In Conversation: Field Medic
‘Floral Prince’, California folk artist Kevin Patrick Sullivan’s fourth record as Field Medic, began with a process that he refers to as ‘full-time freestyle’.
“I used to be very nervous and shy, and I had a friend that was incredibly sociable and down for whatever,” he explains. “And I don’t know what exactly happened, but I just started mirroring his behaviour. I started calling that mentality full-time freestyle, where you just don’t question, you just go with the flow of the universe.”
“It became a practice that I implemented in songwriting too, where I don’t question what I make. I’m just gonna sit down with a guitar and talk about exactly how I’m feeling right now. I might even be recording in that exact moment, or after I play through and make up the song once, I’m just gonna start recording, and then that first take is gonna be the take that I put on the album.”
He began work on the project a year ago, not long after the release of ‘Fade Into The Dawn’ (the first record he had written for release on Run For Cover Records). Free of the pressure of delivering for a new label, and going through a taxing sobriety process, he stepped away from the busier, layered sound of that record to create something closer to his heart.
Clash caught up with him about the winding year he’s had becoming the Floral Prince.
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Is this more stripped-back approach something that you relish in your songwriting?
Yeah, absolutely. I think that with ‘Fade Into The Dawn’, I felt a lot of pressure from it being the first official release on the label, to expand the sound and make more accessible music that’s not just confessional singer-songwriter stuff, which is what I actually really like. I just like lyrics. So the way I approached this record was kind of how I approached my earlier recordings, where I was just trying to make songs that can stand on their own, just playing the guitar and singing. I don’t wanna add anything unnecessary.
It’s interesting, with ‘Floral Prince’ having this more homespun vibe to it, that it’s coming out now, when people are stuck at home and having to adjust how they’re doing things. Is that just a coincidence?
Yeah, I think that’s just a coincidence, ‘cause that’s sort of how I do all my stuff. Like, a lot of my music is just voice and guitar, and I recorded everything at home, with the exception of a few songs randomly, for all my releases. But this particular album only has two or three songs with beats or drums on them, and usually there’s like four or five. It’s just the way that the batch of songs turned out.
I had been touring almost non-stop for almost two years, so when [the pandemic] first happened, being forced to take a step back was a welcome moment in trying to find clarity. And I think that ultimately led to me making the album what it is now, ‘cause I got to take the time to really sit on the songs.
But I’m lucky that I had already made this album before this started, because I have struggled a little bit [to stay creative]. ‘Cause sometimes I’m just like, ‘I’ll just make up a song for no reason’, but with nothing happening in my life or in the world, it’s difficult to find anything to talk about.
It’s kind of a weird vacuum in which to consume music as well.
Yeah, I’ve been struggling to try and figure out if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. Because on one side, everybody has a lot of time on their hands to check out music, and I’ve definitely found myself exploring a lot of new releases ‘cause I’m just sitting around.
But on the other hand, I feel like a lot of times albums speak to a certain phase of your life, or somebody you’re seeing, or whatever. But luckily a lot of these songs are about being lonely and staying home and feeling weird, so maybe it’s actually right for this time. ‘Cause that’s sort of just how I live day to day.
How have you been dealing with lockdown in general? Has anything been keeping you occupied, found any new hobbies?
It started off bad, ‘cause my new hobby was just getting hella drunk every single day. And I had been sober for about seven months before that. But the anxiety and the sheer lack of any responsibility led to me spending four and a half months just being a total drunk. That was my hobby, for the first part.
But these last couple months, pre-release album stuff, getting press shots and doing stuff like this, has kept me occupied. In between that, I ride my bike like, ten miles every day. And I actually started playing video games a little bit, which is not something I usually do. I beat Resident Evil 4, twice.
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What made you want to get sober?
When I got sober the first time, which was around the time that I recorded all this stuff, I had a tour that was last year from October 1st ‘til November 23rd or something. It was super long. And I had just been in a really bad place, like binge drinking every day and chain smoking and just kinda being a lame person to myself.
And I was like, dude, I have this amazing opportunity, this is gonna be a great tour, but I need to be in shape both mentally and physically to handle that. I knew the only way I could do it was if I quit drinking, and I also really needed a reason to do that.
So that was the catalyst, but on a broader scale it was just recognising that if I wanna keep my career, and I wanna continue to be able to create good art, I need to be clear in the head and not just abusing my own body for no reason every day, and making myself more sad and depressed.
Was there anything that helped you through the sobriety process?
I listened to the audiobook of Beowulf, like, 25 times. I don’t know why specifically, but that just happened randomly. And there’s this one line that he says when he’s about to go fight Grendel: ‘I shall gain glory or die’. That just resonated with me. I just have to keep fighting, essentially. I need to be able to face the monster, and look it in the eye, and do my best to go to combat, or it’ll kill me.
How much did the process of sobriety influence the things you were writing about for ‘Floral Prince’?
I think a lot, because another reason that I wanted to get sober is that it was making me just look gnarly. I mean, my vanity was getting harmed. I was just like, ‘Oh dude, I look so shitty, and I feel so shitty, everything sucks.’ So a lot of the themes on there, some of it is just me feeling insecure about not being my best self, and not looking my best self, and I can’t look people in the eye because I’m just kinda like, bummed on my own life.
So yeah, obviously the sobriety theme does come up a few times on the album, but there’s also a lot of insecurity and weird isolation themes that I think tie into it, both when drinking and when freshly sober. ‘Cause I think both of those periods call for a little bit of solitude.
Has putting ‘Floral Prince’ together given you any freedom in how you’ll create things in future?
I think this album just serves as a reminder to me to trust myself. Like I said, on the last record, I was really stressed out trying to make the [record label debut]. And I made some choices that upon reflection, I think could have been better.
With this album, just knowing that the songs I actually like are the ones that listeners seem to be receptive to, it reminded me to shift back into the mindset that I had when I first began this project. This is just for me to express myself in a way that feels good, and in a way that is cathartic, and not to worry about trying to make some big pop hit or statement or whatever.
So yeah, I think just the way that it all turned out in the end has given me a little more peace of mind as I move forward. But it was a process that I think I had to trudge through in order to get to that little piece of truth.
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'Floral Prince' is out now.
Words: Mia Hughes
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