Recently, I had the privilege of speaking with a contest from “The Voice,” John Sullivan. Today we’ll be discussing his life, his love of music, and most importantly, his family. He is a UNC Charlotte alumni for our basketball and baseball teams! Being a sports fan, we go into a discussion of his first love, music. What the art form means to him and how he got started in the lifestyle of a singer, which include his influences. We even go on to talk about his history and were he hopes the name “John Sullivan” will end up. In this conversation, we will have a chance to meet the man behind the musician.
G- I saw that you played baseball for UNC Charlotte. How was that and attending the school generally?
J - Yes, so I played baseball one fall semester. I have played on the UNC Charlotte men's basketball team the year before which is my junior year under Bobby Lutz. I sat on the bench and was a practice player, and at the end of the year I was like 'All right well let me give baseball a shot for the third time.' I got cut the first two years and I made the fall squad and then when the fall season kind of wrapped up is when the coach called me and was like 'Hey you know you know roster limitations.' That's pretty much what he told me so I mean it was a lot of fun. It was so competitive in the fall but I didn't really get to see any of the real season action until I actually played at Phifer the next year.
G - So it was kind of like your step into the sport in a way?
J- It was definitely! It gave me a taste because I was ready to stop trying out after three years of being told no. It was Coach Hall who was the pitching coach who gave me a shot. It gave me the confidence to keep going and keep trying out for things.
G - Sometimes it’s that push we need, that encouragement. It goes a long way.
J- It does.
G - Do you still keep up with the University’s baseball program? Or baseball in general?
J- I'm always a fan of Niner baseball. I love the facility and unfortunately, their games are usually when I'm playing shows so I really don't have much time to really get out to games. I live up in Denver so I'm probably trying to rest more, I'd rather watch like a live stream or something like that just because it's a little bit of a drive. I keep up with them the best I can. A lot of times it's usually the postseason, towards the end of the year or something like that is where we look up and pay more attention to it but I do miss going to games. It is a lot of fun that I miss so much and it's very fun and a beautiful stadium.
G - Which came first, music or baseball?
J - Actually I started playing the piano when I was four. My mom got me into lessons and so technically, on paper, music came first. The passion for baseball came before the passion for music. Once I actually felt what it was like to want to chase after something which was baseball, it was that drive that I felt again when I picked up the guitar, and that's when I found out that I'd been missing out the whole time... playing the wrong instrument.
G - So your mom was the person who kind of opened your eyes to wanting to become a musician?
J - Yeah, my mom has the vocals in the family and really can sing. She has such a different tone, like nothing I've heard before. That was my biggest encouragement, going to church and hearing her sing. Even her practices and listening to her vocals, it's even in our family. A tone of my relatives from the Irish homeland from aunts and uncles who were thrilled. They told me all my relatives were musicians and that they hadn’t seen a musician come up in the family for a while. It was really cool to hear and incredibly supportive to get back in touch with family I haven’t heard from since my grandmother passed.
G- Since your mom was essentially that person that opened up a lot of what music means for you what was kind of your push to go audition for “The Voice” in the first place?
J- That my friend was my wife. She told me that if I want to do this to go for it! Just try to do the stuff that gives you some notoriety and affirmation. I tried out for like five years and never heard anything until now. It was all my wife who encouraged me and sent me down that path.
G - Your wife encourages you to get on “The Voice,” a big network show. I listened to your blind audition and was blown away. When you were up on that stage and you're waiting for those chairs to turn, what's going through your head?
J - You know I was nervous only when Blake turned around. Strangely enough, I was talking to Carson Daly before, and I was more excited about talking to somebody who interviewed Kurt Cobain. I was like man, this is Carson Daly! TRL! It was like my childhood dream coming true. It was kind of daunting but helped to, because it still felt like I was playing with a band when I was performing. We started playing, I was taking a deep breath and got to a point where if someone was going to turn around, they would’ve already done it. I just keep saying “don’t do this to yourself,” and when that started Blake turned around. I got nervous when he was looking right at me.
J - I don’t sing with my eyes open, not because of nerves, but I like to draw a picture in my head. Making eye contact, I wasn’t big on that, so I just couldn’t get it out of my head that Blake Shelton was looking at me. Then Gwen [Stefani] turned around and I got even more nervous. But I really wasn’t nervous until that point. Which you really couldn’t help since you were playing for four Grammy award-winning artists.
G - What would you say is the biggest thing you learned from Blake or any of the judges?
J- On the surface level just opening the eyes and making eye contact more really does help. I started doing that in gigs when I came home and people said something about it. Especially on something like live streams, it feels like you’re talking to them, which I didn’t realize. It’s a visual for some people which almost broadened my reach. On a deeper level, being told by Blake Shelton “I believe in you.”
G- Looking back, you look like you’re having this great experience on stage. What's next for you? Do you want to go back on “The Voice?” Or are you just kind of living in the moment and enjoying the music?
J - I don't think I can go back I think once you make a team that's about it. Besides that, I didn’t have any plans to change anything, besides just working on branching out in the network of music. It’s been moving steadily, slowly but surely. “The Voice” helped really roll me a bit faster. I have a family so I don’t want to travel anymore, but I’d really love to write for myself and maybe for others. Also keeping up those live streams.
J - I have a lot of work to do with the guitar which is fun since it has always been more music than just vocals. I’m still so thankful for “The Voice,” since it broadened my audience, it’s always more about learning my craft as a guitar player because the guitar is hard enough as is. You want to take a nap, you pick up the guitar. That’s the one thing, people are like you're so lucky, and I just pick up the guitar and go to the basement and get lost for a couple of hours. That’s the path I'm interested in sticking with, discovery through creativity.
G - I think especially between music and writing there’s always that room to discover.
J- That’s the whole point of life man, we’re all creative, we just all have to give it time. If I would’ve stopped after my first bad song, I would’ve been done years ago. You have to write all the bad songs to get the one, good timeless song that people like.
G - Mr. Sullivan, I thank you so much for talking with me! Everyone at the Niner Times really appreciates it.