After sailing the underground for the better part of his life, Juiceboxxx still has an undying thirst to move ever onward. He’s made a name for himself with uniquely direct music, and a live show that lives up to it in spades. Each release sees him delving further and further into what the fuck it even means to be alive; sometimes with anger and confusion, others with an optimistic abandon.
This has helped him maintain a dedicated cult audience, who religiously follow his various interesting endeavours. His strong musical catalogue is just one arm of the Juiceboxxx world; a strange place encompassing energy drinks, radio shows, self-deprecating video-blogs and more. With a brand new album looming on the horizon, there doesn’t seem to be an end anywhere in sight for the perpetually energised punk-rap of this oddly polite Milwaukee native.
I first saw, and met, Juiceboxxx in 2008, where he played to a tiny room of shocked middle-Englanders. It was a joy to behold then, and it’s even more exciting to see him evolved in 2017; complete with a band and nearly ten extra years of great material. If there was ever a rabbit hole worthy of falling down, it’s that of Juiceboxxx. An oftentimes unsung taste-maker for our times, i’m deeply thankful for his agreeing to appear on our podcast.
See below for transcripts, and all relevant links.
On playing in England:
Since I saw you play a small British venue in 2008, I’ve been intrigued on the British connections you have?
Well, I have some friends in England but, truthfully, it’s funny. My travelling has been so scattershot. I haven’t been back to England. I’ve toured Europe a few times since then and, somehow, I’ve been to Japan four times! But, I haven’t been back to England in, like, a decade! It’s definitely something I want to do, but I wanna do it right; a slightly different way than I’ve done in the past.
How did you find your experiences here? I saw you in a tiny place in Nottingham, and the atmosphere was truly electric.
All the times I’ve been there have been fun and kind of chaotic. I did some shows with Dan Deacon at this kind of small festival thing once and that was really great. I mean, that spot in Nottingham is cool.
Nottingham’s always had a really awesome music scene actually.
That wouldn’t surprise me. It was just this small place next to a cafe but it was totally cool.
Yeah, that was great! Of course, I know quite a bit about British music history and when I was over there it was exciting to just play in East London or something; just because I grew up listening to jungle music, grime and whatever. I’m always syked to do it! Truthfully, i’m just always syked to travel and play music.
You seem to go all over the place!
I’ve, sort of, taken a bit of a break over the past couple of years, to make some roots and attempt to build something that can operate on a slightly different scale than I’ve been doing over the past whatever… I mean, I’ve been doing this since I was fifteen and i’m thirty right now!
On the legacy of Juiceboxxx, and the philosophy behind it:
That’s one hell of a legacy you’ve been building up.
Well it’s just, like, all I know. And I’ve kept the same name because I may be an idiot but, also, I think it’s cool to have everything under same umbrella. I’ve developed this, kind of, framework of musical and lyrical vocabulary that exists within the universe I’ve built as Juiceboxxx. Which means, I feel like I’ve set the parameters for this project and it’s this singular thing. Obviously, I could make music removed from that but I think there’s something interesting about having a history, building on it, referencing it and moving forward within that.
I could start a new thing every two years, give it a trendy name and play whatever is happening at that exact moment, but i’m more interested in building a legacy; even if it’s, y’know, marginalised on some level.
The Juiceboxxx I saw at the age of 18 is still very much there, but I know what you’re saying about world building. There’s the same energy running throughout.
I think it’s an energy that really binds it together, more than a style maybe.
I don’t want to sound too pretentious, but maybe a philosophy too?
Totally! I’m very deliberate when it comes to how I write lyrics and I try to operate within a certain kind of language that has a sort of aesthetic to it and a directness. I think that has ran through a lot of the music that I do.
A lot of other journalists have noticed this about your work, and I almost didn’t want to be too cliche in mentioning it, but it’s very often a positivity coming from negativity.
Yeah, definitely. I think it’s, like, trying to strike a weird balance that, maybe, is its own… Y’know, carve out my own little space. There’s a lot of darkness and there’s a lot of bleakness to what I do, but I think it’s always trying to find some sort of resolution within that.
There’s almost an angry positivity at times. In some of your live performances there’s definite anger in your expressions at times!
