Building BC’s Band From Duchesne East to the Big Apple, Juice has paved the way for future artists at BC.

I

n the fall of 2013, Michael Ricciardulli walked down the slender fourth-floor hallway of Gonzaga Hall, where the smell of freshmen sweat mixed with too much Old Spice permeated the air. Per usual, he carried his guitar in hand. Christian Rougeau, ever-vibrant like the sound of his electric violin, spotted the tall, San Diego-looking surfer kid. Rougeau invited Ricciardulli to come “jam with these cats on Newton” sometime, a musician’s equivalent of asking someone to play FIFA and throw back some beers. The cats in question were Dan Moss and Miles Clyatt.
Over on Newton, Clyatt was busy distancing himself from the epidemic of icebreakers, which, like for many other freshmen had dominated his first month at Boston College. As he stacked his bed atop his roommate’s, making room for instruments other than his drumkit, he was forming a niche that would incorporate his childhood passion. In the narrow double in Duchesne East, sandwiched among rooms filled with pre-med insomniacs and pseudo-intellectuals nodding to Pink Floyd, began Juice, BC’s most famous band.

Juice played its first show as the eight-man band it is today in the Superfan Zone in Alumni Stadium. On a muggy September day, the guys jammed out to a cover of Kanye West’s “Hey Mama” and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” Most notably, the group debuted its original “How You Gonna Do Me Like That,” characterized by guitarist Burton and violinist Rougeau doubling as rappers.

“It was kind of a janky show, and we’ve come a long way since then,” bassist Rami El-Abidin said, chuckling across the table at Chris Vu and Ricciardulli.

That year was plagued with chaos. Ricciardulli’s guitar was knocked off its stand minutes before their first performance at Brighton Music Hall that February, rendering it unplayable. A performance during the intermission of a fashion show in the Rat started an hour earlier than expected, and without Vu, their pianist.

But the band figured it out. Juice eventually synchronized, in an Ocean’s Eleven fashion, to make a perfect harmony. The Heights called Juice as BC as Gasson two years ago. The guys poured their way into the playlists of dark and sweaty off-campus basements on a Foster Street Saturday night and through a two-time victory at Arts Fest’s Battle of the Bands, which led to opening for Hoodie Allen and Ludacris at Modstock; Andy Grammer in Robsham; a packed Commencement Ball; and eventually beyond Chestnut Hill.

In the summer of 2015, Juice secured its first coveted gig in New York. The band was set to play at Parkside Lounge, a dive bar in East Village. After the event began blowing up on Facebook, the guys were invited to ditch that gig for a juicier location right down the street: Mercury Lounge.

“We respectfully said no,” Vu recalled. “Yaknow, we had already committed to the Parkside thing.”

But when they showed up in New York, they walked by Mercury Lounge and saw “Juice” as the scheduled headliner. Entering the lounge to clear up the confusion, Juice ended up with another gig for the night.

“They ended up saying, ‘Do you guys just want to play anyways, after your show?’” Vu said.

After finishing its 10 p.m. set at Parkside, Juice packed its things and, with a mob of friends and fans, trekked down the street to perform at Mercury—a sweaty and hurried example of what gives Juice its flavor. The band members had reached New York through their network of friends and word of mouth, and now they were pouring down Houston Street, accompanied by the same support base that got them there in the first place, to play the biggest show of their careers up to that point.

In a matter of two years, Juice had transformed the way BC viewed not only independent artists, but the arts in general. The band’s popularity evolved from a few friends piling into a cramped Newton dormroom to a pair of packed shows in the Big Apple. Juice was one of the first groups to truly secure its prominence on a campus often known for its general apathy toward the arts, and has made the dream of a successful college band a reality. It just took them some time to come together.

Never out of sync in instrumentation but seemingly always a bit offbeat in the daily routine, Ricciardulli was sitting in his Intro to Music class back in fall 2013, engrossed in the intricacies of his nail bed. He had never really spoken to Vu, who donned an unwrinkled, white button-down and had claimed a seat in the back of the class since the semester began. Little did Ricciardulli know that the kid was already one of the most talented and diligent musicians at BC.

As extra credit, students were given the option to perform in front of the class, and Vu decided to go for it. He navigated down the stairs in the amphitheater-style classroom on the fourth floor of Lyons, through the wobbly desks, and down to the front of the room. He placed his hands to the keys and the meticulous rapidity of the Brazilian piece “Tico Tico” began to fly off his fingers. Ricciardulli, pushing his wavy mane of hair behind away from his face, realized that he had found another cat to add to the posse.

Juice is no easy combination. With an electric violin, a piano, a bass, drums, lead vocals, and three guitars, there is a lot at play.

Thomas Lee, a professor in the music department who has taught Vu, Rougeau, Stevens, and Ricciardulli, notes not just the group’s differences in terms of instrumentation, but also in terms of its approach to music itself. Vu brings to the group his meticulous work ethic grounded in years of classical training on the piano, while violinist Rougeau and vocalist Stevens, albeit also classically trained, perform primarily through their explosion of raw talent. Ricciardulli, meanwhile, brings a more visceral and emotionally driven piece on the guitar.

Donald “Big D” Spongeberg, a sound engineer who has worked with Juice since its first-ever recording of “Where I Wanna Be,” and describes the band’s sound as “Dave Matthews Band meets Frank Ocean,” says that the differences are what truly reveal Juice’s genuine talent.

“To be able to take that amount of people and that amount of instruments and that amount of ideas and still write fresh and creative songs is very, very interesting and just shows how talented they actually are,” Spongeberg said.

Still, Juice’s compelling cohesiveness is hard to capture in a recording. Engineering eight individual pieces in the studio into one is a long process, and nothing like performing live, according to El-Abidin. Each member of Juice grew up as a live performer, so the transition to the recording studio was challenging and humbling, yet also an opportunity that allowed each member to become closer to the music.

