An influential fixture on the East Coast DIY scene and beyond, Sean Sprecher has been creating profound and sincere music that deals with unhappiness and its absurdity in equal measure since 2007. He has been performing under the name Bad History Month since 2013, transitioning from Fat History Month, a name he used when playing as a duo with drummer Mark Fede. Despite a career marked by sporadic disappearances and the often deliberate avoidance of public attention, Sprecher was already a cult figure in DIY circles in 2017 when the release of his first album as Bad History Month, Dead And Loving It: An Introductory Exploration Of Pessimysticism, brought him to wider attention, drawing praise from the likes of Pitchfork, Stereogum and
Bad History Month is the Boston-based project of Sean Sprecher; Rick Maguire is the frontman of the also-Boston-based band Pile. The longtime friends hopped on the phone the day after playing an Instagram live showcase for their shared label Exploding In Sound to chat about Bad History Month’s new album Old Blues — out today — and much, much more. Read their talk below, and buy the record!
— Annie Fell, Talkhouse Senior Editor
Rick Maguire: Last night was fun.
Sean Sprecher: It was fun, yeah. That was the easiest show high I ever got.
Rick: I know. Both before and after, I was like, I feel great. Just exhilarated. And then I could just lay down on the bed.
Sean: Exactly [Laughs.]
Rick: I feel a little bit weird about saying this person’s name, but I met one of my heroes, and they were really nice — I got their contact information through a friend, and I was like, “Hey, I hear that you give people tours of your label’s headquarters and stuff.” I met up with him and he’s really nice, just the sweetest person. Then afterwards, when we were putting the record out someone was like, “Hey, do you think this person would do a Talkhouse with you?” I was like, “I don’t know. I feel a little bit weird about asking, but maybe?” Then I asked him and he was like, “What the fuck is this? Are you trying to sell records?” I was like, “Well, yeah, but no. I don’t know.” I felt pretty embarrassed about it. I tried to backpedal a little bit and I was like, damn, I thought that we were friends and now he thinks I’m just trying to exploit him.
Sean: I don’t know, he might just be fucking with you, Obama likes to do that to people.
Rick: [Laughs.] That’s true. I know I’m no Jerry Seinfeld, but Jesus Christ.
Sean: [Laughs.] You’ve got to sell records, man. What the fuck?
Rick: I know. Well, that’s the thing — of course I want to, but it’s not like that!
Sean: I’ve been on the fence about putting up a topless photo of myself on the internet for a couple of days. But the computer broke anyway, so the decision has been made.
Rick: I guess you could make sketches of yourself and then accidentally post nude scans. Do you have a smartphone now?
Rick: Man, good for you.
Sean: I made an Instagram to sell records. I had to figure out how to do it on a laptop, and I thought I had it figured out, but it broke last night before that show. But that’s the thing about smartphones — somebody next to you always has one.
Rick: That’s a good point. Are you still using the same old phone?
Sean: No, this is my mom’s phone from 2012. Now apparently you can actually buy normal phones, because they’re not just trying to force everybody to be in the future anymore.
Rick: Oh really?
Sean: Yeah. I guess it’s primarily for older people, although my dad and all the people his age are fucking psyched on tech stuff. Or at least he is. There are people that are, like, in their 60s and 70s who are all about it because they grew up in the space age — this is what they’ve been waiting for, sort of, but way more boring. I can’t even talk to my dad, because it’s like [makes beeping noise] — there’s always a fucking alarm going off, or an echo because he’s using the speaker on the wall or whatever.
I like my T9 man, that’s really what it’s about. I mean, I’m such a dick because it’s not like I don’t like technology at all, I just like the older ones. It’s not an entirely un-cheesy position to have, but I like what I like, I guess.
Rick: Yeah. I’m not necessarily proud of this feeling, nor do I feel like I’m right, but whenever there’s something that’s at the cutting edge, or something, I’m immediately skeptical. That goes for pop music or technology or anything. So when it comes around, I’m like, Eh. It has to be a few years later that I’m like… I’ll listen to bands and be like, “Do you ever listen to this band? This is fucking awesome!” It’s like, “Yeah dude, everybody was listening to that a couple of years ago.” I was talking to everybody about Breaking Bad a year ago, like, “This show is amazing.” It takes me a second because I feel like if it’s new, people just like it because it’s shiny and new. But I also should maybe give people more credit than that, that they’re actually paying attention to what’s happening.
Sean: I don’t think you should.
