Juice for Thought
In May 2018, WHRB DJ Alasdair MacKenzie spoke with Christian Rose, electric violinist and vocalist in the Boston and New York-based band Juice. They discussed Juice’s approach to songwriting, arranging, and performing, as well as the band’s plans for the immediate future.
You guys seem to prioritize honesty and authenticity. Why is that important to you?
I think when you’re creating art, or when you’re creating your brand, it’s important to that you’re true to who you are, who you’ve become, how you’ve grown. Otherwise, you’re not going to be telling very good stories. If your stories are coming from places where you don’t have any experience, or if you’re not being authentic, then the stories aren’t going to be as real, or as vivid, or just as good in general.
So, it’s not just for you to pat yourself on the back and say, “hey, I told a true story;” you think people can tell?
Yeah, I know people can tell. And honestly, for us as writers, it’s easier for us to create from a place that’s honest and real. Whether or not we’re telling people that, I think it’s important for us to know that, so as we create our brand, some of it’s for us, too.
What’s the songwriting process like? Do you have a lead writer, or a lead couple of writers?
It’s a very collaborative process; we don’t have a lead writer, or anything. The way it happens sometimes is a person will bring an idea into the group. Sometimes it’s more fleshed out than other times, but there’s this whole process of a Juice song becoming a Juice song where we sit with it, we jam on it, we maybe tweak it in studio sessions or lyric sessions, and it’s a really long process that involves all the members. Maybe some people will bring in more complete ideas than others, but it’s always a very collaborative process. We all consider ourselves equal songwriters in that sense.
It sounds like you don’t really distinguish between the songwriting process and the arranging process; it’s all just, like, making the record?
CR: Yeah, ‘cause the arranging process sometimes ends up changing fundamental elements of the songs. It often does, because someone brings in a song that’s written with lyrics on an acoustic guitar, and by the time it gets through arrangement, sometimes entire sections have changed, sometimes the entire feel of the song has changed, sometimes even hooks and melodies or lyrics have changed. So, it’s not really like a songwriting level of it and an arranging level of it; it’s sort of like a songwriting level A and a songwriting level B.
Does anyone ever bring in a song that’s so outside what you’re trying to do that you have to politely say, “I don’t think so,” or do you try to make it work regardless of what somebody brings in?
That’s a good question, because I think in the past, we certainly shut down ideas in the earlier stages, but going forward, we’re trying to let every idea get to a place where everyone at least understands what the idea is before shutting it down. We have some things coming out that you’re hopefully gonna find pretty different from what we’ve done before, so I think the opening up of our process has allowed us to do things that are a little bit different.
Your two recent singles, “Sugar” and “Heartbreak in a Box,” are pretty different from each other. Should we expect all-over-the-map stylistic diversity in your upcoming music?
Absolutely. We have this four-song EP coming out in a couple weeks, in the middle of June, and then we’ve got stuff coming out after the EP. The EP has a very specific mood, and the releases after the EP have very specific moods, and they work together. So, the EP is gonna be a collection of four songs that all have similar themes, whereas the songs coming afterward are gonna have their own set of themes and similarities––and differences, even––that make them their own project. We’re really excited about everything; we’ve got some hip-hop stuff coming out, we’ve got some funk stuff coming out, we’ve got some straight pop, some rock stuff, and we’ve got combinations of all those things. Really, all the songs are combinations of all those things. When we’re trying to define our genre, we’re still trying to put it into one word or two words that really define what the genre is.
Is this exploratory way of dealing with genre so that you can find what you do best and zero in on it, or is the exploring what you want to do long-term?
I think it’s more what we want to do long-term. We’ve found that Juice works best when there’s not too much emphasis on “this is what the genre needs to be, and this is how we keep it.” We do best when we take a song that might have come out of a specific genre, and we give it all the pieces of Juice, and then we let it become something that maybe feels more like one genre but isn’t necessarily that genre anymore. We’ve realized that that works with a number of different genres, so, like I said, with the stuff coming out in the future, you might be like, “this is this,” or “this is that,” but it’s really none of those things. And I think the thing that we’re working toward is defining what that “none of those things” is, itself.
For Juice fans, what do you think is the thing that connects all your music? If it’s all so different, what’s the thread running through it that could make one person be into all of it?
It’s not a musical style so much as a mood, a feeling; it’s an emotion, a togetherness of emotions. Again, it’s a word that we’re still looking for, but there’s this very real feeling in all of our songs, and there’s something that holds them together. I don’t know how to phrase it, but it’s definitely a feeling. It’s a love, if you will, and it’s a very tangible, noticeable love. Like I said, you listen to a Juice song, you’ll know it’s a Juice song, but it’s not so much a genre-specific sound thing, necessarily.
You’re based in New York City, now, not in Boston [where the band formed at Boston College] anymore, right?
Yes and no; we spend most of our time in New York City, but we also have a home base in Boston. We sort of consider both cities as our two home cities. It’s kind of a weird thing, but we have a lot of members from the New York area, and we find ourselves in Boston a lot still, but we do tend to in New York a little bit more than Boston now.
Why did you make that transition?
We’ve already played a lot of the big Boston venues, but it’s not like we’re done with Boston, and we’re moving on for New York. It’s more like, “yeah, we want to take advantage of the market here; yes, it’s convenient that our members live around here,” but we also want to continue growing the Boston market, and we want to continue to grow the New York market. We’re also touring all over the place, so we’re hitting new markets and getting new fans in new cities, and we might find ourselves living in Nashville or Austin or L.A. in the next few years, if all the releases come out in time.
You said you’ve played most big venues in Boston. How would you say you got to do that? What are the steps on that ladder?
At first, we just got our friends excited about what we were doing and getting people out to venues. Even if you start at the house shows, it’s just getting people out. I think the first Boston venue we played was the Middle East Upstairs, and we told the promoter, “we know we can get this number of people out to the show,” and if you prove it by getting that number of people out to the show, then you can play that venue the next time, and the promoter will be excited about booking you. It sucks that it’s a numbers game, but at first it really is a numbers game. You’ve got to prove that you can bring people out to these venues, and you’ve got to start with smaller ones. We were lucky to have enough heads to fill Middle East Upstairs first––we didn’t have to start at the Corner (a smaller venue in the same building as Middle East Upstairs) or anything––but if you can get to that Middle East Upstairs level and then fill it up, or at least bring enough people so that the promoters in the area won’t be like, “they don’t sell any tickets,” then that’s the best step you can take.
Anything else you’d like the world to know?
We’ve got two really big shows coming up. We’ve got June 14––Mercury Lounge in New York City––June 15––on a Boston boat cruise, the Rock On Concert Cruise––we’ve got our EP coming out June 15, and look out for new music in late summer, early fall, and look out for us in whatever city you’re gonna be in. Come see a live show, ‘cause it’s a lot of fun.
Alasdair MacKenzie DJs/writes for The Darker Side. The Darker Side has air every Saturday night 10pm-6am and Sunday night 10pm-5am.