Juiceboxxx"I have big fucked up dreams."
Spawned from the Underground, Juiceboxxx is the most pop-friendly, life-affirming musical act since Andrew WK. A self taught artist and producer from the Heartland, Juiceboxxx's output is an expression of positivity through darkness, and he is influenced as much by Bruce Springsteen as modern pop and rap. Since the age of 15, he has taken his "never-say-die" live act to 18 countries, playing in basements and stadiums alike, with acts ranging from Japanther to Public Enemy. With limited Industry support, Juiceboxxx started his own label,Thunder Zone. His label releases alongside his own mix-tapes and albums, as well as unlikely merch such as Extreme Animals VHS, hacky sacks, and energy drinks. Today, at the age of 27, Juiceboxxx is still going harder than ever, upgrading from iPod to backing band and refusing to "surrender forever."
Juiceboxxx interview, Take 1. Well, there’s only one take. So, you’re from Milwaukee, right?
Yeah, outside of Milwaukee.
What’s it like there?
You’ve never been to the Midwest before?
I went to St. Louis.
St. Louis is a little more southern. Milwaukee is the most German city in America. Part of that culture can be deeply felt in its love of beer. All my family is from the Midwest.
What do your parents do?
My dad was a high school photography teacher and my mom was a sign language interpreter at the local university. A good portion of all my family is involved in the educational system in some way. I have two aunts and two uncles that are schoolteachers.
How did you get into music?
Pretty young, pretty early. I dived in deep when I was like 11 with college radio. That was heavy for me.
What was the station?
WMSE. It’s still around. I was listening to that station for four years straight, hardcore. It was that classic college radio thing where if you listened to it all the time you get everything. There was the rave show, the punk show, the emo show. The underground rap show was happening and that was exciting. The Midwest was really happening for hip-hop music in the late 90s and early 2000s.
You had Scribble Jam happening in Cincinnati. Eminem was coming up next to a group like Atmosphere, or a rapper like Dose 1. All that stuff was kind of happening on this college radio show—that kind of late-90s underground rap.
Like Eminem when he was on Rawkus Records?
Yeah… so you’ve got an interview with a white rapper and Eminem has already come up. I fuckin’ brought it up in the first half a minute. Awesome. That’s great.
How did you start rapping?
It was just intuitive for me. I started when I was 15. Before that I played in punk bands.
What did you play?
I played drums. But I wasn’t just going to punk shows, I was going to rap shows, going to see people like Atmosphere, Del the Funky Homosapien, just whatever was happening in that sort of touring underground rap scene. These are things that seem pretty dated now, but at the time people took it very seriously.
How did you learn how to make music?
Just on a computer. Truthfully, I booked a show before I started making the music. The first show I played was at a community center in the suburb I grew up in, with this screamo band, Seven Days of Samsara, who we all worshiped. There were eight bands. I booked the show actually and I think that’s why I put myself in.
How long had you been booking shows?
I started playing in bands and booking shows when I was like 13, 14. There was a club that would do all-ages punk shows from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm, before it turned into a bar. It was just perfect when I was 14 because my parents could drop me off and pick me up and it would be done by like 8:30.
So you felt ready to be a frontman at 15?
I wanted to have an outlet to play shows. Maybe my ego was already too big to just play drums or something.
Where did the name Juiceboxxx come from?
I didn’t even come up with the name. That’s what’s so fucked up about all this. My buddy came up with it and I don't even think he was in the band. The first couple of gigs were as a three-piece, but by our third or fourth show the guys had lost enthusiasm. I didn’t want to cancel the show so I showed up and I was like, “I’m Juiceboxxx now.” I couldn't come up with a better name that day and it just stuck. It’s funny when your entire creative life is based on these stupid things you did when you were 15.
It’s like a drunk tattoo.
Yeah, I mean, I don't have any tattoos. I just have Juiceboxxx.
Did you play with an iPod?
This was pre-iPod. I mean, iPods existed, but for a long time I just had a CD player and it would skip sometimes. Those early shows were such an important outlet for me in high school. We would go on weekend tours to Chicago with friends.
How were you making your tracks?
Just pretty basic things, you know. Nothing secret. The opposite of secret... Just think of the most generic thing you use and it’s probably that.
