'm not going to do something I'm not proud of. The mantra is 'do what you love, do what you are passionate about, do what is sincere, and it would be awesome if somebody gets it.'"
These days, McGraw's touring schedule is more manageable - about a hundred dates a year or so. He also continues to write and record for film and television, just celebrated a one-year anniversary with his new bride, and has been cast as the lead in Nashville's first-ever country-comedy opera, a project in development for 2018.
So Sean Patrick McGraw feels like a success. "I still don't have a real job," he grins.