Playing With Fire: An Interview with Brooks Paschal of Sullivan

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Even after their untimely disbandment in 2007, it never felt like Sullivan were totally gone. After the Greensboro, North Carolina, rockers had officially parted ways, various members soldiered on with new bands and side projects that all carried a hint of Sullivan’s appeal. When three of the members formed secret band The Afterlife Kids a few years ago, you could feel something brewing.

The tricky part about these sorts of reunions is capturing the spark that made a band so appealing in the first place. In the case of Sullivan, could the band rekindle the unique brand of black magic that set them apart from the rest of the emo pack? With the release of new album Heavy is the Head, the answer is clear: Sullivan is back and better than ever.

Lead singer Brooks Paschal recently took some time to talk to It’s All Dead about the Sullivan renaissance – how their time away served the band well and why their previous albums were just a primer for what was to come.

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It seems like the response to Heavy is the Head has been extremely positive thus far. How does it feel to have such support from your fan base after seven years of inactivity?

It’s unreal, actually. We were lucky in the sense that, from the very beginning, we had a really dedicated base. We did our first real tour in 2004 and I still have a ton of friends from that tour. Connection was a big part of what we did and I think people gravitated toward our sound because it wasn’t in the box.

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You can purchase Heavy is the Head in the Spartan Records webstore.

What was the driving force behind this reunion? Were there ever plans of coming back sooner?

Really, it was just the songs started coming. I wrote a couple of songs, sent it to the guys, and it was just very clear that they were Sullivan tunes. As a songwriter, you have this fairy tale romance with the power of songs. If anything can make something happen, they can.

Projects like The Afterlife Kids and Surprises acted as a holdover for some fans that were anxious for new music. How did those projects help prepare you for Heavy is the Head?

We realized what we were good at. We refined our writing and we explored everything – made a ton of mistakes and hit a couple of home runs. Those projects are just as much alive as Sullivan. We are kind of a clan. We just keep doing it, and sometimes it takes on different shapes and sizes.

You had a fairly high-profile producer in James Paul Wisner produce Cover Your Eyes. What was it like handling the production on your own this time around?

I hated it! Wisner is the best. He isn’t kinda great or really good; he’s the best, period. He understands what we do better than we do. We made the record ourselves, because we could on our own terms. Timing, logistics, and all the other nuances just made it so we could do it ourselves. I want nothing more than to work with James again.

Being so far removed from your past albums, did you feel more freedom to explore new sounds this time around?

I have always felt free; I think it was more about the songs feeling right. It’s hard to explain, but when you don’t force something and it happens in a certain way, it’s just very transparent. You know that it’s right and that there is a reason it happened. The exploration happens in making the song go in a certain direction, but the core of it has to be a natural thing.

Was there a moment during the writing or recording process that things really clicked or you thought, “This is it.”

Once we realized we were making a new record, it was all systems go. It was kinda like the first two songs were validation that we could still make music as Sullivan. There are always checkpoints in a record where you hit a head wind and gain some momentum. Those are the moments that make it all worth it, because you can’t predict them or fabricate them.

Sullivan’s music has always been a bit dark, especially in the lyric department. After so many years and life experiences have passed, was it hard to recapture that? Were the songs driven in any certain direction during the writing process?

It was challenging. When I’m writing, there has to be a backdrop. I have to go “somewhere,” or the song isn’t gonna happen. It really all hinges on that. I hadn’t “gone there” in a very long time, so it was definitely a process. We just like dark, and we are good at it. I think the tension between sweet music and evil ass lyrics is what its all about.

A lot of reunions result in music that fails to meet fan expectations. Heavy is the Head may very well be the band’s best work to date. How does it feel knowing you were able to come back so strong?

It’s really a testament to where we were when we broke up before. Cover Your Eyes was our first real collection of songs. To a lot of people it felt like we quit while we were on top, but really, we had just gotten started as writers. It was the other parts of it that made us hang it up. I don’t think we are anywhere close to done with what we can accomplish.

What do you feel has changed the most in the music scene during Sullivan’s time away? I would imagine promotion of Heavy is the Head required a different approach than Cover Your Eyes.

Everything has changed, it always does. As a producer, I have to constantly keep my eyes open for what the possibilities are. I don’t think we approached it much differently. I think we just want everyone to know that we made another album. It’s a big world out there, and we are just waving our hands.

Your return resulted in a new partnership with Spartan Records. What made this a good home for Sullivan?

John Frazier. We had a relationship with him when we were at Tooth & Nail, and it was just an obvious move. He gets our style, and he has a great understanding of what we want to achieve. We didn’t make the record with intention of having a label, so when we talked to him it was an easy sell both ways. It just made sense.

Are there any current plans to tour behind the album or play any one-off shows or festivals?

Lots of plans, cool things in the works. I don’t kiss and tell.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

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