There are various techniques that can help you to relax and stop yourself from having a panic attack. You can tap on your fingers or count five things that you can see and feel. If you want to get off the beaten path, you can write a song telling yourself to take it easy mid-panic attack, record it on the spot, and publish a thirty second "song". The ladder is for the audacious explorers.
In the military world, field medics care for those battling with diseases as well as those injured in combat. Kevin Patrick Sullivan is on a similar quest, through Field Medic, to heal his very own suffering. Upon first hearing, his work resembles a Carl André installation; stripped-down and minimal with determined chords that seem to know where they're headed. It's under the layer of the rustic and close-miked acoustics where we're introduced to the real chaos. In between syllables and poetic allusions, there is anger, bitterness, insecurity and sadness wrapped up in a blanket of nostalgia. Following a method he calls full-time freestyle, he records himself singing and makes little to no modifications. His lyrics are therefore brutally vulnerable which almost makes you feel guilty as if you're reading the diary of your friend without his permission while he's out peeing.
For those who are not ready to embark on a journey of existential introspection, worry not. It's not all doom and gloom. Field Medic meticulously blends humor within his lyricism that takes the edge off of what could possibly be his darkest songs. In it's so lonely being sober he sings "Feeling proud and my stomach's feeling better, I even started doing push ups, and my dick's harder than ever."
I've interviewed Kevin Patrick Sullivan on a thunderous day, which seemed to be very fit for this particular interview. What becomes apparent in our conversation, is the depth of vulnerability he is ready to unveil. The cathartic comfort of opening yourself up to a point where there is no conflict between your honesty and your expression is a task not much can (or should) achieve. It does bring however, the beauty of being a vessel for your own truth and oh, what a wonderful thing that is.
What excited you the most this week?
I played a wedding in Iowa and then flew back the same day, it was an epic journey. It was really sweet that the couple wanted my music in their wedding. I also had a band practice for the tour that I'm about to go on. I'm bringing a band for the first time and they sound really good so that got me super excited. It's an exciting time but a very anxious-inducing one too. There are a lot of moving parts right now and I get easily overwhelmed by responsibilities. I find myself between being excited and wanting to hide under a rock. Whenever you take on something new, you say things like "Ah, I wish I hadn't agreed to go on this tour." I do want to go though, I'm just scared.
What have you been listening recently? Can you give me three recs?
I've been listening to a ton of ambient recently like Hiroshi Yoshimura. He has an album called Music for Nine Postcards which is very peaceful. I've also just found this band called The Callous Daoboys. They remind me of Number Twelve Looks Like You which is one of my favorite bands. I don't know if they're around anymore but this band has a lot of elements of Number Twelve with chaotic math-y riffs and whatnot. The lyrics of Number Twelve is kind of silly whereas the Callous Daoboys write very meaningful lyrics. For my third rec, I'll go back to my ambient zone and recommend Sigur Ros. I turn to ambient stuff when I'm stressed.
In my mind you're like a bizarre folk therapist. Whatever you're doing for yourself you're unintentionally doing for others. The song you put out "song i made up to stop myself from having a panic attack just now" provides comfort to so many people even though you've literally written it for yourself. How does helping others just by helping yourself feel like?
I never expected that song to have that much of an impact. I really like that song particularly because it's one of my most positive songs. Normally there is a lot of doom and gloom involved. It's nice to know that it can be helpful. When I wrote that, it helped me process my emotions but now it can go on to help people process what they're feeling too.
You value realness more than anything in your work. Do you ever see yourself writing from the perspective of someone else or maybe writing about something outside your world?
That's a good question. I have actually tried a couple of times. Sometimes I go to a session where I'm co-writing a song for another artist. It's an interesting exercise but in those sessions I get very existential, questioning the point of the song. In my perspective, it's important to get my feelings out in my song-writing and it's the main function of my work. I only really make a song when I have to. Don't get me wrong, I love making songs but I find that the ones that turn out the best are the ones where I sit saying "If I don't get this out, my head is going to explode." I'm interested in exploring other things though. When I was flying to Iowa I was listening to Lewis Capaldi to figure out what the secret to writing an ultimate top 40 hit ballad is.
Have you figured out the secret element?
I think you have to sing really well. All of those guys have the quiet verse and the other one where they're fully screaming. Unfortunately I don't have that range at the moment but maybe after some vocal lessons we could get that radio hit.
Writing songs in real time, full-time freestyle mentality like you would put it, is a very raw way of going through song-writing. Do you ever feel like giving into the more self-conscious part of your brain and make a bunch of edits or is it like second nature to you now?
I have this compulsion to keep it super raw. I almost feel more vulnerable if I'm not being fully vulnerable. The single I put out "I think about you all the time" was a song that I changed and weirdly I felt more shy about that because there wasn't real thought in it, I had sort of coded it. I still feel nervous when I'm putting out a more vulnerable song because it's sharing a very deep feeling of yours but it feels good sharing it. With those songs people come up to me and say "I was also feeling that myself." and it feels great when people say that.
How did you reach the position where you let your intuition guide your work? Were you valuing that as much when you first started out?
That's an interesting question because now that I think about it I don't think it's the case. I used to play in a band called Rin Tin Tiger and I was obsessed with Bob Dylan at the time. I was writing songs that were shrouded in metaphor. Whenever I listen back to reminisce, I realize that nobody could ever make sense of any of those songs which I like because I'm very interested in poetry and words. When I started the Field Medic project, my first EP was still in that vein. When I started to release every song I wrote, I found that some of the songs I've written bluntly were resonating with people a little bit. I understood the virtue of having a lyric that makes sense. Sometimes I like to pair a lyric that makes sense with a lyric which is a poetic device so I try to do the mix. The biggest turning point that I saw was when I released OTL. It's very literal and kind of edgy. The first time I ever played that song, I was at a house show and by the time I was finished with the song everybody was singing along because it was so repetitive and easy to understand. A light turned on in my brain there. You don't have to veil everything in poetry.