“We got away with having so much energy on stage and everyone was always having fun when they watch us,” El-Abidin said. “And we had to really learn how to mature and pare it down and just have the song do the talking instead of just like, ya know, going super hard on stage.”

Despite the challenges of Juice’s first recordings of “Where I Wanna Be,” “Gold,” and Kanye West’s “Gold Digger”—not to mention the $15,000 the group raised to do it, a total it reached in just 11 days—Juice released its first full and recorded eponymously titled album in April 2016. With stand-out pieces like “How You Gonna Do Me Like That,” in which Rougeau shreds his violin like he’s buttering toast, and “Pineapple Groove,” which peaks with rising crescendos, Juice continued landing gigs—and a $20,000 victory at Summerfest in Wisconsin this past summer.

But even with their rising success, the guys haven’t forgotten their friendship. Or that it’s what really allowed the guys to mix such an eclectic array of talents into the organic hip-hop, funk, soul, and R&B masterpiece that it is today.

“It has really been at the heart of Juice since the beginning,” Ricciardulli said.

It has turned into a brotherhood, according to Luke Urbanczyk and Ciaran Cleary, both MCAS ’17 and roommates of members of Juice. It is the turbine behind the undeniable energy of their live shows. From the posts in the BC Class of 2017 Facebook page where Rougeau and Clyatt first connected to Ricciardulli consistently jamming on his unplugged guitar while in his underwear, Juice has become like mind readers, following the ebb and flow of each other’s movements as effortlessly as each member jams to his own part.

For Cleary, it has a little more to do with than just their friendship and mutual musical familiarity with one another.  

“They’re smiling. And they’re all handsome,” Cleary said with a smirk. “And they’re all like feeding off each other’s handsome and smiling.”

I

n the spring of 2014, Ben Stevens arrived at BC and unpacked his things—right down the hall from Moss and Clyatt on Newton. He arrived second semester after an unsuccessful stint in Los Angeles with The Voice, in which he was told moments before he was scheduled to perform before judges Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Christina Aguilera, and CeeLo Green, that there was no longer any available spots left on the show. But he didn’t let the disappointment get him down.
Donning white, fitted pants, tan boots, and a black button-down, Stevens took the stage at BC Idol, which has since been renamed Sing it to the Heights. He was accompanied by Vu, who he had met through his Newton hallmates. As they took the stage, Vu received a pat on the back from Stevens before taking his seat behind the the keys.

In their performance, Vu’s meticulous piano playing and Stevens’ melodic vocals, reminiscent of Sam Smith, intertwined to create a captivating cover of Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You.” The two claimed not only the BC Idol title, but the attention of those who came in second place—Rougeau and Kamau Burton, an acoustic guitarist, who Rougeau met at orientation. The Newton jam sessions expanded as the group embraced Stevens and Burton, its sixth and seventh cats.  

 

BC is not the Berklee School of Music. There is not nearly as large of a focus on the arts, or as many opportunities for artists to perform—Berklee boasts a vigorous 1,500 concerts and events each year for students, faculty, and alumni to perform. Every other student participates in some sort of band, or two. But maybe that’s why Juice has become what it is today.

“Being at BC is an advantage for us because we’re a band that the entire school can rally behind,” Vu said.

And it did. This past March, Juice performed for a sold-out Brighton Music Hall. Opening with an effervescent guitar melody, flowing through crowd-favorites “Shoot Me Down,” and “Gold,” and closing with Kanye West’s “Gold Digger,” the eight guys realized just how far they have come. In the crowd are not just their classmates and friends, but people who enjoy good music on a Friday night.

“When I see them at Brighton Music Hall with a bunch of people that aren’t BC people and a bunch of people who are just regular people I realize that this is an act. This entertainment value that they bring is good enough to go anywhere,” Cleary said. “There are people here who don’t know them, who are listening to their songs for the first time, and enjoying it and loving it.”

Though graduation is upon them—five of its seven members will depart BC this May, while Stevens and Rougeau will finish out in December—Juice has no intention of stopping. The band plans to move to Rye, N.Y., 40 minutes outside of Manhattan, to continue writing, recording, and performing.


Later in the spring of 2014, Stevens, Clyatt, Moss, Vu, Ricciardulli, Rougeau, Burton, and bassist Jack Godfrey, an exchange student from the U.K. who Clyatt had met through a class, continued their jam sessions in the bunk-bed double in Duchesne East. The band at this point had found its structure: four guitarists, including bass and acoustic, a drummer, a pianist, an electric violinist, and an enthralling vocalist. In those early days, none of the members of Juice could have predicted just how far they would go.

That spring, Juice, a name characteristic of its electric composition of talents squeezed into one, was formally introduced to the BC community at Battle of the Bands at Arts Fest.

“Seeing the transition from just a group of friends hanging out not really knowing where this is going, to a band with songs that is competing is a really cool, interesting transition,” Urbanczyk said.

El-Abidin was a junior at the time, playing bass guitar with another jazz and neo-oriented band that had never gigged outside of BC or recorded an album, The Mints. And after losing to the band in the first round of the competition, El-Abidin knew that Juice had something special.

“I came to the finals and saw them win it and I was blown away by how good they were,” El-Abidin said.

As a junior in a band of seniors who were about graduate, and with the knowledge that Godfrey would soon be returning to the U.K., El-Abidin reached out to Burton to see if Juice was in need of a new bassist. Burton answered yes, and El-Abidin began jamming with Juice in the boiling August heat in the non-air-conditioned dorms of Walsh.

“And that’s pretty much how Juice formed,” Vu said. “After that, we all started jamming together more.”

And jam they did.

Images from Heights Archives

print

About Grace Gvodas