SHON SULLIVAN FRONTS a band called Goldenboy. He makes his home in a magical-sounding spot named Diamond Bar. But, evidence to the contrary, Sullivan isn't a modern day Richie Rich, running around in a diminutive tuxedo, a Dalmatian with dollar-sign-shaped spots nipping at his black patent leather shoes. Diamond Bar is a bedroom community 22 miles south of Los Angeles, and Sullivan is that most common of fixtures on the L.A. rock scene—a session musician.
Well, not exactly "common."
The singer-songwriter, who played with Spain circa their I Believe album, was tagged Goldenboy by friends because of his ability to jump effortlessly among a variety of instruments, including piano, guitar, and cello. Blue Swan Orchestra (on b-girl Records) is the debut full-length from his band (not to be confused with DJ-producer Golden Boy—"we both started going under that name at pretty much the same time," says Sullivan)—and the album, which also features multi-instrumentalist and co-producer David McConnell and drummer Bryan Bos, is hardly lacking musical merit. The disc's 10 originals boast melodies and arrangements that recall slightly scaled-back specimens of the baroque pop popularized by the Flaming Lips/Mercury Rev/Grandaddy camp, anchored by a subtle rhythmic pulse that will feel familiar to Luna fans. Sullivan's voice is a lighter-than-air baritone with just a purplish hint of melancholy. If you're one of the rare Americans who enjoyed Regeneration, the last album by the U.K.'s Divine Comedy, Blue Swan Orchestra will slot nicely in your collection.
Sullivan and co. aren't wanting in the friends and family department, either. The "thank you" credits tucked in the BSO CD jacket feature almost as many notables as an issue of SPIN. We're not just talking the usual platitudes giving props to "God and my manager," ࠬa Destiny's Child and every two-bit rap act, but rather a curious array of songwriters and players that invites further exploration. Which, as it turns out, is a great way to track the evolution of Goldenboy thus far.
Elliott Smith: A couple years ago, the Portland expatriate heard about Sullivan's multi-instrumental abilities and tapped him to play in his band on a world tour. It was during this jaunt that Sullivan began the yearlong writing spell that spawned the material for Blue Swan Orchestra. A few months later, while Sullivan was on tour with another artist, McConnell was at his studio recording Smith's new record. During a break, McConnell played "Summertime," a Goldenboy work in progress, and "Elliott said 'I want to sing something on that.'" Smith's voice blends beautifully with Sullivan's on the finished song, the sixth track on BSO.
Neil Finn: After Smith was through with him, Sullivan was hired by ex-Split Enz/Crowded House frontman Finn for another around-the-world adventure. One day in Europe, the evening's opening act fell ill. "I'd given Neil a tape of Goldenboy demos," recalls Sullivan. "On the way to the show, he just said, 'Do you want to open tonight?' I had my little Yamaha battery-operated keyboard with me—for working in my hotel room—so I played the set on that and acoustic guitar."
Lisa Germano: Sullivan's connection to the 4AD recording artist and former violin player for John Mellencamp also came via Finn, who was so pleased with the one-off show that he gave Goldenboy (albeit minus McConnell and Bos) the support slot on his whole Australian tour. "Lisa would often come out and join in on violin," says Sullivan, who thinks Finn liked the impromptu vibe Goldenboy established for the shows. "A few times when I was playing, I heard drums come in, and I'd turn around, and it would be Neil. And he's a great musician, but he's as good a drummer as I am—and I'm not good."
DJ Left, the Invisible MC: No, Sullivan doesn't have an ill-advised drum-and-bass side project. DJ Left is actually former Soul Coughing bassist Sebastian Steinberg and another one of Finn's merry men. While touring Down Under, Steinberg's role in the Goldenboy sets quickly escalated from announcing Sullivan to kibitzing over the P.A. "He'd be talking to me during the show, in that deep voice of his." DJ Left also supplied the occasional rhythm to underpin Sullivan's songs. "He's an amazing human beat box."
Josie Cotton: What's the connection between Goldenboy and this '80s one-hit wonder ("Johnny, Are You Queer?")? "She's part owner of b-girl Records," explains Sullivan. He loves the tiny label, he adds, because all the key players— including Cotton and L.A. punk vet Hellin Killer—have been through the big entertainment industry mill already. Cotton has sung on "Winter Long" at a handful of Goldenboy gigs, and she and Sullivan have been collaborating on new material for a forthcoming album. "She's still got a lovely voice."
Goldenboy—minus celebrity guests—play the Lock & Keel at 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27. $6.