By now, the sordid rumors that Macaulay Culkin has died have settled like dust to a floor and the internet has moved on to more important things—like Kim Kardashian’s posterior (yawn). Omaha will find out the truth soon enough when Culkin and his band The Pizza Underground make their way onto The Waiting Room stage with longtime friend Har Mar Superstar.
Har Mar, real name Sean Tillman, has been making the trek to Omaha since living in his home state of Minnesota. After high school, he moved to St. Paul where he really started to hone his unique musical talent, which often included stripped down performances in not much more than his underwear, sometimes even less. In 2000, he released his self-titled debut on Kill Rock Stars and that put him on the musical map. In 2001 while recording his follow-up, 2001’s You Can Feel Me, he had a fateful encounter with The Strokes’ vocalist Julian Casablancas. He didn’t know it at the time, but eventually he would sign with Casablancas’ label, Cult Records.
“We’ve been friends for probably like 14 or 15 years,” Tillman explains. “It actually started in Omaha. I was recording with The Faint for the You Can Feel Me Album. It was right when The Strokes’ Is This It came out. I was going to go back to Minneapolis that night, but they talked me in to going to Lawrence to see The Strokes show. I liked that record so I wanted to see it live. There was all this backlash and I wanted to see for myself. The show was great.
“We went to a house party afterwards and I was talking to Julian for awhile,” he continues. “He and Fab [Fabrizio Moretti of The Strokes] had shown up at the party. We were talking and talking, and leaning up against the wall, watching everybody as the party progressed. Somebody came by and said, ‘Har Mar, I love you!’ I always had a good following in Lawrence. Julian was like, ‘Oh I love him. Where is he?’ I was like, ‘Uh that’s me.’ I was wearing glasses and he hadn’t recognized me [laughs]. He was like, ‘Holy fu*k! I saw you play at the Mercury Lounge. He asked me to open for his tour. It was just hilarious. I was like, ‘Yeah right, that’s not going to happen.’ I met Ryan, their manager, and I didn’t really believe it, but I got a phone call two days later that I was on all the shows.”
That relationship led to a record deal with Cult Records, home to another friend/collaborator Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Albert Hammond, Jr. of The Strokes.
“I happened to be in Minneapolis when Julian was on his first solo tour,” he recalls. “He was talking about the label as a far off kind of dream. I was recommending bands and stuff. By the time I was making my record a year or two later, I sent it to him on a whim. He wanted to do it. We were the second album they put out.”
The result was Tillman’s fifth studio album, Bye Bye 17, a huge departure from the raw, tongue-in-cheek style of “hip-hop,” he did on previous efforts. This record finds Tillman at his most vulnerable and most soulful. After living in Los Angeles from 2003-2011, he made the cross-country move to New York City. Once surrounded by the seasons and electric energy of the Big Apple, an older writing style began to scratch at the surface. Bye Bye 17 is a tale of that transition.
“As I was getting back in the seasons after living in LA for so long, I awakened a different kind of writing style,” he says. “I wrote everything on acoustic guitar like I did when I was in Sean Na Na. I guess it’s just where my voice goes when I’m playing the chords that I’m drawn to. It’s more of an independent record that I made and me sitting down and getting into my own head. I just like the kind of gloom and emotion of winter. It’s nice to have that balance.
“Moving to New York City sort of revitalized me,” he adds. “I love LA, but I was getting bored. It’s an insular place if you don’t work a job with other people. You end up not seeing anybody until nighttime for a couple hours. I was going to the same bars over and over again. Also, I had a terrible home loan so I got out of that and said, ‘Let’s go to New York.’ I like not having a car. I like not making plans and just walking out my door to see where the night takes me.”
The move seems to have done wonders for Tillman in a slew of ways. The video he did for the single “Restless Leg” was done with his girlfriend and a couple of friends on a budget of $500. It’s a funny and admittedly disturbing video involving puppet love and a ventriloquist. (That’s right, puppet love.)
“My girlfriend and I always joke that we are Muppets and all of our friends are Muppets in a way,” he says. “When you see us in a big group, it’s like backstage at the Muppet show. The story just kind of evolved. Once we agreed on it, it was hilarious.”
As the six-week tour with The Pizza Underground inches closer to completion, there’s a sense Tillman doesn’t want it to end. He’s made a comfortable niche for himself and anyone that’s ever met him (or seen him perform) has nothing but kind things to say about him. He could be your friend, your neighbor or that guy you just jam with on a Sunday afternoon. Perhaps that’s what makes Tillman so magnetic. He loves his job and he’s just…cool.
“When I come off tour, there’ll be the requisite three days where you lay around for a few days and watch television,” he says. “I can do that. I guess it’s easier to live in New York when you don’t work a real job and your job involves getting drunk at night.”
Culkin is no doubt involved in lots of the tour debauchery. In fact, when the death rumors began to circulate, he posted several pictures of himself looking like a corpse just to have a little fun with the presumptive public. Tillman didn’t even realize it was happening at the time.
“I saw the thing and I assumed it was an earlier hoax that had happened when he was 15-years-old,” he says. “I didn’t even entertain the notion because I had just seen him the night before. It was also reported that he died at his apartment in New York, but were in like New Orleans. I didn’t know how far it had gone. I saw it the next day and I was like ‘Oh wait, that’s a thing?’ People will believe anything that’s written [laughs].
“We’re really good friends,” he adds. “Mac has a factory style vibe. He opens up his apartment in New York to Adam Green and me to make art, make weird stuff, play charades, and get creative. It’s a good vibe. He loves going on tour. He’ll jump in the van with Adam or me all the time. Basically, it made sense when he got his own band. We just wanted to do it together. It’s a nice excuse for us to hang out every day for six weeks.”
As far as The Pizza Underground goes, apparently all they talk about is pizza. (“You wouldn’t want to talk to them [laughs],” he says.) Tillman believes it’s because he doesn’t want to answer a bunch of Home Alone questions, which is respectable. Who would? Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there that would barrage him with a bunch of questions about his childhood. It’s like asking Sean Lennon about his famous father, you just don’t. Nonetheless, the motley crew is on its way.
“Omaha is pretty close to the end of the tour,” he says. “I love coming to Omaha. I lived in Minneapolis until I was 25 so I would go to Omaha all the time just to hang out with The Faint guys and Conor [Oberst]. I would go for a week at a time and just mess around. I know the place well and Denver Dalley plays in the band so that’s another strong connection. We run Omaha deep.” ,
Har Mar Superstar and The Pizza Underground with Rig1, November 28, at The Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St., 9 p.m. Tickets are $15. Visit www.onepercentproductions.com for more information.