Oh, totally! I just feel that, in punk music and rap, on one side of the spectrum you have Andrew W.K., or you have a certain super high-energy, super positive, almost motivational speaker kind of spirit, or you have a smiley indie-rock band, or ultra-positive rapper. But then, on the other end, you have, like, ultra-nihilistic punk music or whatever. Somehow, i’m more interested in striking a tone that’s between the two of those in some weird way.
It’s one of the interesting things about you. You can have this anger, and extreme intensity, but it never feels aggressive to me.
Truthfully, i’m just trying to, like, synthesise… I have a variety of influences that come from a lot of different positions and i’m somehow trying to find where I fit in. So I hope that it comes out; having its own weird tone that’s unique to me.
On providing moments:
I’ve certainly never heard anyone with that level of enthusiasm for how, like, fucked up everything is!
I think somebody who actually does that quite well is Bruce Springsteen; a record like Darkness on the Edge of Town or something. He’s grappling with a lot of issues and a lot of darkness, but there’s also, still, a belief in the transcendent power of music, or just living life, that can peek out of that and make things bearable. I think that’s what music is good for, or one of the things it’s good for: providing moments! I think about that with my shows too. Can I provide a moment for somebody? Because that’s been so important to me.
When I saw you at 18, I was going to something stupid like three gigs a week; in an attempt to start my journalism career. Out of the many I attended in that time, yours was one of about three that I actually remember.
Well, I appreciate that, and that makes me feel good because, y’know, there were like ten people… It’s funny, I’ve travelled quite a bit. But it’s kind of classic; there were like fifteen people at that show! I have so many stories like that, where I went to Russia, or some far-flung place, and I’ve played to like twenty [to] twenty-five people. That’s just how it’s been for me. But I hope that, even in these tiny shows, there’s something that is memorable.
It comes back to, like, when I was a teenager. The amount of mind-blowing shows I saw in basements, with maybe ten or twenty other people… It can make a big impact. Sometimes I forget that. Sometimes I get so down on myself; so down on the lack of what I’ve accomplished. I try to remember that, yeah, sometimes those gigs where there are only fifteen people… that has its own crazy power! Sometimes…
On accomplishments and scaling up:
What more would you have wanted to accomplish to not have that feeling?
That’s its own weird, crazy, thing that I don’t even know if I wanna get into. I will say, I think there’s something inherently scale-able about what I do. What I do for fifteen people in a basement… That could make sense, especially now I have this backing band, for two-hundred and fifty people in a club, or even crazier! [With] the kind of music I write, I think there’s room for it to have some sort of populist appeal outside of whatever weird underground scenes I’ve existed in.
I guess a lot of people would be quick to say that the small, underground, nature of your gigs is what gives them their appeal. But that’s not necessarily true; I think there’s quite an anthemic quality to a lot of your stuff.
Yeah, and I write songs with that in mind. I mean, the songs are supposed to make sense in basements or in, like, big places (that I rarely play). I’ve done enough support tours in my life, and I’ve done enough festivals, to get a glimpse of how I could potentially scale my music. That excites me, even though it seems like a crazy idea right now. But it still excites me to think about that and write songs that can scale upwards a bit.
I’ve heard you talk about how you’re always trying to get closer to this sound you have in your head. Would scaling up be a part of achieving that?
Yeah, I mean, I think about music somewhat conceptually. Sometimes I write songs with totally separate contexts than my current reality can afford. That’s exciting to me, though. Even a song like Never Surrender Forever, which I wrote a long time ago… Y’know, it feels like I could play that for a lot of people and it, maybe, could cut through.
I was going to ask how much you find yourself going back to older material, considering how lengthy your career has gotten at this point.
I have made so many mix-tapes and I don’t play any of that live, but there’s really just certain songs that make sense live, that I make, and certain songs that don’t. Some songs, I think, will have a hard time leaving the set because they just work every time.
Have you already started playing material from this upcoming album live?
Yeah, I’ve been playing songs from it and it’s been cool. This new record is definitely more on the punk-rap tip than anything else.
On Freaked Out American Loser:
I’ve been looking forward to this new release (Freaked Out American Loser) myself. This podcast and transcript should be dropping on the same day as your new single, Freaking Out.
Up until now my output’s been pretty eclectic and idiosyncratic. I guess this record is in its own way, but I still tried to dial it in and make it very focused. It’s nine songs and it’s, like, twenty-three minutes. I wanted to make a punk record, a punk-rap record, that was pretty zoned in to one energy.
