Explain Exclusive - Juiceboxxx

photo by graydon driver

photo by graydon driver

 

by: Quinn Cory

On New Year's Eve 2016, I met up with Juiceboxxx at George Webb in the morning. The now-New York based rapper was in town for a show and some heartland warmth during the holidays. During our first interview, we discussed his anticipated album, staying positive, and his label Thunderzone. Over a stack of pancakes and refills of coffee, Juiceboxxx offered his perspective on American culture, DIY, and finding meaning through music. 

On March 28th, he signed with Dangerbird Records, later releasing his album Freaked Out American Loser on July 28th. Juiceboxxx met the label happenstance while performing during a rainstorm at SXSW. The new album showcases a contemporary rap album that succeeds in what all Juiceboxxx tracks succeed - an earnest glimpse into the struggle and maintenance of staying light in a world of darkness. High energy and dripping in old school rap and punk nostalgia, Freaked Out American Loser is quite possibly Juiceboxxx' first full-step into a mainstream and pop-oriented audience. While residing on Dangerbird, Juiceboxxx is among other artists and alumni such as The Dears, Maritime, Hot Hot Heat and Silversun Pickups. What might seem somewhat out-of-place to others is well known to the artist. Whether he is playing in as a punk band at an underground rap show, or a rapper at the punk show - Juiceboxxx is comfortable and excellent at "not fitting in", 

After the album's release, I interviewed Juiceboxxx a second time, to catch up on where we left off. Being on Dangerbird has given the rapper a different platform to showcase his music. A single from the album, Freaking Out, is currently pushing 49,000 plays on Spotify. While his audience has grown, the message in the rapper's song has maintained consistency. Juiceboxxx is a true lifer - devoted to the lifestyle & weight that comes from transposing destruction into redemption. 

On Friday September 15th, Juiceboxxx will return to his hometown to perform with Taj, Stormchaser and Tubbs at the Cactus Club



So, you just got in yesterday then?

Yeah, I’ve been at my folks house, in the suburbs, laying low. I’ve been coming into the city
occasionally because I’m staying with Willy. We’ve been working on music.

I was going to ask that - have you been making music while you’ve been here?

Yeah, I have a certain working process and I often bring in outside collaborators. Regardless if
it’s focused on a record or not, I’m constantly working on music.

How would you describe what you’re making right now?

It’s a real variety of stuff and that makes it hard. I’m just kind of doing whatever I feel. It’s a lot of different things but all within the range of Juiceboxxx.

So it’s comparable?

Yeah, it’s in the same ballpark of what I’ve been making over the past couple of years. It’s a lot
of music and some of it is more pop focused and other stuff is more aggressive.

I feel like I remember seeing somewhere that you have 40 unreleased songs.

Yeah and it just keeps growing.

Could you describe the Thunder Zone in general? It’s a label but I also feel like it’s a state
of mind or lifestyle. In your own words, how would you respond to that?


It’s a search for some sort of meaning. That can manifest itself in many ways. I’ve tried to keep
it kind of abstract and undefined. Essentially, though, it’s a record label that puts out energy
drinks and clothing and all sorts of stuff. It’s very open ended. Everything gets a catalog
number.

Since I was a kid, there has been a lot of culture that has meant so much to me. Crazy
underground, DIY, whatever. Whatever you want to call it. Thunder Zone is supposed to
extrapolate on that. It’s funny because we will go on tour and it’s somewhat modest in scope.
We might be playing in a small space for 40 or 50 kids and I can get in my own head about what it all means or if I’m making any sort of dent or impact. But then I remember when I was
teenager, the stuff that really impacted me was often operating on that scale.

For example, the art collective Paper Rad. To me, it felt so big and important, but when I saw
them at Darling Hall in 2004, there was maybe 40 people there. You know what I mean? But it
was a mindblowing experience. It’s easy for me to feel like I’m failing because of the scope of
what I’ve done up to the this point… It’s been very niche. But in some ways, I’ve been targeting
myself as a teenager. It’s very specific. It definitely fits into some abstract lineage in my mind.
Maybe its only in my mind but it’s a part of a larger thing. So is Juiceboxxx.

