Night Shop is the songwriting project of Justin Sullivan. Sullivan has worked as a touring drummer for the past twenty years, much of which was spent playing house shows, warehouses and art spaces with a half dozen DIY punk bands, including Ringers and an early incarnation of Worriers. In 2009, he joined the Babies alongside Kevin Morby and Cassie Ramone. When the band went on hiatus in 2013, Sullivan moved to Los Angeles with Morby and continued working with him as a staple of the live band and playing on all of Morby’s studio albums. In the meantime, Sullivan also formed the fuzz punk outfit Flat Worms, with Tim Hellman of Oh Sees and Will Ivy. In the Break is Night Shop’s first full length album, following a self-titled EP released in 2017 by 1234 Go! Records. The album was engineered by Jarvis Taveniere of Woods, a longtime collaborator from Sullivan’s time in Brooklyn and mixed by Drew Fischer.
Hear First is Talkhouse’s series of album premieres. Along with streams of upcoming albums—today’s is Night Shop’s In The Break—we publish statements from artists and their peers about the mindsets and impressions that go into, or come out of reflection on, a record. Here, Katie Crutchfield (Waxahatchee) reflects on her friendship with Night Shop’s Justin Sullivan and shares her thoughts on the album, which you can also listen to right here.
—Annie Fell, associate editor, Talkhouse
I’ve been thinking lately about the concept of the outsider. When I was younger, the sort of built-in, fleshed-out image of an outsider was the crux of my identity. I looked up to people I viewed as misanthropic or misunderstood, revered their superhuman detachment. I thought it was cool to be outside of whatever it was that made most people happy, mostly just as a way to clumsily identify my own distress. Lately, though, the whole concept in all its melodramatic glory has been punctured in my mind. The best thing being an outsider ever did for me is help guide me to people who felt the same way I did. And any way, don’t most people feel outside of something bigger, something that seems to make everyone else happy? Don’t most people feel alone? I think variations of aloneness is the foundation on which intimacy is built. Connecting in the abyss. People are inherently too big and complicated to be completely on the inside of anything. Maybe everyone is an outsider.
I met Justin Sullivan in 2012 but I had heard about him way before then. He was playing a show with his band the Babies in Philly with my sister’s band Swearin’. I had heard about Justin from a handful of mutual friends, and there was something about the way people talked about him. I could tell he held a lot of significance for people. In meeting him then, and in knowing him for years since, I can say that he has this way of connecting with people that is very unique to him. He’s a great listener and a great talker, a stunning conversationalist in a world where value on that type of affirmative rapport is seemingly waning. He can always paint the most vivid picture, or give the most reasonable advice or tell the most detailed and compelling story because he’s always paying closer attention than most.
Justin spent a very long time playing drums in bands, his personality always cutting through even when the songs were written by someone else. In this context—Justin behind the drum kit but undoubtedly acting as a very expressive collaborator—I always viewed him as some sort of secret weapon. When he first struck out on his own and started releasing songs, my initial thought was how clearly his conversational eloquence translated lyrically. The voice that most songwriters spend a long time finding and cultivating seemed to come to him naturally and immediately, almost like he’d just been waiting for the right time to share it. Hearing his stories, in his words, put to great music has been really gratifying to me as someone who has gotten so much out of knowing him. There’s a warm familiarity woven in to it, like you’re just at the diner with your friend in feverish agreement about some way in which you both feel on the outside of something. Even to a stranger, I imagine it feels genial and evocative, reminiscent of some great conversation.
On his debut album In the Break, Justin (who uses the moniker Night Shop) masterfully captures his own essence. The melodies feel cordial but with a subtle bite, much like the gentle sort of early American rock ‘n’ roll that influenced it. On the opening track Justin sings, “I followed the inscriptions to Keat’s gold convictions / love as big as planets and a force transcendent / I’m only looking down just to get my balance / I always loved the ones who never cared about talent,” like he’s talking quickly as to not leave out any piece of the puzzle.There’s an undeniable hint of neurosis juxtaposing the warm analog affability, like a well-read modern day Buddy Holly drank a big cup of coffee. The record is smart just by way of being written by a smart person, but also in its self-acceptance. It’s simple music, leaning on the lyrics and the melodies, and it doesn’t try too hard to be anything else. There’s a real boldness to that, letting something breathe, letting it stay simple.
I think a lot about all the nuanced and deliberate thought that goes into putting songs you wrote out into the world. It’s a really easy thing to overthink and can be a difficult thing to achieve exactly what you set out to. I find when I listen to this record, coming from the position of knowing its maker, that it really achieves something that can be challenging for a debut. It feels like a vision fulfilled, a voice developed, and a little glimpse into a sharp and fascinating mind. If everybody walks around feeling like an outsider, and connecting with other people who share that feeling is how we feel less alone, then this album listens like two people empowered by a shared feeling of alienation. It’s like a great conversation with a person who just gets it, and for a moment you feel like you’re on the inside of something.