Few 10-year-olds get the opportunity to play their music on stage in front of a crowd — let alone on Broadway alongside Stevie Nicks and Slash. But by the age of 15, multi-instrumentalist Jersey Sullivan has already had a short career worthy of rivaling seasoned musicians.
Learning the drums, piano, guitar, banjo, and bass all by the age of nine, Sullivan secured the opportunity to play the character, Zack, in Broadway’s adaptation of 2003’s School of Rock. As the show has officially come to a close, Sullivan now focuses his energy on his new band, Mess of Wires — a Southern California based rock band with ’90s grunge and garage influence.
We had the opportunity to speak to Sullivan about his influences, the first time he played an Ernie Ball Music Man bass, and much more.
Q & A
EBMM: Let’s start at the very beginning. When did you first learn to play bass?
JS: I actually started as a drummer when I was about three years old. I soon became interested in playing other instruments, so I learned piano at five, picked up the guitar at seven, studied the banjo at eight, and started playing bass at nine. I rotated through these instruments based on what songs I wanted to learn and who was willing to play them with me. All I’ve ever wanted to do is play music, and I feel so lucky to have been able to play a ton of it during my life so far.
EBMM: You had the opportunity to play on Broadway’s School of Rock. How was that experience, getting to play alongside Slash, Stevie Nicks, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, to name a few?
JS: First of all, I never thought I would ever be on Broadway, but that experience led me to have so many incredible opportunities, including performing at the Tony Awards and the Macy’s Day Parade, and I’ve made so many lifelong friends in the process. Being able to play with my idols such as Slash and Stevie Nicks was the ultimate thrill, and Stevie, in particular, could not have been more generous or amazing both onstage and off. Meeting and playing with Lin-Manuel Miranda was also unreal; he was so enthusiastic, like a little kid jumping around the rehearsal studio, so genuinely excited to be playing with us. I was living in New York during the Hamilton craze, and his genius and pure love for all things music was inspiring to say the least.
EBMM: Being native to Southern California, how do you think growing up in the hustle-and-bustle of Los Angeles impacted you as an artist?
JS: My home is Venice, CA, so I am not quite in the thick of the ‘hustle-and-bustle,’ but growing up in LA and near the beach has certainly informed my sensibility. Venice is a mix of old-school hippies and hipsters, skaters, and political activists — all kinds of people. I like that a lot. And of course, having access to great shows in LA is a plus. I am really involved in the DIY scene here and all around the city and go out to hear music whenever I can. There are a lot of incredible musicians in LA — many everyone has heard of and others no one has (yet).
EBMM: You’re currently playing bass with your band, Mess of Wires. How would you describe your guys’ sound?
JS: My band Mess of Wires has a hard rock/grunge sound, stripped down to the bare essentials because we’re a three-piece. We have a wide range of influences from garage rock to punk to alternative, and our goal is to create music that captures the excitement of us playing and writing together. We’ve been playing together since I was nine years old and it has been an incredible journey the entire time.
EBMM: The band recently released their first EP. How was the process of creating this new music?
JS: There wasn’t an exact formula for writing the EP; sometimes one of us would come into rehearsal with a blueprint for a song already fleshed out, and other times we would just be hanging out and bouncing ideas off each other until we found something we liked. We went into the Steakhouse Studio in North Hollywood in Spring 2019 for a weekend with our producer, Brent Woods, and banged out all the songs there; no click tracks and minimal overdubs.
EBMM: What is your favorite track off the EP to play live?
JS: The title track, “No Control,” is my favorite song off the EP to play live because we usually close the set with it, and the ending of that song is the one time in the set where we all get to create insane sounds and let everything descend into sonic chaos before we get offstage.
EBMM: Can you remember the first time you played an Ernie Ball Music Man instrument?
JS: The first time I played an Ernie Ball Music Man instrument was at the Guitar Center in Times Square. I was walking around the bass section and I saw the Caprice bass hanging from the wall, and I had never seen it before. So, I picked it up, and I had never felt anything nicer than that; the neck was like butter to play, and the sound I immediately got out of it was both punchy and smooth simultaneously.
EBMM: How has your Caprice bass helped you grow as a bass player?
JS: I am so happy to have that bass now, as I used it to record my band’s entire EP. The Caprice can be heard very well on the recording due to its ability to effortlessly cut through even a particularly heavy mix. The pickup options give me lots of tonal variation, which continues to inspire my playing and helps me branch out into other genres of music while staying on one instrument.
EBMM: Are there any artists/bands that inspire you as a bassist?
JS: There are lots of bands and players that continue to push the envelope of what it means to be a bass player. I love the aspect of feeling the raw energy in the tone of bands such as Liily and Show Me the Body. I’m also very inspired by the bassists who experiment with effects and elements of noise in their playing, like Brian Gibson of Lightning Bolt and Mike Kerr of Royal Blood.
EBMM: What was the moment you realized you wanted to pursue music full-time?
JS: There was not a moment. I just always loved to play and my dream is to be a working musician for the rest of my life, whether I am playing in my band, doing session work, touring with other musicians I respect, designing guitar pedals, or writing music reviews. If I am lucky, I will get to do this for the rest of my life.
EBMM: What can we expect in 2020? Any exciting projects we should look out for?
JS: The EP has generated lots of interest from record labels, managers and agents on both coasts, which I am thrilled about. I’m looking forward to making announcements in the near future about very exciting things. I am also grateful to have the opportunity to collaborate with fellow Brotherhood of the Guitar member, Jacob Reese Thornton, and LA artist Kali Flanagan.
Jersey relies on his Ernie Ball Music Man Caprice bass in and out of the studio.
Watch Jersey and Asher Belsky jam on the Ernie Ball stage at NAMM 2020.