Sean K. Preston thrives in a post-genre world

Preston and his Loaded Pistols play The Jinx

TO CALL Sean K. Preston & the Loaded Pistols’ music Americana would be selling that music short. Though he’d likely be classified as such by a record label, what Preston does is much more eclectic than the term allows, especially given the connotations associated with it in today’s music industry landscape.

Preston and his band are musically fluid, taking cues from punk, country, mountain gospel, rockabilly, and classic rock and roll. It all comes together to create something uniquely theirs. They even look like a rockabilly trio on the surface, but the sound on stage and in the studio is much more wide-reaching and all-encompassing.

Much of that comes from Preston’s world travels, which he tells Connect informed his musical direction and planted the seeds for what would come when he returned home.

We spoke about all of that and more when we caught up with the Baltimore-based singer, guitarist, and songwriter ahead of his Nov. 8 show at The Jinx.

What do you remember most about your earliest days playing music? What were you listening to?

The earliest I can remember being involved in music is childhood. I think I wrote songs as early as, maybe, five or six years old. I only remember the names of two of them that my parents told me about [laughs]. I guess I didn’t really get into it again until I was a teenager, and there were kids who had instruments. I didn’t have an instrument, but I wanted to hang out and play music. They were starting a band—I didn’t feel hung up about singing, but nobody else wanted to do it so I became the singer.

After junior high school, my family moved overseas and then we moved back to the States in my last year of high school. A friend of mine from high school had a guitar in the back seat of his car, and I’d sit in his car on the way home from school, playing on this beat up guitar with three strings on it.

I’ve had lots of [musical] obsessions over the years, and some of those probably stick with me even if I stop listening to them. When I discovered Hank Williams, that was a really big deal. Bob Dylan as well. Jeff Buckley was a big obsession for a while, and Neko Case in the last ten years or so. There’s a lot of stuff I’m influenced by.

I love Neko! I honestly love everything she’s been involved in. She really transcends genre, even though a lot of people would consider her solo stuff to be “alt-country.” You guys also seem to have this very amorphous approach to music, whereas to categorize it as one thing seems to shortchange it.

Right! The genre thing is really frustrating. I really love having a band that does blues, punk, gospel, country, honky tonk, rockabilly, surf—there are elements of those things in the music that we do, but it makes marketing this band very difficult.

I suppose you’d be placed under the Americana umbrella, but that also seems to be a pretty vague representation. How do you navigate the marketing side of all of that?

I’m very frustrated by it, because I want to have albums and shows that are full of different types of songs. I think there is a glue that binds them all together, which is that [all of the influences] are American music. But I couldn’t call it Americana, either. It’s not quite as aggressive as our music. To me, the glue is there that all binds it together. But it’s not so easy for marketing purposes.

We do seem to live in a post-genre world where definitions don’t seem to matter, but it’s when marketing comes into play that things get complicated. I suppose what’s frustrating is that we shouldn’t have to worry about defining what the music we make sounds like.

Yeah! But if you want to target an advertisement to people, you have to start biting the bullet, I guess.

How did you wind up with this particular band?

Sparky [Spiridigliozzi, drummer] has been playing with me longer than Cory [McGrath, upright bassist], but I’ve known Cory longer, which is really weird. Cory was playing in a rockabilly band in Philadelphia—upright bass players are a little bit of a commodity. They’re not everywhere. At the time when I drafted him, I had a stable of players. I had a list to go down, and I would get whoever I could get.

They were both filling in when they started, but they just turned out to be really dedicated. I romanced Cory away from his previous band [laughs]. Sparky was recommended to me by a guy that was a drummer, and when we met we immediately clicked because he was in a surf band before I played with him. The first show we played together, it was just a two-piece.

You mentioned moving abroad earlier—you’ve lived in Australia and Ireland, specifically. Do you feel like having a worldly living experience has influenced you musically?

Oh, yeah! Surely. In the case of living in Ireland, that was a huge influence on me. That’s the first place that I lived that I made money as a musician, because culturally they appreciate music. The job of being a musician is treated with legitimacy, whereas in the United States it’s like, “Oh, you’re in a band? That’s great.” You’re lucky to get a gig. You play for exposure. When I got to Ireland, I was playing music in the street a lot. After a period of time learning the ropes, I started to make real bread. And that’s actually where I started playing American music.

I was playing stuff like Pixies, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Velvet Underground—shit that nobody in a shopping district in the middle of the afternoon really knows [laughs]. But when I started playing Johnny Cash and Hank Williams and Carl Perkins, people loved it. I don’t really know that I would’ve ended up playing country music had I not left America.


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