Five Questions with Mark Sullivan

Mark Sullivan
Mark Sullivan

During the late 80’s my husband and I were sitting-in at Kilgore’s most weeks, trying to learn how to play jazz. The legendary Omaha sandwich shop was owned by trumpeter/lawyer Chuck Kilgore. He hosted a jam session on Tuesday nights at the little storefront, located where the Shelterbelt Theater is today at 33rd & California. I met a friend there one Tuesday, an hour or so before the jam session. Instead of a quiet shop, there was a band practicing.

Three guys, Creighton students, were playing synth driven alternative rock. The tunes were original, and the singer, Mark Sullivan, seemed serious about music. The lyrics were glib and intelligent, the performance, even though they were only rehearsing, was explosive. We talked while they were tearing down.

The guitar player, Peter Debs, told me that they needed a drummer, and that he had seen me play at Kilgores. Pete asked me to play for their next practice. I did, and ended up joining Trip Akimbo, for, I’m not really sure how long, the timeline is a blur.

During my tenure with the group we played frat parties, local dives, including Kilgores, Lift Ticket, Howard Street, The Crazy Duck, The Blue Jay, street parties, etc., anywhere that wanted a band with a following of young drinkers, mostly Creighton students.

So, Trip Akimbo was three Creighton students and me, led by Osh Kosh, Nebraska’s Mark Sullivan, vocals and keys. Mark, with his shiny brown bob, and Bob Dylan sneer, RJ Holmberg, a curly haired, carefree, San Diego beach boy on bass, and Peter Debs, a Lebonese/Italian, Brooklyn-born, Philosophy major with jet black curls, shredding on a mint colored Paul Reed Smith. Maybe there were never three more different individuals in the world ever to play together in a band. Add me, a young wife/mother to that mix = Trip Akimbo.

I eventually left the group, they added drummer Quinn Sikora, and awhile later changed the name to The Violet Ride. I lost track of the band, but I heard that Mark and RJ continued to make music together in California with a band called Lucky. I connected with Mark, on Facebook a couple years ago, and see that he has been living/performing in San Francisco. Looking further, the cool, introspective Sullivan has made his mark on the post-punk scene there.

Mark made two critically acclaimed records with American Music Club drummer/producer Tom Mallon, and now plays with Mallon in Toiling Midgets.
Mark’s latest project is a band called STEAKHOUSE. According to their website, their music sounds like a mix of post-punk, kraut and art rock, with little bits of country/ western thrown in at all the wrong times. They are influenced by Neu!, Johnny Cash, Rank & File, Scott Walker and The Clash.

I really like the music of Steakhouse, it’s great to hear Mark again. The vibe is cool and easy, he has described it as ‘Drifter Rock’, and I think that’s a good description for it. It’s music you might hear while Nick Cage drives a dusty road in a movie like Red Rocks West.

Mark was kind enough to answer FIVE QUESTIONS:

1) What inspires and drives you?

MS – Well writing this Steakhouse stuff was more about deciding what *kind* of songs we wanted to do, then going off and writing them. So we would kind of joke around about what songs would fit into this ‘Steakhouse’ theme and then I would go try to write them. I mean it was country music mixed with post-punk, with sort of dark sense of humor in the lyrics. But, in the end, many of the songs are about Nebraska.

2) How did an Oshkosh, Nebraska boy become an such an integral part of the San Francisco post-punk scene?

MS – I just got hooked up with some people who were involved in the first wave of punk here back in the early eighties, namely producer Tom Mallon and the band The Toiling Midgets. I made a couple of records with Tom, and ended up
joining the Midgets later on. And I suppose I have tried to carry on
some of that aesthetic with my own bands.

3) Who has been your favorite musical collaborator?

MS – As I’ve gotten older I’ve been lucky to play with more
talented people. Currently I’m playing with Tony Sales, whose father and
uncle played with Iggy Pop, and guitarist Reid Black and I have a lot of
fun trying to flesh out this Steakhouse idea. But, really, I’ve always
thought the guts of a song are always written alone.

4) Would you tell us about your new group, STEAKHOUSE?

MS – Steakhouse started out as an attempt to combine some kinds of music that really don’t go together very easily — that being country, post-punk, kraut rock, and some electronics here and there. It’s also a vehicle for me to tell stories set in wide open spaces, in the American West.

5) Have you kept up on the Omaha’s music scene at all? If so, what’s your take on it? 5b) Do you feel that your music had an influence on the scene here?

MS – To be honest, I haven’t really followed the Omaha music scene since I
left there, except for Bright Eyes and some of the other Saddle Creek
bands. I really admire that label and how it’s run. I have no idea if I
had any influence over the music scene in Omaha. I very much doubt it.
It’s more likely that bands like Apathy, Ritual Device and The Acorns
did. But they never made any money.





One thought on “Five Questions with Mark Sullivan

  1. From your description, it sounds like you joined the band after I left. I played the drums with Mark, Peter and RJ while I was in high school, at Central. I have always regretted leaving the band. I think I was just immature, a little selfish, and didn’t appreciate what a great situation it was. Great guys. A defining part of my life. Thanks so much for posting the update!


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