Goldenboy's Shon Sullivan on Bisbee, Johnny Marr and South by Southwest

Shon Sullivan has collaborated with Elliott Smith, Johnny Marr, The Eels, The Watson Twins, and Neil Finn over the years. Sullivan started playing solo acoustic music between Elliott Smith and Eels tours and dubbed his band Goldenboy after a nickname Smith gave him.

Three albums later, Goldenboy is in the midst of a national tour that is stopping by Phoenix tonight. They are playing two shows today- 6 p.m. at ASU's Secret Garden, and 10 p.m. at the Hard Rock Café in Phoenix.

We recently caught up with Shon Sullivan to discuss performing in Bisbee, collaborating with Johnny Marr and looking forward to South by Southwest.

I called Shon as they were on their way to Albuquerque. We had a couple connection issues.

Shon Sullivan: We're actually driving down to Albuquerque right now, we're just a little bit south of Las Vegas. Hopefully the reception will be okay...I can call you back or you could call me back.

Up on the Sun: Did you guys stop by Vegas?

SS: We did stop in Vegas and had homemade burritos at a gas station that were really good. That was our little pit stop for the day.

UOTS: Did you guys have fun, or is that all gonna stay in Vegas?

This trip has been really fun. The places that we've gone, all the way up the west coast, all the way up to Seattle, a couple days in Portland. Then we went to Bozeman, Montana, it was a highlight because we've never been there before. We got to play with our good friend, Jason Lytle from Grandaddy, who lives there now and that was a really fun night. The weather's been great too. Everyone's told us you should have been here a week ago, it was 8 degrees. So yeah, it's been great for us.

UOTS: That's good, yeah, I've actually driven through Bozeman and the snow made it kind of a nightmare.

Oh yeah I bet. We're cruising in our little silver Sprinter around the country. Jon Crawford, our drummer and producer extraordinaire is driving right now. I'm just taking a breather. I was driving all morning and we're almost to Albuquerque. So you're calling from Phoenix?

UOTS: Yes. I think it's in the 60's here right now, which is great...and you'll be here tomorrow.

We're at the Hard Rock Café in Phoenix. We've never played at the Hard Rock Café, so it'll be cool.

UOTS: Where have you played here in the past?

: In the past in Phoenix, we've played at Modified Arts. The last time we were there, we played at a couple different little places. We were doing a joint tour with a friend of ours, a band in Phoenix called Fatigo. We did a whole Arizona highway tour. We went to Bisbee and Flagstaff, Bisbee is AWESOME. We had a great drive through there.

UOTS: I don't really hear about bands playing in Bisbee too often.

SS: Well, the thing is, you go there and play and basically the whole town is just kinda there. Everyone comes out on the weekend, it's nice. It's a mining hill town, so they come out of little dwellings and stuff on the ridges and come down to the show. It was good.

The band's hometown is Diamond Bar, California. What sets it apart from Los Angeles?

Diamond Bar is a rolling hills suburb community kinda nestled in the gentle rolling hills of Southern California, 30 miles east of Los Angeles. The whole band is from that area, other than Katy Crawford. We all grew up in that Inland area. It is very removed from Los Angeles even though you're not that far, it's a whole different area. And growing up in Diamond Bar, there wasn't even streetlights, it was just a small little town. Music was the outlet of things to do. A lot of our friends played music. The one place to play in town was a pizza place. Once you did that, you have to move outside of that and move to LA. We have played in Los Angeles, we're starting to more now with this record.

When you started Goldenboy as a solo project, were you expecting it to take off?

I had no idea what was going to happen exactly, we just did it and it naturally progressed in the midst of doing a bunch of other stuff along the with other people. It's a good way to keep it fresh.

Before you started Goldenboy, did you play in more in permanent bands or touring bands?

I did a little of both. I was in the Spain for a couple of years. We toured and did a record called I Believe. That was for a couple years, that was pretty permanent. I was in The Eels for awhile, in between doing big long tours and I'd get back out and do a little Goldenboy tour. Sometimes it's worked out really good, I would just go with an acoustic guitar and get an opening spot, or on a night off do something in town to keep things different and fun.

What was it like working with Elliott Smith, Johnny Marr, The Watson Twins, The Eels, etc?

SS: It was really great. First of all, I'm a really big fan of all of them. Becoming friends with them, going on the road with them and playing their songs and being around that musical energy is really inspiring. You always learn something you've never thought of before, like different kinds of guitar tuning. Johnny Marr had this thing called Nashville Tuning, and it's where you take the 6 highest strings off an electric guitar, from a 12 string, and just play the 6 high strings. It makes a chiming sound, stuff like that you would have never thought of. We were having the time of our lives.