There’s a lot to be said for shorter releases. A lot of old Buddy Holly records were around that length.
There’s a long tradition of really short records. The record just, kind of, dictates what it is. Like, I have an absurd amount of unreleased music and I want to make a long record at some point, probably. This one just felt like I had to make it short. It’s called Freaked Out American Loser [and] it’s kind of heavy on the punk, so it just made sense.
Sometimes you’ve just gotta let the record be what it is. This one felt like it should be really short. I’m syked on it. It definitely has, like, a 90’s rap influence and, also, a hardcore punk influence.
I’ve heard you saying that you sample yourself on it quite a lot?
Yeah, it happens a couple of times where we use clips of me talking on YouTube. I had people scratch it like a turntable.
It’s some of the State of the Thunder Zone stuff right?
Yeah, [and] that goes back to trying to use my history in an interesting way.
On world building and taste-making:
I’ve been very interested in world building lately. Do you feel that you’ve been successful in that over your career?
I mean, I think I’ve been successful in making a small group of people very interested. Like, somebody wrote that book [The Next Next Level] and the people that are invested in it are super invested in it. Which isn’t that many people, but I think that, going forward, i’m trying to streamline things a bit.
I don’t wanna just play noise shows, or whatever. That’s a big goal of mine. As much as I, maybe, focus in on one thing with this record… What’s nice is that, if somebody listens to the record and feels like digging deep, there’s plenty of digging to be done. But they don’t have to!
As someone who’s definitely a fan of music, within the fan experience there’s different tiers of engagement. Meaning like, if you wanna just listen to the record, that’s cool. Then there’s the deeper tier; maybe you wanna go into the back catalogue or go to a show. Then there’s a deeper tier; maybe you want to get into the record label i’m putting out and figure out all these weird, fringe, artists and musicians that I’ve worked with over the years.
It’s just like having a very accessible thing in the foreground, and then if people wanna go deeper, they can go deeper and it can get really weird.
I not only see that throughout your work, but that’s almost a blueprint for success for a lot of creatives I’ve spoken to.
I look at, like, Sonic Youth or Nirvana, or great 90’s rock bands, that made the big records but then they also acted as cultural… Gatekeepers isn’t the word but, it’s like, if you were into Sonic Youth and started listening to interviews or reading interviews with them, you might find out about more fringe noise; American or Japanese noise bands, or whatever! Like, even Kurt Cobain name-checking some underground band.
I think there’s a rich history of gateway bands; bands that are great pop bands but also point to deeper, weirder, stuff. That’s always been a dream of mine; to be in that role a little bit.
It comes back to that feedback loop. That was so important to me, growing up; that I had outlets that would let me know about music, great record labels [and] radio shows. So, it’s more just about participating in that history and that conversation.
Which can work in your favour, as that gives fans a reason to keep returning to your site, radio show or whatever. Even if you’re not uploading new music, or playing a show in their area, you’ll have something worth paying attention to.
And maybe they get turned on to some weird music they might have not checked for otherwise. That’s, sort of, the goal; to put people on it, because I was put on to a lot of shit as a kid. It feels nice to be a part of that history.
There should definitely be more community around music, and that’s refreshing to hear.
Yeah, and there’s so many ways to do it too. It’s pretty open-ended in this era. There’s so many different ways to participate in this conversation. It’s funny, over the past year and a half I’ve been pretty holed up in my room; just working on music and being relatively anti-social. But, doing the Boxxx Report and having the radio show feels like a nice way for me to still interface with my friends; maybe if I don’t feel like going out to a club ’til three in the morning. I’ve just been in some crazy zones, and I don’t feel like going out! But, I still love music and I still wanna participate in some way.
It all helps to, as corporate as it sounds, build up the Juiceboxxx brand too and keep you in people’s heads.
There’s probably some people that read the Boxxx Report, but don’t check for my music. Then, there’s probably some people who listen to my music but don’t give a fuck about me writing about some noise band from, like, 2002. I’m just more excited about having different entry points.
You, yourself, must binge things when you discover them, and get lost in a rabbit hole.
Totally! I’ve always loved that sort of experience; finding something, being syked about it and being like, ‘Oh shit, there’s this whole world behind this!’. That, as a fan, gets me excited, so I think it’s just only natural to try to participate in that in some way.
Any time something makes me feel a certain way, I wanna try to figure out how to do that; transmit that feeling in my own way.
