Joe Altier, aka “Just Joe,” can—and has—performed it all. He toured for seven years with a hard rock band, Brand New Sin, where his booming voice resonated over thrashing guitar. Now he finds himself in a much different scene—putting out everything from “Into the Mystic” to Frank Sinatra tunes through his piano-playing fingers. But for this pianist, singer-songwriter, the transition was not all that strange.
“Some people were surprised at the departure,” Altier says of his dip into the more subdued music he now regularly performs. “My singing was completely different, but there was acceptance. No one thought it was weird. People thought it was a novelty, something different.”
Altier’s mother began teaching him piano when he was five. “As long as I can remember,” says Altier who took a natural liking to the instrument. Though he couldn’t play it in school programs (he took up trumpet too), piano remained his primary outlet.
“I sang and played at my last recital in high school,” he says. “People turned their heads a lot more. I knew I was onto something.”
Altier went on to study history at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, graduating in 1996, and then bounced between various jobs until 2000, when he decided to go to recording school at Sheffield Institute for the Recording Arts in Baltimore, Maryland.
“Everyone said, ‘You’ll be a musician and starve your whole life,'” he remembers it as a compromise. “I thought I could go this way and be surrounded by music.”
Brand New Sin
He had just finished at Sheffield when he got a call to try out for the band God Below. Within days of being back home to Syracuse, New York, he auditioned. And within days of being accepted into that band, which became Brand New Sin, they had a recording contract.
“Looking back, it was crazy,” he says. “Most guys were busting their asses for a decade, I hadn’t. I’d never been in a band and then I had a record deal.”
The band was on the fast track, and by their seventh show, they were showcasing at South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas. Now or Never Records scooped them up, a booking agent sent them on the road, and distribution went national. For the next seven years, Altier toured with Brand New Sin, pairing up around the country with bands like MotÖrhead.
But it wasn’t all roses.
“We didn’t make any money,” he says. “We weren’t getting paid enough at a show to get six or seven guys from point A to point B.”
So, in the off time from touring, while others in the band went back to their daily grinds, Altier decided to use his talents. He started playing solo shows as “Brand New Joe,” and though the music was different from what he was playing with the full band, it worked. By 2008, when Altier decided to leave Brand New Sin, offers were already flooding in.
Local booker and promoter, Stacey Waterman, started putting Altier on major shows and in front of a sea of ears. “She put me in front of a lot of people,” he says. “She exposed me. By the time that summer was done, I had lots of offers on the table—every Wednesday, Thursday, Tuesday, once a month Sundays, and Mondays.”
Altier’s versatility and solo nature opened him up to all types of venues and events, from weddings and corporate gigs to Saturday night bar shows. It allowed him to make a living from music, plus gave him space to record his own tunes.
“I’d been writing my music since high school, but it didn’t fit with Brand New Sin,” he says. “I put it to the side. By the time I was done with Brand New Sin, I had a good amount of material from when I was 18 to 33.”
Altier released his Just Joe Solo EP in 2010, My Demons, My Burden, My Life and Just Joe? in 2011, and So the Story Goes (completely funded by a Kickstarter campaign) in 2013. He also joined another full rock band, Elephant Mountain in 2009, which has released two records, in 2011 and 2013.
“I’ve put out six records in three years,” he says. “I think I’ve said everything I need to say for right now,” he laughs.
Altier was married May 2012 and became a father in November of the same year, further changing his lifestyle.
“It made me better with time management,” he says. “My schedule gets busy, but I gotta make time for the family. Dating or being single—it didn’t matter. But being married grounded me. I was working a lot, and when you’re working a lot, your creativity goes to shit. You need to retract from that. Being married and having a step-daughter and my own daughter grounded me more than anything and gave me massive perspective on things. It’s a really cool balancing act between career and home life. I’ve never been happier… To have constant support, every day, with what I do—it’s priceless.”