Sullivan spent much of the 1990s playing across the Midwest with alt/country barroom heroes Steeplejack. The band won a loyal following thanks to its freewheeling live shows, but they had less luck on the recording front: Texas record label DEJADisc (Wayne Hancock, Richard Buckner) went out of business in 1996 shortly after releasing their debut CD, Kitchen Radio. Still, the record won steady radio play in Minneapolis and sold 300 copies in Germany, earning Sullivan a grand total of $70 in royalties. Steeplejack released three limited-edition EPs on local Bert Records before calling it quits in 1998.
Sullivan hung up his leather pants and found steady work in journalism, eventually landing in Washington as a technology reporter for the Reuters news service. Returning from an assignment in Buenos Aires after Sept. 11, 2001, he found the city's marble monuments surrounded by surveillance cameras and jersey barricades.
They would soon show up in his songs as well.
"I've never been much of a confessional songwriter, but I've always written about the environment around me," Sullivan says. "In Minneapolis, that meant barrooms, snowstorms and hangovers. Now it's spy satellites and Alan Greenspan."
The result is an urgent, hard-hitting rock record, as ambitious musically as it is lyrically, thanks to expert backing by a cast of musicians that includes his brothers Rob and Dan (Songs:Ohia, Nad Navillus, Arriver).
"Rock N Roll" serves as a soundtrack to the carnage in Iraq; "Wait" wraps an elegant waltz around nonsensical technobabble. "Don't it Feel Good?" tells the true story of a high-school classmate who made a fortune selling diet pills. The "White Van" could be driven by the Beltway Sniper or the National Security Agency, but either way it's not letting you out of its sight.
One song, "The Internet is Changing Everything," became an underground hit even before the CD was completed. A spoof of the millennial hype pumped through financial TV and spam e-mails, it was picked up by MP3 bloggers across the globe last year and has been played on National Public Radio's "Marketplace" program.
"People from England and Germany have e-mailed me asking for the lyrics," Sullivan says. "It's great that the song has spread so far without any effort on my part. Now let's see if they'll buy the freakin' CD."
Check out the artist's website:
1. You Can't Have a Product Without a Producer
3. White Van
4. The Internet Is Changing Everything
5. They Keep Coming, We Keep On Knocking Them Down
6. Rock N Roll
7. The Invisible Man
9. New Transmissions
10. Don't It Feel Good?
12. Trust Me
13. Moonlight Maze