A conversation with Kevin Sullivan.
Aggie Radio: Your music has been described as freak folk. Do you think you are a freak?
Kevin: No…I mean I don’t know, it’s hard to say. I think I’m definitely abnormal. I never really fit in in the traditional sense. I actually started calling my own music freak folk way back in the day because I heard about Devendra Banhart recording on a voicemail system or whatever, and it sounded like a good tag. But I would call it freak folk or lo-fi or honestly just songwriter.
Aggie Radio: You’ve been on tour for a while, but you’ve got a break for a week after Treefort. What are you gonna do with all that time?
Kevin: I’m just gonna rest. I usually just go to my girlfriend’s house and never exit the bed. She goes to work from 9-5 and she’s great at cooking and I just lay there and contemplate, do some songwriting, try and record…but I’ve been without a permanent residence for a year and half or two, and I record everything at home, so it’s been hard to record a lot. Half of my stuff is in L.A., half of my stuff is in S.F. I’m from San Francisco but I moved to L.A. January of 2017…I moved onto my friends couch. I basically live half with my girlfriend and half with my friend in L.A.
Aggie Radio: Is it kind of nice to be so free?
Kevin: The shuffle is the worst part, but it is nice to not have anything. When I moved out of my room I gave everything away, so I have a suitcase and some trash bags full of stuff in a storage unit. It’s kinda chill.
Aggie Radio: I read that you started releasing music with your brother back in 2009.
Kevin: Yeah I had a project called Westwood and Willow, we put out an album for that in 2009 and toured a little bit and then got a drummer and changed the band name to Rin Tin Tiger, that became a rock, rhythm and blues thing. That lasted up until 2016, right about when I left for L.A.
Aggie Radio: What do you think you’ve learned since you’ve started playing music, or how you’ve grown as a musician?
Kevin: One of the most important lessons that I took away is that it’s okay to just tell the full truth in your song, or it’s best to. People relate the most to something that maybe feels uncomfortable for you to say. When I started doing Field Medic stuff, because it wasn’t my main project at the time, I had more room to experiment. Then I found the songs that were blunt feelings, people seemed to like a lot. And I liked it too, because all of a sudden I felt relieved because I was speaking the full truth. Not that I’ve ever been into lying in songs, but I think you can’t hide and you can’t ever try to be somebody else. With this project, it was just me doing exactly what I wanted. I wasn’t thinking about getting signed. I was actually going around talking about how I didn’t want to get signed when I started doing Field Medic stuff.
Aggie Radio: As an audience member, I feel like when someone sings about something in their songs, it makes me feel less alone. Realizing someone else feels that way kinda creates that community.
Kevin: Even if it’s super personal, people connect with it more. At songwriters conventions they’ll talk to you about how you need to connect with the everyman and how it has to be accessible to everyone…but if someone talks about a specific experience or even mentions someone by name, if they really mean it it resonates with other people, even if it isn’t their experience. It’s like, fuck, that was a hella real situation, and I’ve been in one kinda similar.
Aggie Radio: So you didn’t set out to get signed, but you did just recently get signed to Run For Cover. Do you like being signed?
Kevin: I do like it. I started my own label called Sunroom Records and Salon that I was running out of my house, and they let me put the logo on the vinyl. I’m getting to keep my own vibe. Run For Cover doesn’t really care what I do, I feel like I could deliver them a batch of super lo-fi freestyles and they would be like, “You wanna put this out? Okay.” I feel really lucky that happened. It’s given me more opportunities because they can help me fund a record if I want to go super hi-fi, they put everything together for me, so it’s really cool.
Aggie Radio: Where did you get the name Field Medic from?
Kevin: There’s a couple different answers and I don’t know which one is true. Firstly, it might be from the book “A Farewell to Arms” by Hemingway. That’s one of my favorite books and the protagonist is a field medic. Secondly, I’m a hypochondriac, so I’m kind of obsessed with doctors. I’m not as bad as I once was in high school, but I think that might be where the idea came from. I also think it sounds kind of spooky, which I think is a good route to go down for a moniker. Also I really love the letter F in cursive, I think that letter is really cute and emo, so that’s another reason why. I think those are all the possible reasons. When Westwood and Willow was changing our name to Rin Tin Tiger, I thought of Field Medic, but they were like, are we going to be Field Medics? Or just singular? So I was sitting on it for years. I’m a doctor, you know what I mean?
