I squinted at the café’s menu. Deciding that I wasn’t really in the mood for anything other than a latte, I ordered one and sat myself down outside of the café. On a cool, brisk Sunday afternoon, here I was at the Variety Coffee over on Wyckoff and Himrod St. in Bushwick, waiting for my interview subject of the day.
15 minutes later, there he was—cycling down the block and locking his bike onto the rack adjacent to the café. He went inside, ordered himself a drink and sat himself down across the table I had gotten for us. I took a second to take a good look at him.
In front of me was Sean Camargo, the 29-year-old lead vocalist and guitarist of S.C.A.B., a local indie rock band that I had had the pleasure of seeing in late 2022 and whose angular, anxiety-ridden brand of indie rock reminded me of bands like Palm, Omni, and Unschooling—all bands that I’m a huge fan of. Imagine my surprise when he agreed to an interview with me!
I stayed up the night before and prepared my questions with one goal in mind: connection. More than anything, I wanted to be able to relate to Sean and make it easy for him to open up to me. In order to do this, I prepared questions that were simple in nature, but whose answers warranted detailed explanations—the first of which was: where are you from?
“I was actually born in Queens, right across the street from the Queens Center Mall. After 9/11, we moved to Maryland. My parents were separated for a while, but they got back together and they thought it’d be a good idea to try again,” Sean answered.
Growing up in the quaint community of Germantown, Maryland, Sean’s first exposure to music came mainly as a result of his father. A huge Beatles fan, his father encouraged both of his children to play the guitar and, by Sean’s own admission, was a bit too intent on having them be able to play the entire songbook of Beatles songs he had bought for them to learn.
To be honest, I didn’t know what he was complaining about. His father sounded like a swell guy.
Anyway, after being forced to essentially be in a Beatles cover band for most of his childhood, Sean grew to hate the idea of playing guitar and thought of it as a chore that he’d rather put off. As an avid skater at the age of six, his passions lay elsewhere for the time being.
It wasn’t until Sean was in high school that music really began to pique his interest. At the age of 16, he picked up the drums and began taking music much more seriously. However, because he was living in a musically-scarce community at the time, there weren’t very many opportunities for Sean to explore his newfound interest. He played in the local Church’s youth group and joined a couple of bands in school; these really all just served as ways to occupy himself until he could find a more fulfilling manner of scratching the itch he had gotten for playing music.
Still, he kept himself busy. He began to dip his toes into the world of songwriting, helping with writing lyrics and melodies for the bands he was a part of in high school, one of whose names were “Sore Finger”—we shared a laugh over that one.
Eventually, the nagging desire to expand his horizons led Sean to apply to Berklee College of Music on a whim and audition before their panel of admissions officers. He showed up, passed the audition, and subsequently moved to the city of Boston, Massachusetts to attend the school. He hoped that, once he got there, he would find the sort of musical community that he was yearning for.
Indeed, he did find it. At Berklee, Sean met several fellow musicians and felt compelled to pick the guitar back up as an instrument. He settled into the school, joined a band named “Colonnade,” and eventually recorded an entire album with them. The making of that album and the subsequent reaction to it—or lack thereof—served as a pivotal moment in Sean’s life—one that made him take a step back and completely reconsider his perspective on what it means to be a musician.
By Sean’s own admission, the album didn’t do very well and its lack of success served as a source of great disappointment for him. While it might be easy to say that that lack of success was a given for what was a relatively small band at the time, it has to be put into perspective: Sean had applied to a music school, moved to an entirely different state to pursue his passion, poured his heart and soul into that passion, and yet when it was all said and done, received nothing in return. How could he not be disappointed?!
It truly can be such a disheartening experience to not have your art feel validated by the people around you. For Sean, the experience was one that affected him deeply, so much so that he began to question whether or not his chosen career path was something that he even should be pursuing. It was obviously a dark time in his life; but, interestingly enough, his describing this period of uncertainty in his life was exactly what led to a greater discussion between us about the idea of success and what it actually means to be a musician.
Oftentimes, it’s believed that music is made simply for other people to enjoy and listen to. It’s viewed as a commodity—given to the general public to take ownership of and claim as their own when, really, it’s anything but that.
Music, in its purest form, is made for the musician. It comes out of a place of inspiration, out of a need to express yourself and create something out of whatever state you happened to be in when that inspiration came to you. You go through the motions of trying to realize that desire into something real and tangible until, suddenly, you end up with a song. To me, it’s that process that makes you a musician, and anything else that follows is inconsequential to the idea of what it actually means to be one.
At the end of the day, making art makes you an artist. Sean thought so, too. From the experience of having not achieved any sort of “commercial” success with his band’s first album, he realized that it’s not actually about whether or not people appreciate the music you make; it’s about whether or not you appreciate the music you make.
Of course, the feeling of validation you get from having people enjoy your work is a beautiful thing, but it shouldn’t be the reason you write. At the end of the day, it has to be for yourself, because if you don’t enjoy the music you make, then who cares if other people do? That’s the lesson that Sean Camargo learned from the whole experience. Since then, he’s made it a point to continue pursuing his passion, regardless of what anyone else thinks about it. It’s the only thing he actually wants to do with his life, anyway. There’s nothing else he enjoys as much as he does making music. If he is going to be remembered as anything in life, if he is going to be anything in life, he is going to be a musician.
I thought that was a great idea.
This article originally appeared on The NYC Indie Scene. It has been edited for this publication.