Out front of the Silverlake Lounge’s facade, Kevin Patrick Sullivan waits with bated breath. Four hours before he’s supposed to take the stage, the bar is so empty, you’d almost forget it’s an iconic spot in crowded Los Angeles. Of course it's empty, though — it’s 7 p.m. on a Wednesday. Still, the nerves have set in for Sullivan, already halfway through a cigarette, as tonight will be his first concert as his singer-songwriter pseudonym, Field Medic, in nearly two years.
Come 11 p.m., the bar is packed, and the first-show-back jitters have started to subside. Basking in the spotlight with his trusty Orangewood, Sullivan found confidence with the audience gleefully chanting along to nearly every lyric.
We got to chat with Field Medic a few weeks after the show to discuss his return to the stage, his audio-draft-turned-viral-TikTok-sound, his Hudson Torrefied Spruce Live, and his upcoming new album.
How have you been since I last saw you at the Silverlake Lounge?
I've been good. I'm still recording that album I was telling you about, slowly but surely. I guess that's really all I've been doing: recording, chilling. I’m preparing to go on tour, so I’m thinking logistically about what that means, booking flights. I'm savoring the final moments of not having to do anything.
What did you miss most about being on tour?
I think my favorite part is playing the shows. Getting to play for people is so validating; it helps me remember why I make music. It can be really isolating to be a songwriter, so meeting people that listen to the music and connect with it is like, "Oh, this is why I love this so much." I mean, obviously, I love it, because I love the craft of songwriting. But it's great to see that the songs are helpful or fun for other people or whatever it may be.
Another favorite part of touring is hotel lobby coffee. I love just the little cheap styrofoam cup and airpot thing. Being forced out of my comfort zone is cool, too. Usually there's several hours between soundcheck and when the show starts — it's always fun to walk around and see what's going on out there. I'm definitely a homebody and sort of an introvert; I have a hard time taking a vacation and enjoying it. So having a task I need to do, while also being kind of on vacation... it's a good combo for me.
How'd it feel to play your first show back at the Silverlake Lounge? You shared that you were a bit nervous to perform your songs as your hyperpop alter-ego, Paper Rose Haiku. But the whole set went over well, including that part!
It felt really good. I hadn't played a show for anyone in almost two years. Just getting up there and seeing — well, inferring that they were smiling through their masks, seeing the smiles in their eyes; it felt great. It was tricky because I'm sober. Hanging out at Silverlake Lounge for five hours was starting to make me consider going over to the dark side. That was the hardest part of the night.
I get really anxious before I play as well. An hour before I start, I want to leave the building. I'm just like, "I can't do this." But of course afterwards, I felt really revitalized. I was like, "I can still do this. It's not really scary. It's actually really chill and nice." So it felt amazing.
I just think everyone had so much fun that night. The Paper Rose stuff was the cherry on top; everyone got to let loose a little bit.
Tell me the story of how this "Paper Rose Haiku" persona developed for you.
Paper Rose came to be because in the very beginning of quarantine, I became mutual friends with a bunch of producers that make cloud rap or hyperpop — I'm not sure what they would want to call it. But they make tons of beats, and they're really cool — great musicians. One of them, in particular, named Fantasy Camp, I loved his music. And at one point, I was like, "Dude, let's just make a song. I think I'm finally ready to try this other sound."
We made this song called "Black Metal Long Sleeve." That actually came out as Field Medic and Fantasy Camp. But it was like super autotune-y and just on SoundCloud. It was a really nice escape from being Field Medic, and from being trapped in the midst of a pandemic. It gave me an outlet.
In April of this year, I started recording Paper Rose stuff with a better set up. I think it's like, Next Gen. It's really all thanks to those producers that are willing to send me beats and let me fool around on them. I've made plenty of Paper Rose songs that are horrible, and there are some that are okay.
It's great to have an alternate persona, but your music as Field Medic is really true to you. How would you describe the Field Medic sound, in your own words?
At times, it’s kind of Travis pick-y, fingerstyle, strummy, folky. It's like 50% the most classic kind of guitar playing possible. Then I'd say the other 50% is when I'm in alternate tunings, doing some more complex fingerstyle stuff, then it becomes some variation of that. So, finger-picky, folky, acousty. Just 'cousty, always.
Shameless plug: how's the Hudson Torrefied Spruce Live doing for you? I saw you play it live, that was awesome.
I love it. Silverlake Lounge was the first time I'd done it live — although I guess technically I did it live at the Yellow House Session — but it sounds amazing. It's really nice. It's bright, but it's not... you know, some guitars — not naming any names — but some guitars are so bright that they just sound instantly DI'ed even if they're not plugged in. This one's got the nice bright tone. The neck is really easy to fret and the action is really low without there being any sort of buzzing. It's great.
I actually cut a couple songs for my new album on it, and they sound super lit. It works. You know, it works out on the porch when you're just writing, it works on stage, and it works in the stu'. What more can you ask for?