Aggie Radio: So your album Songs from the Sunroom was actually written and recorded in a sunroom you were living in?
Kevin: Yeah, this room right here on the record.
Aggie Radio: The room on the album cover. Nice. Is that a self-portrait?
Kevin: No, some gal came over to take some photos one day. It was perfect because it was taken right before I moved out, but that was the state of the sunroom, a bunch of stuff everywhere. It was super tiny, that’s how I was able to live in San Francisco for so long. It was only $400, I was the illegal tenant. So yeah, that was an era of my life I guess. I feel like I’m in the next phase now, like a travelling hobo guy phase, but that was when my label was coming together and me and all my roommates were sharing songs all the time and passing the guitar. It was a really nice time. Some of the songs were recorded in that room, some in the kitchen, some in the basement, but all in that house.
Aggie Radio: What advice would you give to yourself ten years ago?
Kevin: That’s crazy, ten years ago I was super into The Scene Aesthetic, you guys know that band? The Myspace acoustic emo stuff. Maybe I would tell myself to start playing folk music more at that time, but I don’t think I even want to say that because I really enjoyed that. I’m 26 now, so let’s see…when I was 16 I was a scene kid and one time I got sick and started smoking hella cigarettes and weed and partying, and I was hoarse for a few months. And when my voice came back I couldn’t scream anymore. And I used to be in screamo bands in high school…so I would tell myself not to party and smoke while ill because one of my biggest sadnesses in my life is that I can’t scream anymore. If I scream I’ll lose my voice. I used to have this really nice shrill scream and it wouldn’t hurt me, but now if I scream for one song I will be hoarse. That’s why I play acoustic music now. I’d like to be in a metal band.
Aggie Radio: Okay but are you glad you’re in this folk scene instead?
Kevin: Honestly I think it’s better because it’s more long-lasting. I don’t want to be playing Warped Tour forever. I think metal bands have to work really hard to make a living. If you’re a metal band you can’t all of a sudden become an indie band. But with my genre I could put out an electronic pop record and people would be like oh whatever that’s chill. I guess I’m grateful but I have dreams where I’m screaming…and I wake up and it’s almost like I was flying in the dream, ya know, I miss it.
Aggie Radio: You just released your latest album in November, so that wasn’t too long ago. But what can we expect from you in the future?
Kevin: I have half of a new album recorded. In May, when I get off the April tour, I’m gonna finish it. That’ll probably come out in October maybe, because there needs to be all this planning involved. But there’s a new single coming out in April. In between that and the new album I’m probably going to put out a bunch of random songs that aren’t on the album, a mixtape of sorts.
Aggie Radio: Anything else you want to say? To the world outside? To the freaks out there?
Kevin: I want to say don’t spend a lot of money mastering your album. Just have your friend master it on Pro Tools and see what happens. Also don’t spend a lot of money recording your album. Just record it yourself and see what happens. Spend the time writing songs. Don’t spend any money. Also cut your own hair. Don’t spend money at the barber shop.
Aggie Radio: Don’t buy groceries, just get bagels out of the dumpster. Don’t go to Forever 21, get your clothes from Goodwill.
Kevin: 100%. Don’t buy new. What else can we save money on? Get a reusable water bottle. Fill it up. Drink from the tap. Borrow stuff from your friends before you buy it. Like if you’re a gearhead and want to buy hella gear, borrow some from your bruh for a while and see if you like it. Or just use it until you don’t need it anymore, then give it back. Share stuff with your friends.
Aggie Radio: Don’t buy music, just download it.
Kevin: Wait, what?
Aggie Radio: Just kidding. We’re trying to find ways to save money, aren’t we?
Kevin: Well, we’re trying to save money to buy records and t-shirts and cassettes from all your favorite independent artists.
Aggie Radio: Right. Totally. That was a joke.