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Boulder-based singer-songwriter Finn O’Sullivan puts power in pop

Musician to perform livestream show Saturday, with some proceeds benefitting political action committee Fair Fight

Boulder-based singer-songwriter Finn O’Sullivan performs at the Boulder International Film Festival’s drive-in series in September 2020 at Boulder Municipal Airport. O’Sullivan, a grand prize winner in the 2020 John Lennon Songwriting Contest, will perform via Facebook Live on Saturday at 6 p.m. Tickets are $9.99 and half of ticket sales will be donated to the political action committee Fair Fight. (BIFF/ Courtesy photo)
Boulder-based singer-songwriter Finn O’Sullivan performs at the Boulder International Film Festival’s drive-in series in September 2020 at Boulder Municipal Airport. O’Sullivan, a grand prize winner in the 2020 John Lennon Songwriting Contest, will perform via Facebook Live on Saturday at 6 p.m. Tickets are $9.99 and half of ticket sales will be donated to the political action committee Fair Fight. (BIFF/ Courtesy photo)

After a set prior to the pandemic, singer-songwriter Finn O’Sullivan was approached by an older “music-industry” dude that proceeded to “mansplain” to her just what she needed to do to make it big.

The interaction resulted in O’Sullivan not heeding his advice, but instead crafting a song called “Incredibly Unfamous” — a stay-true-to-thyself anthem in which she playfully delves into all the possible routes she could take that don’t lead to obtaining celebrity status and being the target of paparazzi flashes.

Boulder-based singer-songwriter Finn O’Sullivan is pictured on the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder in the summer of 2018. (Zach Gentry/ Courtesy photo)

While O’Sullivan — who started her musical journey at age 12 — maintains a low profile, her talent has not gone unnoticed.

The 2020 graduate of Boulder’s New Vista High took home the grand prize, in the category of folk, at the 2020 international John Lennon Songwriting Contest for her tune “When the Power Comes Back On.” The song’s music video, directed by eTown’s director of video production Zack Littlefield, was released this week.

In 2016, she won the eTown Handmade Songs competition for teens, then started working with a producer and stretching her artistry.

With a sweet-and-smoky vocal tone and undeniable skills on the guitar, piano and ukulele, O’Sullivan continues to build her fanbase. The 18-year-old offers up refreshing tracks that stretch far beyond adolescent angst and manage to impress with layered lyrics, hints of quirk and attention-grabbing melodies.

Despite many venue closures, O’Sullivan played sporadic gigs in 2020, including one at Boulder International Film Fest’s drive-in movie series in September, ahead of a screening of the music docuseries “Laurel Canyon: A Place in Time.”

From her song “Leo,” inspired by David Lynch’s cult-classic show “Twin Peaks,” to “Lipstick Kisses,” a pop-rock track whose mention of “city lights” will have listeners longing for the days when we could roam maskless though the streets, O’Sullivan composes tunes that could easily get radio airplay with their catchy and clever aesthetic.

Finn O’Sullivan performs at The St. Vrain Cidery in Longmont in Fall 2018. (Lisa Holmes/ Courtesy photo)

At 6 p.m. Saturday, O’Sullivan will treat fans to a show, “Power Restored: Live From Home,” via Facebook Live. Tickets are $9.99 and half of the sales will benefit Fair Fight — a political action committee established by Stacy Abrams that addresses and combats voter suppression among communities of people of color and young voters throughout the U.S.

The first 20 people to purchase a ticket will receive a “When the Power Comes Back On” CD and a custom facemask inspired by the LP.

At times, O’Sullivan’s sound is reminiscent of Canadian indie singer Feist and at others, she embodies Amelia Meath of electronic pop-duo Sylvan Esso (see “Across the Street”).

She stylishly teeters the line between fragile and fierce, wise and witty.

When not writing songs, O’Sullivan — who is pursuing a double major in singer-songwriting and music business at the University of Colorado Denver — can be found submerged in Zoom classes.

We caught up with the songstress to find out what it feels like to receive much-deserved recognition, what she hopes she can provide viewers that tune into her Saturday stream and what diverse gamut of musical artists are currently on repeat in her house.

