Washington-based Scott Sullivan is as eclectic as they come. Where art meets medium and margherita meets mouth
If ever existed a modern American version of a Celtic Irish bard – a wandering storyteller, musician, philosopher and entertainer – it’s Scott Sullivan.
Born and raised in Rhode Island, the New England-native has spent much of his adult life out West: ten years in the Rockies, ten years on the sun-drenched beaches of San Diego and more than a decade in his current home of Port Angeles, Washington – just west of Seattle.
A jack of all arts
Scott is a rare creature that seamlessly blends lifestyle with career, friends with family, work with play. A surfer, snowboarder, musician, photographer, small business owner and family man, Scott Sullivan (no relation to the author), brings passion, perspective, purpose and overall joie de vivre to every endeavor.
For fifteen years Sullivan made a career of professional photography. Following the world’s elite snowboarders around the globe, from Alaska to Europe to Japan to South America and the South Island of New Zealand. Anywhere the snow flies and snowboarders abound, Scott was there, camera gear in tow.
His images have graced many-a-cover of various snowboarding magazines, and his filmography has been included in some of the snow industry’s most notorious films. Uniquely, wherever Scott traveled to capture images, he also carried a guitar.
A folkish rocker, an indie ballad singer, a pop-star with a handlebar mustache – long before such fashion gripped the hipster set. Scott is an old soul with a youthful spirit that oozes here-and-now zen backed by aged wisdom. He has released multiple albums as a soloist dating back 20 years, and more recently, as part of a new cast, notably with violinist, Chandra Johnson, dubbed Crushwater.
For example, among Scott’s early works – and a direct musical ode to Seattle – is the memorial tune, Sea Town, in honor of a well known local personality, Scott Stamnes, that tragically passed away in a car accident.
A family man, as well, Scott is married to his longtime muse, Natalie. The couple’s two daughters share their father’s zeal for adventure – from snowboarding in mountains of Washington to surfing on the North Shore of Hawaii.
In 2015, Scott Sullivan made a slight career pivot to focus more on the homefront. He launched an East Coast-style pizza parlor in Port Angeles, WA — Strait Slice Pizza Co — an instant hit among locals. The mustache-toting, dough-spinning Sullivan finds it to be especially satisfying in feeding the community and his soul.
Q&A with Scott Sullivan
I caught up we Scott this week, as part of Artistic Fuel’s focus on the Seattle arts scene, and ahead of a Livestream concert Scott performed, Friday, March 27, in conjunction with sponsor SmartWool, for a ten question Q&A covering his back story, recent pursuits and taking on the coronavirus as a small business owner.
Tell us about the pizza business?
I opened the Strait Slice Pizza Co. back in 2015. Being an east coaster at heart and lifelong passionate pizza person, I was deprived of the type of pizza that I enjoy while living out here in Port Angeles, Washington. At the time I had been a full-time photographer for 15 amazing years. I was in a period of my life where I was wanting to transition out of the rapidly changing cultural landscape of the world of snowboard and surf photography. I could see the writing on the wall.
All the magazines were going digital. I was really content with the life and experiences I had already been able to achieve while shooting with Absinthe Films, Snowboarder Magazine and Volcom. Hence, I was looking to expand my horizons.
I had restaurant experience from my early days as a snowboard rat and the idea of opening a restaurant ironically came from my 5-year-old daughter. She planted a seed in my head, and I began exploring how I would achieve it. The more thought I gave it, the more it seemed that the universe was pulling me in that direction. The day before I signed my lease, I put myself at ease by telling myself that I would just try it out for three years, and if I really didn’t like it, I would get out.
Also, a funny thought came to me as I imagined my obituary at the end of my life, and among all the things I’ve done, it would be mentioned that “he opened his own pizza restaurant making east coast style, hand-tossed pizza.” That pretty much sealed the deal for me. So, yea, it’s been five years now this coming May and I’ve built something successful, tasty and fun that is a welcome addition to our community.
How are you coping with coronavirus as a small business owner?
I am one of the fortunate ones that is still able to stay open during these crazy times. I’ve definitely been affected and so have my employees. Since we went into statewide lockdown things have slowed down, but I am now delivering and that helps. I work every day. I am cooking and also the delivery guy.
My kids are at home, out of school, and I am down here at the restaurant for 12 -14 hours a day right now feeling fortunate to stay open, so I am trying to make the best of it. My regulars really appreciate it since most restaurants are shut down and they can still get their pizza. Its slow in the middle of the day, so I have my guitars down here to play and some of my photos to work on as well when it’s slow.
What’s the latest with your music career?
