Brothers Nick and Shane Sullivan craft darkly atmospheric indie rock with a bleak slowcore bent and an array of experimental sounds in their musical project Joyer. They just released their fourth full-length album Perfect Gray, a highly reflective, bummed-out and sentimental examination of ecological collapse and internal struggles that search for comfort.
Slowcore has always been the perfect music to ruminate in your emotions and the new Jersey duo Joyer provide you the perfect comfort with their newly released fourth album Perfect Gray. Originally from New Jersey, but with ties to the New York City and Boston music scenes, brothers Nick and Shane Sullivan have been quietly making some of the best slowcore music today, from 2019's minimal, but complex Peeled to the wistful melancholia on last year's Sun into Flies and now with their latest album.
Perfect Gray, their first release through the Philly label Julia's War Records, was recorded by producer Bradford Krieger at Big Nice Studio in Rhode Island, with additional contributions from friends Logan Hornyack of Melaina Kol and Jake Miller. Perfect Gray sounds like a natural progression from the duo's previous effort, that sonically dives deeper into their dreamy and delicate slowcore style that's somewhere in the vein of Galaxie 500, Songs: Ohia, and It's a Wonderful Life-era Sparklehorse. It's a fearless record that allows its naturalism and introspection to take over, while remaining calm over the swooning effects that widens Joyer's experimental pallet.
Across the gentle balladry and springy experimental pop, Joyer frames an intensely intimate space on the ephemeral new release that's a meditation on memory and nostalgia with fragile compositions that are so characteristic of slowcore. The shimmering lead single "Cranky Boy" is about the silly frustrations and conflicts that arise with the people you're close with, while the quivering jangles of the opener "Worst Thing" deal with state of worry and nervousness. However through the slow-burning bits, there's an overlaying sense of optimism to Joyer's delivery.
We had the pleasure of catching up with the Sullivan brothers, who take us through the inherent moodiness and playful experimentation of their new album.
Hey Nick and Shane! Thanks again for chatting and congrats on the new album! It's quite a mesmerizing record. Tell me, what have you been up to since completing it?
Nick Sullivan: Thanks so much! Honestly, we haven't been up to much haha. We've been pretty busy slowly getting back to real life, but we have started some shows again which have been really fun.
Shane Sullivan: Yeah usually by the time we have a new album coming out, we'll have another one written, but we've kind of been taking it easy. We're probably really gonna buckle down soon though and try to write more stuff.
It's good to just take a break and you guys certainly deserve that! You are brothers obviously, but what made you come together and form this project? Also what's the significance of your band name?
Nick: I played in a couple of different bands growing up and a lot of them were really fun, but it was never like 100% the type of music I wanted to make. At one point when one of the bands I was in fizzled out, it just made sense to start something with Shane. We have pretty much the exact same music taste and living in the same house made it super convenient. I also feel like we happen to collaborate well and really understand what each other are trying to do when writing. Maybe it's a weird brother telepathy or something.
Shane: Since I'm three years younger than Nick, Joyer is really the first actual project I was involved in. I think I was 16 or something. People always ask us about our name haha and I wish there was a better story to how we came up with it, but we just thought it sounded cool and it just stuck.
When it comes to the sound of Joyer, I'd say sonically you embody tentative introspection through qualities of slowcore and minimal guitar pop, but if somebody asked you on the street to describe your style and sound, what would you tell them?
Nick: It's cool to hear people putting a lot of thought into describing our music but when anyone asks me, I feel like if I get too descriptive it starts sounding pretentious so I usually just say indie, even if it gives people the wrong idea.
Take us through the progression of Joyer. Do you guys maintain any other musical projects?
Nick: We started off really not knowing what we were doing at all and recorded everything ourselves which was really intimidating, but I think we just started to teach ourselves more and more about really everything of being in a band. Now none of our own recordings are what make it to the finished album because we re-record all our demos at a studio, but I promise you they sound a lot better than they did haha.
Shane: I never really expected the project to be a real serious thing. I kind of just did it for fun and just to put stuff out there, but seeing a few people listening to it and especially after playing some shows, it became super fun and something I wanted to take more seriously.