On Thunder Zone Energy Drink:
And was that part of the starting point for the Thunder Zone energy drink?
In a way, Thunder Zone is like a label that’s made for me as a teenager or something. Meaning, like, the idea of this kinda weird record label that not only releases records and tapes, but does clothing and energy drinks! Sort of the old Factory Records model, like, this can exist beyond music but it can be, kind of, anchored in the music. I just thought it would be funny, fun and interesting to do an energy drink; and give it a catalogue number like it was a release.
Did you have some contact at a soda company or something like that?
Well… There’s ways to do it at a relatively affordable scale, i’ll just say that! I kind of figured that out and, from there, I just sell them at shows and a couple of art-bars carry it. But it’s just like another thing, y’know? You go to a show and maybe you buy an energy drink at the merch table, and you drink it before a show. It just, kind of, gets you ready to go crazy!
I’ve only been extra intrigued in the drink as i’m somewhat addicted to energy drinks. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of trying Thunder Zone!
The idea was for it to be a drink that looked like something you could stumble upon at, like, a rest-station or corner store. I’m sure, even in England, there’s these off-brand energy drinks. I love how those look and feel!
It maybe comes back to touring a lot. You know, when you’re on tour and you’re syked to find the new, weird, regional shit; that weird regional energy drink that you could only find in, like, Louisiana or some shit! There’s something exciting about that; mysterious. I wanted Thunder Zone to feel like that; just some weird found energy thing.
On future tours:
Do you have any plans to come back to England?
Hopefully, after this record comes out, i’ll figure out what to do in Europe for it. Yeah, I don’t know! I don’t have any concrete plans, but it’s definitely part of the next year or two for me. I wanna do some heavy overseas touring. Right now it’s kinda early going, y’know?
I’m doing [this record] with an LA label and it’s been really nice working with a bunch of new collaborators on this. I think it will help get the music out into some different channels than i’m used to throwing it out into; that really excites me.
On collaboration with a band:
Since I saw you at a purely solo show, and I’ve always seen you as a solo performer, how well do you get along in collaborative settings?
Well, the band is important and the show is just totally on a different level now. I mean, it’s a small band. It’s just drums and guitar, and there’s still some minimal backing tracks.
Yeah, the show is much better; and it’s a rock show now. I’m still rapping. For all of those years, it was just me with an iPod or whatever, and I was jumping around and it kind of felt like a punk show but there wasn’t the band… Well, now there’s the band.
I think that always confused people, y’know? For a while it was just me making, essentially, house music songs but performing them like they were hardcore punk songs or something. Now, everything is just a bit more zoned in to an idea that, maybe, can translate for people who aren’t, like, insane weirdos!
You think it makes you somehow more accessible?
Just what it means to have guitar and drums on stage… It cues people in to the idea that, ‘Okay, this is a punk show,’ or a rock show. Then, maybe my energy as a front-man reads more clearly or something.
From videos I’ve seen of recent performances, that comes across. It was almost like an evolved Juiceboxxx.
It’s not like a different thing. I mean, if anything I got the band to push the energy level even higher. I went to Austria to do a solo gig last Fall, and it was one of the first solo gigs i’d played in, like, five years. It was super fun, but when you have a band behind you it just propels everything to a different place. There’s no turning back from that, for me.
Do you think, from this point, that you’d only expand the band? Or are you happy with it as it is?
For now, really, all this stuff is about resources. Right now, it just makes sense for me to have a tight band, or two-piece. We’re playing small rooms and that works, y’know?
Of course, I have crazy dreams of adding a bunch of people and making it like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. When I toured with Public Enemy they had a pretty large band. That can be really awesome too but, you know, right now I think, for what i’m doing, it’s really stripped down and I think there’s some real power in that.
On touring with Public Enemy:
How did you find yourself going down with the Public Enemy crowds?
It was a really wild tour! It was before I had the band and it, kind of, is one of the main things that made me think, ‘Okay, I think I need a band…’. It really inspired me in that way, because they were combining rap and punk, essentially, with a live band and they were doing it so well. [It was] at such a high level every night that it just made me realise, ‘Oh yeah, this would make sense for me too!’. If it makes sense for Public Enemy, it certainly makes sense for me to do a band.