I wanted to sort of focus in on the label aspect of this. How’s it going for you?

Let’s talk about the Odwalla88 record. They are something new and contemporary but it’s also
very much within a larger American freakout thing. It’s exactly the kind of thing I want to do on
the label and also the fact that we got Lil Ugly Mane to do a remix is an important part of it.
These dots are getting connected and there is some weird crossover. It feels special. I stand by
this record as being an idealized Thunder Zone project. Odwalla are definitely one of the most
important American bands right now.

How did you get acquainted with them?

I saw them play a bunch of times. I saw an early show at the Bank in Baltimore. I was just
hanging out in Baltimore and I was at this noise show not really expecting to engage with the
music. They kinda stopped me in my tracks which is a rare thing. Odwalla are a singular band
and they have a punk attitude. They are definitely part of some art and fashion scenes and
that’s an important part of it but I personally see them as a punk band.

I also wanted to ask you: how would you describe your involvement with Sex magazine?

Asher is a friend of mine. He often sees value in things before other people. From very early on
in our relationship he’s been very supportive of Juiceboxxx. He’s able to understand what I do
through the lens of history. He understands what I come out of and what I am subverting within
it. It’s a really great magazine. It’s inspiring for kids because they interview people who have
been charting their own weird path within culture. You can find out about Cali Thornhill DeWitt or Al Bedell or No Neck Blues Band. These people are lifers. Sex Magazine is for the lifers. Media can be so fickle, so it’s important to celebrate people who have put in the work and do their own thing.

…you’ve been a subject.

Yeah I’ve been a subject. And a book just came out. I’ve interviewed B L A C K I E and
Douggpound for the website. People playing the long game and doing it from the heart.

How did you develop your stage presence?

Performance is always a developing thing for me. I’ve been doing it for 15 years, so I better be
confident at this point. It also comes out of punk music more than anything. As a kid, I was
maybe more interested in hip hop as a musical form but there was something about the energy
of hardcore music that appealed to me. The early shows were hardcore shows. This is the
baseline of it all. Being a rapper at punk shows.

Would you say there is a process for you?

It’s very considered on one hand but it’s also insane. It’s changed over the years. Now, it’s more
pinpointed. I think once I started playing with a band, it started me on a different trajectory.
There are a lot of people my age who have done four or five different projects and you can sort
of chart their progression through those projects and see them at certain age coming into their
own. I’ve just done it all under the same name. For years, it was pretty unhinged and the shows
were 15 minutes or so, informed by the energy of noise and hardcore. But the music itself has
always been more accessible than that.

Has it always been certain that you were going to keep your name though these
changes?

Yeah, there’s always been certain things that carry through so I made the choice to take a long
view. I just have to be true to myself. When I write these songs I have no choice but to think
about them through the lens of Juiceboxxx. It would be disingenuous for me to do otherwise.
Some people are able to split their projects. I am envious of that. Ultimately, I think it’s more
interesting to have everything under one umbrella. But when the music is coming into culture
sideways, it can make things harder.

Would you say that you’re misunderstood?

Yeah maybe, I don’t know. If I’m at all misunderstood it’s in part by choice. Throughout the
years there are so many things I could’ve done differently to achieve quick success. I stopped
making dance music right before EDM really happened. I do it to myself.

The NTS radio show thing is cool.

I’m not trying to adhere to one style. I’m trying to carve a specific thing.

Do you consider yourself a DJ as well?

Yeah, I guess so. Once again, it’s something I’ve done on and off my whole life but I often don’t
have the patience for it. The music I make is sometimes the only thing that keeps my interest.
I’ve tried to do secret side projects that are more focused on one specific thing but it never
works. There is something that is so tangled about Juiceboxxx and Thunder Zone and I think
that’s what has kept me excited.

If I was simply making house music or singing in a punk band, it wouldn’t represent the whole of my personality. It wouldn’t feel like I’m being true to myself. Somehow doing all this stuff feels more like it could only come from me. Maybe it’s ego or something but I don’t have it in me to do something more genre-focused or conventional. I’m very interested in continuing to progress as Juiceboxxx but it needs to be on my own terms.

