Sullivan, please tell us your story! How did you get to where you are today?
I grew up in a fairly musically enthusiastic family, and learned and taught myself various instruments. Eventually as I grew into a young adult it began to shape my life in a more legit way. Moving to Meanjin (Brisbane) from the sleepy Sunshine Coast to study when I was 17, I became immersed in the scene of the early-to-mid 2000’s – the indie heyday! I was surrounded by great music and great people, and went out all the time. I started a few bands, one of which – I Heart Hiroshima – blew up in it’s own cute indie way. From there as a young, energetic extrovert, it kind of snowballed. Music definitely became “my life”. I played solidly in bands for a good 10 years, touring, recording, collaborating, living overseas, doing session work, and starting solo projects.

At the point, I needed a break from the relentless touring of IHH and living in Meanjin – I felt like I had been wrapped up in this world consistently for 6 years or so, and while I loved it, I needed to figure out who I was and be a stranger in a new land. After a fairly brutal 6 week European Tour, I decided to move to Berlin, via New York – where I remained for 6 years. During this time I focussed more on developing my solo work, collaborations, DJing and putting on my own events. This was pretty essential to my sense of self, my confidence as a songwriter and identity as a whole.

“About four years into my time in Berlin, I realised I was most definitely a Trans human – and thus Sullivan enters the chat!”

In retrospect, I think I subconsciously felt like I couldn’t do this at home, the weight felt too heavy. I was the The Girl Drummer from I Heart Hiroshima. Not that we were FAMOUS by any means, but there was meaning there for a certain community, and parts of me that felt like I was letting people down and that my family wouldn’t understand. Which is sad to think about now, but I understand why it felt loaded.

I eventually came back to Australia after realising I missed the ease of home, my friendships, family and German bureaucracy grew tiresome, alongside the generally grey vibe. Landing back in Meanjin, I did a bit of everything for a while – I worked as a DJ for a year or so, and threw some parties here and there and brought some international acts out to tour alongside Uda Widanapathirana at Mellum. I did freelance festival and event work, worked for a ticketing company, and as an agent and generally hustled my way around the music world for a while. I wasn’t 100% sure what I really wanted to do, but new that the ideal was the do programming and knew I wanted to be in Narrm (Melbourne). It also felt like a funny in-limbo time as I was focusing on my body and brain while transitioning – mentally, physically – so it felt hard to commit or even really have brain capacity to think about a CAREER.

Once I landed in Narrm, I continued working at the ticketing company, then eventually took a side step working for Next Wave, the emerging arts festival, while continuing to work in some niche one-off international tours of more underground artists. Dark Mofo booked myself and some artists I worked with to play at the festival in 2017. These relationships grew over a few festivals and eventually Uda and I were asked to program Night Mass together with Gadigal Land angels Soft Centre festival in 2019. This was a pretty amazing opportunity – the first time I didn’t hustle for my own funds to put together a dream program. We had the reigns and were encouraged to present wild ideas and formulate a forward-thinking program. The 2019 Night Mass was one of my personal highlights – we were pretty sad to not be able to present our completed Night Mass program for 2020 due to our good friend Covid forcing the event to pull the pin.

Dark Mofo

Since the global pandemic lovato has thrown a little curveball into our lives – I won’t go into this much, we all know it was a challenging shitshow, but I’m still alive! – my last few years have been busy and mixed – as is par for the course it seems for my silly little Gemini life. I’ve played DJ and live shows at MONA FOMA & Venice Bienale, I’ve joined Alice Skye’s band as her drummer, created my artist curated video series Post-Mix, assisted with programming at Carriageworks for Vivid (guided by Tom Supple) and worked at Testing Grounds, City of Darebin and Rising. Since last year I have been at City of Port Phillip as the programmer for the St Kilda Festival which is a wild and expansive beast of a festival, it still feels pretty unreal to see the sheer scale of an event like this.

I owe a lot of my opportunities to those early days of youthful optimism and exuberance in my late teens and 20’s in saying yes to a lot of things, which allowed me to experience a world of different aspects of the music industry, both good and bad, as both a performer and from behind the scenes. I value my honesty and I’ve made a lot of great connections through considering my values and being down-to-earth. As I get older, I’m definitely more considered in my approach to things, to conserve energy and not spread myself too thin.

I’m often unsure of where I stand. This might come from having one foot historically in the artist shoe, and the other in the business side of things, but also from being socialized as a young woman, to then existing as a non-binary trans person in a Men in Music Business world. It can be a head fuck!