UOTS: What did you do with Johnny Marr?

SS: Him and Neil Finn from Crowded House...he's a Kiwi, a New Zealander. He put this band together for this record called "One All" and it was just different musicians and close friends. The band was Johnny Marr and myself and Sebastian Steinberg from Soul Coughing, Lisa Germano played violin...


UOTS: Hey...

We're just getting into a little bit of a hilly spot. Thank you for your patience.

UOTS: Oh, no worries.

I could call you back in Albuquerque in about an hour or so.

I'm fine, I have I think four more questions for you if you're okay with phone tag.

SS: Sure.

Elliott Smith first coined your nickname "Goldenboy", how exactly did that start?

It just started off on a tour and everyone had nicknames. I think because I'm from southern California and I like the beach and that kind of stuff, it became a nickname. I had a record of my songs and it seemed like a natural progression to keep that name, it's kind of a joke in a funny way but it stuck, and here were are 3 years later and now we're a 5 piece band, it's really cool.

UOTS: Do you mind sharing your name with a DJ and a Norwegian pop punk band?

SS: Don't forget the Japanese animation cartoon. If you Google it, it all comes up all kinds of Japanese anime kinda stuff as well, but so far so good. No confusion with the other artists or anything.

UOTS: I saw one of Goldenboys is playing South by that you?

SS: We are gonna be there on the 17th. We are officially on South by Southwest.

: Have you done a big festival like that before?

SS: Yeah, it's been good. This will be our 3rd time. It's always great and chaotic and it's like a whole year of touring rolled into 3 days. Are you going this year?

I've actually never been. I'd love to though.

SS: You should go if it ever pops up. It's good to see different bands. It's a really good way to make musical connections and find people that share the same kind of passions and style of music that you're doing.

UOTS: What bands on South by Southwest do you plan on seeing?

You know what, I don't even have an official roster yet, I don't know who's all gonna be there, but I'm definitely gonna check that out. We're playing at a place called Esther's Follies on March 17th, that's St. Patricks Day, ohhh! Esther's Follies, if you can just see that. It's probably a little place there on 6th street. It's basically a really small little street in Austin, TX that they just...everything and anything possible that they can put a band in. There will be afternoon barbecue shows, there will be bar shows and club shows. They close the street. It's a music fair/fest.

UOTS: I'll definitely have to check that out. Are you excited about playing on St. Patrick's Day?

SS: I am actually, with my full name Shon Patrick Andrew Sullivan on St. Patrick's Day. I just have to show my ID and they'll give me a Guinness.

UOTS: So, you played in a band called The Dash when you were 12 years old and you opened for Flock of Seagulls...

Yes, this is true. I did play in a band called The Dash when I was very young. The interesting part is Jon Crawford, who's playing drums along with his wife Katy Crawford, we played in a band called The Dash when we were in high school and we were opening for Flock of Seagulls. We were so young that we couldn't actually get in the club. They would let us stand outside then let us run on stage to play, then when we were done, we had to go outside. We're in the process of going through a bunch of archives from our early years and pulling out the old reel to reels and checking it out. Maybe we'll try to do something and put it online. It sounds pretty was power pop kinda stuff.

UOTS: Opening for Flock of Seagulls of all people.

SS: I know, yeah, exactly. It was pretty great. We were really popular the next day in school. None of the kids at school could come. That was back in the late 80's, maybe it was very early 90's, so it was like they had all those hits and then they stopped playing for awhile. The band said let's go to America and play every single venue there is, I think that's what they were doing.

UOTS: Was that in Diamond Bar, then?

SS: No, it was over at a place called The Green Door in Montclair which is like a rest stop/trucker bar/Bates Motel all in one. It was perfect. It was like the one piece of culture that was in that whole area. They tore it down and put a McDonald's in its place. No one will know the magic that happened in that place.

UOTS: Hopefully your classmates believed you at the time.

SS: We had fliers to prove it.

UOTS: What does this year have in store for you?

Well, this year we have a show in Albuquerque tomorrow, then the Hard Rock in Phoenix, then we're back in Los Angeles. We have two dates there and tour dates starting I think on the 9th in March. We're doing some shows on the way to South by Southwest. After by South by Southwest, we're gonna continue east all the way to New York and do that little loop up there around and back. It'll be spring by then, it should be pretty nice, it's a good time for touring. We're gonna come back and try to regroup and really try to play as much as we can this year, and a new record out. There's a studio called Intersellar that we recorded his record at, and it's also been our rehearsal space as well as recording studio, there in Claremont.

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Melissa Fossum
Contact: Melissa Fossum