My Page: Kuroma’s Hank Sullivant
by Hank Sullivant on January 09, 2017
Kuroma could only come out of Athens, Ga., and will probably only exist for as long as I live in Athens, Ga. To be fair, Kuroma has played only two Athens shows in the last five years, so I wouldn’t claim that we’re a very critical part of the Athens music scene. Also, since 2012, my bandmates have been New Yorkers—the Kuroma band is made up of members of the MGMT touring band.
So how is Kuroma an Athens band all the way, through and through, and without question? It’s because of something that, to me, is a bit more mysterious. Out of four full-length Kuroma albums—during which I also lived in New York, Memphis and Savannah—I can only think of three songs I didn’t write in Athens. And every single time I have hit a creative stride, it has been during a prolonged period of time living in Athens.
The first musical awakening I had in Athens was around my freshman/sophomore year at the university, and it actually had everything to do with Memphis. I’d never actively listened to Memphis soul music while I was growing up in that very city, but when I bought the Dreams to Remember Otis Redding anthology during college, I really felt like I already understood it. It took me directly to Memphis, the feeling of the air and the people—a mystical feeling of the place. I really missed home, so I listened to it quite a lot. I played guitar along with it and Steve Cropper became my favorite guitarist. I thought Stax was a miracle.
As far as my homesickness, it wasn’t just the city that the music brought to my senses— it also reminded me of the area and the land, the river, for sure, the Delta. My grandparents lived in Clarksdale, Miss., and the drives to visit them on Highway 61, surrounded by all of that beautiful flat farmland, are etched into my, you guessed it, soul. None of this, of course, resulted in an outpouring of “soul music.” Instead, it actually fed an actively creative period in my contributions to The Whigs.
Later in college, I entered a bit of a lull to say the least. The only times my senses felt truly alive were when I’d get out of town, specifically when I visited New York a couple of times. After one of these trips, back in ‘05, I came home to Athens, manic as a March hare, and wrote all of the music for the first Kuroma album in a couple of weeks. I’d had recurring dreams about New York, which I related to my friend Andrew VanWyngarden of MGMT, and he said, “Then why don’t you just move here?” When he asked me to join his band, that’s exactly what I did. It was probably the most exhilarating time of my life—mind-blowing. It’s hard to explain, but pop music became more than itself. It became apocalyptic, a signpost of an impending collision with the supernatural, and the city reflected it. And I was turned on to bands that seemed to completely “get” this and use it. Ben Goldwasser came over one night and played me The Teardrop Explodes, Psychic TV, The Legendary Pink Dots and Helios Creed. It was the most stupefying listening experience of my entire life.
That summer in New York had a profound effect on me. And yet, I don’t think I wrote one song the entire time. It wasn’t until I came back to Athens in 2008 that I started pouring out music. It was an energetic year—playing Kuroma shows regularly, writing Psychopomp. I even had a “#maga’zine” with Alejandro Crawford called Le Dodo. Then I moved to New York City again in 2009, and this time it was emptiness—a perfect prescription of emptiness. Without realizing it at the time, I started becoming, whoops, a Roman Catholic. I came back to Athens and this time wrote Kuromarama. The conversion intensified and I was confirmed in 2012. Once again, Athens was this place where all these life ingredients could simmer into a soup.
I rejoined MGMT in 2013. We toured everywhere and I saw six continents in a year. A big part of the adventure was my somewhat double life as a practicing Catholic. I kept it pretty hidden, not because I thought my bandmates were unsupportive—in fact, I knew they were supportive—but because I never wanted to come off as pious. And, furthermore, it was personal. My conversion was still new and ongoing. One of my favorite things was making it to Sunday Mass wherever we happened to be. I attended Holy Mass in Los Angeles, Seattle, Kelowna, Des Moines, Nashville, Austin, New York, El Paso, Pittsburgh, Marseille, Milan, Paris, São Paulo and Buenos Aires. I attended Palm Sunday and Easter services in Palm Springs, Calif., during weeks one and two of Coachella in 2014. Then there was the time I got on the Mexico City subway, with two hours to spare before lobby call to the festival we were playing, and rode 11 stops to the site of Our Lady of Guadalupe and made it back in the nick of time. I wouldn’t tell anybody about stuff like that. It was my secret.
Those experiences around the world deeply influenced The Dark Horse Rides Again. But it was only when touring started slowing down, and I was planted in Athens, that it all came pouring out and turned into something. I don’t know why it happens like that. And I never know why I do it. It’s not like I’m writing for a huge audience, or that I consider it inherently important. It just happens, and I’ve always followed through with it. And it always comes together in the Classic City, Athens, Ga. In conclusion: Go Dawgs. Just kidding, go Rebels.