NJ Musician John Joseph Releases Debut Album, Sunday

by Peter Candia

New Jersey-based musician John Friel—better known by the moniker John Joseph—wrote the first song off his eventual LP, Sunday, back in 2017. A solo artist grinding through the jazz guitar program at The New School, Joseph always knew in the back of his mind that rock and roll was where he wanted to eventually land. Everything along the way, from studying under jazz legends to playing in pit orchestras, was just extra experience that would someday set him apart from the pack.

Joseph started playing music in the second grade when he began piano lessons, but it was when he first picked up a guitar a few years later that he found the instrument he was meant to play. With a natural ear for playing, Joseph possessed the ability to rip impressive guitar solos—well beyond his years—from a very young age. 

He picked up several other instruments along the way and developed an encyclopedic knowledge of all things music. As a teenager, Joseph began to sing, which enabled him to start writing more complete music. Still, an LP was a far-away idea and writing, in general, wasn’t something as effortless as guitar playing. 

It was at The New School, though, where playing guitar at the highest level began to shape Joseph as a more rounded musician. With a minor in poetry, he also learned to become a better lyricist, replacing the cookie-cutter lyrics of his youth with more complex lyricism that would resonate with listeners. 

“I wrote most, if not all of these songs, with the intention of figuring out how to be a songwriter,” Joseph said. “Trying to figure out a formula for what works and what doesn’t, and I can really hear which tracks came first and which came later.”

recording Sunday

Recording Sunday | Photo by Max Hanuschak

When Joseph released a solo-recorded EP in 2018 titled Say When, he admits it was rough around the edges. Still, from a musical standpoint, the EP was filled with lush guitar tones and layered music that is difficult to grasp as coming from just one person. After Say When, Joseph slowed his writing and focused on school. When COVID-19 forced everyone into the confines of their home in early 2020, he picked the pen back up, purchased a drum machine, and got to work. This time, he was going to put everything on the table. 

Every piece of Sunday was written by Joseph, whose multi-instrumentalist talents allowed him to craft an extraordinary piece of art in a time that was defined by isolation. When the world began to open back up, he contacted two friends from The New School and the trio began to get to work playing shows and recording the record.

John Joseph live

John Joseph Live in Brooklyn | Photo by Peter Candia

Bassist Gabriel Paiano and drummer Harry Smith make up the missing pieces of John Joseph and it is through their immense talent that Joseph felt confident in what was to come. Both jazz-trained musicians as well, Paiano and Smith carry a serious ability to improvise. The parts for Joseph’s songs are written as an outline that they can build upon through their own musical abilities. The three have plenty of experience playing together in prestigious jazz ensembles already, so their confidence in one another is undeniable. And for Joseph, there aren’t two people in the world he would rather share a stage with.

Seeing the group live is remarkably imposing. The trio puts out a more complete sound than many quartets and even quintets are capable of. Smith’s convoluted drum fills and Paiano’s voltaic bass lines leave nothing to be desired from a live band. At the center is Joseph playing complex guitar riffs juxtaposed against the grain of his pleading and lively singing voice. The live performances exist as a stripped-back version of the studio versions—which features added instrumentation and parts—but it is seemingly all by design. Live, the John Joseph trio puts forth catchy anthems studded with angst. In the studio, you’ll find that same feeling, but with added pieces and quirks. 

Sunday opens up with the title track: An instrumental and nostalgic gut punch headed by a church organ. The organ teases the idea of religion—a theme that makes several reappearances throughout the LP. 

The music fades and the organ shifts into an upbeat riff to start off the indie rock anthem that is “Wet Matches.” “There’s a cradle kind of comfort in knowing what will happen,” Joseph sings as the first words on his long-awaited LP, “it’s sort of like suburbia, or trying to strike wet matches.” Joseph pleads with his audience, hammering on the idea that humans are creatures of habit. “I pray you kiss and tell,” he belts out, “you look so fine from down here.” A love-struck and impassioned tune, “Wet Matches” touches on several familiar feelings before being broken up by a heavy breakdown helmed by Smith’s chops on the drum kit. Reminding you that Sunday is a rock and roll record—don’t forget it.  

That comes to be the theme of the album—catchy bass lines, dramatic drum fills, thrilling guitar and synth lines and deeply emphatic lyrics. Joseph explores a sea of metaphors throughout the 12-track LP. 

“These songs are like a scrapbook to me now, I wrote them all during my years in college and I can look back on them fondly,” Joseph proudly stated. “I’m also excited to finally have this album out because it means we can start looking to the future.” 

Songs like “Homemade Haircut” continue the fresh sound, defined by an indie rock backbone and playful synth licks to fill in the gaps. Joseph plays with the idea that we all struggle as humans—but some more than others. He breaks into an almost fed-up plea: “We all have the weight of our own world on our shoulders.” The track is lyrically savvy, with a sound that forces you to keep it on repeat.


Sunday by John Joseph | Photo by Max Hanuschak

The melodramatic “Killing Time” delivers a nearly exhausted retelling of the perpetual cycle of daily life. Joseph sings of passing the time, and he sounds like he’s ahead of the curve, but the question still lingers: Is time on my side or against me? One of the musician’s earliest written songs, it rings true now more than ever. 

John Joseph crafts an epic lead-up to the album’s climax, “Float.” The song launches with a rhythmic guitar progression that becomes the backing identity. Blending a mix of belts and falsetto seamlessly, Joseph vocally leaves it all on the table with this sound-defining single. The song plays around with creative drum fills and clever bass lines, but it is the downright addicting synth licks that will cement the track within your mind. Not to mention the expert lyricism: “To ride the crooked line of why and how,” Joseph exclaims before almost tauntingly continuing, “and make ‘because’ out of it.” Float is a culmination of what Joseph does best, combining sounds and themes from all over the spectrum of music into a concise idea that is completed by masterful lyrics and a natural ear for sound. 

Tracks like the captivating “Upside Down” keep the second half of Sunday equally as fun as the first. Paiano shows off with a complex but grounded bass line, and Joseph provides some of his best vocals on the entire record.

studio shot john joseph

In the Studio | Photo by Max Hanuschak

The album winds down with a pop-rock masterpiece in “Rain.” The upbeat sound is composed of lush instrumentation and deft lyricism. In the chorus, Joseph sings, “I’ve seen Heaven and Hell and they both look the same.” Another early John Joseph cut, the song was originally backed only by gentle guitar before Joseph rearranged it into a full band, indie rock hit. 

“Jessie’s Theme” closes out Sunday. The ambient guitar-fronted song features Paiano, Smith and Joseph doing what originally brought them together as friends: Jamming. With no lyrics, the three work in tandem to create what is, in my opinion, the most fitting way to close the record.

John Joseph and Gabe Paiano

John Joseph (left) Gabriel Paiano (right) | Photo by Peter Candia

“I am lucky enough to be able to perform with two of my best friends and two of the best musicians I know. I really consider myself fortunate to have met Harry and Gabe when I did, and to be able to put something together with them,” Joseph told me. They’re just three kids doing what they love to do—what’s better than that? 


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John Joseph is playing an album release show for Sunday at Arlene’s Grocery in the Lower East Side on April 18 at 8 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased here

You can stream Sunday now.

About the Author/s

All posts

Peter Candia is the Food + Drink Editor at New Jersey Digest. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Peter found a passion for writing midway through school and never looked back. He is a former line cook, server and bartender at top-rated restaurants in the tri-state area. In addition to food, Peter enjoys politics, music, sports and anything New Jersey.

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