With nothing more than two microphones, minimal technology experience, and GarageBand software installed on their computer, Shane Sullivan, a sophomore visual and media arts major, collaborated with his brother, Nick Sullivan, graduate of The School of Visual Arts in New York City, in the basement of their home in Nutley, New Jersey in 2017 to compile guitar-driven recordings with an alternative and indie rock twist that contrasted mainstream genres of music.
Shane and Nick Sullivan released their 12-track album titled Peeled in June 2019, making it their second album as the brother-duo band called Joyer. The brothers put out their first self-titled album in 2017.
After their album release, they performed at venues across the Northeast over the summer, alongside artists they admire such as alternative band Melaina Kol. Joyer also has two performances lined up in the next few months, one at Ted House in Boston and another at 216 in New Haven, Connecticut. Their 2019 summer tour attracted more fans, interview inquiries, and offers to play with other bands, according to Shane Sullivan.
The brothers grew up with musical parents who encouraged them to play instruments starting at the age of eight. The basement of the Sullivan household had served as a quiet, open space that fostered the early musical ideas of Shane and Nick Sullivan. What started out as just practicing in preparation for their guitar lessons evolved into jam sessions.
Their love for music followed them up to their high school years, as they were both involved in separate bands, but eventually decided to start making music together under the band name Joyer in 2017. They admit that there is no real meaning to the name and that they simply decided on it together.
Joyer’s style focuses more on instruments than vocals, Shane Sullivan said. The brothers’ co-write their songs, and each adds in different instrumental parts.
“Neither of us can sing that well, so we kind of hide our imperfections with [the instruments],” Shane Sullivan said. “But also we just kind of liked the way it sounded with lower mixed vocals and more emphasis on the guitars; that’s what I always enjoyed most about the music that I listen to.”
Shane Sullivan said that when he and Nick produce their music, they layer slow-paced guitar riffs, drum beats, and keyboard melodies in the foreground and place both of their vocals around those layers. This results in what Shane Sullivan describes as their abstract sound.
“I feel like it’s a good representation of us,” Nick Sullivan said. “If we try to make any other type of music it wouldn’t seem genuine. It kind of represents our personalities.”
Jake Miller, a senior at Drexel University, has been a friend of the Sullivan brothers since high school and a fan of the band since its formation in 2017.
Miller mentions his favorite song by Joyer called Light, which he heard performed live in 2017 at one of the band’s first performances.
“It starts with a washed out drum, and then the guitar comes in,” Miller said. “It all felt almost dreamy.”
Artists such as rock band Duster and indie musician (Sandy) Alex G inspired the band’s purposefully raw and unpolished sound quality. Both brothers said their mutual love for films played a role in shaping their musical style.
“I guess since we’re both film majors, we’re always kind of influenced by film,” Nick Sullivan said. “If I see a movie I’m like ‘wow that was amazing, what if I could write a song that has that same kind of vibe to it?’”
“The influence of film also translated into the songwriting process itself,” Shane Sullivan said.
“My vocals I feel like are more abstract but also kind of narrative based,” Shane Sullivan said. “I think that can reflect a lot of influences in terms of films that I like.”
A 1979 drama and fantasy movie titled Stalker inspired the song “Stem”
off of the band’s second album Peeled, Shane Sullivan said. He said the juxtaposition of nature and industrial landscape in the film inspired the lyrics for the song.
The brothers said the meanings of the songs and their music as a whole are difficult to describe because of how abstract it is. Shane Sullivan said Joyer’s songs are indirect and fictional, yet also inspired by everyday life.
Given the distance between the brothers, as a result of going to separate colleges, Shane Sullivan said they took advantage of every moment they had together throughout the year. He said whatever time they had together was spent writing music, and he looks forward to their future productions.
“Playing in more shows and making more music [are our goals],” Nick Sullivan said. “And it’d be really cool to have someone put us on vinyl.”
Both brothers said the growing attention of their band over the past two years felt like a strange, yet rewarding concept.
“It really builds our confidence and helps us keep going on and on just because we’re like ‘wow people actually care,’” Nick Sullivan said. “It’s really weird but it’s really nice.”