Rick: [Laughs.] Yeah.
Sean: I didn’t listen to To Pimp A Butterfly for two years after it came out, because it was just like, anything that’s very popular is generally shitty. But then sometimes it’s really great. Like fucking Bandcamp, man! I remember you told me to check that out when it started, and I was like, Alright.
Rick: Have you heard of the podcast, Dissect?
Sean: No, what’s that?
Rick: It’s basically this guy, and he goes a song by song breakdown for albums. He did one of To Pimp A Butterfly. It is insane. He’ll be like, “Oh, he makes a lyrical reference to this song, and it’s this song because the bass line is very similar to this song that he’s rapping over.” Then he’ll make a reference to a character that he created on one of his old records, and he’ll be like, “He pitch-shifted his voice to sound more like a kid.” There’s a depth to it that I had just no idea about.
Sean: That’s cool. At some point you end up with, like, literary analysis, too, though — some asshole comes up with a bunch of [meanings] that weren’t even intentional. I’ll end up years later looking at my own songs like, Oh, OK, that’s a metaphor that could be for that, that thing that I wasn’t necessarily meaning to talk about.
Rick: I know. I’ve been trying to revisit old songs and everything, and I’m starting to see a little bit of that too. I’m realizing that for songwriting, I think that the whole, I’m trying to go in a direction where things are more literal, it’s unmistaken what this thing is about — now I’m turning back to being, Eh, I think being vague is nice. Because then it can still apply to me many years later.
Sean: Yeah, exactly. You don’t have to be singing some cheesy shit. I always wonder about blink-182, because they started out and were in their early 20s singing songs for 13 year old me.
Rick: Yeah, I think I listened to one of their songs not too long ago and… I guess it’s not all that surprising that it’s bad.
Sean: Travis Barker ruined it all, man. I wanna give a shout out to their original drummer, on Dude Ranch and whatever the fuck came before that. Once Travis Barker got in there, man, he messed it all up!
Rick: That’s an interesting take. I think most people would go with once Tom DeLong left.
Sean: Oh, I don’t even know what happened after that. That was, like, seventh grade. It’s weird, that’s a shitty band that I’m not really embarrassed to say that I listen to and like once in a while.
Rick: I haven’t gone and revisited any of that stuff. I saw that band twice.
Sean: You did?
Sean: [Laughs.] That’s crazy.
Rick: It is crazy, honestly, because it’s not a band that I think about now. There are some bands that I know I have skeletons in my closet about, like, Ugh, I can’t tell anybody that I like this band. But blink-182, I just forget about. I saw them twice — I saw them once and Bad Religion opened up for them.
Sean: Whoa. That’s embarrassing.
Sean: Is Bad Religion good? I like that one, “21st Century and Digital Boy,” or whatever.
Rick: Yeah. They were fine. I remember at the time, I was into pop punk and stuff and everyone was like, “Oh, Bad Religion,” and they had that logo, too, which was so badass.
Sean: I know, man. My brother had one of their CDs.
Rick: It was a cross with a circle and a line through it — it was a really bold thing for a 13 year old to wear. Then to listen to them, I was like, Oh, they are really just a pop punk band and the guy singing kinda sounds like a dad. But I listened to them and I enjoyed them. Their set was fine. 13 year old me had the time of his life.
Sean: When I was a teenager, my whole relationship with music was somewhat anonymous. My favorite bands — I didn’t know what they looked like or anything, somehow. So much of it was just stealing shit off Napster. That was huge in terms of me getting into music. Back in our day, man, you might not have had to go scour through record shops, but you had to wait, like, 20 minutes for a song to download for free on Napster. That really made it more powerful.
Rick: It’s weird now when I hear songs that were in my Napster or Limewire playlist. I like all of the Beatles’ stuff, but “Michelle” — for some reason when I was 16, I was like, I’m willing to wait a while for this song. So I just listened to it all the time once I had it.
Even to think about how I found out about bands — I guess it was still through the internet. I would just go to online pop punk stores and be like, These bands have cool looking t-shirts, I’ll waste some time to download a song and see what they sound like.
Sean: I don’t know how I got into stuff. I guess my older brother brought stuff home. Most of it was actually cool. I don’t know, man — even until I moved to Boston, I was just was so removed from… I never read a music review, or anything. I tried to maintain that innocence as long as I could. I never was in the scene, I didn’t go to fucking shows! I like that about my young interactions with music.
