Australia’s sharpest musical jokesters, Bluejuice, have landed themselves a spot on the Big Day Out 2014 line-up and will be touring around the country later this month, and into February. Killyourstereo.com was fortunate to catch up with one of the band’s key members, vocalist Jake Stone, who relived a Big Day Out moment from his youth, revealed details about two potential upcoming singles, and explained why touring in a van is shithouse.
Hey Jake, it’s Nathan here from Kill Your Stereo. How’s it going?
I’m all right, I’m just looking through my floor-drobe for a clean shirt.
I’ve got one. Exciting.
You must be pretty excited to be playing Big Day Out this year, have you been to the Big Day Out many times before?
Yeah, for sure. I went when I was about 13 or 14. It was the first large-scale festival I’d ever been to. I went with my friend Darcy O’Doherty, who is Chris O’Doherty a.k.a. Reg Mombassa’s son, and we just got stoned and I think we spent all of our money on lollies and video games and then went to try and see Soundgarden. This was like 1994 or 95 or something, and we were about 12 or 13 or something like that, and we got right to the front and it was a full-on terrifying mosh. Björk was playing just before so that was pretty relaxed, but I was a 13 year old metal-head asshole, and she did ‘Venus as a Boy’, it was incredible yet I hated it. I remember how it sounded and actually, in memory, like it a great deal, but as a 13 year old I think I just had the defence of ‘I can’t like this, it’s not Metallica’. There were all of these 30 year old dudes and ladies dancing around in comfortable linen clothing, and Darcy and I were like “Soundgarden! Soundgarden!” We were total assholes about it, and then Soundgarden came on, and we were down the first four rows of the stage, and the mosh instantly closed in around us, and it was frankly terrifying. This big lumberjack-looking guy who was drunk, and I have some memory of him holding a thing of Jack Daniel’s, looked over at us and went “if it gets scary in here don’t worry, I’ll protect you,” and we were like “oh, great,” and then he instantly turned around and punched a guy, completely unprovoked, in the face. We were thinking ‘that’s the guy that’s going to protect us? Oh shit, we’re screwed.’
Then the band started playing and it was hectic and we got smashed, and we were trying to get out because I remember being actually fucking scared, thinking ‘I’m too small for this, I need to get the fuck out of here’. People still think I’m a girl every time I go down the street. I’m too small. So we were swimming through the crowd and we got back as far as this guy who was on acid and dancing around in this space American Indian suit, and we were like ‘this is safe enough, this guy’s got room to dance, everything’s going to be fine.’ That’s what I remember of that Big Day Out. Oh, and Primus. Trout Fishing in Quebec, this old band that used to play in Sydney heaps, had a spot as well. There you go.
So now, talking about Bluejuice playing this year’s Big Day Out, will there be any new songs in the mix? What kind of set can we expect?
Well, we’ll do the singles, obviously, so anything you expect to hear in that regard you’d probably get. Because we’ve got a guitar player on the gig, Dan, who we like and is good friends and lives with the keyboard player, weirdly, we used to do a double bill occasionally with their old band when we just started years ago, we can do all of the guitar poppy ones because he’s got those kind of chops. We’ll do ‘You Haven’t Changed’, we end up doing ‘Cheap Trix’ every time, ‘Act Yr Age’ obviously, we’ll do ‘S.O.S.’. There’s no real surprises, it’s our festival set. If you saw us at the Boiler Room last time, it will be that rejigged with ‘S.O.S.’ I guess, and a different stage setup. Instead of changing up the whole set we just dressed the stage in a completely different way. It’s outside and there’s no lights and stuff so I tried a completely different stage-dressing to make it work in the sun because the sun’s so fucking blinding, you need to either harness the power of the fact that it’s so reflective, for example you can use reflective costuming, or have a lot of money. We don’t have a lot of money, so I have to do the other thing.
Do you think you’ll get much of a chance to check out the other acts while you’re down there, and if so, who would you like to see the most?
Well, I like seeing Tame Impala in general, because they’re always really good. I saw them at Coachella at the start of last year and it was great, they were really good. Other than that I’d like to see Major Lazer again, because I also saw them at that gig and they absolutely rocked it. People will go to that and they will all get nasty. The crowd is actually the highlight of going of their show. I couldn’t really see the act, but it looked cool. I’d also like to see Arcade Fire once or twice, and Toro y Moi will be interesting. I’d like to see The Naked and Famous because they’re doing the rounds and they’ve obviously got a few notches on their belt in terms of live shows, so there’s probably something exciting going on there now. That seems like a pretty good overview, I’ll have to think about it more.
How has the response to the latest single ‘S.O.S.’ been?
It’s been good. I didn’t ever think that it was the most amazing song we’re ever going to put out. I like the tune, it’s a snappy little pop tune. It was supposed to be just a bridging single, that’s essentially what its function is. I’ve been pleased that they put it on radio and played it as much as they did and that people requested it. It had its own little life, you know.
In a few months it will be a year since Jerry left the band.
Yeah, it’s incredible.
How much of an effect did his departure have and do you feel as if Bluejuice is now back in full force?
