She thought Sean Tillmann was joking.
Walking to his house from nearby Grumpy's Bar after he invited her over for a cigarette, the woman warned Tillmann that she had a boyfriend. That nothing would happen between them.
"Don't worry," she remembers him replying. "I'll just [masturbate]," he said, using a vulgar term. And she laughed.
But when the singer known as Har Mar Superstar emerged from a bedroom on that April 2017 night in northeast Minneapolis, he was naked and masturbating, said the woman, whose name is being withheld to protect her identity.
She said Tillmann apologized and got dressed, but later grabbed her, tried to take her clothes off and began masturbating again, despite her saying "stop" — an account corroborated by a friend who was at Grumpy's that night and traded emails with her after the incident. "I never wanted to, intended to, or was OK with anything physical happening with him," the woman said in one of the emails, shared with the Star Tribune.
Since allegations of sexual misconduct by Tillmann emerged nearly three weeks ago, more women have shared stories about the internationally known performer. Meanwhile, hometown supporters have distanced themselves, putting an abrupt end to the buzz around his new album.
Tillmann, 43, issued a statement last week apologizing for misbehavior "fueled by a toxic mixture of alcohol, drugs, and cavalier sexuality."
Five women have given the Star Tribune detailed accounts of the singer groping them without their consent — sometimes at bars and sometimes at his house, where the party often continued. In two cases, he exposed himself, they said.
Tillmann did not answer requests Thursday and Friday for comment on this story. In last week's statement, he denied the allegation of a 2016 sexual assault that one woman posted this month and shared with the newspaper.
"I want to provide my deepest apology and my public commitment to be accountable, to listen, and to do what I can to allow for healing and growth," he said, "not only for those women who have come forward, but for our community — and in particular our musical community."
In a scathing post, Modist Brewing announced last weekend that it was severing ties with Tillmann, calling his actions "shocking, disappointing and … disgusting." The Minneapolis brewery, which had often partnered with him and named a beer for Har Mar, pledged to donate money to the Minnesota Coalition of Sexual Assault matching "every dollar we paid Sean for his role in the beer we made together."
A popular bar in Moorhead that billed Tillmann as a co-owner, Harold's on Main, said it "asked for Sean's resignation and immediate dismissal from our business."
Public radio station 89.3 Current, which planned to feature the new Har Mar Superstar release "Roseville" as its album of the week, issued a statement saying "we believe survivors. … It makes a difference which voices we welcome on air." The Current had already stopped playing Tillmann's music while First Avenue nightclub sidelined an upcoming show with his group Heart Bones.
Released March 5, the album finds Tillmann celebrating sobriety and saying goodbye to a wild lifestyle that led to national tours, celebrity friends and a stint in a Ben Stiller movie.
The women who are alleging misconduct said that his talk about sobriety and therapy in media coverage of the album sat poorly with them because he never tried to make amends.
A confrontation by text
The wave of stories began in mid-March, when a woman who considered Tillmann a friend posted on Facebook about a late night at his house in 2016.
She said he repeatedly tried to touch her breasts and shove his penis in her mouth. He stopped, she said, only when his girlfriend came down the steps. "He waits and he creeps and he waits and he creeps," she told the Star Tribune. "He persistently works you over."
In his statement, Tillmann denied the allegations: "It just didn't happen that way."
The woman said that, at first, she didn't understand the gravity of what had happened. But in 2018 she told a friend, Rich Gill, about the incident. He posted a statement on Facebook that referenced but didn't name Tillmann. "It doesn't matter if you're playing to sold out crowds in the main room or booking a dive bar in a small town, behavior has to change," wrote Gill, program director of the Sound Unseen film fest.
Another woman messaged him, asking if he was talking about Tillmann. "If so," she said, "#metoo."
When sexual misconduct allegations against California-based singer-songwriter Ryan Adams emerged in 2019, Gill decided to confront Tillmann. "I hope that ... the behavior has stopped," he said in a text to the singer, screenshots reviewed by the Star Tribune show.
Tillmann replied: "I have taken a hard look at myself over the last year and curbed the drinking and dumb male behavior I didn't really realize I could be capable of."
The two met up, and Gill remembers Tillmann talking about how at some point the lines between him and his Har Mar alter ego got blurred.
Seven of Tillmann's closest collaborators have declined to comment on the allegations.
One longtime bandmate, drummer Ryan Mach, said last week on Facebook that he "believes the women. … I hope my friend takes accountability for his actions and continues to better himself." Asked for clarification, Mach said he never saw Tillmann "weaponize his power against women" but added, "Just because it's hard to envision Sean doing that doesn't mean he's not capable of it."
Another band member, who did not want to be named, said he never witnessed harmful sexual behavior by the bandleader toward women. In fact, he recalled Tillmann once "yelling at" an ex-bandmate for being too aggressive toward a woman on tour several years ago.
'What's wrong with you?'
The woman who walked to Tillmann's house in 2017 wasn't a Har Mar fan.
But she and her friend got to talking with Tillmann on the Grumpy's patio about mutual friends. Her friend took an Uber home and she ended up at his house alone.
She said that after he initially emerged from the bedroom naked, he apologized and got dressed. He seemed embarrassed and almost bashful. "I remember feeling almost pity for him," she said.
He drove them to a gas station to pick up cigarettes. After they returned to his place, she said, they smoked and she questioned what he'd done earlier — "Why would you do that?" — and then she went to the bathroom.
When she came out, she said Tillmann got aggressive. "He pounced on me and was trying to kiss me, was trying to take my clothes off." She said "stop" and "no," but he kept grabbing her and masturbating. "He kept saying, 'Tell me that you love me.' "
"What's wrong with you?" she remembers saying. "You're a psycho."
Now 35, she wished that she had punched him or run off. She considers herself a fighter, unafraid to protect a friend or tell off a bully. But in that moment, her body "just 100% froze," she said.
She shared a screenshot of a text Tillmann sent her at 5:46 a.m.: "You make it home ok?"
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