Among all these things I love to do, music has been right there with me for all of it. I am dedicated to it for life and my commitment and love for it just keeps growing. I have 5 full length albums now of all original material. Three years ago, I met a violin player, Chandra Johnson, and I switched from being a solo songwriter to a band called Crushwater (recently featured artists on American Songwriter). Her playing and energy has inspired me into some new directions, and we are going strong playing live gigs and working in the studio recording. We are about to release our first full length album called The Wasteland, so it’s a pretty exciting time for us.
And the new album?
The album has been a fantastic journey bringing 11 new songs to life. I’ve been able to write with parts for Chandra in mind and we do some really nice male/female vocal harmonizing which is fun. It’s a really energetic album with styles ranging from folky punk to rock and even some Latin Spanish style influences. We both speak decent Spanish, so we dive into a few songs here and there dabbling with that vibe.
What’s the latest on your photography career?
So, I’ve really been invigorated lately with my photography. I think more about the individual shots I’m taking. I spend a lot of time thinking about how I want to capture something before I even press the shutter. It’s not my main source of income anymore. I just really get to shoot what I love, and I really still love it more than ever.
I still get hired here and there for some gigs. Snowboarder Magazine just ran a 12-page portfolio of my shots from over the years on the scene. Also, for the last five years I go to Hawaii every January/February. I get heavily into shooting surfing and the surrounding culture on the North Shore. My relationship with Volcom from over the years gives me the opportunity to be one of the photographers to cover the incredible Volcom Pipe Pro at Pipeline. It’s one of the highlights of my year. I love working with great surfers and staying connected with the crew at Volcom.
What’s the importance and current relevance of snowboarding and surfing in your life / career?
Surfing has been the guiding force in my life since I was 9 years old. Almost everything I do or have done came out of following that passion. Snowboarding, too, evolved out of that. These days so much of my life with friends and family is entwined in a culture of like-minded people. I live right by the Lib Tech and Mervin (Snowboard) Manufacturing HQ and we are all great friends. Many of us have kids now. The kids are all ripping and that connection forges our bonds of friendship even stronger.
How’s it being a husband and father circa 2020?
I’d have to say it’s awesome. My girls are 10 and 14 now. My wife Natalie and I are into a really fun period with the kids as they grow into individuals. They are the main motivator for me in my life. Therefore, I just try to set a great example of how to make the most out of life. By working hard, chasing your dreams, and living a positive life. I feel lucky because so much of our friends and community are about being outside and getting after it instead of getting sucked into phones and computers. Obviously, we all use them but it’s all about balance and we try to maintain that.
What drew you to the Seattle, Washington area?
I like the greenery and the marine air. I find similarities to where I grew up in New England. I’ve lived all over the country and I think every place has its ups and downs no matter where you are. For me, now, this is a great place to raise my kids and be part of a great community.
What are some of your favorite aspects of Seattle regarding the arts and music scene?
The art and music scene in Seattle are still the thing that gets me downtown. I’m a big fan of seeing bands play at places like the Showbox, the Neptune or Paramount Theater. Seattle does attract a lot of touring bands and it’s still a great place for that.
Any advice for aspiring musicians, photographers or small business owners?
“People will not always agree with what your truth may be. But, that’s more a sign of their problems than yours. If you are true to yourself on your path, you will find like-minded individuals along the way.”
Do what you love but don’t be afraid to work hard. It can be twice as hard to succeed when you are forging your own path. Don’t think that your dream is just going to fall in your lap. That is to say, you have to make it happen, and then continue to make it happen. It’s worth it at the end of the day. There will always be ups and downs with anything you do. However, there is no good without the bad to balance it out. Above all, I think it’s really important to be true to yourself in life.
People will not always agree with what your truth may be. But, that’s more a sign of their problems than yours. If you are true to yourself on your path, you will find like-minded individuals along the way. Consequently, they will become your allies on your journey through life. Moreover, I think that it is really, really important to communicate with people to overcome challenges. Communication is the key to success in any kind of business or relationship. In other words, just talking about things with people will help you overcome the multitude of roadblocks that life puts in front of us.
Anything else you’d like to add?
The society we live in is moving at such an exponentially fast rate these days and I think it’s important to just slow the hell down sometimes. In short, step away from the chaos when you can. Ground yourself, literally, take off your damn shoes and sink your feet into the Earth. For instance, the saying “Be Here Now” pretty much says it all.
James C. Sullivan is a guitarist, singer and long-time journalist having worked at publications including Snowboarder Magazine and USA Today. He recently returned to his roots in New England after a decade in California because cold winters and cloudy days inspire more creativity.