Meet Derry~Londonderry Duo Sullivan & Gold

Ben Robinson of the talented two-piece on vocal harmonies and comparisons with Simon & Garfunkel

Hello Ben (above right). Tell us about Sullivan & Gold – when did you and Adam Montgomery meet?

Sullivan & Gold all came about after the break up of a previous act that Adam and I played in called The Good Fight. We played some cool gigs and venues in the band but it was just winding down in terms of our musical creativity. Adam and I were about to call it a day with songwriting but we met Andrew Ferris of Smalltown America [Record Label] and he restored confidence and belief.

When did you start writing and performing music together?

We began to send raw tracks to each other and work on our craft. It all began very simply, which created a confidence in what we could achieve, and we ended up writing about 20 tracks with no definite desire for an end product. Once we started recording tracks things took off, and we had to consider how we were going to play these songs live, whether or not we should get a band together et cetera. We just released our debut album, For Foes, on November 25.

How would you describe your sound?

I’m not sure what we’d say our sound is like. It’s not really anything completely new to a music lover's ears, but I don’t think all of the tracks sound the exact same because we were only writers and not performers when writing the album. In fact, we’ve only recently started playing the songs together as a band.

I would, however, love people to compare our music with Lord Huron, Villagers, Bombay Bicycle Club – music that is big, yet intimate, and tells strong stories. My thoughts when writing these songs were that they should feel like music you listen to on a cold winters day. You get the headphones on, wrap up cosy and the songs feel close.

You stand out for your incredible vocals, both as soloists and in harmony. What is it about the human voice that beguiles us so?

Adam and I love mixes that are vocal heavy, so we spent a lot of time working on harmonies when writing the album. It wasn’t easy. Adam’s voice is very soft, whereas my vocal is quite harsh, so we spent hours and weeks seeing how close we could get the vocals, and how consistent we could make our delivery.

I guess acts like Simon & Garfunkel, Ben Howard and Lucy Rose all embrace this, whether it’s singing in close harmony with other vocalists or using double or quadruple tracking when recording.

You are also multi-instrumentalists. Is it that important to you as artists?

Playing different instruments is great, but also sometimes you find your limitations. One lighter note when making the album was when I decided I could still play the violin. (I was the leader of the school orchestra back in the day.) I spent about two hours trying to play five notes in the track ‘Forget Myself’. I don't know where down the line it got cut or pushed to the back of the mix, but I certainly can't hear it. I'll hold Chris Cassidy, who engineered the ablum, or Tre Sheppard, who mixed it, accountable.

You're both very well dressed. Is that also important to you?

In terms of the band's image, Adam ‘is the style’. He’s a keen connoisseur of the latest fashion and always seems about a month or two ahead of what is on trend. He’d be too humble to come out with this. My dress code is decided by mum and/or my girlfriend. That says it all.

In all seriousness, though, it’s pretty relaxed. We want the songs to stand out, so we’ve not sat down and said this is what we want to look like. I think with our songs that kind of thing might become a bit insincere. So a nice woolly jumper and scarf sits tight with our idea of intimate songs rather than anything too formal.

Forgive me for saying, but there is something of the Simon & Garfunkel about you – both height wise, comparatively, and sound wise. Do you take that as a complement, or an insult?

We’d definitely take it as a complement being compared with Simon & Garfunkel. When I was a kid, we used to go on family holidays to the continent using the old Larne to Stranraer and then Dover to Calais crossings. We only had a cassette tape player and we listened to The Carpenters, The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel.

All these artists love dense vocal harmonies. I guess I was scared to admit these influences in my teens, as they weren’t ‘cool’ or very sophisticated. But now I’m a little older I guess these are the songs and sounds that impact the way I write.

You're signed to Smalltown America. Being from Derry, does it feel homely there?

The Smalltown folk have been so good to us. They work with really cool acts, from Our Krypton Son (who plays guitar in our live band) to Jetplane Landing, who are preaching punk rock to the masses. I love the idea that they have this variety but understand that ‘good music needs to be heard’ regardless of genre. This has definitely helped us.

Where can we see Sullivan & Gold perform next?

Our next gig is on December 20 in a really cool venue in Belfast called 101 Central. It’s a beautifully renovated church that doubles up as a music venue and Sunday meeting place for a local church. We’re playing with hotly tipped (fellow Derry~Londonderry act) Little Bear and the delightful Our Krypton Son. Playing in alternative venues is a big thing for us. We did our album launch in a beautiful thatched cottage in the Derry Craft Village, so we're very much looking forward to it.

For Foes is available for download now from the Smalltown American website.