“Wild Ones” is not only a song by Thin Lizzy, but also the name of the Portland, Oregon-based six-piece indie band spearheaded by longtime friends Thomas Hines and Danielle Sullivan. Instantly intriguing, Sullivan’s voice is riddled with a pop sensibility. Paired with the guitar sounds of Nicholas Vicario, drumming of Seve Sheldon, bass prowess of Max Stein, audio engineering of Clayton Knapp, and the electronic keys of Hines, there’s a depth not often mastered by the majority of pop singers. They’ve been honing in on their own sound since the early 2000s with endless encouragement from Portland’s music community.
“Portland has played a significant role in our respective musical upbringings because of its incredibly supportive young music scene,” Sullivan explains. “When Thomas and I started our first band back in 2006, there was a very active house show scene where new young bands could play, learn how to perform and meet other musicians. It was a type of unofficial music training since our high school had cut all of its music programs.”
Thankfully, Sullivan manages to ignore, if not debunk, the expectations for female artists to be overtly sexual. In an age when most female pop stars are so often oversexualized, demoralized and stigmatized, Sullivan will have none of it.
“I am having a lot of fun playing with my role,” she says. “I’m fascinated by the construction of gender norms and with images of androgyny. Because my voice is high and feminine sounding, I think people have an expectation of how I will look when they attend our shows. I’ve started wearing large oversized tee shirts and high tops without makeup. I like to have that little bit of gender cognitive dissonance and I think it makes our shows more interesting.”
Wild Ones’ latest album, Heatwave, has indeed heated things up for the band. They’re playing bigger shows, jumping on bills with major artists such as The Flaming Lips and enjoying lots of positive accolades.
“We didn’t set out with the mission to stand out,” she says. “We set out to make music we loved and to add to the canon of music that shaped our musical tastes. For our latest release, Heatwave, I put my energy into creating narratives with engaging characters. It’s so rewarding to see people connecting to the stories.”
Considering it’s early in their career, there will undoubtedly be speed bumps along the way and hard lessons to be learned, things that can only happen through experience. Sullivan is working on learning how to give herself a break.
“I’m an anxious person and tend to overthink it when I feel I haven’t performed my best,” she admits. “It turns out that, yes, playing the parts well is an important part of the live show, but being present in the moment and having a connection with the audience is what sticks with everyone.”
For a person who has made her own private writing and recording studio in her bedroom, it’s a big stretch to play for hundreds, or even thousands, of people.
“I used to feel shy and uncomfortable on stage, but I’ve grown to love performing,” she says. “It’s empowering to lock eyes with people in the audience. I like the challenge when we play big festivals away from home and I can tell folks that don’t know us are skeptical at first. By the end, I see those same people dancing and smiling and heading to the merch table. That’s when I know it’s working.”
Her songwriting approach falls in line with her tendency towards solitude. It’s easy to picture her sitting in her bedroom, writing on the notepad next to her laptop and purging some of her most private thoughts until they become something magical.
“I can only really write and record freely when I am alone,” she says. “It gives me room to try out my strangest ideas without inhibition. It becomes cathartic for me when I am recording my initial melody and harmony ideas on our demos. The words come later. First, I write parts that sound more like Sigur Ros or Cocteau Twins—no clear language. I add layers and vocal structure until it feels full. This process is therapeutic and solitary for me. When I make a part that I fall in love with before anyone else has heard it, that’s my favorite moment.”
Wild Ones with futurebabes (Album Release) and Bach Hotel, November 10, at Moxi Theater, 802 9th St., Greeley, 8 p.m. Tickets are $10/ADV and $12/DOS. Visit www.moxitheater.com for more information.