“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things,” Henry Miller once wrote.
For his latest release, The Room Is Spinning, singer-songwriter Adam Sullivan took Miller’s words to heart. Following his restlessness across borders, oceans and international time zones, he found himself happily bumping into inspiration at nearly every stop.
“I have a hard time staying in the same place for very long,” Sullivan says. “I have a base in New York City, but I travel a lot. And these songs were written everywhere from England to Ireland to The Netherlands to Iceland. I played over a hundred shows last year in the US and Canada and Europe, so I was constantly meeting new people and experiencing new things. The record is a collection of stories from my life – kind of like a diary, really. I’m very honest about the details, and I tend to write about things that make me feel something.”
Like receiving funny, detailed postcards from a friend abroad, there’s a vicarious thrill in hearing Sullivan share his experiences. Whether its the candid doubts about his own sanity in the sweeping opener “Nothing Like Being Alone” or the complications of a love triangle in the angular rocker “Dinosaurs,” you find yourself feeling empathy for his plights. Even when the mood shifts, from the autumnal chamber pop of “Amsterdam” through the lush late night meditation of “Providence” to the heart-racing beauty of “Cab,” Sullivan conveys a sense of embracing life with all its crazy funhouse mirrors and trap doors.
“It’s bizarre when you spend so much time alone on the road,” he says, “but at the same time I kind of feel like there’s a sense of self-discovery. You really realize who you are.”
With eight EPs and three albums under his belt, the piano-playing Sullivan certainly knows who he is as an artist, but for The Room Is Spinning, he upped the ante by working with producer John Painter (Ben Folds, Sixpence None The Richer). With arrangements that include everything from middle eastern-flavored strings to spy jazz flourishes, Painter creates a dazzling widescreen palette that perfectly complements Sullivan’s sweet melodicism and relaxed, conversational vocals.
“I’ve been a fan of John’s ever since I was a kid, so this was kind of a like a dream come true,” Sullivan says. “John was easy to work with. The atmosphere in the studio was really fun, with a lot of joking around. We took what we were doing seriously, but there was never pressure. I brought thirty or forty songs in, and we spent a couple of days just listening and refining the list. The collaboration was great.
“Everything I’ve done previously has been self-produced and self-recorded,” he continues. “So it was amazing to watch John work, because he has such a discerning ear when it comes to arrangements and mixes, and how to shape a complex sonic vision into something that makes sense. It took everything to a new level, in a much more hi-fi way. I think it goes beyond a typical singer-songwriter record.”
Sullivan’s background also goes beyond typical singer-songwriter stock. Born and raised in Virginia, he was on the fast track to be a concert pianist, with Julliard and recitals in his future. Then he discovered rock music and it was bye bye Brahms. Not that his parents approved at first.
He recalls, “I was sheltered as a kid. My mom and dad were strict, and I had to sneak records into the house and hide my Walkman under the mattress.”
Finally, he made a deal with his parents. He’d practice Mozart and Beethoven for a few hours a day, and in return, he’d get to play some of the contemporary music he liked.
“It wasn’t even cutting edge stuff that I got into,” Sullivan says. “Mostly ‘80s rock and pop. But it was totally new to me, so I was like, ‘This is amazing! This is the promised land of music!’ And even though later I got into artists like REM and Randy Newman, all those ‘80s records influenced me, in that I tend to write in a lot of different genres.”
Further setting himself apart from 99% of the sensitive troubadours out there, Sullivan also has two masters degrees, a PhD and he teaches online courses in accounting, statistics and business.
With a chuckle, he says, “I always joke that I went to school to be Batman. I loved the idea that Batman had these two lives. During the day, he was a businessman, and at night, a superhero. I enjoy teaching, and the interactions I have with my students. However, music is my passion, and I look forward to the day I can support myself that way.”
If The Room Is Spinning is any indication, that day may be just around the corner. But as he looks forward to more globe-trotting and performing, Sullivan acknowledges that being a singer-songwriter is still an uphill struggle.
“I’m the worst self-promoter, so I haven’t figured out how to shove my records in everybody’s faces yet,” he says with a smile.
