Séan McCann no longer hiding addiction behind music

McCann’s guitar was the saving grace to his alcohol addiction that he’s battled for many years.

Artist Séan McCann will be performing at the Mary Winspear Centre on Oct. 1 as part of his Road to Recovery Tour.

Founding member of Great Big Sea and now solo singer Séan McCann is stepping out, engaging with his audience and sharing his story of recovery.

For McCann, his performance is about engaging the audience in a very sincere way, telling stories, which, for the most part are very humorous.

“I have a long history of being in the business and there’s a lot of songs that a lot of people know, and there’s a lot of new songs that people know, but what I’ve learned is people don’t really know me,” he told the PNR in a recent phone interview.

As he wrote the songs and sang them in Great Big Sea and managed things behind the scenes, he wasn’t out front speaking. Instead, he was content to hide in the back and drink his whiskey, something he doesn’t do anymore, as he’s been sober now for five years.

“So I’m starting from zero and I’ve certainly- in the last five years of my recovery- I’ve woken up and I’ve started to find out who I really am and I don’t hate myself as much, I’m not as bad as I thought…”

And he’s learned quite a few things along the way, one of them being that we’re all worthy of love and we all need it.

He shows his love and accepts it by going out in front of people, performing and sharing his stories and songs that come out as a result of his recovery. He also gets people to sing.

“If you’re coming to my show, I’m not going to let you just sit there and watch,” he said with a laugh. “That’s not gonna happen. You’re going to be asked and I’m going to insist that you sing and I will guarantee you, you will feel better,” he said.

McCann’s journey battling alcohol addiction was tough. When he first quit drinking, he lost a lot of friends.

“I was in the biggest party band in Canada (Great Big Sea) and a lot of my friends are big partiers and I was the leader of the parade. They really didn’t know what to do with me and when the liquor disappeared, they did too.”

He was isolated and felt alone. He left the band in 2013 and the last two years on the bus were difficult he said, as the members didn’t know what to think of him.

McCann knew he had to stop drinking and he was very vulnerable for the first year out of the band.

“I really wanted to drink but I didn’t reach for the scotch, I managed to avoid that, and what I did reach for was my guitar,” he said.

And it’s the guitar that will be with McCann when he comes to perform Oct. 1 in Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre, the first guitar he ever bought.

“I was 23 when I bought my first guitar and didn’t know a chord, but this guitar’s been with me ever since and for years it literally held me up as I belted out pub standards and shanties and physically held me up. And now it enabled me to face my past and to deal with some really hard subjects, and to ultimately overcome and face my problems and overcome them.”

McCann said he’s managed to successful procrastinate with hiding behind his music and drinking for about 32 years, and the problem stayed and continued to get worse.

“It was only when I stopped, sobered up and decided to deal with the problem.”

“And my therapy was music, my friend was my guitar and the songs were the answers, the songs were the medicine,” he said about his recovery.

His most recent record, which is titled Help Your Self  came out in 2014, right around the time he left Great Big Sea.

The record tells the story of his past, his addiction and his recovery, a very personal record for McCann.

“It resonated with people and I’ve got thousands of emails and messages saying ‘I know that story.

“I know that’s you but that’s my story too, that’s my mom, that’s my dad, that’s my sister, that’s my wife,’” he said.

He realized then that he wasn’t alone, which sparked him to do his current tour- The Road to Recovery.

With many big moments in his career, McCann is proud of the work he did with Great Big Sea.

“When we were focussed on the same goals we were capable of great things, we had a lot of energy.”

He’s also proud of the work he has done over the years in his recovery and helping others.

“Everything I do affects people in a positive way. I do a ton of volunteer work, which, to be honest is where I get my fuel…”

He’s worked with veterans, Easter Seals, with addictions and mental health in a variety of ways in hospitals and other groups.

“I’m proud of the person that I let myself become.

“I’m proud of who I am now.”