Nick: I don't really have any other musical projects at the moment. Whenever I think about trying to write something else it just always feels like it would work best as a Joyer song. I did write a song for a soup themed compilation recently under the name Legg though.
Shane: Yeah I don't have any other projects besides Joyer going on but I would love to collaborate with some other friends sometime. That stuff is always fun.
How do you approach your songwriting? What things are likely to inspire you to write and how do your original ideas develop into songs?
Shane: I feel like I don't have one single way I approach songwriting. It really varies per song. But some songs I write, start out with me just coming up with a riff on my guitar and then it kind of just builds from there. Others are more collaborative between the two of us where it comes together from jamming. When one of us gets stuck or feels like a song really needs another layer to it, it's always nice to get a fresh set of ideas or different approaches to take the song in.
Nick: Sometimes songs feel like we're really putting it together equally and other times one of us will take the reins more, but I don't ever feel like one of us has a song that's completely theirs. I think there's always at least some influence from both of us which is something I really like about this project.
Besides releasing your third full-length album Sun into Flies last year, you also curated and released a Bernie Sanders benefit compilation. What was that like?
Nick: That was a really great experience. I felt really passionate about Bernie and his campaign and knew a lot of my friends who make music felt the same so I decided to put it together. It came together kind of through telephone, where one artist would put me in touch with one of their friends who was interested. It was so cool to have all these super talented people all get excited about something so positive.
Obviously you just released a new full-length album, the intimate and reflective Perfect Gray. Take us through the recording process behind it and how was that different to the recording of its predecessor?
Shane: The recording process for Perfect Gray was a little different than our previous album just because of a lot of the precautionary measures for COVID we had to take. We were happy that Big Nice Studio really played it safe and we were never in the same room as our recording engineer Brad [Krieger], which was an interesting change. I felt like it challenged us all to really get creative with the limitations we had and it ended up working out really well.
Nick: We recorded both Perfect Gray and Sun Into Flies in the winter, but with Perfect Gray, Brad was nice enough to let us sleep at Big Nice so we could avoid any risk of getting COVID. The studio is in this big factory space though so I remember it being freezing cold, especially while tracking because having the heat on would make too much noise. I wore two layers of clothes the whole three days but it was probably the best experience I ever had recording. I think another thing that was different was to cut down on the time we had to spend out of quarantine. We tracked a lot of the overdubs at home which gave us a lot of time to write while recording which felt like a return to the earlier days of Joyer. It also opened us up to being able to have some other people track some stuff for us like our friends Jake Miller and Logan Hornyack.
What are you hoping listeners take away from this new album? It's a bit like a scrap book of vibrant memories that feels toned down or subdued. Are there any lyrical themes attached in the songwriting?
Shane: I never really like skewing the listeners' own personal interpretations of the music too much because that's kind of the way I personally like listening to music. But some of the lyrical themes of this album come from personal anxieties and fears and trying hard to make the best of them while remaining optimistic even when it seems really tough to do so.
With the new album being called Perfect Gray, is the title a reflection of that?
Nick: I think there's an understanding between the two of us about how the title works in our heads but I'm not really sure if we were ever able to articulate it. It really goes along with our ideas of making the best of lackluster situations and finding your own small happiness'. We also put a lot of effort into capturing interesting imagery with our music and I think the title plays into that a little too.
When you were recording the new material, were there any specific tracks that stood out to you?
Shane: We ended up having a lot of tracks for this album and really had to cut them down to what we thought were the best, which was hard and partly why this is kind of a longer album for us. But one song that really stood out for me was "I Was Wrong," which is probably my favorite on the album. It started out as just kind of a more simple acoustic song, but we knew we wanted to add some interesting sounds and textures to it. Brad was really able to help us out with that and translate our ideas for that aspect of the song into what turned out to be even better than how we envisioned it. I also really love how the song "Lucky" came out. That was a song that I wasn't too high on after recording the demo, but I feel like it really popped after recording it in the studio and is definitely one of my favorites now.
