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Sullivan King: 10 albums that changed my life

Sullivan King portrait
(Image credit: Hopeless Records)

Growing up, I didn’t really get into listening to music until I picked up a guitar aged 11. At that point I went down rabbit hole after rabbit hole, discovering new sounds, genres, artists, producers and musicians – everything I knew about sound and music prior to learning an instrument suddenly felt two-dimensional. Music seemed to have more to offer than life itself could ever match, and day by day – practically hour by hour – something new left my jaw on the floor. 

To this day I can still find something brand new that leaves everything I'd previously been infatuated with its rear view mirror. Listening to AC/DC or Green Day back in 2005, I felt that there was no way anything could get more aggressive or intricate, but that view has steadily been proven wrong with the discoveries of prog metal, gypsy jazz, mathcore and so many other styles in the rock and metal worlds that prove the envelope has been pushed countless times.

I’m limited here to the “10 albums that changed my life”, but I could quite confidently amass enough honourable mentions to add a zero or two to that royal 10. Keeping that in mind, I’m taking a bit of a different approach with this. A producer nowadays is more than the producer of the past analog era was – their viewpoints come after years on years of listening and falling in love with different moments in music at different times. These are some of those records for me.

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As a lead guitarist: Van Halen - Van Halen (1978)

If you ask me what made me want to be a lead guitar player, the answer is pretty much every Van Halen album ever recorded. Specifically, Van Halen’s self-titled debut album. I’m not sure what proper words could describe what I felt having my body essentially obliterated to ash by sheer shredding. Suddenly I had found my nirvana. I had a craving for lustful leads and spine tingling solos. EVH made me want to make sounds come out of a guitar that had yet to be heard by any mere mortal. 

As a rhythm guitarist: Green Day - American Idiot (2004)

In the heyday of angsty, pissed off 2000s punk and righteous, unapologetic rock came this album – a perfect mix of power chords, octave lead melodies, and throw-your-fist-up distortion. It created a passion for wreaking havoc in the neighbourhood with a Crate amplifier and a single humbucker Squire Strat. The transitions and tonal duality of Billie Joe’s playing and vocals inspired me to become a singing and strumming double threat in a way I won’t forget. Listening to the opening of songs like Holiday and how that can float into Boulevard Of Broken Dreams as it does, and how that same song ends with such honest resentment for depression and lonesomeness, is still astounding to me.

As a songwriter: Nine Inch Nails - With Teeth (2005)

There are HUNDREDS of records I could put in this spot. Like, literally hundreds. From Pendulum to Nirvana, Queen to Volbeat, Billie Eillish to A Day To Remember… but a lot of albums haven't truly changed my appreciation for being a songwriter, as well as a musician and producer in my adulthood, like Trent Reznor did with With Teeth. Now, I say this one in particular because it was my introduction to industrial. I have obviously, and dramatically, become obsessed with Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral since – I mean, Mr. Self Destruct and Hurt make me shake with emotion and energy. But the way With Teeth progresses, the way the lyrics and words and ideas are delivered and meshed together with its production is unmatched in my opinion. Only Trent pulls it off as fucking flawlessly as it can be done.

As a vocalist (screaming): Linkin Park - Meteora (2003)

To be totally honest, when I first heard this album I had no clue how much of an impact it would have on me later in life, especially as a vocalist. I could have picked a Bullet For My Valentine record, or Lamb Of God, or Underoath, or Killswitch Engage, or any other scream-ridden act of the late 2000s as my gateway drug to what my parents described as “gross and utter nonsense”. But as I really thought more about it as an adult, if it wasn’t for Chester’s immortal talent as a frontman – in the studio and on stage – I don’t think I would be singing with the grit and texture that I truly love more than anything now. Songs like Faint and Don’t Stay created a monster and that same monster has undoubtedly killed off whoever I was before, and rightfully so.

As a vocalist (singing): Billy Joel - Turnstiles (1976)

I don’t care what anyone has to say about who the best singer/songwriter is. They’re all wrong if they don’t pick Billy. 

