Har Mar Superstar

Sean Tillmann, aka Har Mar Superstar, is bringing a seven-piece live band to Free Cycles on Monday, June 17.

Har Mar Superstar, aka Sean Tillmann, came up playing in punk bands, yet he's ended up doing separate tours of covers that give a good idea of his influences: "Dirty Dancing" and Sam Cooke.

It's probably the voice that ties it all together, one that's strong enough that in his hometown of Minneapolis, he sang the National Anthem at the opening game for the Minnesota Twins this past March.

"That was insane," said Tillmman, who's been a Twins fan since he was a kid and they won the 1987 World Series ("crucial baseball years for me").

The hardest part to him wasn't even the notoriously challenging high notes. It was remembering all the words while "having to time it to F-16s flying overhead, and not having any real indicator besides a guy in front of you doing the 'stretch-it-out' and 'slow-it-down' signals while you're singing with two baseball teams 20 feet away from you, staring at you."

"The pressure is huge now, because when you forget the words to that thing and mess it up, you're definitely a meme immediately," he said in a phone interview.

Tillman's on tour now with his main project, Har Mar Superstar, in which he indulges in an unironic love for 1980s pop and vintage soul, depending on the song or the album.

His last studio record, "Best Summer Ever," spans them all with a "fake greatest hits" concept. On tour with a six-piece band of regular collaborators ("the squad for a few years"), he said you can expect songs from "Summer," his retro-soul release "Bye Bye 17" and further back.

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Tillmann has being coming through Missoula since 1996 with his band at the time, a hardcore group called Calvin Krime. "I always loved it," he said of Missoula. "It's got this kind of chill but magical feel to it whenever you're there" that for him was epitomized by the late Tommy the Leprechaun, who used to dress in a costume and circulate downtown "granting" people wishes. "I don't know exactly what his deal was, but he seemed very mystical, and he would always speak in riddles."

They played frequently at the late Jay's Upstairs, now the Loft of Missoula. "It would always be pretty wild. I think that was probably the first place I ever saw Jagermeister on tap, which as a 17- or 18-year-old, was delightful."

He'll likely return here again in the fall with Heart Bones, his duo project with Sabrina Ellis of A Giant Dog and Sweet Spirit. The two have released a handful of singles, and a new album that will be out sometime next year. For a musical reference point, look no further than their recent live shows, when they sang their own material alongside selections from a certain classic Patrick Swayze movie.

"The stuff we were writing for Heart Bones kinda reminded us of some sort of child of the 'Dirty Dancing' soundtrack, so we kinda just decided to do the whole soundtrack on tour," he said.

(Alas, neither his current Har Mar tour or the upcoming Heart Bones shows will be feature hits like "Time of My Life" or "Hungry Eyes.")

If you've heard Har Mar or seen his extroverted live get-ups or videos, it's clear that the 1980s movies — and their soundtracks — hold a special place in his VHS pantheon of influences.

"That's what I grew up on," he said, describing them as "the biggest albums you could be on" during the decade.

"If you were a kid like I was then, growing up you had to get the 'Top Gun' soundtrack, the 'Cocktail' soundtrack. I feel like they were great showcases of the moment and what was going on musically as far as big pop goes and weird, like, sultry, ballads."

While the decade's music and sounds went out of fashion during the 1990s, music has circled back around and the synth lines and "big, meaty, super-obvious production is just, like, undeniable," he said.

It's too early to say what the tone will be for his in-progress Har Mar material, but it will still reflect those interests.

"One day, I'll go in and write a Phil Collins, kind of like huge pop song, and the next time it'll be like a Todd Rundgren chill vibe," he said. Other references include George Michael or Elton John.

He tries to recall their sounds without listening to them, and "write what I think a song sounds like from memory, because it's pretty wrong and it ends up being my own thing."

Last summer, he booked a tour where he performed songs by a main influence, the soul icon Sam Cooke, followed by some originals. (There was short-lived controversy over cultural appropriation that he resolved amicably.)

"Seeing the craftsmanship in how the songs come together, and living them and breathing them every day for, you know, all of last summer, was huge," he said.

Despite streaming revenues being low for artists ("the royalties are a little ridiculous"), he said it does drive people to the live shows, of which he has many.

"Even on a year off, I'll tour the U.S. at least once or maybe twice even. So, I don't know, I don't have to, I just do because I like it. There's always ways to make money in different areas of everything, you just sort of have to figure it out," he said.

He's toned down his live performance, which could often result in him dancing in his underwear or venturing out into the crowd.

"The show used to be kind of wild and unhinged and anything could happen, more sweaty and kind of interactive," he said. "You get into too many weird situations where somebody grabs you, or takes the mic," he said.

He’s since dialed it back to place more of a barrier between performer and audience, which he feels is "traditional in a weird way" but "it makes sense why it's there."

He's moved from Los Angeles back to his hometown of Minneapolis, which has an underground music scene that crosses genres from punk to Minneapolis funk to hip-hop and has myriad opportunities for collaborations.

"It's been really awesome being back in Minneapolis and just like gardening and playing music and having that be my main deal."