Fans of local music may
know Gabe Sullivan as sideman or a producer. He's played with Howe Gelb in Giant Giant Sand; he's the co-frontman of Chicha Dust; he recently produced Billy Sedlmayr's celebrated "Charmed Life." But the 26-year old's glacial and beautiful new album, "Jvpiter" could easily change all that, and put the focus on Suillivan and his songs.
"I was playing in bands since I was 14," Sullivan recalls in a recent interview between rehearsals in his studio. "In high school I realized the potential of booking your own tours, during the MySpace era. After high school, I got asked to join American Black Lung and that was my first serious project."
As the punk-influenced band began to dissolve in 2009, Sullivan began exploring roots music and singer-songwriters that had been in his periphery as a child.
"Until then, I had never sang a note in my life—just screaming over punk music," he says. "The distinctive moment of going back and rediscovering songwriters was listening to Howlin' Wolf on one of the last Black Lung tours. I went from Howlin' Wolf to Townes Van Zandt and that was when I started believing I could actually sing or play a song on an acoustic guitar. ... I started learning songs on my own. I had a band for a minute called Fell City Shouts with Brittany Katter and some of the Black Lung guys; it was my first experience fronting a band and everything kind of came natural after that."
After subsequent performing and recording with Giant Giant Sand, Chicha Dust, his own Taraf de Tucson and other acts, Sullivan traveled to Denmark in 2013 to record his new solo album.
"I'm kind of freaked out by 'Jvpiter.' I didn't realize what I was doing. It's a quiet record and it's so dry. It's really just kind of whispering—there's nothing in-your-face about it. I think it has to do with going to Denmark to record it. I had met those guys from Giant Sand, from playing with them. They're the best musicians I've ever seen in my life. It's incredible—the handle they have on American music. We'd run through the song once and record one or two takes and that was it. ... It was in the middle of a forest—no internet, no phone. You'd look into a field and there's just trees and the sun would go down for only a couple of hours. It was a trippy, trippy space to be in. It was otherworldly."
Upon completion of the album, Sullivan became disillusioned with the music business. It began affecting his own music, and at the beginning of 2014, he devised an inventive way to reconnect with the essence of why he does it in the first place.
"I misunderstood someone who was talking about Ryan Adams," he says. "I thought that they were saying he'd record something every day and just put it up on his website. I thought about it and teased myself that maybe I should do that. All last year I felt so frustrated and so stumped and bewildered by the music industry and just the whole idea of making music and why ... I was finishing Billy's record and I had this record that was finished—"Jvpiter" was finished in October of last year—and we couldn't find anyone, any label to put it out. We spent so much time wondering why these things aren't coming to you and then you see Tucson's artistic community where people are not sitting around. You see your friends, and maybe they got a nice write-up in magazine or got asked to open a tour and it turns into this spiral and it turns into this spiral of negativity and it turns away from what music is supposed to be—it's creative and it's fun and it's everything that's not normal. I had so many negative feeling towards music and the business of it, and I was just waiting for people to give me a recording contract and I started thinking that I have a microphone and laptop and I don't need anyone to tell me to record—I can do it in my living room. So I just did it because it's fun; it's practice. It's a revolt against everything I hate about what music is; I do it because I love playing."
Gabriel Sullivan "Jvpiter" Album Release Party
with Atomic Slump and Taraf de Tucson
8 p.m., Friday, Nov. 21
Club Congress 311 E. Congress St.
$10 in advance / $12 day of; 21 and over