“But I hope that people find something to relate to in these songs. That's one of the reasons I write. It's really easy to feel alone, and I've always found comfort in songs that I can relate to. Those songs reassure me that I'm not the only one that feels the way I do. I really hope that I can provide that same reassurance to others through my own music. It's important to me to that I make a connection with people, whether on record or in a live performance. Not for the album sales or recognition - but for the benefit of having had that shared mutual experience.”
Biography by Bill DeMain (featured music writer for MOJO, Performing Songwriter, Musician, Mental Floss, Entertainment Weekly)
Adam Sullivan - Vocals, Guitar, Piano, ukulele
• Everything Will Disappear (EP)
Released on November 13, 2012
• Your Shadow and Everything In Between (EP)
Released on August 14, 2012
• So Awake You Can See The Future (EP)
Released on May 15, 2012
• You Don't Have the Heart (EP)
Released on February 14, 2012
• I'd Let You Wear My Boots (EP)
Released on November 23, 2010
• The Room Is Spinning Faster
Released on August 24, 2010
• I Have Never Been Fond Of Falling From Heights (Swan Dive Into The Atlantic)
Released on May 5, 2009
• Good Times Were Had By All (EP)
Released on August 21, 2007
• Thank God He Didn't Make You A Fan (EP)
Released on August 21, 2007
• The Waitress (Single)
Released on September 5, 2005
An Artist On The Rise
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Sometimes you come across a song that is all-consuming and versatile: a song you would pump in your ...Sometimes you come across a song that is all-consuming and versatile: a song you would pump in your mom’s minivan while your friends sing along from the back (and way back) seats, that you would include on your “Running,” “Studying,” and “Chillin’” iPod play lists, that you would play softly in your Bose headphones as you fall asleep, perhaps shed a tear. And sometimes you come across an artist who churns out these songs consistently.
Introducing Adam Sullivan, a singer/songwriter hailing from New York, reminiscent of Ben Folds’ piano trinklings and Ben Gibbard’s (of Death Cab for Cutie) poetry. Citing these acts as influences, Adam has also compared his music to the Postal Service, Coldplay, and Ryan Adams. Combining these diverse, established styles, Adam has produced a fresh sound that is innovative and infectious without leaving that bubblegum stuck in your teeth.
Standout, feel-good track, “Balloon” assures summer is not lost, while “Pennsylvania Welcomes You” pays homage to King of Prussia and crowns the state as home. “Montreal” is a ballad featuring synthesis, which provides a refreshing break in the recordings, and a crescendo of rounds and melodies that contribute to the epic feel of the tune. Adam offers original and honest lyrics, and makes the multi-layered harmonies sound clean and effortless.
Adam has created a credible repertoire of songs that exude maturity, musicianship, and originality. He has managed to capture the essence of his influences, while producing something fresh to call his own. If you find yourself continually flipping through your CD case, or skipping track after track on iTunes because you just don’t know what to listen to anymore, you need some new music. You need Adam Sullivan.
Adam is currently gigging everywhere from Boston down to Washington DC. Be sure to catch him next time he is in town, or else fill up the tank, roll down the windows, blast EP 5, and make it a road trip!
Check out Adam Sullivan at http://www.adamsullivan.com
Or on MySpace at http://www.myspace.com/adamsullivan
Local Artist Says Download, Please
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Local artist Adam Sullivan wants you to download his music for free and share it with all your frien...Local artist Adam Sullivan wants you to download his music for free and share it with all your friends.
And he promises not to sue.
“My music is about the songs, not about the money,” says singer/songwriter Adam Sullivan. “I just want people to hear my music.”
Adam recently wrote, recorded and released, via his Web site, one original song every week for four months - that’s 18 songs for those of you counting - in an effort to get more people to hear his music, which Sullivan describes as “alt-piano-rock.”
“I wanted to do something really different to promote myself,” Sullivan says. “Something that no one else had ever done.”
To find out more about this unique venture, The Burg did an e-mail Q&A with Sullivan:
Was there ever a time when you were burnt out and didn’t think you could keep it up?
Yeah, after the first couple of weeks, it started to hit me that this was going to be more than I bargained for. On average, I spend anywhere from 15 to 20 hours on a song from initial rehearsal to recording to mixing/mastering. That is quite a lot to keep up with when working a full-time job. And on top of all that, I am working simultaneously on a second master’s degree while finishing up a Ph.D. So it did get a little crazy, but I was determined to finish the full four months, and not to put out sub-par material.