For a long time, I didn’t think you could do a band with rap music. Public Enemy did the live show where it was like a rock show. That, sort of, was the vision I had for myself. I’m gonna still be rapping, and i’m gonna still play rap songs, but it’s going to have the intensity of a punk show. It’s not going to, necessarily, feel like a rap show.
The truth is, we don’t really have much of a concept of a rap show in Northern England!
I guess so! And it’s funny, rap music has been my number one interest since I’ve been into music; since I was around ten or eleven years old. But I always liked going to punk shows and hardcore shows more than rap shows; even if, at home, I was listening to rap music more.
For me, punk and noise shows… In the room, that’s what was exciting to me. That kind of energy. I guess it’s just an honest reflection of my weird history with music; to try to do a rap show but, kind of, in the way a punk band would do it.
It’s natural for me, and it’s crazy that it took this long to have a band. I think for so long I, kinda, hinted at it or i’d beat around the bush.
On live performance and pushing yourself:
Even when I saw you all those years ago, in the solo days, you still had an incredibly punk feeling about your performance.
Totally. I think sometimes people would be confused because, back then, I was making these dance records and I would get booked to play, like, dance-club nights with DJs where they’d put me on at midnight; i’d be the only live act. I would come out there, guns blazing, performing like it was a basement punk show or something!
I think it confused a lot of people in that era, who only knew me from my records. There’s something cool about that too.
I think, for a long time, the aim was to do something that confused on some level; play pop music for noise kids, but then perform super aggressive for dance kids or something. Insert myself both in and out of culture simultaneously.
Now, i’m less interested in that.
That harks back to things I’ve heard you say about not wanting to be tongue-in-cheek anymore, or necessarily make subversive statements. It’s more about just good music?
It’s more about just doing the kind of show that inspired me growing up. It’s really about trying to, like, do something that is, in some weird, abstract way, in conversation with my heroes.
So, it’s more trying to think about Public Enemy, Springsteen, Bad Brains, Beastie Boys or whatever – that history – and trying to really go for it and attempt to do something that can play with that level; which is insane obviously!
I think you’ve gotta really try and push yourself to do something cool sometimes, even if you’re dealing with people that are so much better than you in every way!
Sounds like you’re just being harsh on yourself, man!
Well, i’m just saying that, I mean, Springsteen and Public Enemy… Those are the all-time greats! But, it inspires me to try and do something that’s on that level. Even if I fall short of it, I think it’s good to really, really push yourself.
You could see it as falling short, but the way I see it as an onlooker is that you’re pushing what you have to its very limits.
That’s what excites me. That’s why the project still excites me [over] all these years, because I think I actually continue to push myself into places that are probably, like, insane or absurd. But i’m still okay.
You know, i’m at home, i’m watching YouTube videos, i’m going to band practice [or] whatever. It’s a process, and that excites me; reading Springsteen’s autobiography and getting some kind of abstract influence from that of just, like, ‘Okay, I got a band. I’m going on tour. I got a record. Let’s try and make this as good as we can make it’.
I feel like, in certain underground scenes, everybody’s so aloof. Nobody wants to look like they’re trying too hard, y’know? It’s like, ‘Okay, we’re going to set up some gear on a table…’. I’m just like, ‘Fuck that!’.
I’m obsessed with the great American live music traditions; James Brown, Chuck Berry… Bad Brains, whatever! I’m more interested in trying to conjure that than I am in being, like, a “cool” guy making techno music or something.
It does seem like it’s everything to you, and so driving.
That’s why i’m still doing it! If this was fleeting, or I was doing this for other reasons, I would have quit a long time ago.
That makes it interesting as well. The pure dedication and passion of the thing is part of what’s so attractive about your output.
I don’t know, I guess it’s just all I can do, you know?
Even when putting yourself completely on the line in things like State of the Thunder Zone, it’s fascinating to watch.
It’s truly insane. Obviously, I can [take] one step, or two steps, back from it and be like, ‘My life is totally insane. Everything i’m doing is ridiculous…’. I have a level of self-awareness about this but, somehow, for whatever insane reason, that self-awareness hasn’t stopped me from continuing on.
I don’t see why you see so much of your lifestyle as negative though, even if it is somewhat different.
I guess i’m just hard on myself, you know, and it goes back to pushing the limits of whatever skill I have. There’s a lot of self-evaluation that has to happen. For me to continue to do this, I have to try to get better and part of that is being really hard on myself.