Rick: I think just having older people in your life in general — older people that you think are cool can have a huge impact on it. My older sister introduced me to Elliott Smith. I had a couple of buddies that were just a year older than me that listened to a lot of underground hip-hop that I would not have found out about.
Sean: Yeah. I remember I was 10 years old, I went to Tower Records and bought the Fugees’ The Score. I was so embarrassed, just because it was embarrassing to stand at a counter and buy anything, because I was just a child of shame for no reason. Dude, that record was so good.
Rick: Yeah. I do miss that too, just going to Newbury Comics or Tower Records or wherever and buying a CD and being like, “Maybe!”
Sean: Maybe! Somebody told me last year, “I really got so into your record from 2013, but now I just let Spotify play songs and I don’t actually dig into the album.” That made me sad.
Rick: I know that given the world right now, it’s maybe not the best idea — because even just fractions of a penny is still money — but maybe just take stuff off Spotify and force people to work for it a little bit. You don’t even have to work for it, just go to Bandcamp.
Sean: It’s free on Bandcamp. That was my attitude back when Fucking Despair came out — I just put out the A side because I just wanted there to be something for somebody to hear that they hadn’t heard. But I don’t know. That kinda only really works when you’re Radiohead. You have to already be famous and known if you wanna do some cool shit.
I guess what I’m saying is, fuck it, you’ve got to do whatever the shit is. Hopefully people will hear the thing. I just hope this record gets some bad reviews at least. [Laughs.] Whatever the fuck, just talk about it for fucks sake, please.
Rick: Yeah, at least someone have some strong opinion about it, positive or negative, instead of just phoning it in.
Sean: Or just say it exists! That’s all I want to happen. I think people would like it if they heard it.
I don’t know, my fucking ‘tude is way different now, I think, which is good. I actually like music. I cleaned out my room a few weeks ago and it was like an archeological excavation of my early, mid-20s. I have all this old Fat History Month shit, like the first CD we made that I had to beg Mark [Fede, FHM drummer] to paint the fucking covers. I put so much stress and worry into things that were so unnecessary. But whatever, you’ve got to go through whatever you’ve got to go through. I’m glad to now have a much chiller attitude about everything about music, so I can actually be able to fucking have fun with it. I’m really grateful for that.
Rick: Yeah, it is important to realize that you just have to go through whatever the fuck it is that your inclination is.
Sean: I just feel sorry for the people who had to deal with what a spazzy, anxious, angry nerd I had been for a while. Whatever, I try and make up for it.
Rick: I think it’s also, in that time period in everybody’s life, everyone is clumsily walking around not knowing what they’re doing.
Sean: Yeah, totally. At some point the last few years I was like, Thank god I did some stuff and I don’t feel like I have to prove myself. I just remember meeting new people and feeling weird — I still feel terrible and awkward meeting people, but just having some solid sense of, I’m a person who is a person who does stuff and I don’t have to necessarily make anything else to prove myself, or whatever. I can just have fun.
Everything I do now is an attempt at mental hygiene. Read a book because it feels good, exercise — this is how you keep yourself feeling alright about things. Doing music is now one of those instead of the opposite, which is fucking awesome.
Rick: I was thinking about that last night, running through what I did in my past, old jobs and shit. I used to work at a gas station. I would just burn Demonstration CDs in the back when it was slow or whatever, and I would hand-write all the things because I was like, “If it’s handwritten it’s going to mean more to people!”
Sean: [Laughs.] I like that.
Rick: Yeah, I still feel good about that. But also at this point, I’m like, “Fuck that. We’ll print it out.” I don’t miss those times. There’s parts of it I miss, because I feel like I was a little bit more willing to be wild, but I felt bad a lot of the time. That’s one thing that I’m pretty grateful for: I know how to avoid that shit. If I’m sitting in a room that I’ve been in all day and the sun is going down, I think maybe 10 years ago I would have been like, Fuck it, and then just sink into feeling bad. I know how this goes, I’ve done this enough times to know that this is the stuff that’s gonna make everything worse. I wouldn’t say I know myself really well at this point, but I’ve learned a couple things. It’s very helpful thing, learning to chill.
Sean: Yeah. That’s all it is, be comfortable with yourself. I think I just was anxious all the time, was the thing. I never ascribed that feeling to my reality but five or six years ago when I was trying to work on my last record and I was so freaked out, I realized, Oh, I’m just anxious. I just need to relax and go easy. I just thought I was angry the whole time, because that was my reaction to that feeling of fear.
