Goldenboy's Shon Sullivan Talks Phoenix and Elliott Smith
The New Familiar is more than just the name of the forthcoming album from L.A.-based Goldenboy. It's an aesthetic, says songwriter Shon Sulllivan, whose resume includes work with Elliott Smith, Spain, The Eels, The Watson Twins, The Rentals, and more.
"People always ask us, what do you sound like? The only way you can describe it is to name a bunch of bands and hope they get it," Sullivan says, prepping for a short tour that finds the band bringing its literate, understated pop to the Lost Leaf on Saturday, September 22. "So we started using the term 'the new familiar,' [drawing influence] from simple songs people understand, but approaching them in different ways."
The approach pays great dividends on the band's records, including 2011's swooning Sleepwalker, and Blue Swan Orchestra, the band's 2003 record is scheduled for re-released by Eenie Meanie Records on Tuesday, October 9, and features vocals from Elliott Smith.
"In school, I studied classical music, and there you've got Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. For us, it's like Beatles, Beach Boys, and Bon Jovi," he laughs.
"We just listened to a the vinyl test pressing [of Blue Swan Orchestra], and it sounds really cool," Sullivan says. "It's going to be such a good album for vinyl, because we actually did it using a 24-track, with 2-inch tape. It's such a trip. It's a sound. I completely missed ever being able to make a vinyl album."
Sullivan's equally excited about The New Familiar, but there's a special connection to Blue Swan Orchestra, due in no part to the involvement of Smith, who sang haunting harmonies on the song "Summertime."
"For me, when I listen to that record, it's totally like a time capsule. It's an emotional wave, but it's a beautiful wave," Sullivan says. "[Elliott's] vocals on that song are the most special thing ever to me. That song was written when we were on tour, when [I] was playing in his band [during the Figure 8 tour]. We were on tour for a couple months together, and music just sorta rubbed off. You'd sit around thumbing chords and learning songs."
When the band returned to Malibu, Smith started work on what would eventually become From a Basement on the Hill, and Goldenboy started work on Blue Swan Orchestra. Smith recorded the vocals while Sullivan was out, and he describes hearing the harmonies for the first time.
"It was the biggest compliment," he says. "I think it's the best song we have to date."
The band's forthcoming effort, The New Familiar , has some roots in Phoenix, where the band counts local bands like Fatigo and Former Friends of Young Americans as close allies.
"Every single time we play [Lost Leaf] is just so much fun," Sullivan says. "There's something about the place, just that whole little street, you know? We don't have anything like that out here [in L.A.]. It's so centralized during those block parties, First Friday."
When the band last visited, Sullivan was inspired by paintings by local artist Leslie Yazzie. "[Her paintings, on display at the venue] were so interesting, but they didn't have titles. It was like looking from behind a curtain into a play, with this same character in different poses and positions. I named the paintings, and we used them in this song that we wrote there. So now we have this little piece of a song, actually [tied to the Lost Leaf]."
Sullivan says that what attracts him to music is the chance to constantly approach the songs from new directions -- after all, a decade after its completion, Goldenboy is still tinkering with songs from Blue Swan Orchestra.
"[Music's] the only art form were you get to do the piece, and can still make it go beyond the [recorded] moment," he says. "You get another chance at it. You make a movie, and it's done. People are going to think you're weird if you're just going out and reciting your lines, you know what I mean, acting out the part. I just appreciate that about music. It's the simplest stuff that takes you a few years to realize."
Goldenboy is scheduled to perform Saturday, September 22, at Lost Leaf.
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