It’s easy to get steamrolled by the Bluejuice train of debauched humour and body-slamming funk – theirs is a party-starting kinda music. They’ve never appeared to take themselves too seriously, either through their uninhibited performances or no-holds-barred media presence – but all the while we have been hypnotised by their master plan. They’ve managed to sneak skilfully crafted, funk-infused pop gems onto the iPods of the otherwise unaware while simultaneously appeasing music lovers seeking out a rock steady beat. In short, these boys are good: don’t let their self-deprecating tweets or in-your-face nipple hair fool you.
Their latest single, ‘S.O.S’, has been released to an audience eager to hear how Bluejuice will find their feet after the departure of keyboardist Jerry Craib. Recorded in the UK, the song was helped along in the studio by an impressive roster – Blue May and Alex Burnett tackled production duties while session players Sam Best and Ade Omotayo, formerly of Amy Winehouse’s band, joined seminal vocalist Vula Malinga of Basement Jaxx ‘Oh My Gosh’fame.
Despite the daunting talent surrounding Jake Stone in that east London studio, he felt at ease steering the song towards its final sound. “They’re all a tight-knit group of musicians and while they’re busy, they’re not necessarily working for any more money than what people would be working for here, and were quite easy to get in to do this,” Stone says. But were there any feelings of intimidation? “Yes, absolutely; there is some of that. We already had a demo of the song done and they basically played to that. They always ask if that’s what you want, but it’s more that they’re like a steam train and you can’t change direction too much once they get going. Luckily, what they were doing was generally what I wanted. They’re fairly confident in their abilities, so once they get an idea that they like they’re gonna drive that idea, and you’d have to be very musically onto it to even keep up with the musical process of the band. I had so much trust in the band and was confident in what they were going to do.”
From the early days of ‘Vitriol’screeching out across the airwaves, Bluejuice have been local crowd favourites. ‘S.O.S’ already has toes tapping, and Stone explains that while they have enjoyed warmth from the industry, they’ve worked damn hard to get it. “There’s an affection for the band which I’m really grateful for,” he says. “We’ve worked to market the band in that way; we really felt like we had to do everything we could. I was writing for the BRAG for a long time, I was bartending at the Hopetoun and the Annandale and most of my friends were in bands – but we were never the cool band. We needed something to push us out there. The performative style of the band was different to what was going on at the time so that helped, and our ability to do media really helped too.”
Is Bluejuice’s musical skill ever washed out by the general onstage theatrics? “I think the real player would know there’s some good playing in there, bro. If [people are] distracted by that then I hope they’re distracted in a good way and enjoying the show, and I hope other people can just chill and listen to the rhythm section – I think all of that comes across. We’re such a dance-orientated band that I think if you’re coming to see us and we haven’t made an impression, then we’re not doing our jobs right – and we’ve spent a long time trying to do our jobs right. Rationally and risk-assessment wise I think we’re doing OK.”
A risk the band wasn’t in a position to assess was the departure of keyboard player Craib. “It was scary because he is so talented and he was such a big part of what the band do. But we knew there was a way to overcome it. Bands have replaced people before, you know; it’s happened.”
If AC/DC could go on then anybody can. “Definitely,” Stone agrees. “When you think about that, if you have to replace a vocalist, that’s a big ask. Luckily AC/DC were primarily a rhythm section and even though Bon Scott was almost definitely one of the greatest rock’n’roll frontmen in history, Brian Johnson came in and does a great job. We’ve got a lot of songs there and I knew we could get past it and make them work. Our front of house engineer strangely enough said, ‘I’ll give it a go,’ and we were like, ‘But you’re our front of house guy,’ and he was like, ‘Yeah, but I can play keys’ – and suddenly he was playing our whole set and we were like, ‘Whoahhh’. He’s been the biggest surprise because he wasn’t even playing with us before and now he’s nailing our set. So yeah, I feel good about everything.”
With Craib having left the group many months ago and the single only just being released, I ask Stone whether it feels like when you’ve just gotten over a break-up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, and then you run into someone and have to tell the story all over again. “Strangely, there are people coming [to shows] who’ve been coming for a long time, who’ll be like, ‘Where’s Jerry?’ but they already know he’s left because I’m sure they’ve already been on the Facebook page and got Jamie’s [Cibej, bass] very funny letter,” Stone chuckles. “The relationship analogy is a good one – because it is like that, which is a shame because I don’t get to see Jerry that much anymore. But he’s doing the law school thing and working at APRA and has a lot of stuff going on, which is a good thing.”
Alongside ex-sound guy Alex Gooden, session muso Cameron Bruce is also replacing Craib for live shows. “I understand that people want to know whether we’re still the same band. We won’t be the same band; Jerry was a completely different player to the other two guys although Cameron is probably closer to Jerry; he’s not as interested in funk. Alex is great and they’re both, well – Cameron can do the set and make it sound like Jerry, and [Alex] does a different thing … At the moment, we kind of have two touring bands – one with Ivan [Jordan] and Cameron … and [in the other band] we have Alex and James [Hauptmann], our original drummer. There’s a degree of everyone having a go here and it seems to be really working. I know which one I’m most comfortable with and I’m not going to say. At the same time there’s a workable format with both setups. If you know the band, you’ll know some patches are different and some parts are being played differently but it’s essentially the same.”
BY KRISSI WEISS