S. Carey breaks himself open

The singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and Bon Iver band member will perform at Rumba Cafe on Friday, May 13, in support of new album 'Break Me Open'

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
S. Carey

Break Me Open, the new album from singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist S. Carey, opens with “Dark,” a beautifully airy track filled with crushingly heavy sentiments, beginning with the very first words Carey sings: “If I ever lost you, I’d throw myself into the deepest riverbend/And pray that I might find you in places that I don't even believe in.”

The emotional weight of the song matches the circumstances from Carey’s life the past few years as he navigated the end of his marriage, the death of his father and more. Writing songs during that period, Carey reached a fork in the road, wondering whether he was truly ready to break himself open and reveal the most vulnerable parts of himself.  

“I didn’t know if I wanted to share this part of me,” Carey said recently by phone. “But ultimately, I felt like it was important because everyone goes through loss and change at some point in their life. It's part of being a human.” 

The decision also reminded Carey of his role as a songwriter and musician. “Music can reach people across the whole world. It's really powerful, and sometimes you have to remind yourself that that's your job or your calling. Especially during a pandemic, you have those thoughts, like, what's my purpose? And that's one of them,” said Carey, who’s currently touring in support of Break Me Open, including a stop at Rumba Café on Friday, May 13, with opener Courtney Hartman. (The gigs fall in between tours with Justin Vernon’s Bon Iver, a band of which Carey is a longtime member.

Despite the loss and grief, Break Me Open isn’t meant to be a solemn affair, nor does it sound like one (see the bright, warm "Sunshower"). “There are songs about heartbreak and divorce, but the record on the whole is about a bunch of different things,” Carey said. “It’s about facing some deeper parts that you might not want to face every day, but they're important to do.” 

While the often-delicate songs on Break Me Open provided Carey with an outlet and a way to sort through his emotions, the live show is a different animal, satisfying an urge for connection in the moment without lugging the baggage of the last few years onstage every night. “I was nervous about being able to not get too emotional or hold it together, but that hasn't really been an issue,” he said. “I mean every word that I say and sing, but you don't have to enter that emotional place every time you do it.” 

Reflecting on the process of making the album now, Carey is grateful for “having that little bit of bravery to do that, and not only sharing the music, but also trying to live a different way and be more vulnerable in my own life,” he said. “It feels really good. It feels like you're growing and you're going somewhere. It’s hard, but it’s maybe for the best.”