Interview with . . . James Sullivan

James Sullivan
Photo Credit: Pauline Di Silvestro

London based musician, James Sullivan, has just released his debut solo album, Light Years. It would be so lovely to chat with Sullivan in person. He is welcome to come practice the piano at my house. I can make some tea. Until James Sullivan travels to the US, we will have to settle for a chat during the following interview.

Please welcome James Sullivan to the blog!

Tell us about your latest project

Well, I just released a record called ‘Light Years’ on Stardumb Records. Usually I’m the singer and guitar player in the band More Kicks (and sometimes Suspect Parts when we’re all in one place) but when London was all locked down at the end of last year, I needed something to keep myself occupied.

So I decided to write 10 songs in 10 days and record them by myself. I was a bit afraid of the term ‘solo record’ so I told myself it just was a project to stay sane. I’d managed to gather enough bits of functioning analog recording gear so I also wanted to test out my tape recording prowess as well as stretching some different muscles by writing different kinds of songs from More Kicks. It worked anyway. I’m still sane and now the record is an actual record. And it’s actually 12 songs because I got carried away and added a couple.

Where was your first concert as a fan? As a performer?

My first gig as a fan was Feeder at the Wulfrun Hall in Wolverhampton. I must have been about 13 and I went with my mate Phil. I don’t think I particularly liked Feeder that much but I had just kind of become aware that gigs were a thing you could go to. They’d just had a big hit with a song called Buck Rogers and so the venue was too small for them. So it was packed and probably stank. I’m sure I would have tried to order a beer and I’m sure I would have failed.

First gig playing was also with my mate Phil. We played at a place called the Mars Bar and I suppose I was probably 15 or so. I don’t remember exactly what town it was but it was kind of a small satellite town outside Wolverhampton. Stourbridge maybe? Not sure. I cannot even comprehend how bad it must have been. I remember conferring with Phil after the gig about the chords of one of the song’s choruses and it turned out we’d been playing totally different things. It was kind of an early incarnation of the band Ripchord.

Years later, we ended up signing to a label called 1965 Records which was a subsidiary of Sony/Columbia. We were all 17 and 18 at the time and had a great couple of years touring the world and doing ridiculous stuff with every shit mid-level UK indie band you can imagine.

What is the secret to writing good music?

Don’t second guess yourself. If you’re writing something and you think it’s okay, then just go with it and finish the song. You don’t have to use it, just finish it. If you keep trying to rewrite things and perfect them, you’ll never finish anything and you’ll drive yourself mad.

Do you have a bucketlist? If so, what’s on it?

Ah not really. Everything’s so unpredictable at the moment. I can’t think too far into the future. Although, I do really want to tour the US. I played gigs there while visiting friends but I never went there to tour. We were booking a US tour with More Kicks but then Covid struck. I also want to go back to Japan and play. That first band Ripchord I was telling you about, we went to Japan and it was incredible. Even more incredible was the fact that we went to play a festival there so we were in the country for less than 48 hours. What a WASTE. Why oh why didn’t I ask them to move my ticket and stay there for an extra couple of weeks?!

Apart from gigs, I would like to make a lot of different kinds of records. Now that I have a little recording setup I have these visions of doing an orchestral album, and then scuzzy garage record, and then a disgustingly pure pop record. I would also like to learn another instrument properly. It’s embarrassing that the only thing I can play well is guitar. My piano playing is getting better but it still sucks.

What was the last thing that you read?

I’ve been in a bit of a lull actually. Haven’t been inspired to read at all recently. I read one of those 33 1/3 books about Television’s ‘Marquee Moon’. Kris and Paolo from More Kicks got it for my birthday. The last fiction book I devoured was the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Murakami I think. A few months ago. But you make a good point, I need to get back in the habit again.

What are you listening to at the moment?

This morning I was listening to the new War on Drugs record which I don’t think I liked very much. I really like a couple of his records but the previous one and this one haven’t grabbed me at all. I’ve been listening to Pavement a bit because I just got tickets to see them in London next year and I’ve never seen them before. And I was listening to Aimee Mann this morning as well because I watched the Paul Thomas Anderson movie Magnolia last night and one of her songs plays a prominent role.

If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing?

Well, I would be in a better financial situation but mentally I would be a total wreck and so miserable. I dread to think what I’d be doing really. There were a couple of years there where I really tried to just be normal and have a job and enjoy my life, have a holiday in the summer. But I was fooling no one, least of all myself. My feeling is that if music wasn’t part of my life I would have had a regular job – probably involving writing or editing in some capacity because I do a bit of that stuff now too. But then after maybe three years of that I would have lost my mind and run as far away as possible and taken a job teaching English somewhere. Actually that doesn’t sound so bad. Except that I was an English teacher in France for one year and I didn’t like the job so I guess it’s not for me.

Who would you like to collaborate with in the future?

Yeah good question because this record ‘Light Years‘ was really not collaborative at all haha. I don’t often write with other people and that’s something I’d like to do more of. In Suspect Parts, there are two singers and two writers – me and Justin Maurer (who just text me as I wrote his name – weird).

But even when we collaborate on songs, it’s usually more ‘I do a part, he does a part’. Probably because we’ve lived on different continents for over a decade. I’m open to collaborating really. No one ever asks me to do anything, I don’t know why. I’d like to make a record with a female singer and writer. I’ve never really had that dynamic of male and female voice on an album and that’s a shame.

What do you want people to know about your music?

You should know that all the mistakes and insane recording practices on Light Years are totally deliberate. It might sound sloppy but you’d be wrong – it’s all part of a huge plan. I don’t know really. I’m proud of the record and I’m especially proud that I made it during difficult circumstances and I felt better after making it. I can’t think of a clearer example of how doing the thing that you love most is never a bad idea.

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