Moving from behind the drum set to the front of the stage, Justin Sullivan finds a home on Mare Records for his debut record, In The Break, a new introduction of the veteran performer.
In The Break is your debut full length as a songwriter though you've been performing and recording with artists and bands for many years now. How is it different having your own project than as being a supportive member of someone else's vision?
It’s just a very pleasurable freedom. I love helping a writer shape their songs and I always felt like my role was to offer any edits when needed and overall to be a cheerleader for the good idea. But when you are at the center of the idea, it’s just a new level of expression. You can indulge in a strange idea or feeling and it’s been surprising how much I enjoy it.
The record is coming out on the newly created Woodsist imprint Mare Records. What drew you to the label and what makes it a good fit for Night Shop's first LP?
Well, very simple and organic reasons. Kevin is one of my best friends and Jeremy is another dear friend who I’ve worked with for many years. Working with your friends to make things has basically been my approach to music since I was a teenager and I like that life continues to reveal that this is, for me, the best way to do things.
You've toured with a handful of DIY punk bands and in 2009 joined The Babies with Kevin Morby and Cassie Ramone based in NYC. After the band went on hiatus, you and Morby moved to Los Angeles. What prompted the change of coast and how did the move lay the groundwork for where you currently are on the cusp of Night Shop's first record?
It was just a time of endings in New York. The Babies were winding down, a relationship I was in was ending and the changes to the city were making it very hard for people to stay inspired and make art. People were getting burned out. And I couldn’t blame them. But whenever I would visit LA for music, people would be talking about the art they were making. It was really just a clear disconnect. I’m currently crossing my fingers that it doesn’t happen here all over again.
Your primary duty for the past twenty years has been being a touring drummer. Have you been writing songs the entire time you've been in other groups? What made 2018 the time to step out from behind the set and release your own material?
Never directly. When I was younger, I did write lyrics and sing in some bands. So singing and writing lyrics is not new. And I always felt super concerned about song structure as a drummer. I’m not a “top notch pro player” so I always felt like enhancing the song was my role. So that doesn’t feel totally new either. But I never sat down and worked on a song on guitar until 2015.
You drum in a garage-punk band Flat Worms that has a totally different sound and energy than Night Shops. Is the style heard on In The Break more what's at the core of your musical nucleus?
For sure. I think Flat Worms speaks to a part of me that has always been attracted to the energy and excitement of an intense punk sound. It’s just part of my history and I like having a space to sort of contribute to that tradition. And I think that when it’s done right, it’s still a very visceral live experience. Also, I just will always see something very beautiful and earnest about a “band.” It’s a very messy democratic thing and it makes the good nights very special. But yes, these are the songs that really spring from myself. Also, it’s worth noting that the first Night Shop EP actually is just me and Tim and Will from Flat Worms who play on the recording.
The new record features contributions from Meg Duffy, Jarvis Taveniere, Greta Morgan, and Anna St. Louis. How did these collaborations help achieve a desired sound on In The Break? Were each of them specifically selected for unique talents or was the involvement more organically developed?
Well, they are literally some of the most talented people I’ve ever met but, as with Mare, it’s really back to the basic principle of working with your friends. I think whatever comes out sonically from that process is going to suit what I’m trying to express better than erring on the side of professional strangers. But luckily for me, I happen to be friends with such insanely talented people.
You're taking the Night Shops project on the road with Waxahatchee which will bring you to North Carolina to play Hopscotch Music Festival in September. After years of touring, are there any nerves or new perspectives finally taking the stage as the frontman?
Oh of course. I’m someone who gets nervous before every show. From a basement house party to a huge festival stage. I’ve finally just accepted that before I play, my stomach feels insane and I can’t hold a conversation with anyone. Then I usually get so nervous that I think “Why am I even doing this? It’s not worth it.” Then I play and of course, it’s always worth it.