Did you ever run out of inspiration or ideas and was forced to do something totally random?
No, I never really seem to run out of inspiration or ideas. As a songwriter, it is important to me that there is an observed standard of quality and authenticity. To put out something totally random would go against that. Were there times that I was afraid I may not have something to write about? Sure. But that’s the great thing about life. You never know what’s going to happen. Over the course of four months, people in my life died, people got divorced, a friend of mine’s baby was born with fluid on its brain, I met a wonderful young woman with Spinal Muscular Atrophy who is currently being denied care in the state of Pennsylvania, and the list goes on and on. In short, I have found that while life seems to be random, it certainly provides me with enough inspiration so that I don’t have to be.
What has the response been?
I have had over 100,000 downloads since I started releasing free material. When I first started, I had anywhere from 50 to 100 downloads a week. Now, I'm averaging thousands of downloads a week. Before my free releases, my fan base was concentrated in Central Virginia. Now I have fans all over the state, as well as the East Coast.
Any new and exciting projects in the works? What’s next for Adam Sullivan?
I am beginning work on my first full-length album, which is actually going to be a double CD. This is tentatively slated for release sometime this spring. I am also working on putting together a pretty heavy touring schedule for this summer, to promote the new CD.
What are your thoughts on all these sites that offer up music for free?
If the music is offered for free, against the artist’s wishes, I think that is wrong. I know the arguments for and against file sharing, but in the end, the song is the writer’s intellectual property. However, I think the artist also shares some responsibility in the issue. If someone is downloading music because they want to avoid the cost of purchasing a CD, then that is wrong. However a lot of people download music because they want to preview what they are considering purchasing. Is this wrong? If you are considering purchasing a TV, can you go to the store and test it out? If you are considering purchasing a car, can you take it for a test drive? If artists don’t want their music illegally downloaded, then they should make it available for preview. If an artist is confident in the quality of their album, then this shouldn’t be an issue. All of my EPs can be listened to in their entirety for FREE, at www.iSound.com. If you don’t like it, then I don’t want you to waste your money. If people really enjoy your music, they will purchase your album because they want to support the artist.
You offers your music on your Web site for free - why do you do this?
I offer free music as a way of promoting myself to people who may have not had heard me before. Most people will give something a chance if they can get a free preview. Plus, it’s a way for me to build recognition for myself through other channels.
Would you prefer people download from your site as opposed to another site? Would you care if they downloaded it for free elsewhere?
I just want people to download our free songs period. I don’t care if it’s from our site, or iSound.com, or if a friend e-mails you the track. I release free music to raise awareness for my music. And my fan base has grown exponentially as a result of this. As for my EPs - which cost a mere $3 - I would love it if people would pay for the tracks. This allows me to raise funds to put back into releasing more music. Would I be angry if people were downloading these EPs for free elsewhere? No, not at all. It would be disappointing, but the bottom line is this: real fans that truly care about the band are going to support the band. Besides, like I said before, listeners deserve a preview. I want as many people as possible to download ALL of my material. If you like it, be cool enough to support me. If not, thanks for giving it a shot.
What do you think about the RIAA suing people who illegally download? Do you think this is an effective strategy to stop it?
No. You can’t control technology. For every barrier that is put in place, someone will find a way around or through it. And suing an insignificant percentage of offenders is not going to affect the movement as a whole. If nothing else, these lawsuits will only motivate people to download more in protest.
Despite all these lawsuits, people continue to illegally download. Why do you think that is? Any ideas on how to get through to people that this is illegal?
Again, I think some people continue to illegally download in protest of the RIAA and their lawsuits. But there are many other potential reasons. People know that this is illegal. I really don’t think that this is an issue. Besides, people have always shared music. Before the Internet, friends made copies of CDs and cassettes. Others recorded their favorite songs off the radio. This is nothing new. It is only an issue because record labels are seeing their profits diminish. But is that a result of illegal file sharing, or a result of releasing albums that are mediocre at best? The quality of mainstream music has diminished more than the profits of the record labels. Put out a quality product, and people will pay for it.
Typical set list includes varying selections from my records, as well as songs from my upcoming album.
Past covers have included songs from Tom Petty, Elton John, The Killers, REM, Prince, Oasis and Ryan Adams to name a few.
There are no upcoming dates at this time.