It’s totally different, really. I saw the Chili Peppers at Coachella and they always end up replacing John, he’s in and out of that band all the time, and they’re definitely shitter without John. The guy they had, he was a really good guitar player, but he was just an annoyingly L.A. session musician and he was singing the backing vocals really loud and off-key and it was about the same volume as Anthony Kiedis’ lead vocal, and you were like, ‘why isn’t that guy shutting the fuck up?’ Luckily, we didn’t have that happen. It’s been more like seeing the band as two things, with Jerry in the band it was this one unit, James, me, Stav, Jamie, Jerry, and that was like an all-purpose production, performance, and song writing unit. Although we were already paying James as a session player anyway, so it’s more like the band was Jerry, Jamie, me, and Stav, and then James was in there when he needed to play or write, but I’ve known him for a long time because he’s my sister’s ex-boyfriend and he’s basically part of the family.
Then when Jerry left we had to go ‘okay, well we’re not going to be able to do everything ourselves all of the time now’ because Jerry was such a musical force that you can’t really replace a guy like that. You’re never going to really get the same thing out of the next person. What I wanted was to make sure that for the live show, which is what people like about the band and what we make a living out of and do a lot of, was tight and sounded good and wasn’t going to be shit, so you wouldn’t hear it and go ‘what the fuck’s going on? Five weeks ago they sounded like this and now they sound like this.’ That would be a tragedy, you don’t want that.
So basically we were looking and looking and looking, and I was whacking my knuckles on my head trying to figure out where we could get that person that could do that. Luke Dubber, who is an exceptional keyboard player, obviously won’t be leaving Hermitude anytime soon, all the good guys that you know personally all have gigs, and the other ones are extensive session players who are probably a bit too old and maybe don’t fit the vibe of the band or would interpret it weirdly. We tried a couple of things and that didn’t really work, but then, weirdly, our front of house engineer, Alex Gooden, who’s been with the band as a tour manager and engineer for the last three or four years went “oh, I think I can play,” and we knew he played keyboards because he did it with The Oceans, which was his old band, but we haven’t seen him play keyboards for six or seven years. So we were like ‘oh, all right, if you think you can do it then give it a go,” and we weren’t really thinking it’d come off but he turned up and just nailed the rehearsal, and he continued to work hard at having the part. He’s been mixing Jerry and listening to that set for the last three years.
It’s kind of ideal because he’s been there the whole time.
Yeah, that’s right. He seems like a member anyway and we all know him really well. He’s in this group called Adapt or Die who are a DJ duo who do originals and remixes, and he’s a great producer in his own right, you know, he’s very musical, very organised, very funny. He fits right into the band’s vibe in terms of the energy that he brings to it. He’s a bit like Jerry. We’re all nerds in Bluejuice, you know what I mean, and Alex is definitely a nerd but he’s also clever and capable. I hope Jerry won’t mind me saying this, but one thing he didn’t love being all the time was contemporary, and Alex is listening to new music, finding something cool all the time, and he is a fan of pop music and what’s going on right now. That’s an important energy to have in a band. So when he said he’d do it I was very happy, and then it worked.
It’s been challenging because you’re moving on from an original member who was integral to the band. It’s pretty hard. I think we’ve had a better than average result considering the way it could have gone though. Especially given that we’ve changed the way the band sees itself. We don’t see ourselves as, as I said, an all-purpose unit anymore, some things get tasked out now. I have to write a lot more of the whole thing, and because I’m a limited musician, I’ll practice and do my work and that, but I’m still pretty limited in my theoretical knowledge and harmonic knowledge, I’ll have to maybe find a good co-writer to do that with, but I actually enjoy that process. It’s fun for me to vary it up because I’ve been doing it for ten or eleven years so it felt like the right time to change the way I worked, in a way, even though it was a bit painful when he said he was leaving. It was sad.
The band seems to have come out of it pretty well.
We just realised it wasn’t going to kill us. We just had to be clever about how we managed it, that’s all.
What do you do to pass time while touring? I could imagine the band playing pranks all the time, but maybe it’s not like that at all?
Oh, god. Well, if you’re in the van it’s shithouse, you’re just sitting in the van, and if you don’t really want to read anything at the time you just get stoned all the time, it’s terrible. I am a pot smoker sometimes, and the van tours are the worst because I’d just always be knocking on the door to have a smoke break because I was just bored out of my skull. When you’re flying it’s better because you’re in and out and you get to the place fast and once you’re out in the city you’re like ‘well, this is a different city, so this is fun and interesting, and you start getting into the vibe of touring. Vans are really good but they’re gruelling and you don’t have a lot to do in there, you’re just praying for a fucking Xbox or anything to take your mind away from the fact that you’re in the car for ten hours a day, and it actually makes you feel like you have no marketable skills as an adult. You’re just like ‘this is the better part of my day and I’m sitting in a van, I’m not doing anything productive, I could be writing.’ You try and write, some people can write in the car with a botchy setup and a little keyboard, but I find that not as easy to do. I can do it but I just haven’t really had a setup like that before that would work for the car, so I hope I don’t have to do heaps of that in the country anymore. I’d do it overseas because it’s overseas and it’s interesting, but I’ve driven around Australia quite enough.
