Squeezing the Juice New York and Back Again

Juice is a big band. Stationed in three rows in The Middle East Downstairs, there’s not much room to wander on stage. There’s plenty of room to groove, though. It takes lead singer Ben Stevens, CSOM ’17, a full minute to introduce the eight-man crew. In the back there’s Miles Clyatt, MCAS ’17, on drums and to his left, up stage a bit, sits El-Abidin, A&S ’15 on bass. Dan Moss and Michael Ricciardulli, both MCAS ’17, stand in the center on guitar. Chris Vu, MCAS ’17, mans the keys to their right, facing the band. And front and center there’s Stevens, with Christian Rougeau, MCAS ’17, toting his electric violin to his right and the fedora wearing, always smiling Kamau Burton, MCAS ’17 on acoustic guitar and vocals to his left.

The floor is a sea of bobbing heads. Everyone’s bumping shoulders from the stage to the bar. The popular Cambridge venue is full of the kids you’ll find around the Boston College music scene—fellow musicians, Music Guild members, and probably a few seeing the band for the first time. The Middle East Downstairs looks and feels like an off-campus basement’s older brother. Its ceiling is higher than the average off-campus haunt’s, and looks as though it’s held together with duct tape. A long, wooden bar runs along one side. The Middle East Downstairs is essentially a more earthy, authentic image of Cabaret Room. It’s what the Rat might have looked like as a venue years ago.

Juice moves its way through staples “Pineapple Groove” and “Where I Want To Be” along with a few new tunes. For its finale, the band turns to “Gold.” Stevens looks toward Vu with a knowing grin. Vu starts his silky piano intro and locks eyes with Moss, who slides in with a spicy guitar lick that stirs the drink as the whole jumpin‘ concoction joins in. Stevens, the guy that sounds like Sam Smith only with a deeper timber without any of the whine, comes in with “Change is never easy babe, but it seems to be with you…”

“Gold” is like an Avengers movie—a seamless mash of styles, skills, and personality. It gets everybody, from Vu and Moss to the crowd. Burton’s falsetto carries the song into the chorus of “g-o-o-o-o-l-d.” It features a silky violin solo from Rougeau. And typical Juice, it practically invites the crowd on stage for the last few choruses of “g-o-o-o-o-l-d.”

The single “Gold” was supposed to close the set, but the crowd needed more Juice. The crowd screamed “ENCORE” and “SQUEEZE THE JUICE.” A few cried for a rendition of “September,” the Earth, Wind & Fire cover that rocked the senior Commencement Ball last May. The band eventually scampered back to positions for a cover of “i.” The tune rolled in waves off the stage. The expressive Rougeau met Kendrick Lamar’s original bar for bar, eventually closing the song reading the lyrics on his cell phone. It has a fitting chorus and the crowd eventually jumped in. “I love myself.” No, they love the Juice. Juice is as BC as the Gasson Tower, as answering the question “how are you?” with “fine but like so super busy, just so busy” or blaming large structural issues on the Supreme Jesuit Leader. In a little less than two years, the band has managed to ingrain itself in the BC experience in ways few other artists have.“Honestly, I think the success of Juice in general has inspired myself and other artists at BC to continue to pursue their artistic goals,” Alex Mukherjee, A&S ’17, who shot and produced a mini documentary on the band in the spring, said in an email. “Seeing Juice start from nothing at BC and become what they are now has given me a bar to try and reach with my filmmaking.”

“I think it’s all just like fun,” Clyatt says seriously. “Fun—exclamation point,” he adds less seriously.

In part, Juice was playing at the Middle East to promote the promise of its first album, but also just because it could. Over the summer the band has become one of the venue’s regulars. It was one of the band’s final performances before the group heads into the studio Sept. 25—under local producer Mike Davidson, who has worked with St. Vincent, Regina Spektor, and some local acts. Davidson produced the band’s most recent and third recording, ”Gold.”

The band set a $15,000 goal to cover the production and promotional costs on Indiegogo—the global crowdfund site and now a popular place to kickstart projects from a Star Trek fan film to Angry Troll Brewing. Supporters were given the options of donating a clean $25 dollars for a physical copy of the album, $75 for an exclusive autographed poster, or as much as $1,500 (which one fan did) for a full private show. The band reached its goal in just 11 days.

In a few months, Juice has gone from a band without a Facebook page or a Soundcloud to a band with merchandise—a gold or maroon T-shirt with a jolly pineapple man on the back.

