For a brief moment recently, Brian Sullivan’s musical career came full circle. Sullivan, who operates under the Belle and Sebastian–inspired moniker Dylan in the Movies, had just been listening to tracks from the Breeders’ Mountain Battles, which is due in April.
“So good,” he says almost breathlessly, settling into a table at Somerville’s Diesel Café. “Nothing better than driving around on a Saturday listening to the Breeders.”
It was listening to Breeder Kim Deal’s bass on MTV’s 120 Minutes in the ’80s, as she and the rest of the Pixies ripped into “Here Comes Your Man,” that captivated a teenage Sullivan. Growing up in “idyllic” but “stifling” Needham, seeing a band from Boston rocking out on MTV, he decided that he could do it too.
“It just stopped me in my tracks,” says the 35-year-old. “Up till then every band was from LA or England. They were never from Boston. That was like, wow, I can do this.”
Despite a brief stint in Los Angeles from 1999 to 2000, Boston has defined Sullivan’s work. There’s the inspiration he’s drawn from bands he connected with while working at the legendary Fort Apache studios from 1996 to 1997, and friendships with artists like Tanya Donelly, who sang back-up vocals on two tracks from his 2005 EP Feel the Pull (Gentleman’s Recording Company), and with whom he’s collaborating on a new project. And then there’s the spirits he says hang over the city like a fog.
“There are a lot of ghosts here that keep me company. I think when I moved out to LA, I was trying to wean myself off them. Then realized that I kind of needed them.”
Indeed, his songs seem haunted — lush, melancholy works befitting late-night walks on the Esplanade or, perhaps, rainy evenings at home in Chelsea. “Massachusetts Avenue,” from his as-yet-untitled full-length (it’ll also be on an on-line split single with the Douglas Fir due in mid April), begins with hushed, æthereal tones that give way to energetic riffs, driving piano, and Sullivan’s mournful cry of “I’m sorry.” Low and at times weary, his voice is taut with emotion.
Although it turned out this Boston boy wasn’t made for the West Coast, Hollywood did pay some dividends. Thanks to a friend who was the music supervisor for Dawson’s Creek, he landed a couple of songs from his independently released 2000 debut disc, Don’t Postpone Joy, on that show and on the WB’s Summerland.
Up next is that full-length album, which he hopes to release in late May, with Francine’s Steve Scully helping out on production. This time, he has LA country-folk chanteuses the Watson Twins contributing vocals on “Truro.” (One of his friends is Leigh Watson’s roommate.) So how does he sum up the new album? He points to the track “Oh, My Unrequited.” “Just unrequited,” he says of the disc’s theme. “Just that one word, I think.”
It’s a theme that, as a gay man in what he calls the primarily straight music business, he is particularly familiar with. Although he says his songs don’t come from a distinctively gay or straight perspective, he hopes the people who are listening find consolation nonetheless. “That’s what music has always been for me — a comfort, a connection. If my songs are being heard by people out there, maybe they should know this. . . . I’m a gay man and I get it.”