That ends up manifesting itself in negativity. I think that’s the push and pull of what I do. There is a lot of negativity, and there is a lot of self-loathing or self-hatred, but, within that, ultimately I choose to be creative. I think that speaks volumes, you know?
I think, wrestling with these things in my work, there’s something that can be inspiring to other people about it. The way i’m feeling about the music I make is really, really no different than the way most people think about their lives at any given moment.
On honesty and not giving up:
It’s all about the honesty, man. There’s so little honesty in music these days.
That’s why I love that band, Sleaford Mods. They put it out there in a way that so few people put it out there anymore. There’s so few things like that and I hope, in my own weird way, I have a bit of that too.
Once you get past thirty, you’re not in music for any other reason than, like, to do it… on some level. It’s not totally true but, you know… If you’re in a band at twenty-four to get women, like, maybe that might work but, the older you fucking get, the less attractive that is to anybody.
Once you start doing music in your thirties and forties, that’s not to be cool. That’s not to pick up women. A lot of people I know quit making music. I’m still doing it because i’m fucking insane! This is just what I wanna do.
It’s deeply embarrassing on some level. Like, I talk to people like, ‘You still doing Juiceboxxx?’. ‘Yeah, i’m still doing Juiceboxxx…’. People I’ve known for ten years; fifteen years! I’m still doing this project. It’s been this weird through-line of my entire adult and teenage life.
I’m just doing it because it’s what I need to do, you know? I’m making fucking rap-rock music because that’s really what I wanna do. If I wanted to do something cooler, or more attractive, I could do that. I choose not to because it’s not what’s in my heart. I’m making what’s in my heart, you know?
It’s ridiculous but, like I said, when there’s people in my world that have that kind of honesty or dedication, that always gets me excited. So I hope that, by saying this or expressing some of this stuff with my music, I can inspire people.
It’s not even about not giving up. If you’ve got that burning desire to do some shit, you’ll know it. You’ll fucking know it, otherwise you’ll quit.
I don’t even need to tell people not to give up. If you’ve really got it inside of you, you’re not gonna give up regardless of what anybody says.
I can relate to all of this myself, as I probably should have gotten myself on the stable job ladder at this point. But I just keep writing.
It’s really hard. I had to pivot, I had to move to New York. I had to get some ducks in a row in a way that I didn’t, really, wanna do. I’ve had to do a lot of shit that I don’t love and it’s just in the service of, like, figuring out a way over this hump or through this wall. There’s a lot of tact involved in me trying to continue on. It’s really, really hard but, ultimately, it’s for a reason.
I’m sure, if you ever reach an “end” to all of this Juiceboxxx stuff, that you’d look back on it and be glad you did it.
Yeah, I mean, who really knows? Honestly, every day is different, you know?
Yeah you might be right, there could just as equally be days you look back on it and regret it.
Yeah, who the fuck knows? It comes down to this for me, it’s this simple:
I keep writing songs, and these are Juiceboxxx songs, and it’s kind of that simple. If I didn’t have anything else to say, I would stop.
But I keep writing songs and i’m like, ‘Well, these sound pretty good. Maybe they’re better than anything I’ve ever done, so…’. That’s one of the main reasons why I keep going on, because I still feel like I have something to contribute.
On different expressions:
How much do you feel you’ve gotten closer to that sound in your head on the next record?
The thing is, there’s a pretty wide range of music I make that makes sense as Juiceboxxx music and this one is really focusing in on one corner of that music. I think I articulated it pretty well, but this record is me setting out to make, like, a hyper-focused punk-rap record that just gets in, gets out and takes no prisoners.
I’m syked about that. I think that, for what it is, it does some damage. It ends with a pop song too, so there’s a pop song on the record. I think it moves really nicely and sounds good.
When you focus on a specific corner of your expression, are you left afterwards wanting to spend some extra time on other areas?
Right now, i’m just doing more of everything. I’m writing a lot of songs all the time; i’m writing pop songs, i’m writing rap songs and i’m writing punk songs. Just writing a lot, y’know? I’ve, kind of, carved out the parameters of the different poles of what my music can mean.
On one side, maybe, there’s more pop-based music and, on the other side, there’s, like, noisier punk music. Then, there’s a certain kind of rap stuff.
I think it’s important to stress, it’s not eclectic for the sake of it. There’s some real parameters within the music I make.