It's the perfect all rounder! I'm excited to hear the tracks that it's used for on the new record. I'm sure people will be hyped to know that there's more Field Medic music on the way.
I always feel like I don't have any tracks left. And then, somehow, I just have tons of tracks, written and recorded. So I'm actually surprised that there's new Field Medic, too! Every album I put out feels like it's gonna be my last. I'm like, "I've run completely dry." And then something about the compulsion to write music... It's like, well, guess I'll just write another one. See what happens?
"That's what I've said since the beginning of time: songs just appear when you need them."
How do your songs usually start out? How do you go from, "This is just an idea," to "This is a complete song that's going on the record"?
It's hard to say because I always feel that way. I oscillate between feeling like there's no tracks left and there's unlimited tracks. They all come about in different ways. Some songs, I'll have been fiddling on a little guitar pick-y part for a while and then all of a sudden, the lyrics come to me. Or I'll cross-check some poetry I've written and then that becomes the lyrics.
But recently, a lot of songs come from just walking down the street and having a funny thought — or, it might not be funny; a lyrical phrase appears and then I sit down with the guitar and chug it out. Sometimes it's just a random scrap. Then, three weeks later, maybe I'll write some other song, and think, "Oh, actually, I think this little part of that that was good is now going to be the bridge of this other song" — piecing them together.
It's just consistently working on songwriting when you feel like it and not doing it when you don't. I've pushed myself too hard to try and make songs. I feel tapped out, like there's no emotion or anything in it. So, I don't know. I guess they all just appear. That's what I've said since the beginning of time: songs just appear when you need them.
Speaking of songs appearing when you need them: I feel like your viral hit, “song i made up to stop myself from having a panic attack just now,” also just appeared out of thin air. What was it like having that song go viral?
That was interesting, I do feel like that sort of speaks to the way I'll write guitar songs too. I don't usually take a video of myself singing it out, but a lot of times if I'm having an anxiety attack, I might take a walk around the block and start singing, like: "Taking a walk, gonna feel better by the time I get home, and if not, I'm-a gonna find something to calm down!" Engaging my voice and singing a little loop helps me to quiet my mind when it’s freaking out.
I almost deleted that video right after I put it out because I felt really embarrassed. Well, not really embarrassed, it was so personal. In that video, there is no mask — if there ever was one. I woke up the next day and this guy Rich, who you'll hear on the recording, duetted with a harmony. His video was going viral because he had way more followers than me.
All of a sudden, every day something crazy started happening with that song. The other day, SZA posted an Instagram Story of a Reel with that song on it. I don't take her post as her being like, "I love this song," but it spread so wide. I'm just grateful this was the song to take off, because it’s just really nice and sweet.
"Now I feel like I should pretty much release everything... you should just release every song."
It's definitely wholesome. That's the beauty of TikTok — you can just post a little snippet and it can go absolutely viral.
I think that speaks to another concept, too: you never know what song might be important to other people. If you're a songwriter, you might doubt yourself sometimes. I would have never recorded that song and put it out thinking that it would be chill. Now I feel like I should pretty much release everything. I guess this is a blanket statement to anyone listening: you should just release every song. As the artist, you never actually really know what is the song.
True. You might be holding back something that is the song.
Your hit single might be in your Logic folder titled "This Sucks." You know? Just post it!
Do you have any particular songwriting influences when you write? If so, who's been inspiring you the most these days?
Old folk music is an endless well of inspiration that I always come back to. Like Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell — all those people. There's something timeless about them. I'm speaking about this right now, because I'm writing this sort of silly, flatpick style blues song. I feel like that music almost sounds silly nowadays, because it's very caricaturesque of “cowboy.” But I love silliness. I need silliness. Especially because a lot of my music is secretly hella emo.
I've also been really inspired by Bladee. Not really musically, but just his whole vibe is cool to me. And there's a song I heard recently by an artist named Sega Bodega called "Only Seeing God When I Come." Similar to Caroline Polachek — it's in the digital pop realm, but it’s got a mysterious sound. I think that music is super cool too.
When you're writing a song, who is your intended audience? Are you writing them for yourself, or do you ever have anyone in mind?
They're usually for me, unless maybe I've been scorned and I'm writing a song about it. I'm like, "I need to let this person hear my side of the story." But the more I reflect on it, it seems like every song is about me anyways. Even if I say "you" or I talk about someone else, I feel like it's always secretly just about me. My songs are my way of working through situations that I'm in or feelings that I'm having.
Oddly enough I find the more specific a song is, the more relatable it is. Whereas if you try to go "songwriters.com" and make it universal, it starts to feel corny. There's lyrics that you hear where a songwriter is talking about something so specific to them, and it just hits for some reason. I think it hits because it's real. Even though you're not in that scenario, it shoots you into your version of that scenario. So I just write songs for me and then try to make them decent.