How would you explain what’s going on in Milwaukee?

I think Milwaukee is a very healthy place right now. The Milwaukee music scene feels much
stronger. There seems a lot more crossover than a decade ago. It seems really good right now.

Is it fun coming back and playing?

I’ve been in New York but I don’t know if I will ever be a New Yorker. It seems impossible to find
a sustainable way to live in the city long term.

Do you plan on staying there for awhile?

I have no idea, it’s really hard. Currently I’m there and I have a weird affordable housing
situation and I have gigs I can work and everything is able to sustain for the time being but it
feels like if any one of these factors fell out, I don’t know.

What are some of your favorite DIY spots around the country?

Honestly, so many have closed. Over the past five years, I’ve had a band and I don’t tour the
way I used to tour. The show I am trying to do now isn’t as tailored to those zones as the solo
set was. More and more when I play spaces it feels like I’m doing a rock show. When I’m
playing noise-ish shows and every other band is something weird or a solo electronic act,
Juiceboxxx is the odd rock band out, which is sort of funny. I don’t really feel like what I do
completely fits in anywhere. That said, I’m playing a bunch of great spots on this upcoming tour that are by no means conventional rock clubs.

I think that these sort of DIY zones are extremely important to American culture. These spaces
are true incubators of what is going to happen and it effects everyone. Everyone listens to music
and watches TV. People who are doing shows on Cartoon Network, pop producers, whatever…
A lot of styles come out of warehouses and basements. Underground culture in and of itself is
important but these places also contribute to larger popular culture.

So, you recently signed a deal with Dangerbird.

Yeah I’m psyched. It’s the beginning of yet another new chapter of my demented career in
music. Dangerbird is helping me actualize a lot things that I didn’t have the resources to do in
the past and it’s definitely exciting. I’m doing a US tour in the fall and going to England in
November.

Your music in comparison to some of the other groups on the label, I can see where the
fit is in some way. Is there a sound that you’ve noticed?


I think something that’s important to remember is that whatever record label I am on, I will
always the outlier act. If I were on a rap label I would be the most punk thing on the label, as
opposed to if I were to be on an experimental label, I would be the most accessible thing. It’s
always been a goal of mine to make music that’s accessible and able to connect with a lot of
different people.

Ultimately, as I start yet another phase of Juiceboxxx, I am interested in connection. Music is
such a valuable tool. The world can feel so dark and so bleak. I hope that I can do something
positive. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to change my life. Going forward it’s really about
connection more than anything and an attempt to transcend the moment in whatever tiny way
that I can through music and performance.

I heard that Dangerbird found out about you through a SXSW performance?

Yeah it’s so funny because me and the band were down there and I was honestly feeling pretty
negative. I was at a weird point in my life where I had my nose to the grindstone and I wasn’t
touring and living in New York and working a day job and not really socializing.

I decided we should go down to SXSW because I hadn’t been in five years and I got invited to
play my old label’s showcase. In that moment, I was in such a bad mood and maybe that
pushed the set. But then this record deal came out of it. It all came from this one 15 minute set. I
remember it feeling good. I was kinda on one, you know? I chugged a few energy drinks and
sometimes that bleakness brings out the intensity.

You know, I was a mess in my 20s in some ways and the past couple years have been a lot of
work. Trying to change my life and prove something. “Freaked Out American Loser” feels like adebut record to me. I wanted to make a stripped down and raw punk LP. Something that
conceptually felt like an artist’s first record. A reset.

Would you consider yourself an optimistic person?

I would say that I believe in redemption. Things can feel quite bleak but I believe that you can
acknowledge the darkness and acknowledge how fucked up everything is and you can still try to
be positive and change your life. Positivity in the face of darkness. Music is so important. It
provides such a fundamental thing for such a large group of people. It’s really an important force
for me and gives my life meaning.

That’s a theme that I’ve picked up through your music. It’s very high energy and in your
face. There is always a sense of positivity through that.


Going to a show or listening to music on the bus… These moments can be transcendent.
Growing up is hard and changing your life is hard. I am trying to stay positive.

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