All Bluejuice frontman Jake Stone wants to see is see the band’s audience happy and dancing, even though he may not be feeling that way currently, he tells Stuart Evans.
Looks can be deceiving. Take Sydney band Bluejuice, whose image and presentation is akin to an untidy pub band that enjoys rocking out in a mate's garage, annoying the locals and drinking copious amounts of booze until someone smashes the drum kit. “Yeah, that's who we are and is certainly a representation of us,” jokes vocalist Jake Stone.
It has been one hell of a crazy few years for the Sydney lads, so how have they coped? “I haven't managed to stay sane at all. The others have as they all have their lives in order.”
After doing it tough and grinding it out on the Sydney circuit for nearly a decade, in 2007 the band's fortunes changed – for the better, thanks to a song smashed by triple j. The song, Vitriol, from the equally successful debut album, Problems, gave the band a platform. Tracks The Reductionist and Phantom Boogie followed to equally positive praise. “Vitriol was an independent release and it had massive success and way beyond what we ever imagined,” reveals a candid Stone.
Still, the funk-driven tempo and retro-like key strokes heard on a number of tracks have meant classifying the band – something the media like to do – is a constant challenge. They are too scruffy for your average boy-band (not that they would want to be classified as such) and a bit too funky for traditional indie purists. Stone agrees. “You know, it's a consistent thing with us as we don't dress well,” he laughs before moving onto a more serious tilt.
“I've been in this band for over ten years and for over ten years we've tried to break down the barriers when we're onstage between us as a band and the audience. We like to see our audience happy and dance.”
Regardless of characterisations, the band can play. What you see is very much what you get – and what you get is a band that makes fun, danceable and catchy records. However, being labelled as a fun rock band still has its pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses. Even when esteemed rock rags lavish praise on their achievements, for others, taking Bluejuice as serious musicians requires effort. “Some people don't actually think about the lyrics in our songs. When you listen to some of our lyrics, they're actually fucking depressing. If I write a song about depression then I have to find the general context in which to do it. It's about finding the right mechanism and I don't know how to do it any better.”
Take hit single Broken Leg, a smart and likeable pop song with an equally funny and entertaining video coming from their second album, Head Of The Hawk. Broken Leg and the amusing skipping competition featured in the video exposed the group to a more commercial-friendly audience. The record reached #5 in triple j's Hottest 100 of 2009. But their energetic antics may be deliberate, a ploy to offset the sometimes heavy lyrics. “It's hard as we try to come across as funny and serious at the same time. The music is really the band getting everything together as the dynamics of the band are great and probably the best they've ever been.”
Stone comes across as a complex character – happy with the band's progress but frustrated things aren't moving fast enough. He readily admits he is depressed yet remains immensely proud of the band's achievements. “I'm like a fish out of water. I hate the band but love us at the same time. The band isn't working well enough as we are not winning everybody over. People don't care that we're a niche band and I am over dealing with it.”
He says he wants fans to really love the band and if it means aiming for a more commercial-friendly audience, then so be it. “I'm not going to pander to what other bands may say about aiming more commercially. Of course I would pander to a commercial audience, that is my fucking job.”
Perhaps it has been a bad morning for Stone as he comes across as a forlorn figure. “What I need is to be happy and at the moment I am not.”
According to fellow member Stav Yiannoukas, the catchiness of some of their songs is no fluke. Yiannoukas has previously said that as a group they have annoyed people for years; the only difference now is they've found a way to channel it and turn it into a positive.
Broken Leg is also an example of how adept they are in taking a difficult subject – in this case, a relationship break-up – and turning it into something very, very different. “Broken Leg is basically a break-up song as it comes from my own experience of not being able to stop thinking about my ex. It's about someone or something being continually stuck in your head. It is also about my broken leg, which was the result of a drunken night out,” he laughs.
Broken Leg earned the band two ARIA nominations, for Best Breakthrough Artist (Single) and best video for Broken Leg. In November last year, Bluejuice released their third album, Company. First track off the rack was Act Yr Age, followed by On My Own, co-written with The Presets' Justin Hamilton. It is, however, wise not to underestimate Bluejuice despite their larrikin reputation. As their success has increased, so too has the band's confidence. Knowing what the Bluejuice sound actually is and what it stands for has also evolved to encapsulate more genres and more influences. Stone's love, admiration and appreciation for Bluejuice fans becomes more apparent the longer he talks. “I want to satisfy the audience. I don't give a shit about the Footy Show audience or anything like that. The band are all geeks and hopefully when people come to see us they can all get together and have a good time.”
The success of Broken Leg has meant the band is well into phase two of their development. If phase one was about building and getting their songs out, phase two is focused on consolidation and continuous improvement. A lot of people are hearing the band for the first time, either on radio or live. For a newbie, history is largely irrelevant. Stone disagrees. “That is fine if you can satisfy the audience.” He may not be on tip-top form during this interview, but he remains ambitious: “I want to do more.”