Sullivan celebrates No. 2 on the road

by Jordan Green

With the release of its sophomore effort Cover Your Eyes on Tuesday, Sullivan emerges as a full-fleshed rock powerhouse. The emo subculture that emerged from the smoldering ruins of punk and hardcore has been shed as an identity by bands in this generation. What’s left for Sullivan is soaring anthems, gorgeous hooks and operatic virtuosity.

Sullivan’s press materials identify them as an exponent of Chapel Hill. While the home of North Carolina’s flagship state university may be an identifiable regional rock capital for fans across the country, Sullivan’s true fans know that the band keeps house in Greensboro and its members grew up in towns in and around the Triad. Singer Brooks Paschal and bass player Zach Harward, who are founding members, respectively grew up in Randleman and High Point.

There may be no more zealous keepers of the flame than Sullivan’s fans in Greensboro. When the band previewed material from the new album with its new guitar player from Florida at Greene Street in February, the audience responded with instantaneous approval. And true to their emo roots, the boys of Sullivan gave the love back.

“The great thing about being from the area we’re in is that people aren’t desensitized by live music, and they really gravitate toward their hometown people,” Paschal told me on May 30 before a show in Nashville. “You need that feeling of embrace. It helps you go out and play in front of strangers. We’re sort of that type of band where you really like us or you really don’t, so it’s great when you have those people who are really on your side…. When you’re home there’s more of a sense of friendship and family.”

The release of Cover Your Eyes’ comes in the midst of a package tour with Tooth & Nail label mates Hank Nelson, MXPX, the Fold, Classic Crime, Project 86 and Run Kid Run. Though Sullivan is no stranger to touring, for this second record the label has given them some public-relations muscle and they’re playing well regarded venues like the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ and Irving Plaza in New York City. The tour’s corporate sponsor is White Castle.

“This is definitely the longest, most consistent big-room tour we’ve done,” Paschal says. “The tour as a whole is definitely the biggest that we’ve ever done. Usually those kinds of things are intimidating. I guess we’re kind of growing accustomed to it.”

Sullivan is scheduled to play House of Blues in Chicago the day Cover Your Eyes comes out. They’ll probably have an in-store appearance to promote the new record that day, and then again in two days in Minneapolis. Paschal sounds excited about his band’s push into the upper Midwest, but he yearns to share the moment with his hometown supporters.

“We’re not going to be home for awhile,” he says.

Clearly you can’t have it both ways.

“It’s incredible – fun times,” he says. “I really enjoy long tours. You really get a chance to get to know the guys you’re on tour with. It feels like an actual adventure.”

The excitement comes from the fact that the band is still testing its abilities and undertaking new challenges.

“There’s definitely this sort of subliminal dialogue that’s going on with performers and an audience,” Paschal says. “You know pretty quickly whether this crowd is going to be open to what you’re doing. When it’s there, use it and really go with it. When it’s not there, you have to go, ‘Okay, the only way I’m going to win this crowd over is to show I’m doing it for myself. There are nights where I’m sort of disappointed for letting a crowd or not feeling well get the best of me.”

Every show is a new opportunity to forge a higher emotional connection.

“At this point, there are ten thousand Sullivans out there,” the singer says. “You have to do something extra to stand out. You have to let people know that you consider this stop on the tour to be the most important stop. It’s not just, ‘Okay, we’re stopping in Cleveland tomorrow.’ It’s got to be the best we’ve ever done. We’re still finding ourselves as performers, so it’s good.”

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