No-one wants to be alone, but company can be complicated. Whether you’re talking about your romantic, social or professional life, sometimes you’ve got to work together to get things done.
On their third album, BLUEJU!CE were driven to exceed expectations. Working with the best session players and co-writers in Australia, the ﬁve piece group expanded the instrument list and put everything on the line in order to produce the energetic, modern pop record they’ve always threatened to make but never previously delivered. Until now.
New album Company sees the band trawl every and any avenue for inspiration, from classic hits radio like Phil Collins, Thin Lizzy, Steely Dan, The Style Council, Eurythmics, Steve Winwood and Billy Joel, to RnB and dance, Boyz II Men, Mark Morrison and Cameo, ‘90s house acts like E.M.F.,‘60s Stax and Motown, and inspiring modern pop and rock like Spoon, The Strokes, Phoenix, Little Dragon and LCD Soundsystem.
The effect is an album that is steeped in love for the genres and traditions of pop music, utilising studio tricks and techniques to embellish the energy that the band is known for.
Jake Stone and Stavros Yiannoukas swap lead vocals, matching and harmonising their opposing vocal tones. Musical director Jeremy Craib brings his innate multi-instrumental facility to a variety of songs with strong foundations grounded in piano and keyboards. While bassist Jamie Cibej and drummer James Hauptmann introduce electronics, drum replacement and other new toys to help motivate the dance floor and beat back-beat boredom.
Sometime between their previous ARIA-nominated release, Head Of the Hawk and this new one, BLUEJU!CE needed to grow. That didn’t mean dropping the sense of humour that has kept the members together. Instead they needed to learn how to record at a higher level. BLUEJU!CE had to become a studio band as well as a live proposition.
“We realised that we’ve never made a great album, from start to finish,” says Stav. “Increasingly we’re a pop band and wanted to make Company as big as possible. It was all about serving the songs – whether it needed horns, session musicians or girl’s voices – we didn’t want to limit ourselves, so we built a community up around it.”
Jake spent a wonderful couple of days writing with Alex Burnet from Sparkadia. Act Yr Age and Shock came out of that period.
“Alex Burnet is a great friend and a songwriting/production weapon. We had a great couple of days hanging out at his parents’ house playing the piano and just talking music. I was increasingly feeling old, so Act Yr Age seemed a logical joke, while Shock happened while I was having a cold shower and thinking of Phil Collins,” says Stone.
Stone also fulﬁlled a personal dream by writing a song with The Presets’ singer/songwriter Julian Hamilton - the Steve Winwood-inspired On My Own.
“It was a really intimidating initially, but Julian made the whole thing easy. We talked about Joe Jackson and Steve Winwood and how big, sentimental synth-ballads could be awesomely cheesy and incredibly sincere at the same time. We wanted to write a classic radio song - a ballad that didn’t shy away from expansive emotions.”
Alex Burnet and Julian Hamilton helped the band shape the songwriting before instrumentalists such as Thomas Rawle (Papa Vs Pretty), jazz guitarists Ben Hauptmann, Aaron Flower, vocalists Elana Stone, Zoe Hauptmann and Yael Stone fleshed out Company’s orchestral feel. On Shock and Act Yr Age, UK producer Blue May worked with Alex Burnet to give the songs a big European pop sensibility. While producer-in-chief Eric J. Dubowsky (Weezer, Art Vs Science) took the controls with assistant JP Fung (Last Dinosaurs, Little Red). Company was mixed in the UK by Grammy winning engineer Adrian Bushby (Foo Fighters, New Order, My Bloody Valentine).
Company depicts the struggles and humanity of everyday life - the shock of break-ups, the way personalities resist change and the gap between reality and our romantic, social and professional aspirations. In short, the highs and lows of human interaction.
While BLUEJU!CE are often portrayed as pranksters, there’s a depth to their intelligence, drive and musicianship that doesn’t always shine in the light of, say, the skipping team video of previous gold single Broken Leg, or the man pash that shocked Mel and Koshie on Sunrise. To say BLUEJU!CE are a dichotomy would be an understatement.
Take opener, Can’t Keep Up - a green eyed monster of a song about Jake’s jealousy of contemporaries and previous tour mates The Jezabels. “Jake always has a band muse in one form or other,” says Stav, “a band he’s jealous of. [Usually]bands that he loves and talks positively about – there’s also a side where he’s jealous of their ability to be easily successful.”
In fact, jealousy powers Company. You can hear the motif repeated in Dressed For Success and Aspen, New York, where friends go on to do great things while our protagonist ponders his existence alongside the schoolgirls and yummy mummies of that most un-rock’n’roll of Sydney suburbs, Balmain. Then there’s You Haven’t Changed, a song about, “a girl I was obsessed with for ﬁve years,” according to Jake.
“When we stopped being friends I kept writing about her anyway. She’d broken up with someone and I wanted to say, ‘Ha ha, you’re not that great’ – really sour grapes – and then I realised the song was about me.’
A BLUEJU!CE record wouldn’t be complete without some wincingly appraising relationship talk. Whether it be I’ll Put You On, about a palm reader in New York and Jake’s fascination with sex magick; Kinda Evil, which relates Stav’s jealousy as he was DJ-ing one day and watching his girl play up on the dance floor; or Cheap Trix, the Cameo-meets-Scissor Sisters burn-up in which female protagonists assess the liars in their lives.
Stav’s diet of “daggy” ’90s R&B and Jake’s cheesy pop ethic makes this an album designed for dancing. From brass-infused number The Recession (“our disco ode to the global financial crisis”) to more thoughtful and expansive closer On My Own.
These sonic mood swings are what make BLUEJU!CE so compelling; a fundamental lack of control that deﬁnes one of Australia’s most energetic and emotionally unpredictable bands. After ten years of music, BLUEJU!CE are a dysfunctional family to whom music is basically group therapy.
It’s no wonder that they chose to call their third album Company.