Were there producers you were looking to for inspiration?
I was into southern rap. I was listening to The Neptunes, Timbaland. I was listening to pop music.
Did you go to college?
For a year. I don't know why. It was at the local school that my mom worked at. It was a wasted year, totally useless. Then some weird shit happened where this dude got murdered on my front porch. This was the fall of 2006. I dropped out of school pretty much instantly after that. I just didn’t want to waste any more time, so I started touring.
You’ve toured a lot since then.
It’s just one of those things where if you’re really unstable, the insanity of the road is like the most stability you ever get. That’s how I felt. I haven't had my own, real apartment in like two-and-a-half years. I just sublet places. I honestly wish I was on tour more. It’s so fucked. I was sitting in some shitty fuckin’ rock club on Friday night and I was like, “Man, I wish I was on tour right now.” Most people would be like get me the fuck out of this place. It’s covered in bad stickers and it smells like shit, but it trigged some Pavlovian impulse in me.
I bet you get better the more you play, too.
I mean, of course it just makes you better. I wouldn't be foolish enough to keep doing this if I didn’t see myself getting better. I wish I could tour more, but now I have a band and it’s harder. Back when I just had an iPod, I could get on a Greyhound bus, or jump in a van with a band that was doing well and just open for them every night.
I’ve seen your shows. They’re pretty intense.
Yeah, the shows have always been pretty aggressive. That’s always kind of been a part of it. In high school I would stop songs in the middle, there would just be like weird freak-outs. It was definitely influenced by a certain noise-punk performance style. There were very few live rap shows I can say I’ve seen that inspired me as a performer. Later on getting into like Springsteen and Prince, or touring with Public Enemy, I really saw how high the bar can be raised.
How did you end up touring with Public Enemy?
I put out a free mixtape and Public Enemy’s booking agent heard it and thought it would be funny for me to tour with them in Canada. That was really eye-opening. Before that, I didn’t think you could do bands with rap music. It just never works. But when I went on that tour I saw Public Enemy and they played for like two-and-a-half hours. They were like the rap version of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. It all kind of clicked, that if I wanted to express myself in a certain way I needed a band.
How did you get into Bruce Springsteen?
I think my gateway into Springsteen as an older teenager was Andrew W.K. I don't know if anybody else has made that connection, but I think both use language in a way that’s so definitive. They have these things they keep coming back to and they kind of build their own world. A lot of rappers were doing that around the same time, like Young Jeezy, where they would have this imagery that kind of existed within their realm, catch phrases, slogans.
This reminds me of your label, Thunder Zone. How did that start?
It’s kind of an extension of the aesthetics and the world I’ve built as Juiceboxxx. I have so many influences and I’m such a fan. It’s beyond mercy.
Yeah, I mean you guys have an energy drink.
That was kind of what started it. At the beginning I wanted to do a record label that was also an energy drink. Just something that would have excited me as a fan. To go to the website and this label is putting out rap records and energy drinks and the Extreme Animals tape and these T-shirts. Just a collection of things that could only come from one person's vision.
How did State of the Thunder Zone start?
I got an iPhone for the first time—I had a flip phone up until then. I felt like I just needed to do a project with the iPhone because I had it. 2013 was really like a dark year for me. I was not in a very good place. I just felt the need to document that energy—this shitty weekly project that was kind of terrifying to watch—extreme in a casual way.
You’ve got an album called I Don’t Want to Go into the Darkness. What is the darkness?
I don’t know. Maybe it was sort of a reaction to some communities I’ve been involved with. I’m trying to stay positive, even though I’m not always a positive person. I think it’s easy to give up on your dreams, especially as you get older. It’s easier to kind of settle into a certain zone. You have to dream big and just be psyched about the failure. Be psyched to look like an idiot.
Do you think Juiceboxxx is underground?
I don't think so. I hope not, you know what I mean? I have pop ambition. I think there’s a form of Catholic guilt—but it’s like the DIY punk rock version—from being involved in counterculture and underground music since I was like 12 or 13. I have some weird hang-ups that I have to deal with. Like, I know I wouldn’t be doing music if I wasn’t involved in that world, I owe my entire creative life to it, but at the same time I have big fucked up dreams.