Sometimes amongst the ashes of one fire the embers of another can begin to grow. Shon Sullivan is the proverbial phoenix, having played in such notable acts as Spain and Elliott Smith’s touring band, but now is focused on something else more personal: creating a genre.
Sullivan is the lead singer, guitarist and frontman of the Los Angeles-based band Goldenboy. The band released its third album, Sleepwalker, in February of last year, and is set to embark on a lengthy tour across the U.S. in support of the rerelease of their debut album. One of the first stops is a free show at the Monte Vista here in Flagstaff.
“We’ve been to Flagstaff quite a bit … we love going there,” Sullivan says.
Though it’s not for reasons you would expect, like clean air and trees.
“My favorite place of all places is the Monte Vista, because they have that classical hotel.
“When I go there and we play, I feel like I’m in one of those classic jazz touring bands from the ’50s or ’40s,” Sullivan says.
But, the musicians of Goldenboy haven’t missed out on the northern Arizona experience entirely.
“We met some friends at one of the [Goldenboy] shows [in Flagstaff] that were riverboat captains [in] the Grand Canyon so we ended up getting to go on a [river] trip with them; it was amazing, it was the most coolest thing that we ever did,” Sullivan says.
“We didn’t have a clue. We just started going in circles, we didn’t know how to turn or how to go faster than the speed of water,” Sullivan says, laughing as he remembers.
Goldenboy was initially created as a collaborative project between Sullivan and Bryan Bos (Goldenboy’s current drummer) during Sullivan’s time as Elliott Smith’s touring guitar player.
“Goldenboy was kind of conceived while [I was playing for Elliot Smith] … everyone had these nicknames … and I think because I was from Southern California they were calling me [Goldenboy],” Sullivan says.
While touring with Smith he began to create his own original material. “When we were on the road and something popped up and I was going to do this set, and I didn’t know what to do it as, so I just used [Goldenboy] and it kind of just stuck,” Sullivan says.
The Goldenboy debut album, the rerelease, is titled Blue Swan Orchestra and was originally recorded and produced by the same personnel and at the same studio used by Smith while he was recording From a Basement on the Hill.
“We did see each other a lot when he was recording [that album]; we would go up to the studio up in Malibu and record … so we’d be there and [Smith] would be doing his stuff as well … that’s how he ended up singing on ‘Summertime’ which is on the first record,” Sullivan says.
Sullivan’s music as Goldenboy comes across as leisurely surf rock (though particularly less corny) with a blanket-soft vibe and wispy vocals, which is juxtaposed with driving guitar parts and a deliberate delivery. While the Smith style that he was known for is apparent in Goldenboy’s inspiration, there are less intricacies to get caught up in, resulting in a more palatable experience. It’s a little bit shoegazer, it’s a little bit singer-songwriter. It’s the New Familiar, the moniker the rest of his band has adopted.
“We’re trying to start a genre … we’re calling it the New Familiar … which is like a little Belle and Sebastian and Elliott Smith, maybe this and that all mixed in; it’s very familiar … these are the same musical structures people have been using for a very long time, it’s just our little nuance on it,” Sullivan says.
Sullivan grew up in Diamond Bar, Calif., which Sullivan describes as a small town, almost ranch-like. “It’s kind of a cowboy town; it’s out in the rolling hills east of Los Angeles … I was a hometown boy, and then everyone else left and I stayed,” Sullivan remembers while laughing.
“Then I was like a ghost, kind of wandering the streets, but then it was OK because Snoop Dogg moved to town actually, and he lives on the hill opposite of me,” Sullivan says.
Living in the same town as the world-famous rapper the only other person who could be considered celebrity didn’t faze Sullivan a bit. It is his town, after all.
“I used to see his posse, like his tour entourage, they’d come into the Rite-Aid … I told [Snoop Dogg’s] manager in line, ‘Hey, I’m the second most famous musician in Diamond Bar,’ they all started laughing,” Sullivan remembers proudly.
Sullivan is a confident musician, and with Goldenboy he has something to say and the means to do so. The simple fact that the rerelease is happening to give fans a chance to actually find a copy of the long-out-of-print album speaks to Sullivan’s character as a bandleader.
See Goldenboy with the New Familiar Fri, Sept. 21 at the Monte Vista Lounge, 100 N. San Francisco. The show starts at 9:30 p.m. and is free. For more info, see www.goldenboyband.com or call 774-2403.
Additional photos for this story:
Goldenboy live at the release party for their third album, "Sleepwalker." Courtesy photo