"I wish you would look at me like you look at her, but you don't," Molly Sullivan bellows out on "Texas Toast," a compelling acoustic song that's both bite-your-lip-strong and achingly fragile, fully capturing Sullivan's style — the punch of early, unapologetic Ani Difranco combined with the soul-grabbing, raw jolt of Cat Power.
Yeah, guts spill. Maybe lips quiver, but there's also strength within the song's sidewalk cracks. Sure feet on the tricky pavement.
In one breath, Sullivan is joking, and her eyes flash kidlike sparks. In the next breath, her chin drops down, and she's serious, staring straight ahead.
"I was in a really dark spot in my life," she says, "There were a couple of times when I was deeply involved with a couple of guys, and it didn't work out. It was never me ending it. It was always them giving me the ax. 'Texas Toast' was about one of those experiences."
The day is a scorcher. Sullivan strips off her work shirt, revealing a red tank top. Talking to her grey cat, Strubel, Sullivan appears quick, smart and naturally pretty, with wide, high cheekbones, dark hair, hazel eyes and chiseled features. Next to her, a stolen stop sign leans against the wall. Settling on the couch, she flits between sarcastic jokes and serious stories, with a troublesome hint lurking behind her words and expressions. Tough, but real.
Sullivan states, "Yeah, I think it's pretty safe to say that I'm somewhat of a character and have been for the better part of my life. Neither one of my parents are musical, disregarding any efforts made to portray excellence of the arts by singing in the car or dancing like a fool."
From Mariemont, Sullivan has been writing and playing out since high school. Attending UC on and off for three years, she explains, "Right now, I'm on a bit of a hiatus. So, I am just working, playing shows and playing with my cat. There's been a lot of stuff that's gone on with my family, but if I let it all get to me, I'm useless to everyone. I'm relatively content."
Sullivan's songs, whether Pop or Acoustic, show her catchy, natural talent. And her bold voice sneaks out like a car backing out of a hidden driveway. She's a powerful force when she wants to be. Other times, she's undeniably quirky, as in "Bug," a song about bedbugs that's weirdly poetic and funny.
Sullivan grins. "I killed those bugs," she says "I didn't feel bad about it at all."
Mean to sweet, fun to scorching. Beware. "Pink Pen" will get stuck in your head. With electronic elements, we have a female Beck here — someone able to turn utter simplicity into art. Both lighthearted and deep, the street-smart sound breathes out her influences, such as Fiona Apple and Joanna Newsom. Imaginative. Playfully biting.
On her solo work, CCM grad Brodie Johnson plays cello. Michael Kash plays guitar on "Drink it Down." All songs were recorded in friend David Dewitt's bedroom: "David's kind of a wiz kid with recordings," Sullivan says. "He puts a poppy spin on things."
Two months ago, Sullivan formed a new project, Bosco Rossi. Fleshing out her solo songs, she is joined by Teddy Aitkins on drums, Skylyn Ohlenkemp on bass, with guest appearances by Ben Thomas (The Happy Maladies) on guitar. The band plans to record an album soon.
"It's basically been a cumulative collection of stuff that I've done that we've altered a little bit or kicked up a notch," Sullivan says of the band. "I've considered touring, just a small, five-state local thing ... there's a difference in my mind between someone that's famous and someone that's well known. Someone that's famous doesn't necessarily provide anything for their community. As long as I can provide for myself and have the capacity to give back a little bit, I think that I'd be pretty content."
And in the next breath, she's back at it again, talking to her cat, delivering words with a mischievous smile: "I used to say these crazy things on stage, like 'F men!' and people really got a kick out of it. Now, I've mellowed out a little bit. I try to throw some jokes in there, and people do not laugh at all. It's so disheartening." She chuckles, shrugging. Does she keep throwing out jokes anyway?
"Yeah," she laughs harder. "I wouldn't be Molly Sullivan if I didn't."
BOSCO ROSSI (myspace.com/boscorossi) plays The Mad Hatter Sunday with Walk the Moon.