Stevens, who is more reserved in person but equally as earnest as he is on stage, described the band’s journey, and mindset during its rise, as a series of humps. The group eyes a goal, reaches it, then moves on to the next. Battle of the Bands? Check. Play the Middle East? Check.

“We got over [the Middle East] hump and then we were like what’s the next hump, then we got over that hump so like there’s always gonna be a constant thing—how can we keep moving forward from here,” Stevens said.

The boys used to drag the Music Guild’s equipment to and from Vandy’s Cabaret Room. This summer, they found themselves lugging it down Houston Street in the Lower East side. 

Juice had secured a gig at the Parkside Lounge—a divey establishment in East Village. The event quickly surged on Facebook and drew the attention of the Mercury Lounge—a tastier venue. Mercury asked the band to ditch Parkside.

“We were like no, because that would have been kind of a scummy move,” El-Abidin said.

But on the way to Parkside, the band passed the Mercury, and to its chagrin saw “Juice” on the sandwich board for the night. It went in to clear up any confusion Mercury may have created but eventually just booked another gig for the night.

“They said, why don’t you just come over after your set?” El-Abidin said.

So when the band finished its set at Parkside, there was no time to stick around and mingle. Soon, eight sweaty guys and a herd of friends and fans were marching their way down Houston Street. A few were helping Vu with his hulking keyboard. Rougeau—long, wiry, and expressive like his violin bow—paced over the sidewalk. Burton’s fedora hung perilously and his perpetual smile had dimmed to a workman-like grimace. The herd behind lent its hands and pushed the band along. The only casualty was Vu’s ankle, which he rolled at some point along route. He still finished the set.

“I think we all felt like rockstars after the Parkside Lounge show,” El-Abidin said.

Juice puts on an electric live show, no matter the location—BC, the Middle East, or somewhere in New York. It is the most popular crew of artists on campus. But while Juice may have beaten the likes of Small Talk and William Bolton in the Battle of the Bands, both acts have produced several EP’s. Juice has yet to really bottle up the live performance that has brought it to this point. 

“We’re all really good musicians—live musicians—but this whole ‘recording artist’ part of it is new to us,” Vu said. “It’s something we’re all exploring and learning.”

The band’s sheer size is one of its defining qualities, and what shapes the sound that Rougeau calls “vibey” and “tropical.” The group can blend influences and templates to collectively write what Rougeau calls “a Juice song.” Its size also helped grow the band socially. For the first year of its lifespan, Juice relied solely on word of mouth. The band didn’t have a Soundcloud or Facebook page to pimp. It had one great song—”Where I Want To Be,” and virtually no recording of it.

“There was this long period of time where we couldn’t get a recording together,” Rougeau said. “We didn’t have any money and we didn’t know like how to get (recording) gear … ‘How You Gonna Do Me’ isn’t really a bad recording, but it’s not a good recording.”

The band’s next official recording “Where I Want To Be” is closer to its vibrant live version. For a solid year, it was the best written and regularly performed song at BC. “Where I Want To Be” is a song with an infectious, rousing vocal melody. It has an echo of “What a Wonderful World/Over the Rainbow.” It puts the heart of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s track in an upbeat melody and layer upon layer of instrumental depth. And it’s that layer of voices and instruments that’s hard to capture in a recording.

The band had a few more originals to pair with it like “Pineapple Groove.” “Groove” is a jamming tune, but “Where I Want to Be” was always the golden ticket, until “Gold” debuted over the course of the most recent Battle of the Bands competition. “Gold” is electric live—a seven-minute epic of guitar licks and piano melodies that weave around each other. It’s also probably the band’s best recorded effort. It still had to make some sacrifices. The recorded track cuts the song from seven minutes to four, including Vu’s piano intro.

Juice is a band, and for the first time, it seems like a band thinking about how to marketing itself. It is preparing to promote an album and sell merchandise. It is planning contingencies for when Stevens, Clyatt, and Moss go abroad in the spring. It is figuring out who might be able to step in for a time to hold the fort. It is wondering if dissolving the band for a spell might be feasible, in which case it would turn to solo projects (count us down for Chris Vu solo project). It is even entertaining the possibility—if the album is successful enough—that members going abroad might fundamentally alter the band’s roster. Like a lot of students entering their junior year, they’re eyeing for the first time their eventual fate—graduation and the void of possibility that exists beyond it.

Juice has made change look pretty easy so far.

“By the time we graduate, at least from my perspective, we really want to be in a place where we’re comfortable with playing music all the time and we have options, because we want to be able to move to LA if we move … I don’t know … we’re gonna see if we have the funds to do things like that and the sort of stability to do things like that,” Rougeau said.

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