Studio: Juice


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by Brett Levine, Photo by Ryan Russell, Styling by Mindi Shapiro Levine

Juice

“I guess if we had to describe ourselves it would be funk metal jams with a side of jazz,” laugh Juice, a five member rock band currently garnering a lot of buzz in Birmingham.  The band – bassist Aaron Shapiro, drummer Yitzi Peetluk, keyboardist Brent McCullough, and guitarists Michael Harp and David Brockington – is promoting its debut self-titled album while preparing to record a second in December.

Even the idea that these five friends, all juniors or seniors in high school, would be at this point in their career seemed a distant dream when Harp and Shapiro began playing together four years ago.  “We were playing as a duo in a local restaurant,” Harp explains, “but we knew we wanted to expand into a fuller band, we just didn’t know what form it might take.”

Luck struck in the form of Yitzi Peetluk, Shapiro’s cousin, who found his way to drumming in an unusual way.  “The real story is that I was a ranked drummer in Rock Band,” Peetluk explains, to laughter from his bandmates.  “I told my aunt I could play, but no one seemed to believe me.  After I showed her what I could do on some random drums at her house, she bought me a set of electric drums the next day.”  For a year Peetluk practiced at home, making light of the progress he was making.  Finally, he had the chance to jam with Harp and Shapiro, who were literally blown away.

At the same time, the band was set to headline a fundraiser, “Spartan Jam for Special Needs,” but they realized they still needed to be larger.  They found an additional guitarist, and keyboardist Brent McCullough became part of the core group from that point forward.  “We were finding that we had an unusual chemistry as players, and we wanted to see how far we could take it.”  Spartan Jam, which raised over $40,000 for special education services for the Mountain Brook City Schools, also served as the band’s notice that they were excited to give back to their community right from the outset.  As a side note, all proceeds from Juice’s debut album sales on iTunes are being donated directly to the Red Cross for Alabama tornado relief.

Further changes in the lineup ended with the addition of guitarist David Brockington.  “I was invited over to Michael’s house to jam,” Brockington smiles, “but I realized it was really an audition.”  Jeffrey Shapiro, the band’s manager and booking agent, was working with the band to find the final piece to the puzzle.  “What I didn’t know,” Brockington muses, “was that they were scheduled to play a major show at Alabama Adventure in three days!”  It went well, and band had finally entered into what has proved to be its most durable phase.

Unusually, each band member comes from a divergent musical background.  “I’m influenced a lot by funk and jazz,” Shapiro explains, a fact made more evident by his work with local jazz master Ray Reach.  “My playing style comes from the intersection of hip-hop and metal,” Peetluk remarks.  Brockington, sitting in a Grateful Dead t-shirt, says that he’s as influenced by jam bands as he is by metal, while Harp’s playing explores everything from hip-hop to indie rock.

What this means is that their composition and arrangement style is as much a matter of compromise as it is a commitment to one style or genre.  “For me,” McCullough remarks, “it’s much more about being able to play music with these guys than it is about playing a particular style of music.”  Songs like “Jazzy Jam” from the first album showcase this hybrid approach, as does “Tuscan Kiss”, their first original composition.

For now, these motivated students and musicians (they each maintain A or A/B averages as well as find time for their many musical commitments) intend to continue writing, arranging and performing.  So far, their focus and intensity have led to both opportunities to work with established, world-class musicians, and to gain commercial representation through Southeastern Attractions – quite an achievement for musicians their age.  Their devoted social networking presence, via the Juice Facebook page, provides fans  both local and national the chance to preview new works, to relive earlier performances and to link directly to iTunes for their album.

When asked what the future might hold for Juice, given their ages and opportunities, each has his own perspective.  “With all of my commitments to academics, Juice helps keep me sane,” laughs Harp.  McCullough continues, “Apart from anything else, these friendships will last.”  Whatever the case, for the foreseeable future Juice intends to simply keep moving forward, to keep squeezing the creativity out of themselves and each other.  “Basically our music is simply the accumulation of five people in one part,” McCullough explains.  “Yes, that’s true,” Peetluk interjects.  “The one thing we all agree on is simply our love for music.”•

Find them at www.facebook.com/JUICEband

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