Rick: Have you heard the statistic, in summertime when it gets really hot, crime rates rise? It’s like that. There’s some sort of thing that happens where people are just hot and agitated and because they’re hot and uncomfortable they’re like, “I’m gonna be angry!” But I get that. It takes some going through it a handful of times to be like, I’m just kinda freaked out. I’ve experienced that pretty recently with music shit, where I’ve been working on something for a while and then I approach it from another angle, or start working on it with other people and it’s not sounding the way I want it to — back in the day, I would just get quiet and I would shut down. Now it’s like, Just take a break. Just go do another thing, and then think about how you want to approach it.
I feel like both you and I have done this long enough now where we can enjoy the benefits of having a pretty big back catalog. You can go back and revisit stuff and that’s its own form of being creative and working on stuff.
Sean: Especially writing these drum parts, figuring out old songs and trying to come up with ways to do the rhythm stuff to them is really fun. Also, that kind of stuff takes all the emotional element out of it and makes it a physical practice, which is so cool too. I just do this thing over and over and it’s fun, and I suck at it so bad, but I get better pretty quick. I feel good about it.
Rick: Yeah, then you can actually chart your progress instead of just being like, I don’t know which way is up with this thing. I’ve been doing the same thing with piano, just doing solo pieces of full band stuff. I know which elements are here and which ones are the most important, or which ones should be there that aren’t.
Sean: Yeah. It always felt like a limited resource: “Oh, we can’t play too many shows because I’ll get bored of the songs,” blah-blah-blah. You can get bored of what you’re doing, but there’s just other things to do with the thing you’re doing. Also doing music is such a good excuse to go spend time with people you like, go see your friends in weird places and do that thing.
Rick: That’s true. Last night was a perfect example of that. It was just awesome seeing everybody. It made me really miss those things.
Sean: Those crazy Dan [Goldin, co-founder of Exploding in Sound] shows. I could never try and do something like that. Even last night was more daunting than what I would have wanted to do. I appreciate the ambition.
Rick: Yeah. The amount of himself that he puts into the label and making it work… The more time that goes on, seeing other bands that are doing shit, he really is one of a handful.
Sean: I’m grateful to have somebody so consistently supportive.
Rick: He definitely has the back of the people whose records he’s putting out, which for labels, that is so secondary. I hear about some indie labels that will do the thing like, if you give them a record that they don’t like, they will drop you. Can you imagine that?
Sean: Yeah, that’s crazy. I feel very protected from a lot of discouraging shit that would bum me out, as much as I bitch and complain — “I wish more people heard that I’m putting out a record,” or whatever — fuck it, man. If you just had a really slow, slightly upward trajectory, I think you’re better off than getting fucked over and feeling bad about that.
Rick: Yeah. You just end up building more of a solid foundation with all that sort of stuff too.
Sean: Yeah. I don’t think I have the mental fortitude of a David Bowie or a John Lennon — people who get super famous, that’s a special breed. I’m way too self-conscious for that kind of thing. How do you do that? I didn’t even want to use my real name for all these years. I don’t want to give myself to any weird, amorphous public. [Laughs.] But I also felt like, Why not just stand by your art, you know?
Rick: Yeah. In reference to the David Bowie thing, when I looked up his Wikipedia page and saw that he released Space Oddity when he was 21 — like, wow, it’s fucking game over for me.
Sean: Yeah. I always feel like I’ve wasted way more time than a lot of people who had drug problems. [Laughs.] Maybe the drugs help you, like coke or something, keep you going.
Rick: They just weren’t dicking around on the internet.
I feel like this way of hearing about music, this word of mouth review — “Oh, man. You haven’t heard of this person? How have you not heard that? You have to check them out,” is a much better review than, “Have you heard this hot new band?”
Sean: Yeah, totally. I guess it’s just more the one person in a group of friends who does look at the internet and what it says about people, and then they tell their other friend and slowly it gets to a cooler person who doesn’t pay any attention to that stuff — five generations of word of mouth later. Sorry, people who read the internet. [Laughs.] Please write about my band.
Rick: How many full-lengths is this for you?
Sean: I guess four. I don’t know. We did so much shit before Fucking Despair. We did a bunch of weird little tapes and stuff. It was Sad History Month, I put out a couple of splits after that like the one with Spook Houses. Dead And Loving It took me forever, man — I was driving myself crazy. I had to go into hibernation and not play shows. I played two shows in 2015 or something.
