After several years of touring as a touring musician with Elliot Smith and then The Eels, Shon Sullivan finally decided to make his own music. Then as soon as he released an album, he started working with others again. Thus, Goldenboy has never quite taken off. But another solid album, Sleepwalker, showcases the possibilities if Sullivan were to focus on his own craft. Then again, he’s just glad to not have had a job outside of being a full-time musician for the last 15 years.
SSv: How does it feel to be on the road with Goldenboy again?
Shon Sullivan: Our last record came out just before South by Southwest, so it was in the early spring. So this is probably the last little run that we’ll do before we do another one. It’s odd nowadays, because I don’t really know how you release a record. With the record stores not making any money, the first two albums still had a lot of record stores and independent record shops around it. Now there’s not as many to do that.
It’s watching that go away that’s kind of a bummer, but everything revolves and switches yet music goes on. That’s why I feel that the live element of music is going to become more and more important. That’s the one part of it that you can’t download. You can watch live clips but it’s not the same. So it’s like going back to an earlier time where musicians and people who created made their money. It’s going to back to Shakespeare’s time. I don’t know. [Laughs]
SSv: It’s been a long, long time since I’ve heard from you — five years, in fact. Does it feel like a long time for you since you’ve grabbed the Goldenboy mantle?
Shon: Yeah, when I first started doing the Goldenboy stuff, it started as a little outlet during the downtime. I was mainly playing in other bands — playing with Elliot Smith when he was touring and then played with The Eels for some really long tours. Sometimes a year would go by when I wouldn’t even do a Goldenboy show or I would do one thing when I had a day off. Sometimes it would be so long and I wouldn’t even realize it. I’d think, ‘Has it really been that long?’ [Laughs]
When this record, I don’t even know that we set out to do a record at first. We were just working at Jon’s [Crawford, drummer] great recording studio that he records a lot of albums in down in the area where we live in the Claremont area of Southern California. We’d start with guitar and piano and just go from there. Gradually, Jon’s wife, Katie, joined us when we went to the UK on a little trip on bass, so it was this little traveling unit.
Then we came back and took our time. We probably took too much time, so it’s kind of like a beginning, because the last full thing that we did with Copeland and The Rentals was back in 2007 — that’s the last large tour that we did. Everyone probably lives in different cities now. Someone in Phoenix will come to a show and they’ll say, ‘We saw you in Iowa when we lived there.’ That’s always surprising.
But that’s why we’re just trying to get out and see what things are like now. All of my friends back at home are doing the same thing. Everyone always talks about the doing the right thing and trying to get the most of it for the money. Tthe main thing is obviously the fuel pipe. The tough thing is that the clubs and stuff cannot keep scale with that. If fuel goes up, they can’t match that. You feel bad because you know if they could, they would. So gas can jump a dollar, but the price of a beer doesn’t jump the same price. That’s the tricky part, so we invested in a good economical vehicle, and I think it’s been a fun year of doing this because we’ve been going out only a couple of times with this.
SSv: How are you getting the word back out there?
Shon: With the record, you don’t really do radio promotions. Our label just put in a huge amount of money for the Elliot release where Dreamworks is spending all of this money and it’s like throwing a long bomb into the end zone and hoping someone catches it. It’s really wondering how to do it. For us, it’s just a great for us to get out and play every single night since you can’t do that at home. I love it, I really do.
You know, I haven’t had another job that’s not music for the last 15 years. I feel really fortunate at the end of the day to do something where I got to experience touring bands when major labels were still doing it, They were paying money for the bus that cost $100K for the summer. It was insane. They’ll spend knowing that they’re just thinking of it as a promotion. You go out and play all of the venues, but they’re really using it for a promo for record sales. It’s cool to experience that, because it’s obviously not happening as much in the current state. I guess Dreamworks isn’t even really around anymore, but Elliot’s records were on Dreamworks and so were the Eels. Now it’s just movies.
SSv: Do the songs on Sleepwalker go back five years?
Shon: Not necessarily. The actual song “Sleepwalker” actually goes back a long time — even back to before the first Goldenboy album. It was an instrumental piece for a little 16mm film, but that was just going to be something separate. It ended up on the record. But the first tracks are all recent. There’s not really anything that goes way back. We recorded it all in February and it goes for that wintry feel. For some reason, the songs really seem to work well when we play live. That’s why I’m surprised and enjoy it when we’re not just a three-piece but a four-piece. Nicole and I are trading the dual lead thing and we’re really enjoying it. It’s a poor man’s version of Iron Maiden and it catches people’s attention. [Laughs]
SSv: So what’s coming up for you?
Shon: We’re going back to Southern California. Going into November, we don’t have any big trips planned and then in December, everything shuts down. It’s hard to travel and the music business stops until the end of the year. Then in that second week of January, we’re actually flying up to Portland and doing a week long residency at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland. That will be really cool.