Speaking of tracks of yours, how come "chamomile" wasn't the version of "-h-o-u-s-e-k-e-y-z-" that ended up on Floral Prince?
That is an interesting question, actually. So "-h-o-u-s-e-k-e-y-z-" was originally recorded in 2014. A different version of that song is on an EP called X CLEAR X THOUGHTS X OF X MORNING X. I tried to record "-h-o-u-s-e-k-e-y-z-" for my second album, fade into the dawn. That's the version on Floral Prince, but we had to mix it a bunch. When I was listening to it, in relation to the other Floral Prince songs, I thought, "What if I try to record this hella slow and 'cousty?"
So then it turned into "chamomile.” I thought, “Maybe ‘-h-o-u-s-e-k-e-y-z-’ is done and now it's all about the ‘chamomile’ version.” But when it came to deciding between the two for Floral Prince, the whole album gets so slow towards the middle, I felt it needed at least one “hyphy” song — there's only like two upbeat songs on the whole record. If we subtracted “-h-o-u-s-e-k-e-y-z-,” it would have been extremely sleepy. I think that myself, the label, and everybody was like, "Let's get one rootin' tootin' good time song before it gets hella depressing and slow."
Can you define hyphy for me?
Hyphy is a genre of music from the Bay Area. Have you ever heard of like Mac Dre, E40, or Keak Da Sneak? It's just hyphy. I feel like you can infer what it means.
I'll put some hyphy on my guest playlist as well. I was just talking to somebody who's not from California at all and they don't know anything about hyphy. Never heard of Mac Dre. It's crazy because Mac Dre was such a cultural icon in the Bay Area when I was growing up that you couldn't escape it even if you tried. People tried to pin crunk against hyphy, but I think crunk was bigger in the pop market because hyphy music is really silly. The whole thing is that the Bay Area loves to make up funny words. It's just a bunch of silly slang.
I'm sure that was foundational for you.
It was fun to grow up around for sure. It changed me. Being hyphy as a teen definitely led to the creation of many silly words of my own.
Right. Such as?
Well, I guess maybe not silly words, but silly slang. The most popular term that I feel like I popularized is the word "platinum" for describing anything that's successful or cool. Obviously, I didn't invent the word. But I think I was the first one to say it like that. But it's fun when you say a funny word so much that other people start saying it. I was just addicted to saying it. Now other people say it. I can't even describe what it feels like. But it just feels funny.
Speaking of growing up in the bay, how's L.A. treating you compared to Northern California? What's the verdict on SoCal?
The Bay Area — San Francisco specifically — was really cool. It feels like an alternative city. I grew up in San José, where people would yell mean stuff at me from their car windows, because I'm dressed in girls pants and have silly hair. When I came to SF, people didn't look twice if I was dressed in an eccentric manner. There were a lot of open mics and poetry and riding the bus — I loved that experience. The one thing that the Bay Area lacks is a solid music scene, or at least one I fit into. There was a lot of psych rock and garage rock, which is totally cool. But there wasn't really a songwriter scene.
Coming to LA, my friends who play music here have been really gracious and asked me to open for their shows and invited me to stuff. I've just been more involved in the music game. L.A. has been really helpful as far as developing a serious career, and I'm really grateful for that. Both are nice in their own way.
Serious career moves actually bring me to my next question. I hear you're hosting The Neighborhood show coming up. How'd you get that gig? And what will Field Medic hosting look like?
One question is easier to answer than the other. Their drummer, Brandon, used to live with me in SF. I literally watched him go Platinum before my eyes. I toured with them a couple of times. Like, a month ago they called me and asked if I wanted to host their shows. I was like, "Yeah, but what does that mean?" Maybe I'm gonna play a couple songs or something, I honestly don't know what I'm gonna do.
This is the only idea that I have: I think I'm going to go out and be like, "Yo, like, does anyone like smoking weed out here?" And the crowd cheers. And then I'll be like, "I'm gonna do a little song called 'Do A Little Dope'!" "Yeah!!" Next is... I literally don't know. I'm gonna walk in front of 15,000 people and wing it. Whatever happens, come what may.
I know you're working on your own stuff. That's another huge career move. Get the fans hype for the new music. What can they most look forward to on the new record?
Some of the songs are going to be more HD. There will still be lo-fi elements, lo-fi tracks. But I have a couple songs that are a little bit shinier. But not in a way that's sketchy! It's just recorded a little bit cleaner. There's some live drums, which is cool. There's also still some drum machines. It's 'cousty! We're keeping it classic.
What I hope to do with this album is to elaborate on the sound, to make it a bit more tonally lush. So the songs are the same, but maybe there's some slide guitar or some cello or something. I just want to make it sound a little bit more beautiful. Same kind of songs, but just with a little bit more beauty. Hopefully.
Tap into the mind of Field Medic and listen to the inspirations he’s taking into his next album on his guest playlist down below:
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.