A few days after the release of his new album Forever Night on LA cult indie label Dangerbird Records, I spoke to Justin Sullian aka Night Shop. Aside from touching on the new album, we discussed what he listens to while stuck in LA’s infamous traffic, the romance of late night bodegas, and Wim Wenders’ 1987 flick Wings of Desire.
Enjoy our chat below.
What do you listen to when you’re stuck in traffic? Do you listen to your own stuff?
No. Never. Well, I listen to it when I’m making it and then maybe like, once the first recording is done. That’s when it’s alive for me. Then it’s like time travel, by the time someone hears it two years later, they’re having the experience I had when I heard it for the first time.
But right now I feel I’m inundated. I’m actually trying to reduce my intake of sonics. You know what I mean? I just feel like, for so long, I had them playing all day in the background.
Do you have a creative space that works for you when you are making music? Or does it spring up out of nowhere?
You’re just taking everything in. It’s like any art. Then you just kind of create a moment to pick up the guitar or whatever, you know. I make time to play a little bit in the morning when my mind is uncluttered to play guitar and sing, almost like the morning-pages-philosophy of whatever’s coming.
Then I make time at night. It is a little more disciplined at night to be like, ‘cool, let’s take all those weird stray ideas and see what’s going on’. I’ve been doing at least an hour or two at night: kind of demoing the next record. It’s amazing because you create that space for whatever you’ve taken in and it comes out a little bit. I was just talking with a friend over coffee and part of it is just keeping the channel open to all the stuff that comes in. It’s like, if you’re a painter, you go to your studio and start painting. I kind of see it like that. I’m pretty rudimentary at playing instruments. So it’s never like I am moved to play a chord. It’s always just like to service whatever feeling is going on inside and the melody in music has such an impact to like, it’s not a cheat code, but there’s so much meaning.
You started out as a drummer. Why the drums?
I always think of it as: it was just the most practical way to play with others. I’m not super passionate about drums, but I love them. My best friend across the street, who I’m still really close with today, got a guitar and so I was like, ‘oh, I’ll get drums’. People always need a drummer. I don’t geek out on different drum kits or whatever.
Tell me about the name Night Shop.
It’s kind of a way to pay tribute to the nightspots. In Brooklyn, I would go to the bodegas or the delis or night shops. It’s just some romanticism with these businesses, but they’re weirdly communal. They’re kind of equalizers in a way. I just love the romance of that. It’s also the name of a Fugazi song, which I love. It’s evocative of something that’s meaningful.
What did you listen to growing up?
My family is really funny, because they’re always like, ‘oh, we’re not musical,’ or ‘we don’t really know much about music.’ It’s just a funny thing to downplay. I have five older siblings, so there was a lot of music, driving in the car for example with my sister.
I think when I was younger I listened to everything. Then I had a moment where I got really into punk which was really good for me, because it showed me some of the mechanics of doing things with that spirit of anyone can do it and it’s not about talent or virtuosity. I think that was really formative for me.
Do you remember the first place you played?
Of course. I forget the name right now. Oh, Dr. Shay’s, it was a bar on Long Island. It was a Sunday matinee. All ages show. We were a punk band called The Insurgents.
When you think about the inspiration in music, it ends up being about communicating your own experience, but then as a listener, I may feel a completely different way about it and I may have a different experience emotionally.
I was talking about this literally in the car, like a half hour ago, where I have this overly developed romanticism with everything, and that can be painful or not very practical when it comes to life but then I have a place to put it: in my music. It allows me to live a healthier life.
I saw the movie Wings of Desire last night. Have you ever seen that? It was such a romantic movie. In another time I may have gotten all wrapped up in whatever romantic obsession I had at the moment, but last night it was fun to see that and be like, ‘I’ll go home and work on music.’ And that’s where I’ll put this like, sort of feeling that got stirred up; that I love when life is so hopeful. Life is simply beautiful and exciting just to live. Just to have a cup of coffee and a cigarette. So I love the optimism and hope in the midst of the horror of life and the worst harms of human existence. There’s a really delicate balance that they struck and I loved it.
If you hadn’t been a musician, what would you be?
I really wanted to be a journalist for a while. I worked for the New York Times for five years as a news assistant, aka a clerk, meaning I answered phones. But I would freelance sometimes. Then the LA Times, I wrote for their comic book-oriented side of the entertainment site. It wasn’t really what I wanted. I was just very confused and I thought I couldn’t do music, but then I just kept doing it anyway and at a certain point I thought if you pick a field that is not your passion and then for other people in the field it is their passion, it just didn’t make any sense.
Where do you want to be in 20 years?
Traveling, making music. Literally I want to tour forever. I want to play shows forever.