Daily Camera: Really love the latest album. What inspired the title track “When the Power Comes Back On” and would you say it has become an anthem of sorts encouraging folks to keep hope alive in such turbulent and unprecedented times?

Finn O’Sullivan: The meaning of this song has definitely changed with time. When I first wrote it, it was about a sadness I was feeling about falling out of touch with someone I thought would be in my life for a very long time. I wrote about the longing for a change, but feeling stuck in a particular situation.

I came to realize that the title refers to my own personal power and waiting and hoping that I can eventually regain my own power and begin to feel like myself again. Then 2020 came around and, with all the craziness in the world that happened, this song really became a sort of theme song for me and I think for a few other people in my life, as well. It felt, in a way, like we were all collectively waiting for the power to come back on.

To speak to the hope aspect, I think that music — and art in general— is one of the best ways to remain hopeful in even the most difficult times and I think that the lyrics of this song lend themselves to how we’ve been feeling in 2020. It’s my hope that with the new year, and the changes in power, things will begin to look a little brighter and we can all start to feel a little more normal, while taking the lessons we learned over the past year with us.

Finn O’Sullivan performs at Odell Brewing, in Fort Collins, in the summer of 2019. (Lisa Holmes/ Courtesy photo)

DC: Congrats on winning the grand prize at the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. What was it like to receive such an honor?

FO: I still can’t really believe that happened. When I entered the contest, I felt like it might be a bit of a long shot and I definitely wasn’t really expecting to be chosen as a winner. I feel so honored to have had my song chosen for this contest. I still haven’t fallen out of love with “When the Power Comes Back On,” despite having written it a while ago and it makes me so incredibly happy to have it recognized in this way.

DC: I imagine 2020 was rough as far as not being able to play as many in-person gigs. What can we expect from this upcoming livestream?

FO: I’m so excited for this livestream. I don’t get to play live a lot anymore, of course, so anytime I do, it really feels like a treat to me.

My hope for this livestream is that I can provide something that makes people feel happy, welcomed and reminded that even when everything feels a little out of control, we can ground ourselves and find joy through creative outlets. I’ll be playing a set of original songs, probably for an hour or so. I’ve been writing a lot lately, so I’m excited to play some new material for people. As a songwriter, my hope whenever I play live is that at least one person can take something away from my lyrics and messages and find something to relate to.

Finn O’Sullivan at Stazio Fields, in Boulder, in the summer of 2020. (Lisa Holmes/ Courtesy photo)

DC: I know early on, as a pre-teen, you really admired Taylor Swift. Would you say you still are a pretty big fan of hers or are there other artists who you can’t get enough of? Tell us who, on your playlist, is in heavy rotation?

FO: I’m absolutely still a huge Taylor Swift fan. As you can imagine, I was thrilled when she released two surprise albums in 2020. Those are both albums that I’m listening to a lot lately, because I really love the new style she’s experimenting with. Phoebe Bridgers is another of my biggest inspirations. I love her lyricism and the way she can write about something mundane and make it seem like one of the most interesting things in the world, as well as the unique way she crafts metaphors. Ezra Furman is also someone I listen to a lot. She’s got a more rocking sound than I do, but I love the power that she conveys through music. Some other artists that I really love are dodie, Johnny Flynn, David Bowie, The Shins, Harry Styles, Big Thief and Regina Spektor. I try to keep my music taste pretty varied, because I feel like I can find inspiration in almost any genre.

Finn O’Sullivan performs at Odell Brewing in Fort Collins in the summer of 2019. (Lisa Holmes/ Courtesy photo)

DC: What do you miss most about live gigs? Any future in-person shows that should be on our radar?

FO: Performing live gigs was really where I felt most at home and most comfortable with myself. There’s something that feels so special about playing your music to a crowd of people and watching them take in your sound and your message. I really just miss the feeling of being connected to people in that way. Unfortunately, I don’t have any in-person shows coming up right now, but if you want to stay updated, check out my website and subscribe to my mailing list there, which is how I try to keep people posted on what I’m doing. I hope that things will start to get a bit better this year so that I can play some in-person gigs again. I’ll probably do some over the summer, at places that allow for outdoor in-person music.