Sean Tillmann seems hesitant to talk about how happy he is right now. For starters, he doesn't want to sound unaware of all the misery and strife out there.
"As bad as things got last year, I didn't think anybody really needed to hear me or my perspective," he said.
There's also a fear that the main factors behind his happiness — getting sober, getting engaged and getting a very real job — might all sound antithetical to the persona he has spent the past two decades building up as Har Mar Superstar. Not that he had big alternative motives other than simply having a good time in the 2000s when he was seen making out with Kate Moss, partying with the Strokes, DJ-ing on the isle of Ibiza, etc.
His new album, due online Friday, proves that the party hasn't ended for Har Mar. He just might call it a night earlier than he used to.
"I can still hang out at the bar and have fun," Tillman, 43, noted. "I just know now it's time to leave when everyone's eyes start to glaze over and they start repeating the same questions to me."
That's especially true now that he has to get up five mornings a week to go to work as a U.S. Postal Service carrier.
That's right: Har Mar Superstar is now a mailman. He laced up for the job in November, made it through the holiday rush and February freeze, and he still hasn't quit. In fact, it's yet another major life change that he sounds happy about.
"I feel productive, and I feel like I'm really doing something positive," he said. "I bring people stuff!"
His new album, "Roseville," thus isn't just named after the Twin Cities suburb that houses his namesake Har Mar Mall. It's also a nod to how everything seems to have come up roses for the singer ever since he moved back to his native Minnesota in 2016, shortly before the release of his last album, "Best Summer Ever."
"This one's definitely the homecoming record, and I'm so damn glad I came home," he said. "All the emotional peaks and valleys on the record came out of being here the last five years."
Those ups and downs are evident right away in the album's Phil Spector-copping opening track "Solid Ghost," one of the happiest songs ever to mention thoughts of suicide:
"There was a time I felt less human and more like a solid ghost / Chasing off the other spirits that I loved most / Never tried to take my life but I admit that I got close."
Subsequent tracks include repeat driving metaphors about "leaving all my troubles in the rearview" (the electro-lullaby "Patchwork Prism") and "a man weary from the endless road" (the joyous pop-rocker "Hit and Run"). One of the most elaborate tunes — and arguably the album's apex — "Another Century" ends dramatically with our singer parking on the "foundations of patience and love."
Distanced, but social
While most of "Roseville's" songs are overtly personal, the writing of the music was more of a group effort than any Har Mar effort to date — ironic, since pandemic restrictions kept his band from being in a room together when they recorded it last August and September.
"We've all played together so long, and the technology is far enough along, we were able to make it work pretty easily," keyboardist Aaron Baum said of the piecemeal recording sessions.
"It really shows Sean's trust in us."
Baum and drummer Ryan Mach coproduced the sessions and co-wrote a lot of the music, as did bassist Adam Hurlburt and horn/woodwind players Nelson Devereaux and Jake Baldwin. Longtime Har Mar cohorts John Fields (Jonas Brothers, Soul Asylum) and Ryan Olson (Poliça, Gayngs) pitched in as producers and writers, too.
Via his Texas connections, Tillmann also enlisted guitar wiz Jackie Venson and Suffers singer Kam Franklin to perform on the soulful blowout "Another Century."
Having his bandmates and friends so heavily involved added to the celebratory vibe for Tillmann, which felt especially good following the abrupt lockdown they faced last spring. He and his band were just a couple of weeks into a tour for last year's Heart Bones album (Tillmann's synth-poppy duo with Texas rocker Sabrina Ellis) when everything shut down.
"That hurt on multiple levels," he said, "so working together again came with serious healing vibes."
Of course, not fighting hangovers and related struggles with depression helped raise the spirit of the album, too. Tillmann said his drinking had gotten so bad "it became like a 12-hour-a-day job."
"I didn't really see any way out until I realized I was 100% an alcoholic," he said. "I had a self-fulfilling prophecy kind of thing hanging around me for a long time. Everyone thought I was the go-to party guy, which I didn't exactly discourage.
"Once I finally dropped it, though, it felt completely natural. And I felt so much better when I wasn't drinking, I didn't have much trouble giving it up."
He gave it up not long after meeting his fiancée, Laura Hauser, a junior-high teacher who pretty clearly inspired the happy ending in "Solid Ghost": "You came to me with the bravery of someone twice your size / When you wait so long for someone / You pray so long for someone / And suddenly your heart explodes."
Said Tillmann, "I probably would've blown it with her, I'm sure, if I hadn't stopped drinking. She really showed me how to enjoy so many other things in life."
Falling in love and straightening out didn't detract from his musical output, he said: "I felt like I had more to say, and more reason to make music."
Likewise, Tillmann believes his post office job will be a boost to his music career. How else do you think he paid for the recording and manufacturing of the new album amid the current sad state of the music industry?
"Instead of adding stress to the equation, [the job] took away so much of the stress," he said.
He has already funded the vinyl and CD copies of "Roseville," though pressing-plant slowdowns will delay those until May. He probably won't be able to tour to promote the record until fall or winter, when music venues reopen en masse — and by then he'll have more flexibility to take time off after he passes the one-year mark on the job.
And funny thing: The idea for the carrier job actually grew out of the music career.
"I was spending so much time at the post office, mailing out vinyl and Bandcamp Friday orders and what not," he recalled. "Somebody joked to me, 'Why don't you just go work there?' "
You can't say the ol' party animal still isn't up for a little adventure.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658
Har Mar Superstar
Digital album: "Roseville" available Friday at Bandcamp.com and most streaming sites.
Vinyl and CD: Pre-order at harmarsuperstar.com for May 14 arrival.