Okay, I’m not that arrogant, but we definitely will become instant best friends if you do choose him. 40+ years of everything that is right about writing and singing songs. Playing thousands of shows night after night, year after year, decade after decade, and I only wish I could’ve lived what it must have felt like to be around the day that this record came out. New York State Of Mind will forever hold its place as my favourite song ever written. He let me know it’s ok to just write about whatever you want and sing it however you want, perfect or not. One of the last shows I went to before COVID was Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden in NYC – concerts like that probably won’t happen for a good while still, even with it being spring of 2021 – but I’ll say that it was life changing and keeps me so excited to sing songs, REAL meaningful songs, for the world. 

As a rock producer: I See Stars - Treehouse (2016)

The reason this is here is because it’s the first record I am credited on having worked on. I would go as far as to say if it wasn’t for I See Stars, my career in EDM would have taken quite a few more years to take off, if it ever would have. Long story short, I was asked by Jeff, the bassist, to come in and help with some ideas and demos. We worked on Running With Scissors together and it ended up as a single for the album. This album showed me what a studio record felt like: how to put it together and work with one another for weeks on end. They also brought me on the Treehouse tour, which is how I was able to play in Los Angeles for a few booking agents, thus signing to an agency and the rest became history. This album changed my life in ways far outside of sonic pleasure, it really made things happen in my life that otherwise wouldn’t have.

As a dubstep DJ/EDM producer: Destroid - The Invasion (2013)

Most, if not all, people who listen to dubstep know who Excision is. But not all of them know about the somewhat short-lived, wildly experimental project he had with Downlink and KJ Sawka. A robotic, alien-branded live trio that became an underground phenomenon, they pretty much made me think, “alright well what the fuck is going on?” Excision has definitely been someone who has taken me under his jurassic wing to a fair degree, but that was well after this album came out and made me fall in love with heavy, grimy, headbanger-ready dubstep. Songs like Funk Hole and Bounce are near impossible to listen to and not have your head smash involuntarily into the earth. They also were the first group/DJs to support my songs and play them at festivals and on tours. I also was on stage with them singing a song at the first Lost Lands Festival in 2017. It is still one of the most full circle moments of my career.


As a Listener: Bring Me The Horizon - That’s The Spirit (2015)

It’s important to sometimes just listen to music and not worry about what you want it to be or how you think it should sound – to just enjoy it and love what it is. There are too many albums that I never approached like that in my younger years. This album came out when I was about 21, during a trying time in my life when I was a very broke musician in Los Angeles. In my head I tried to make this album what it was not. I wasn’t listening – I was expecting something and when it didn’t happen I was let down. I knew Bring Me The Horizon as a fucking aggressive metalcore group filled with despair but, quite frankly, they seemed pretty fed up with it. That seemed to change with That’s The Spirit. It was the sound of a band understanding themselves more and more and I was, at that time in my life, not doing that. I wasn’t really ready for that conversation fully, or at least wasn’t ready to totally let go. So this album made me realise it’s important to listen to what life was telling me to listen to, instead of just what I wanted to hear.


As a lyricist: The Story So Far - Under Soil and Dirt (2011)

Parker Cannon has talent as a lyric writer that is so beyond poetic and fantastic that I just don’t know how to explain how brilliant I find it all. Each record The Story So Far have put out has something that has so much flavour; so much colorful, thought provoking language, all wrapped up in a powerful pop punk package (even if he hates being in the pop punk bubble). It’s all so rad to me, to literally say the least. Every record this band has put out has reignited the spark in me that reminds me I don’t need to be shy in what I write about, what words I choose, whether every damn word rhymes or makes perfect sense. Things will always make a different impression, varying from person to person and I just want to make sure that I love singing them every night and that they mean something to me.

Honorable Mention: Run The Jewels  - RTJ4 (2020)

I have always gravitated towards hip hop and rap that has aggression at its roots, in the beats and the lyrics and rhymes. Right now for me, especially with everything that has happened in the world over the last year, this record reminded me to appreciate the hell out of hip hop, since I definitely find myself so immersed in the worlds of EDM and metal when I’m writing. Killer Mike and El P really are the main driving force in anything I do that is remotely trap-, sample-, or rap-based. I’ve probably played this record at the very least, once a week since it’s dropped.

Sullivan King's new single Venomous, featuring Spencer Charnas of Ice Nine Kills, is out now via Hopeless Records. Catch the video below