If the world is a tempest right now, Seamus McMahon’s music is a timely salve.
The Mattapoisett native who grew up playing jazz music at Old Hammondtown School and Old Rochester Regional (class of 2012) developed his skills at Berkeley School of Music, but instead of emerging with a whirlwind of competing sounds, his new LP The Growing Season is as calm as the ocean at dawn.
“I just had so much jazz music rammed down my throat,” says McMahon, alluding to mountains of “technical stuff” he does not see in his future. “I wanted to go simple.”
Not that he had many choices coming out of college.
McMahon, 26, moved back from Boston in the summer of 2018 and moved in with his sister in Mattapoisett in the Park Street house originally owned by his grandparents, who had passed away. His grandparents’ room became home and a place where he imagines music.
“I did not have any money coming out of college to make anything or go into a studio… This is the vibe I got from living here in this last year,” he said. “I told my sister, ‘I want to make an album — I don’t know what it’s going to sound like.’” His sister planted a garden out back, thus The Growing Season.
The LP was self-released this month under the artist title ‘Marjorie’ after McMahon’s late grandmother, Marjorie Wood. “She’s meant a lot in my mind,” said McMahon, who recorded the record in the house.
In “Rollin’ On,” McMahon sings about tribulation and comes back with, “Now there are some friends who always put me on the mend and keep me rollin’ on.”
McMahon likes the twangy sound commonly found in old-school country music, but The Growing Season defies the country and folk genres. It’s easy listening to be sure, and maybe that’s the point.
“I always feel like I’m such a middle person; I’m always in the middle,” he said.
In “Josh’s Song,” McMahon remembers the ups and downs of losing touch and checking-in with a childhood pal whom he misses sometimes and doesn’t at other times. “Idyll” is a two-minute guitar melody accompanied by singing birds.
Even when it’s instrumental, the music is contemplative and conversational. McMahon could say his lyrics as easily as sing them, which is probably no accident considering he dabbled in hip hop and other genres while studying at Berkeley.
Conceived last summer, The Growing Season is McMahon’s first recording in “this kind of music,” he said. “It’s really just, like with Nick Drake, he tunes his guitar to a different tuning and I was very interested in that so… I used the same tuning pretty much throughout the whole album.”
On the recording, McMahon plays guitars, keyboard, and drums, everything except the bass (Ben Cornelius).
A music nerd with a 66-year-old mother who has all older sisters, McMahon grew up in the 1960s, musically at least, and enjoys recordings from the era, noting Brenda Lee.
“My dad got me into a bunch of different music,” said McMahon, who learned his jazz foundation under the intense tutelage of Stan Ellis, a teacher at Old Hammondtown. “Then we had band, and jazz band after school. I got into the drums and he was a drummer. He pushed everyone really hard in junior high and high school.”
Ellis had left ORR by the time McMahon got to high school, but the work ethic and an open-ended view of music had been instilled.
“I’m a solo act right now, but I hope to make this a band thing. I don’t really want it to just be me. I want ‘Marjorie’ to be a band,” said McMahon. “That’s the goal. I will get up by myself with an acoustic guitar, but hopefully when this pandemic phases out I’ll get more people and we can actually get a band.”
McMahon has been told he sounds like Jack Johnson, but “I have listened to one Jack Johnson song in my whole life.” He’s fine with that, but traces his primary influences to Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, The Beatles including their solo works, and legendary, late British folk rocker Nick Drake.
The Growing Season got some airplay last week on WMVY Radio (Martha’s Vineyard). What happens next in the music business is anyone’s guess, including where it concerns ‘Marjorie’.
“Everyone in my family knows I take it seriously. They knew I love it and have a talent and a vision for it,” said McMahon. “I think my mom, she has the attitude, ‘If I pay for your college tuition, you better be doing it.’ My dad, he’s a sports guy… he supports me.
“I don’t really have a Plan B. When I look at the most successful people, they succeeded at it because they only had one plan… I’ve thought about teaching as well, but this is the goal for right now.”