Talking about intuition, are you a spiritual person? You talk a lot about death and morality in your work I wonder how you contextualize them in your personal life.
That's so interesting, I was just thinking about that last night. Right now, I'm not spiritual but I would like to be. I feel like my spirituality is somehow tangled into my creativity so I feel like the song, or the poem I'm making is my deity. The issue of that is that it comes back to me and it turns into a cyclical loop of confusion and ego. If my deity is only my own creation, it leaves me spiritually bankrupt and a bit too focused. I'm trying to figure out how to step away from songwriting to create more space for nature because I get trapped in my own head and I'm spooked about dying all the time.
How does a spiritual version of yourself look like in your head?
There was a time period in 2019 when I was hella sober where I was doing a lot of fitness and I was riding my bike all the time. I felt like there was a spirituality in that. I was doing things for myself that had nothing to do with music or my artistic expression. It's kind of like Jamba Juice style you know, treating your body like a temple. I put a lot of poison in my body to get that quick fix. Focusing on keeping the body healthy and focusing on community building would be my idea of spirituality. We have a zine with my friend Andre called Paper Frame where people can submit their works. I produce the zines and we donate the money. Spirituality is that, it's acts of service for others. Also, just being fit, I guess.
What is very interesting about your song-writing is the concept of a constant lack of something whether it'd be spirituality or a specific emotion. In Better Way, you say "There is something that I've lost, there is something that I lack." What do you think that something is?
I feel like it's easy to always look through the lens of nostalgia and I always find myself in this place where I think everything was better in the past. I start to realize that I always feel that way. When I was 19 I felt like I had so much vitality and optimism. I was willing to go the distance. I was naive in a way but I believed goodness prevailed. I thought if you put out a good vibe, it came to you. If you work hard, you'd get what you deserve. I think it's about the nostalgia of those feelings.
And if you were to talk to that Kevin from long ago what would you tell him?
I would say stop drinking and stop smoking cigs now so you won't deal with it 15 years later. I would also say trust your instinct more and don't let fear stop you from enjoying life because that has also been a common theme for me throughout life. I feel like I denied myself of many experiences.
After going through sobriety and so much self work, how does it feel listening the songs you've written in your darkest times?
It's interesting because I can still relate to him. I've always been dealing with the same issues since I was a teenager. I feel like some of the songs on the new album are some of the darkest tracks of all time. Sometimes I like to use hyperbole in songwriting because I find absurdity amusing. The feelings aren't hyperbole but sometimes the way I think about them in that moment, they are extreme and I tend to lean into that extreme feeling. So in some way when I'm listening back to them they almost make me smile and I go "Dude this is the most ridiculously dark lyric of all time." It's helpful in the moment just to say it and it can be amusing in hindsight.
I think there are two ways that it can go: You can either have a pity party or feel compassion towards your old self. I feel like in your case it leans into compassion more than anything.
Yeah, a hundred percent. I feel bad for that dude but he is here now and he is feeling better so shoutout and respect to him.
Before you wrote I Think About You All the Time you were going through a rough time which made your sobriety more challenging. Were there any practices that helped you compensate that feeling of shutting off that you achieve with alcohol?
I think I have an anxiety disorder though I've never been diagnosed and since I was 15 I'd get panic attacks and heart palpitations. When I first started drinking and experimenting with drugs I realized that it was the off switch for me. It's difficult when you're in that place of fight or flight. If I drank three beers on the spot I would start to feel better because a lot of it was in my mind. That's where fitness comes in. Working the body and tiring it out in a natural way is helpful but I will say that shortly after I made the album I relapsed on tour, the October of last year. I only just stopped drinking again three months ago. I did crack under pressure, it was another battle.
Does touring trigger that?
Definitely. There is no stability and nowhere to hide. Every night you have to meet a bunch of people and put on your best face. there is also a lot of alcohol everywhere. When it happened last year I remember sitting in the tour bus in Chicago and I was so anxious. I said to myself that I literally couldn't do this if I wasn't drinking, which isn't true of course but at the time it felt like it. I know that if I just start sipping it's going to lift my mood. Like you said, the tour is definitely the biggest trigger because there is no familiarity out there.
Are you scared to go on to your upcoming North America tour for that very reason?
Yeah that's honestly why I'm scared. I know how it makes me feel to travel.
If you were not obliged to tour, would you be the kind of musician who only did local gigs?
That's a good question because I actually do imagine a world where I don't tour at all but that's mostly fear-based because when I get to it I do have a lot of fun. It's really cool to see the world and meet people. It's a very validating experience and it reinvigorates the reason why I do it. Obviously I do it for myself but like you said earlier, knowing that it helps others gives me courage to keep going. Digging deeper and deeper into this pain and confusion is difficult at times. I think in an ideal world I would only tour two months out of the year. I need the became 25 times more successful so that I can go to the bougie-est tour of all time.
Each musician I interview has such different outlooks on different stages of making music. If it's not touring, what is your favorite thing about it?
It's definitely recording and releasing. I love recording when I record myself which is most times. I forget all about my anxieties and I can lose hours in the studio making stuff. I really do love writing too. Most lyrics come from little poems I write that I repurpose into lyrics.