It all started with swim trunks, a Summer Reading ‘zine and sunscreen. Oh, and a 7-inch; we can’t forgot that part. “I’ve always wanted to do my own record,” explains Bones (ne Sullivan), referring to the solo single he released as part of the limited “S/S FRIENDS” fashion line. “I never thought it’d be reggae, but then last summer happened.” Ah, last summer. At the time, Sullivan was getting restless over the looming release of Sam Champion’s Heavenly Bender LP, so he set aside some no-frills studio time. The two-sided result, “Easy Street” and “Act So Casual,” became an easy, breezy mission statement for Sean Bones, a project Sullivan describes as “music that might cause people to scratch their heads a bit, only to realize that scratching their heads would make a good dance move.”
Indeed. Just ask the folks over at RCRD LBL, who got behind Sullivan early on and wrote, “Canvas shorts and reggae music sound like summer spent by the water being lazy. Sean Bones is not lazy.” Sure enough, Sullivan spent many late nights crafting the dirt-encrusted reggae that drives Sean Bones’ Frenchkiss debut Rings. Named after the pervading influence of such speakerimploding ‘60s/’70s standards as the Congos, Desmond Dekker and Lee “Scratch” Perry, Rings was first recorded live to a 16-track tape machine with one malfunctioning slot. “We were working with limitations from the start,” says Sullivan. “I also told the engineer (Jay Braun, who’s also worked with the Stills and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion) to track the music in a way that hit the tape hard, stressing it out and giving us a gritty sound.” The result is a funky reggae party with feeling. From the sturdy rocksteady groove and sly Phil Spector nods of “Cry Cry Cry” to the dub flavor of “Instigator” to the twilight zone reggaeton of “Smoke Rings” – Bones’s debut seem tailored to summertime-in-the-city.
And then there’s “Dancehall,” a friendly sparring match between Barrington Levy and latter-day Blur. So yeah—this ain’t Legend: The Fourth Generation here; it’s something much stranger. “Even when it’s poppy, reggae is heavy and weird,” says Sullivan. “Especially the early stuff—it’s done on primitive equipment and it’s better for that. To me, that’s punk, and I love it.” He’s not alone. Remember that early “Easy Street”/“Act So Casual” single? When Sullivan tried to book a Sean Bones show to recoup the costs of vinyl pressings and canvas shorts, he ended up signing a record deal instead. Not to mention scoring the starring role— without auditioning, mind you—in Wah Do Dem, an indie film with loose connections to
The Harder They Come and Rockers. My character is this hapless guy named Max who wins two cruise tickets, but gets dumped and has to go on this trip alone,” explains Sullivan. “He spends a week on a Senior Citizen’s cruise before getting robbed and lost in Jamaica on his daytrip there. Somewhere along the way, he gets taken in and sees the ‘real Jamaica’.”
You might recognize Max’s ex as a certain Norah Jones. While her character may ditch Max early on, the Grammy winner wound up contributing vocals to the album closer “Turn Them,” a song catered to the film’s storyline. Landing such a high profile guest begs one question, of course: what’s next, beyond a spring 2010 S/S FRIENDS collection involving ponchos and galoshes? “I’m not closing any doors,” says Sullivan of his past projects, “but when the idea to record my own reggae single came to me, I was so excited I had to stand on my fire escape. It feels right to be doing this.”