Finn O’Sullivan’s music career started in private. The indie-pop singer-songwriter used to pretend to be Taylor Swift and put on bedroom concerts while her parents were out of the house.
“I would have little quote-unquote ‘concerts’ if I was home alone,” O’Sullivan recalls. “I would put on music and pretend I was having a concert, like I was the one singing.”
She later saw Swift’s 1989 tour in 2015 and found it to be a seminal moment in her development as a musician.
“She’s really personal as a songwriter,” O’Sullivan recalls. “Looking back, I can see that I picked up a lot of stuff from her. It was one of those moments where I thought it would be really cool if I could do that.”
O’Sullivan’s journey as a singer-songwriter, now in its seventh year, seems to be going well. Last year, the former Boulderite released her first full-length album “When the Power Comes Back On.” She also won the 2016 eTown Handmade Songs Competition.
“They chose about 20 people to come and perform their songs,” she says. “I got to play eTown which was such a cool experience. I think it was my first time really performing on stage.”
Recently, O’Sullivan took top honors in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest for the song “When the Power Comes Back On,” the title track on her debut album, beating out a large number of competitors. It was a big moment for her.
“I was just very honored,” she says. “It means a lot to me.”
She says the song originated from a personal issue she was having a few years ago and desiring change but finding it hard. The “power” mentioned in the song is her own personal power and wondering what it would be like when she got the power back. It’s since taken on a different meaning for her.
“With the pandemic and social distancing and quarantines and wearing masks and everything, I felt like you were waiting for the metaphorical power to come back on,” she says. “That’s what it meant to me last year so it changed a little. It just felt relevant.”
Swift’s style as a writer, specifically her knack for good storytelling, inspired O’Sullivan to pick up a guitar when she was 12. She also finds Phoebe Bridger to be a big influence, as well as Chicago singer Ezra Furman.
“My songs definitely don’t sound like hers, but I feel like her values as a songwriter align with mine,” O’Sullivan says. “Values like authenticity and not just trying to conform with whatever is possible in music right now. I try to do that with my music as well.”
When she writes, O’Sullivan usually comes up with a chord progression and then writes the lyrics. She writes about personal experience a lot, but inspiration can strike anywhere.
“When I sit down to write a song, I have a little idea of what I want to write about, whether it’s a line I thought of or a melody or a thing I want to write about,” she says. “That can be an experience I had or a conversation I heard, something someone said or even a book I like.”
For example, O’Sullivan has written songs based on “Twin Peaks,” the oddball David Lynch TV crime drama from the early 1990s. She also released a series of songs based on “Call Me by Your Name,” a 2007 coming-of-age novel made into a 2017 film of the same name. She released the songs this summer as Summertime Lovers, recording all the instruments and backing vocals.
Why a whole E.P. about a movie?
“The first time I saw it, it really resonated with me,” she says. “The imagery and the cinematography are really beautiful. I’m queer, too, so I like watching things that represent me a little more.
O’Sullivan was homeschooled in middle school and also attended New Vista High School and Jerro Montessori School. She says Boulder has been a supportive place in which to grow up, artistically speaking. She caught a lot of shows at the Laughing Goat Coffeehouse on Pearl Street.
“People that I met and the schools I went to really encouraged me to pursue music,” she says. “It was never like, ‘Have a backup plan,’ or that it was an unrealistic goal. Living in a place like that where art and local artists are supported has been really good for me.”
Her end goal is to be a singer-songwriter full-time. To keep herself grounded, she doesn’t envision a future as a huge pop star playing big arena shows like her influence Swift. She’d like to go on tour as a smaller, independent musician. Currently, she’s playing coffee shops and small venues like bars. Eventually, she’d like to move up to clubs and bigger spaces.
“I try to be reasonable about it,” she says. “It’s a really difficult industry. You have to put in a lot of hard work and effort. Songwriting and music is the thing I’m most passionate about, so I want to pursue it. If not, I want to be at least a part-time musician. And I can see myself maybe teaching music.”
O’Sullivan recently left Boulder for Denver to study music at the University of Colorado. She’s not sure if she will ever move back, but growing up in that city has meant a lot to her.
“I’m really close with my parents,” she says. “I’m going home this weekend to hang out with my mom. I’m going to visit Boulder. I’m not sure I’ll move back there to live. But I don’t know I try to keep an open mind about the future and just do what feels right and where it takes me. I genuinely love boulder and it was a great place to grow up.
O’Sullivan has a show on Nov. 6 at 9 p.m. at Stella’s Coffee Haus in Denver. For more information, visit finnosullivanmusic.com.