Rick: Well, it comes through. That record is dense.
Sean: I like this one a lot better. Less filler, very minimal. Now I’m trying to write songs that are really short. That Dimples album Whimpers is just a fucking masterpiece — it’s 16 three-minute-ish songs, but they all feel like a world, they feel so deep. I’m not gonna make music like that.
Rick: They just put out another one, right?
Sean: They just put out a new one, yeah. The last one, Whimpers, was a huge influence on this one that’s coming out, mine. [Colby Nathan and Greg Hartunian] both played a little on it, which is cool.
Rick: Yeah, I remember you telling me about it. I bought the tape, and then I think when I was moving I got it in the mail, so it’s somewhere amongst my things.
I’ve mostly been listening to… Have you heard that new Jay Electronica record?
Sean: I haven’t, I’ll check that out.
Rick: It’s pretty great. He and Jay Z pretty much split their time on the record, but it’s pretty incredible, and the production is really weird.
Sean: I’ve never been a Jay Z guy. I don’t know what’s up with Jay Z. He’s no Biggie Smalls… Feel like he’s got enough fans.
Rick: If you could start a beef with this Talkhouse, that’s how you’re going to sell records.
Sean: Yeah, totally. That’s where it’s at, mad beef. [Laughs.] I’m polite, I’m not good at confrontation. Well, I am at controlled confrontation. But I don’t want to be confrontational! I want to be a peace and love spreader.
Rick: Yeah. I’ve realized confrontation is not my strong suit, and as a functioning adult in the world that has desires for things and just has to deal with people — man, confrontations fuckin’ left and right.
Sean: Yeah. I feel like you have a lot more of that to deal with, especially just on the doing music front. But also, I’ve organized my life to completely avoid confrontation. I work as a movie projectionist — if I don’t fuck up, nobody messes with me. I don’t hang out with anybody I don’t like. It’s perfect, but also terribly lonely so I think it would be good to be able to just deal with myself and other people.
Maybe that’s what Bowie and them had too, some type of strong sense of self. I think the thing with confrontation is, somebody has to be an asshole here. There can’t be a disagreement without someone being a total piece of shit — which isn’t necessarily true. I usually just opt for, Alright, I’ll tell myself that I’m the bad person, or whatever because I want to end this confrontation. Alright, I’ll be the piece of shit, goddamn it.
Rick: Well, maybe that’s why those rockstar caricatures exist, because those people were like that. They were like, “I want this,” and some people were like, “Well, fuck this person.”
Sean: Yeah. Well, if you do get your way enough… it does corrupt.
Rick: I’d say working with a booking agent is one thing that has been a really great insulation from being an asshole.
Sean: Yeah, I’m sure.
Rick: When I was living in the practice space, I was like, “Yeah, I’ll just play anything, I’ll play any show.” I also was being a dumbass about it — I think I would just take anything and be like, “Are you gonna pay me?” And they’d be like, “Sure.” And those were the terms of the agreement.
Sean: Yeah. Something will be exchanged.
Rick: Right. Then I’d walk away and be like, Goddamn it. But you don’t want to walk away after a show being like, “Fuck you, pay me.”
Sean: In Boston, people got pretty good a few years ago at getting bands paid — you just have somebody stand by the fucking door and collect $5 bucks from everybody. It’s not hard. Whereas when I was trying to book shows, it was like, “Please give me some money for this fucking band that you’re drunk enjoying!!!” And then, “Here’s $60 dollars of my own money. Sorry, dude.”
Rick: Yeah, or “Here’s $17 in change and someone thought it would be funny to throw a couple cigarettes in there.”
Sean: [Laughs.] I got a lot of weed for free in California, but that’s not worth much in California.
Rick: And to be fair, there are the other sides to that — there are the places where you make friends, because they pull all this together and are like, “I’ve got it under control.” People who get it. I guess I can’t say one without the other.
Sean: Yeah, or you make friends and they can’t fucking pay you, but then you go home and chill and you have a friend for the next 12 years or whatever. [Laughs.] You’re kinda more likely to make friends with that person than you are with the dude at the bar that pays you a few hundred bucks.
Rick: Right, that’s a good point.
Sean: But friendship don’t pay a gas bill, man!
Old Blues is out now via Exploding in Sound, as is Pile’s 2019 album Green and Gray — go buy both!
(Photo Credit: left, Monica Murray)