But, within those parameters, i’m writing everything. So, that excites me. Writing music, then performing it and figuring out how to play with a band [is] really fulfilling and exciting to me. I’m just trying to be as productive as possible right now.
On the compositional process:
Have you started compensating for the inclusion of a live band when writing new material?
Willy, the guy who plays guitar on the records… that’s been a long-term collaboration for a long time. There’s live drums on a lot of the songs [for Freaked Out American Loser], and guitar, but it was really piecemealed together and it was made with a different drummer who isn’t my live drummer; this guy in Milwaukee who’s an incredible drummer, Shane [Hochstetler], played in a band called Call Me Lightning among many other bands. Really an incredible drummer.
This record was made, pretty much, with the intent of it coming out on Thunder Zone. So, I kinda piecemealed it together on whatever budget I could scrap up. Then I ended up hooking up with the people at Dangerbird and they loved the record. That’s how it’s coming out.
So far, I haven’t really made that studio record that has some kind of production to it. Everything has been pretty scrappy. Which is cool, y’know. I look forward to doing records with the full band [or] a bit more production in the future.
I wanna make music that can, sonically, compete with a lot of contemporary stuff, while staying Juiceboxxx music.
In general, what is the compositional process for you?
It really varies, you know. I write most stuff on the computer, then I give it to the band and we kinda work it out. I mean, I program drums, I program bass lines or play out bass lines. The rhythmic and melodic germ of the song, pretty much, always comes from sketches I make, and then I flesh it out with other musicians.
I wondered how off-the-cuff the songwriting process might be.
No, I mean, it’s very compositional. It comes from me, usually, just alone in a room. That’s how the seed of the song happens.
Do you consider yourself a quick worker? Like, can you turn tracks out quickly?
Well, it depends. It’s one of those things where, usually, the main idea, [or] the main thing about the song that excites me… Maybe that will come fast, but everything else is a slow process.
I ask because I found your output to be quite prolific actually.
I wanna stay prolific but just on a different level. It’s always a weird process but, definitely a lot of the time, the seed of the song comes fast and it’s more deliberate choices from there. More just like work from there, you know?
On collaborating with Dre Skull:
I was interested in your more conceptual work with people like Dre Skull. How did that collaboration come about? [NOTE: Within the podcast I used the word “deliberate” instead of “conceptual” and I still have no idea why]
He was just a friend, and continues to be a close friend of mine. We just made some records together, at the point of both of our careers when it sort of made sense to make those records together. We definitely went in different directions in terms of, like, what kind of music we primarily make.
Those records are really just like a snapshot of a moment in time, I feel like. We made Sweat in Brooklyn, in 2006, and we were just excited about dance music, y’know? We were kinda both coming out of the noise scene and we were both listening to a lot of house music and Baltimore club. It was before EDM crystallised, or anything, really in America.
These records were made in this weird vacuum. By the time they came out, they found an audience in this electro scene, I guess; [the] new rave scene or whatever the hell was happening a decade ago. That shit wasn’t really happening in America when we made Sweat.
We were into Baltimore club music, and we were into house music, but we didn’t know anybody in England or Europe at that point. The people who did remixes of that record [were], like, Alex [Epton] from Spank Rock and DJ Technics, who both came out of the Baltimore scene.
I think that there’s some people, especially in England, [where] that’s all they know me from; some of those Juiceboxxx and Dre Skull records.
It’s interesting to hear, because you were talking about certain parameters of the Juiceboxxx sound and, listening to those collaborations, I could clearly hear what was Juiceboxxx and what wasn’t.
At this point those dance records are real outliers, if you look at my full catalogue. They’re weird outliers but, yeah, I mean, i’m fine with them! They’re good, weird, kinda conceptual pop records. There’s great cover art and it’s this trilogy… It’s this really succinct thing, you know?
Even though we kinda fit in with whatever was happening in the zeitgeist at that moment, if you listen back to those records, they’re their own weird, confusing, thing. They don’t sound like Ed Banger Records or something, you know?
They made sense within a scene that was happening at that time but, like, they’re kinda just these weird records that I think will be cool for somebody to stumble upon in fifteen years, and be like, ‘What the fuck is this…?’.
Like Center Stage, the second one, is this weird pop-house track with a diva vocalist that is seven minutes long, has a guitar solo and ends with a sheet of white noise; which is pretty bizarre!
