Naruto, DiCaprio, and Musical Genre-Blending: An Interview with Juice

Juice © Off Season Creative
Juice © Off Season Creative
Now well out of college and freshly settled in New York City, Juice are launching their next career phase with a pair of new singles “Konoha” and “DiCaprio (Love Me All the Time)” that illustrate their longtime creative tendencies.
Stream: ‘Konoha’ – Juice

Juice have sure come a long way since the last time they spoke with Atwood Magazine.

Back then, in 2018, the members of the group were in their final semester together at Boston College and were piecing together their debut EP, Workin’ on Lovin.’ Since the days of that album and its lead single, “Sugar,” these musicians have continued to produce new material (they added a new EP, you are simply magnificent, to their catalogue last summer), toured extensively (they spent a year-and-a-half driving around in their minivans on a nationwide tour), and relocated to New York City after several years based in Boston.

Konoha - Juice
Konoha – Juice

It’s clearly been quite an active period for this group – which consists of Ben Stevens (vocals), Christian Rose (violin, vocals), Kamau Burton (vocals, acoustic guitar), Daniel Moss (guitar), Michael Ricciardulli (guitar), Rami El-Abidin (bass), and Miles Clyatt (drums). Yet their creative friendship has persevered the whole time, as demonstrated by their most recent output. Juice’s first track of 2020 was “DiCaprio (Love Me All The Time),” and that was quickly followed by “Konoha.”

Both songs reveal the group’s penchant for combining multiple genres at once in their music – rap, rock, indie-pop and R&B among them – as well as some of their cultural preferences. Konoha, it turns out, is the name of the title character’s home in the Japanese anime series Naruto, which the members of Juice were big fans of while growing up. The song draws lyrical inspiration from the themes of acceptance and community-building which are central to Naruto.

Atwood Magazine caught up with Christian Rose of Juice to learn more about the group’s latest releases and where they may be headed next now that they are both in a new city and busy crafting a new record.

Watch: “DiCaprio (Love Me All the Time)” – Juice


Atwood Magazine:The last time Atwood spoke with you back in 2018, you had just put out the single ''Sugar'' and the accompanying EP, Workin' on Lovin'. What have been some major events that have defined the two-year period since then?

Juice: It feels like a lifetime since we put out “Sugar,” really. I think moving from place to place might make it feel like there’s more time passing than there actually is. We’ve been on tour a few times since then, and we’ve gotten to see some really interesting places and meet some memorable people. A few shows really made lasting impressions: in Boston, in California, in New York City, in Milwaukee, in Chicago, going to Toronto for the first time, on Nantucket, in Florida, and the list goes on.

The release of our last project, “you are simply magnificent,” was certainly defining for us. Putting an EP together is always an emotionally involved process, and I think that we were all proud of what ended up out in the world when we finished working on that one. Most recently, in January, we put out a song called “DiCaprio” [also known as “Love Me All The Time” or “DiCaprio (Love Me All The Time)”] and an accompanying music video. We always talk about how we’re kind of a boyband, and that song really leans into that energy. Among other things, it’s pure, unadulterated fun.

In general, I think that every time we’ve gotten to release new music, it’s allowed us to explore more of our identity as a band, and it’s allowed people who listen to Juice to learn more about who we are.

You started off in Boston and now are based in New York. What has the transition from one city to the next been like? How have you been able to operate as musicians similarly and differently in each place?

Juice: Our experiences in Boston and New York are fundamentally different in a lot of ways. We were still in college for the most part when we lived in Boston, and so we spent a lot of time there playing show after show just learning how to be a band. We were lucky to be in a situation where our new college friends would come to watch us play. We were even luckier that they kept coming, especially in the early days when we hadn’t necessarily figured out all the logistics of playing live shows. Boston, with all its rock clubs and music history, played a big part. Even if we weren’t putting on a great show every night, people from our school got a chance to have a unique night out in Boston whenever we played. I’ll always be grateful to Lionel, the man who booked our first venue show at the Middle East Upstairs.

There are so many people that made it possible for us to exist and improve in Boston. Our first producer, Donald Spongberg, made our first release, “Where I Wanna Be,” sound better than we could have imagined at the time. He’s a savant, and we still work with him sometimes to this day, even though we’re generally in New York. There were lots of incredible artists in Boston, too, who we played shows with and who helped us to start to understand how to do this thing we’re doing.

In New York, we’ve still done plenty of growing as artists and improving our craft, but since we’ve now established that we’re a real band that exists, the city’s role in our lives is different than Boston’s was. When we lived in Queens this past fall we didn’t play any shows in New York, we just wrote a bunch of songs using our lives as context. Living in and around the city– we’ve done White Plains, Queens, Stamford, CT, Rye, Suffern, and spent significant time at studios in Brooklyn– is a really deep and colorful thing. One day, we might have all stayed in the Queens house; the next day, I might have been street performing while Miles interned in a Manhattan studio; the next day, we might have all gone to see a show. For me, New York represents an infinity of potential and a million tiny little worlds, and it’s all helped Juice continue to grow.