Nick: I really like all the tracks this time around and felt like we were more prepared going into this album than we usually are so I guess the ones that stood out the most were tracks where Brad would make a suggestion about something we were working on that always ended up bringing the song to the next level. He really put some good work into the album, as always. That and the stuff that Logan and Jake tracked because I'm such a big fan of both of them as musicians so I'm always amazed by what they do. So I guess if I had to choose, I'd pick "Rain Came Down Sideways," "Worst Thing," "Pulled Teeth" and "In the Dirt."
Were there any songs that turned out different from their original concepts? Were there any that really surprised you?
Shane: I sometimes get really attached to our demos and have trouble at first when they end up sounding a bit different once they get recorded in the studio. But after realizing that most of the songs end up changing for the better and really sound way better than our limited demo recordings, I end up liking that part of the process. The song "Breeze" for example ended up sounding pretty different from the original concept, but I like it even more now after having it recorded in a different space and changing some of the elements of it. The album version is definitely much more fuller sounding and that's something I don't think we could have fulfilled with a home recording.
Walk me through the making of the video for the single "Worst Thing"?
Shane: The making of "Worst Thing" was a lot of fun. My friends from college are all super talented filmmakers so I'm really grateful that they're into making stuff for us. Rhys Scarabosio wrote, directed, and shot it and did an amazing job. And Nathaniel Strobl and Albert Kim had some really great performances in it. It was shot all around Boston where I've been living for school and Nathaniel, Albert and Rhys had to sprint around a lot of public places for the whole shoot which was funny and we were scared we might get into some trouble, but it all ended up working out. Nick and I had to walk and play our instruments backwards to create the weird backwards effects which was a lot of fun.
Nick: Yeah it was definitely an interesting experience. There was one shot where we had to shoot through a thick crowd of tourists and between us and our instruments and the other guys sprinting around it got pretty dicey. Also there was the scene where the one character robs the other one inside a mall that we thought for sure was going to get us kicked out because of all of the commotion we were causing. Luckily Rhys was able to shoot everything we needed without anyone really trying to stop us.
What was the satisfaction like when completing the new album especially given the ongoing pandemic?
Nick: This album was really satisfying to finish because I think it's some of our best work and we put a lot more into it than we ever had before but I think the pandemic put a weird spin on it because we got this feeling of "Ok what now?" We finished making this thing but the pandemic was still going and we couldn't really play any shows or anything like that. The whole idea of just going in and starting fresh with a new album seemed exhausting. Luckily that's around the time a bunch of comps and livestreams started happening and kept us busy. Now that the album is out, it's satisfying again and I'm getting excited about getting a new album going too.
Shane: I definitely agree with a lot of the feelings Nick described. It was a really satisfying album to finish, especially after sharing it with some friends and getting some nice feedback from it. The pandemic obviously makes the rollout of any album kind of hard, but working on it and finishing it was definitely a good outlet at the time. I'm just really excited to finally get to play some of these songs live and hear what people think of it.
Do you have any shows coming up?
Nick: Besides the release show, we have a bunch of shows coming up but none of them have been really been announced yet, so it's weird to talk about them in case they dont actually end up happening I guess. We are in the process of booking a tour for this winter with a band we're really big fans of. I think that's the best part of making music, it's really weird, but also amazing to get to play with artists whose music I genuinely enjoy, a lot of which I really look up to, and making friends with all these talented people.
What songs from the new album are you most excited about showcasing live?
Nick: Yeah I'm excited to play a lot of them live. In practice "Nothing" and "Milk" are definitely fun ones since we've been playing them pretty differently than how we do on the recordings.
Shane: We're really excited to play all of these new songs live. Also since our last album came out during the pandemic, there's a whole lot of songs off of that that we've never had the chance to play live either. It really makes us excited to play a lot more shows. I guess some songs I'm excited to play in particular are "Worst Thing" and "Perfect Gray." Those ones have a lot more energy than a lot of our other songs that seem like they’ll be fun to do live.
Perfect Gray is out now via Julia's War Recordings.
Stream the new album below.