Life after Great Big Sea, Séan McCann on his 5 years of sobriety

After decades of performing and drinking heavily with the iconic Canadian band Great Big Sea, Séan McCann has dropped the booze and picked up a new lease on life.

‘A secret can kill you and a song can save your life’

'November 9 I will be five years sober,' Séan McCann tells Daybreak Alberta. (David Howells/Canadian Press)

After decades of performing and drinking heavily with the iconic Canadian band Great Big Sea, Séan McCann has dropped the booze and picked up a new lease on life.

"November 9, I will be five years sober," McCann told Daybreak Alberta this week in a phone interview from his home in the Ottawa Valley.

"I am really proud of that but that wouldn't have happened if I was still in that band."

While he has some good memories of his time with the Newfoundland and Labrador-based folk rock band, McCann speaks openly about the challenges he faced with his drug of choice, alcohol, and how it affected his relationships.

"Great Big Sea was a party band and I am an alcoholic in recovery. Being on that bus was not an easy task for me and ultimately the last tour, that was it, I could not do it anymore," he explained.

Members of the Newfoundland band Great Big Sea, Sean McCann, Alan Doyle, Darrell Power and Bob Hallett, left to right, accept their award for group of the year at the East Coast Music Awards in Sydney, N.S., on Sunday, Feb. 6, 2000. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

"Just because I quit drinking didn't mean the band was going to stop, it was a very hard place to be around. I left money behind for sure and certainly some friendships but I am alive and that is what is most important to my family especially."

When not touring, he's the national ambassador for Guitars for Vets, a group that supports veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and disabilities, helping them heal with music.

McCann also uses music for therapy, for himself.

"For a long time, I used music to hide. I used that lifestyle to hide. Now I use music to make sense of what my past has been and to keep me balanced," he said.

"Music for me is my therapy, that is how I continue. I am not part of any particular group or organization. I have a guitar and I have certain skills and I have chosen to help myself and use those weapons for good in my own case."

Less money, way happier

The 49-year-old father of two boys, aged eight and 11, has released two albums since leaving Great Big Sea.

"As I grow older and evolve and survive certain things, like alcoholism, I think there is a responsibility for me to share what I have learned, help other people and I have a sense of purpose now that I never felt before," McCann said.

"I make less money but I am way happier and healthier."

McCann says beyond touring and sharing, getting outside gives him pleasure.

"I love to be outside, I love to be in the woods. I miss that about Newfoundland immensely because you can be in the middle of nowhere so quick. One of my favourite things in the world is to light fires and sit by them. I love an open fire man, I am a sucker for a fire," he said.

"People are made of fire and I think we are made of music. We are made of more than blood and bone anyway. You are not going to find music on an x-ray but it is in us."

McCann's The Road to Recovery Tour has three Alberta stops starting in Banff on Nov. 17.

With files from Daybreak Alberta