What does your day-to-day entail?
I work full time for St Kilda Festival – so weekdays are either at home or in the office putting together the festival in some way – be it talking with the wider production team, artist agents, community groups, my music community and other programmers. I listen to a lot of music,  send a lot of emails, write a lot of notes in my chaotic notebook and create an elaborate tapestry of appointments with my Google Calendar. While the music brain doesn’t often switch off, I make a fairly concerted effort to ensure I strike a work/life balance – making sure I exercise, see friends, hang with my dog, watch sport – the lines definitely blur though!
Have you had to overcome any challenges or adversity in your career, and if so, how did you approach them?
I still feel like an imposter most days, which is probably my biggest underpinning challenge. I am figuring stuff out on the daily. I don’t feel like I have really entered my true power or confidence zone, because it’s such a hectic industry where, to be transparent, I’m often unsure of where I stand. This might come from having one foot historically in the artist shoe, and the other in the business side of things, but also from being socialized as a young woman, to then existing as a non-binary trans person in a Men in Music Business world. It can be a head fuck!
So aside from the inconsistency with job security, the biggest challenge I’m continuing to overcome is an underlying lack of self-belief that I can make a positive impact while creating a life for myself within the industry. There is so much I want to do, and so many ideas I want to manifest into reality and the challenge is to overcome the insecurities that hold me back from going big.
Let’s talk about the highs versus the lows of your career, what is your proudest achievement so far, vs a moment you would prefer to forget?
I’m genuinely proud of a lot of things! Definitely most (not all lol) of the music I’ve written and recorded, and many hundreds of shows I’ve played, as well as the programs I’ve put together, big or small. Basically all of the experiences I’ve been fortunate enough to soak up over the past two decades (!!). I feel incredibly lucky to have my ideas come to fruition and work with so many incredible artists and people over the years. As for the lows, there are times where I regret not committing further to my personal journey as an artist, and miss having the time to focus on the craft, but then again it was a journey of extreme highs and lows so I get why I wanted more consistency and (a smidge) more control on my life. Plus I am still happy to do my own music thing when I can for the pure enjoyment now.

If you could change one thing in the music industry right now, what would it be?
More transparency and less competition! Community over profit! This is a dreamscape of course as I know we live in a capitalist world, but I think more freedom of information and less gatekeeping is only going to be of benefit to artists and industry alike. After attending First and Forever, I also hope that this can be cemented as a fixture in Australia’s Festival circuit. A large scale festival that is First Nations led and centred is well overdue.
Who are your role models in the industry be they international or locally based?
There are so many people I look up to and who’s work I value but off the top of my head….

Hannah Fox – A rare combination of equally skilled artist and selfless leader. Her programs reflect her Creative prowess, intellect and innovation always, and she always seems to embody calm and kindness.

Tom Supple – Tom has always been a friend and big supporter of me, and he probably doesn’t know, but I would definitely consider him my mentor. He has real business savvy and the ability to critically assess a situation with speed I’ve never seen before. He is generous with his educated advice on whatever question I have no matter how silly it may be, and has been a trusted advisor on all things festival programming.

Jonny Seymour – Jonny is 250% community minded. An icon of the scene in Gadigal Country and huge champion of those the industry so often leaves behind in First Nations folk, Queer artists, People of Colour. Jonnny is an esteemed curator of euphoric club experiences and a powerful presence of positivity, community and joy within all the events they have touched over the past decades.

Who are your top 3 ‘artists to watch’?

PANIA – Her voice and vocal melodies are next level. I’ve really been enjoying the new E.P.

Kalyani – An exciting DJ (ex Willow Beats) who is working on her own productions, her mixes are an effortless blend of genres and vibe – no one doing it like Kel!

J4EVA – I’ve been going on about this duo for a while. They haven’t even played a show to my knowledge but these songs just really excite the indie-baby in me.

What would you tell your younger self, if you could tell them anything?
Don’t stress so much lol. If history is anything to go off, I have a pretty innate ability to be able to figure most things out, while simultaneously worry about the most niche and precise of scenarios. Trust yourself and your decisions.

“After attending First and Forever, I also hope that this can be cemented as a fixture in Australia’s Festival circuit. A large scale festival that is First Nations led and centred is well overdue.”

What does 2023 hold for you? Anything exciting you can tell us about?
More of the new and more of the same! St Kilda Festival is on Feb 18th and 19th which will be pretty massive. I am really proud of the bananas line-up I’ve managed to pull together. I’ve got a few projects in the works for 2023 but can’t share too much yet….. Otherwise, a big holiday!
And lastly, what is your go-to Karaoke song?

Good grief this one is hard. Because when I could sing (RIP to my old voice) I would love Beautiful Stranger by Madonna. I don’t think I have quite adjusted to my new timbre and current range, so this is still TBD!