Juice © Samuel David Katz
Juice © Samuel David Katz

You're making a push to move beyond your initial label as a ''college band.'' What are some major steps you are taking to get others to embrace your new identity?

Juice: I think that the label of “college band” has naturally started to fade away as we’ve grown and released music and grown some more. We were a college band, once. We were in college and we were a band, and then we weren’t in college anymore. There are certainly things that we want people to understand about us that being labeled as a college band makes it harder to communicate, but people can listen to our music and feel what they feel and think what they think. Hopefully, as more people discover the band that we’re growing into, they’ll hear the songs and the songs will make them feel things… then they’ll come to our shows with all the people who think of us as a college band, and they’ll all dance together.

A common thread throughout much of your music is the fusion of numerous genres into single tracks. What are some steps that you take in the studio to ensure that you are effectively combining each of your styles?

Juice: Great question. All of these are great. Umm, it depends. When we’re writing the songs, we’re not sitting there like, “yeah, let’s throw in some hip-hop and some alt rock this time.” Instead, it kind of naturally just comes together as whatever it comes together as. It gets kind of tricky in the studio, though, because there are genre-based tools you can use to effectively communicate whatever aspect of the song you’ve decided is important.

It’s really easy for stuff to fall flat if it doesn’t sound as good as other things that people recognize that are similar to it. By the same logic, you can make something feel really familiar and powerful by getting the bass to sound more like this reference or that one. We usually just try to sit with songs and tweak them until they’re satisfying our various understandings of what they should sound like.


What the origins of your passion for anime that inspired your latest single, ''Konoha''? What are the key ways in which that passion structured the song?

Juice: I started watching Naruto with my brothers when I was in 6th grade, I think. Cartoon Network used to, and they may still, do this thing called “Toonami” where, at 8pm or 9pm on Friday nights, they would show a bunch of English-dubbed Japanese anime. I think a number of the Juice guys watched Naruto at that time, but I was totally enthralled. My brother Alex discovered that you could go online and watch the original version in Japanese with English subtitles, and that it was hundreds of episodes ahead of the version they were showing on Cartoon Network, so I went ahead and watched all of that.

Naruto carried on releasing new episodes all the way up until I was a senior in college, when the show ended, and I was watching the whole time. My senior year, around the time that the show ended, my roommates, some of my bandmates, and I watched Naruto from beginning to end together as a group throughout the year… and it was one of the most memorable experiences I will ever have as a human being.

When I was in middle school and high school, I remember lots of people being made fun of for being anime fans. It had, at least in my experience, a stigma of foreignness and childishness, and I was maybe even a little ashamed of my relationship with the show. Naruto is, for all intents and purposes, a cartoon about ninjas. Anime is a really cool form, though, and while something can be a cartoon about ninjas on one hand, it can also be a vast and complex coming of age story that inspires millions of people.

When we grow up, when we’re in middle school and high school and beyond, there are anxieties, depressions, monsters and enemies that seep into almost all of our lives. Naruto was growing up with me and dealing with a lot of things while I was, and he was doing it the same way a lot of us do: by making friends and believing in who he was when nobody else was going to. I think a lot of people who fell in love with the Naruto story did so because it’s about how much you can accomplish even if you feel isolated or inadequate. On top of the battles that all young people fight to feel like they belong, even watching the show and being an “anime kid” can make it feel like Naruto is fighting for you. 

“Konoha” is not a song about Naruto or anime, but the themes in the lyrics and the energy in the music are reminiscent of what Konoha represents in the Naruto story. Konoha, short for Konohagakure no sato, loosely translates to “The Village Hidden in the Leaves”. Konoha is Naruto’s home, and throughout the story, Naruto makes friends, grows up, and falls in love all in and around the village. His journey to become his best self (see: hokage) becomes intertwined with the village and the people who he develops relationships with. “Konoha,” the song, speaks to growth, to love, to community in a lot of the same ways, lyrically and musically.

What made you choose ''Konoha'' and ''DiCaprio (Love Me All the Time)'' as a one-two punch with which to start the new year?

Juice: They were the songs that we were collectively the most excited about that were the closest to being finished : )

You have one live EP, recorded at the Middle East Tavern in Cambridge, MA. Of all the concerts you've given, what was it about that one that made you keen to remodel it as a live album? Are there any other performances of yours, either past or upcoming, with which you can envision doing the same?

Juice: Honestly? It’s so hard to get a live recording that can accurately capture the energy of a live show. We’ll put out another one eventually, but I couldn’t say what or when. I remember that Middle East show being really fun and high energy, and I was surprised that the live recording turned out to be listenable because sometimes you know we be yellin’ ‘n stuff instead of singing the parts because we can’t hear anything

Juice © 2020
Juice © 2020

How's the development of the new EP going? What can fans expect from this upcoming project?

Juice: I’m as excited about the music on this EP as I’ve been about anything we’ve ever done as a band. “Konoha” and “DiCaprio” don’t necessarily prepare you for the rest of the songs, either. It’s different from what we’ve done in the past, but it’s still the same ol’ us.

Stream: ‘Konoha’ – Juice

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Konoha - Juice

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