They’re like art-pop records, that’s kind of how I look at them, especially now all this time has passed. They feel like a weird blip to me now, or something, but I do know that there’s probably, like, a crew of people in England that only know me from those dance records.
I made dance records from 2006 to 2009. I mean, at that time I was still making rap records too but, concurrently, was making these dance records. I made, like, four or five of them. I was in my early-twenties and I was going to clubs. It was just, sort of, a weird snapshot of where my head was at.
I haven’t really made a dance record since 2009 or so. Who knows, maybe i’ll come back to it? I still listen to a ton of dance music actually, I just stopped really being interested in making it.
It’s cool. Dre Skull is still a close friend and he’s doing amazing stuff; making a lot of amazing music with dance-hall artists in Jamaica. He’s found quite a bit of success in that lane, as well as other things. But definitely, with the dance-hall shit, he’s a very respected producer, working with Vybz Kartel, Popcaan and, like, pretty heavy names. We both went on our own weird little idiosyncratic journeys through contemporary music and culture.
On cultural movements:
Where you just pick up all this different stuff along the way.
Yeah, I mean, you do this long enough and you just end up having these little weird moments in time, when you cross currents with all these different cultures; then everybody breaks away. It happens constantly; people come together and they break way. It’s just how underground culture works, especially.
Quite beautiful actually, man.
Yeah, it’s not bad I don’t think! I think it’s a cool thing; to look back at little moments in time where you’re like, ‘Hmm, those people were playing shows together?!’. It made sense then but then, like, ten years later you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s insane!’.
Cultural movements are changing so much faster now too.
There’s people who know my name from, like, various little moments in time but most people still don’t know… Don’t know who I am. That’s cool because, I think, the best is yet to come as far as my output.
It’s strange to think of you not getting much exposure. I see articles about you in The Guardian, one of the biggest newspapers in England.
And that was that weird book thing, that is its own crazy… Like, I just have had all these things happen, you know? I don’t know what it really adds up to, other than the fact I continue to make music that’s, sort of, inspired by these things.
It’s funny, I’ve had a weird life of music that’s its own thing. This book thing was weird, and then… I just keep moving forward, I guess, and try to do weird new things.
On The Next Next Level:
I’ve gotten a sense, and I think it was from one of your appearances on the Poundcast, that you weren’t actually too happy with that book?
Well, it’s the kind of thing where, like, where I don’t even know… I just, sort of, don’t even think about it anymore.
Do you think some of these random stories that you may have picked up across all of your tours are best left to rest?
It’s not even that. It’s just, the book itself is its own weird thing and it’s as much about the author as it is about myself. So it’s just its own crazy project. I mean, I have thoughts on it but, ultimately, I think i’m going to need, like, a decade of distance from the whole thing for me to actually process it.
I think, ultimately, it was a positive, weird, thing to happen to me, just because maybe if it tells a story of a weird creative life and somebody reads it, and somehow gets inspired, that’s cool. I think that’s positive but it’s just another thing, you know?
If nothing else, it’s inspired me to transcend… Like, essentially, this book presents a certain narrative of my life in music. Now it’s up to me to transcend that narrative.
I feel like the book, in a way, threw down a gauntlet; issued a challenge to me like, ‘Okay, is this how you wanna be remembered?’. The book’s not gonna define me. Any one thing is not gonna define me. I’m determined to have a career that’s weird and long enough that it’s just the body of work, more than any one of them.
When going through that body of work there are a lot of constant surprises. At times, contradictory elements even.
Yeah, and I think that’s cool but it’s also just who I am. It’s more like, i’m interested in culture. I put out a thing for Douggpound on Thunder Zone, just continuing to, like, do interesting [and] weird stuff. It’s a big part of it for me.
One of the things I was going to ask is if you ever felt like writing your own book?
Yeah, I’ve thought about that but it’s not time. I’ll know when it’s time to do that, but it’s definitely not time. Right now, i’m not thinking too much about my past. I’m excited about the next six months.
Who knows what’s gonna happen? I’ve been in this long enough that I know not to really have any expectations about anything for myself. Beyond any careerist shit, i’m just excited to put this record out and for people to hear it!
No matter what does, or doesn’t happen, I just want it to be heard. I want to keep making music. I’m excited about working with Dangerbird [and] having the resources to make music, and put it out into the world, in maybe more of a formal, focused, way than I have in the past.