Newly local songwriter chronicles transitional life stage on debut album

In August of 2014, when Sean Marshall moved to Columbus from Asbury Park, New Jersey, he didn't know a soul. The Midwest was brand new to him. He didn't have a job or a band, and he was about to enter a new level of relationship with his then-fiancee, who moved with him to enroll in a PhD program at Ohio State. Every aspect of his life felt new.

“We were suddenly in a place where we were both going through a change, and all we had was each other. How do you navigate that?” Marshall said recently by phone. “There's complexities in navigating that, because in some sense it's really beautiful, but in another sense it's frustrating. … There's that commitment, and this strange thing of isolation, but also growth in the relationship.”

While his now-wife was busy with her studies, Marshall hunted for jobs and tried to acclimate to his new surroundings. “It was really subtle at first, like, ‘Oh, this is the same.' There's Target, suburbs, highways, all the chains that you're used to seeing at home. Then the more you get familiar, you start to see the differences,” he said. “Here, it seems like there's a lack of population density that promotes more tolerance and more consideration of others — a slower lifestyle. [In Asbury Park], everyone's in a rush. You're always in someone's way out there, and someone's always in your way, too.”

Back in New Jersey, Marshall had played guitar in a folk-rock band called Lightning Jar, and soon enough he joined up with the musicians in Gallon House Congregation here in Columbus, playing guitar and keyboard. When that band broke up, Marshall assembled his own collective, Sean Marshall & the Near Miss, out of the remnants and began working on songs based on his time of transition and change. The band released its debut album, aptly titled New, in April and will play its next Columbus show on Sunday, Aug. 27 at the Rumba Cafe, opening for Lilly Hiatt.

On New's 10 tracks, Marshall wanted to sonically mirror the shaky feelings he experienced during his Midwestern migration. Distorted electric guitars take center stage over acoustic instruments as Marshall sings about struggles that he often wrestled with internally but never voiced aloud. “You don't know what goes on in my mind,” he sings on “In My Mind.”

“As much as I'm an extroverted person, there are certain things — especially with people I'm close to — that are often hard to express face to face,” he said. “A song is a good means for that. The other day I was [performing], and I looked out and was counting how many people in that room I was actually singing about during the length of the concert, and it was ridiculous. Old friends, my wife, my family — all these people. They don't even realize it, but I'm saying things about them. Maybe I should say it to their face, but I don't know. It feels better to write a song about it.”