Besides other music, where do you draw inspiration from when writing songs, and has that changed over the course of the three albums?
Yeah, it definitely has. I don’t know, I guess everything has the capacity to be a song. Oh, that’s not true actually, I think I write about sort of bitter, darker moments that are wrapped up in a couple of jokes or something, and that are self-reflective and maybe a little prophetically pessimistic or something, and you know, sort of make that into a funny sounding pop song. So that’s generally my angle, but it has changed as I’ve gotten more maturity as a songwriter. It hasn’t completely gotten away from that initial format. It’s become more varied, and in my mind, more intricate. The little plays on little contrast elements that you employ in writing have become finer and more subtle, and sometimes just in jokes that work for me but probably don’t seem like jokes, or are just a denial thing actually. That stuff, I’ve noticed, has become a bit more nuanced, like the two new singles that we’re going to put out that are new songs, the first one is sort of like a Supergrass tune with elements of Led Zepp and other things, but trying to modernise that as well and it also introduces a bit of Queen-esque vocal harmony in the top line, and all that sounds both risky and funny as an idea. It’s hard to explain.
It’s about getting a good balance between that, yeah?
Yeah, but also the vocal is this key thing. You do all these other things and you try and get the instruments and everything sounding just right so it evokes what you’re ripping off, but it’s also a bit more modern. It’s not really piss-take-y, but you’re trying to get those sounds right except do them a bit more brightly and differently. Then you put the vocal on. If the vocal is naturally crescented, in a weird register, or if it’s heaps stacked, or if it’s more bare, if it’s jokey, or if it’s definitely serious, all these things change the way the instrumental track that you’ve built up is perceived, in a sincere or not sincere way. The balance between those two things always interests me, and is getting more nuanced on these two new tracks. One of them is up-tempo and a bit a bit flirty and sort of silly, in a fun way, but the vocal is a bit manic and crazy and high-pitched, and it makes it a bit menacing somehow even though it’s not at all. It’s outweighed by the riff but it has a bit of an edge, so you’re always looking for that thing that’s going to cut a bit. The second tune is more of a down-tempo folk song, and that’s edgy in the sense that it’s single vocal, it’s my voice primarily, which I don’t do heaps of the lead singing in Bluejuice, I think that’s really Stav’s job because he’s got such a lush voice and he sounds so good on tracks, but this one’s quite quiet, it’s pretty introspective. Everything sort of wraps around the vocal whilst it then pushes it up rather than pushing it up in a muscular way. It’s an atmosphere around the vocal and that’s interesting for me, and it’s kind of dark. It sounds very quiet with a strange confidence, but it sounds very pessimistic and dark and the content is quite unsettling. So that stuff interests me, just all those little atmospheres and what that’s sort of saying about your internal politics inside your mind and stuff.
What can we expect to see from Bluejuice in the year to come? Are there any big plans?
Well our plans are to put out those two songs, and I think doing that stuff will put us in a position to do a big tour towards the end of the year. By the time we put out those two songs, if the songs are good and are both singles, we’ll have a set that’s an hour and twenty minutes, or at least an hour, of all singles. That sounds kind of fun as a gig, but I’m not really thinking about that, because when Jerry left we all started going ‘okay, we’re just going to put out singles,’ we all felt like it has a shorter timespan in front of it than it ever has before. We’re not planning much past the next thing that we do, you know what I mean? Beyond trying to get well-paid gigs and to keep the business working as a thing, but we’re focusing on shorter-term things like recording new singles and doing Big Day Out and stuff like that. We’re just putting heaps of energy into that shit so, to be frank, all I’m looking forward to in the next month is having Big Day Out to do, which is going to be shitloads of work attendant media and all that type of thing, getting to recording and producing these two new songs because I think they really can be quite good. If 2014 is going to be the last year we do heaps of stuff for a little while, I’d prefer to be able to do two big singles and have everyone go, ‘ah, they’re a great band.’
For me, Bluejuice has been mostly about wanting people to have a moment where they think ‘well that wasn’t what I expected, but they’re a great band.’ To have an impact also, lately, in the last parts of the band’s life, to have people come away thinking ‘that was surprisingly musical, that had surprising gravitas, that was an adult joke.’ We don’t see it as a joke, but the context of what we’re trying to do, hopefully you’re always on the back foot, but with some of the new stuff we want to be even more overbalancing in terms of style but also give you that thing that you like about the band. There’s going to be two songs. One of them will be exactly what you expect us to do, and hopefully done really well, and the other one will be this completely different thing that sounds more like a Lana Del Rey ‘Video Games’ cover and have this sort of darkness around it. It’s quite an adult song. Hopefully people will hear it and think ‘oh, these people were adults the whole time and they were thinking about this,’ and suddenly there’s a different level of politics in the way you see the band. That’s kind of what I want. I want people to always be a bit taken by surprise by what we do.
For it to never get shit, if you know what I mean?
(laughs) Yeah, that all sounds great. I’ll let you go now.
Yeah, no worries.
Thanks for this. Enjoy the rest of your day and have fun with Big Day Out.
Thanks, you have a nice day too.