Litstyle, Music, Music Feature

Hallelujah, Rejoice: You’re Going to be Okay

A Consideration of the Band, Juxton Roy

By Samuel Fox

On the corner of Dawson and Cabarrus, a line starts outside the door of a grungy, dimly lit dive bar. There is little parking if any, and patrons park some three blocks away down the street. There is one doorman and one bouncer outside the bar, lit by an open sign illuminating the name of the bar: Deep South. The outside patio is a thin strip of people, chain-smoking. The chink of beer glasses and the faraway sound of ambulance sirens fills the area. There is a tension in the air, an excitement. After paying the doorman and receiving a green wristband, one must scoot to the outside to avoid the ATM and the coin machine partially blocking the entrance way. The only pool table in the bar has been moved toward the wall and repurposed as a merch table. There are quotes from famous singer/songwriters and band in white across the walls: Bon Jovi, Queen, AC/DC, Joan Jett, and Echo & the Bunnymen to name a few. The multicade stands unoccupied behind the sound booth. The room is dimly lit with red and blue lighting. People stand about speaking loudly under the sound of the stereo speakers playing Smashmouth (an inside joke with several of the bands playing later in the evening).

Pabst Blue Ribbon is $2.50; the house tequila is a brand called Juarez; the popular mixed drink of choice is Disco Lemonade (named after the lyric in Sex and Candy by Marcy Playground). The only working television is mounted above the bar: Men in Black is on and Will Smith is toting a large plasma gun. The bartender smiles and wears a shortly cropped haircut. I ask her if she’s excited for the show.

“I am – Juxton Roy and Earther always brings a packed house.”

X

“Are you alright, Jay?”

JS Ray gags a little as we walk up to the venue. They put a finger in the air and excuses theirself and runs around an alley way. The sound of spitting. JS returns and chuckles a bit.

“I always get anxious before a show. It won’t matter once I’m on stage. It’s just something I’m used to.”

“Wait until you start selling out a larger venue,” I reply.

“That’s in the future. I’m not worried about that until we get to that point.”

X

The poster on the bulletin board in the bar pictures a man wearing a horse mask sitting on a park bench. The lineup: Canadian Airports, followed by Basement Life, Juxton Roy, and the headliner, Earther.

The crowd crescendos in volume. People gather in different areas of the bar. There is the feeling of excitement, for community, and for the artists, there is the bustle of playing and setting up equipment. Soon, the show starts, and the music fills the bar and leaks out into the night.

X

JS: “It was weird how it came together. The core three songs that really shaped the record in a weird way were Hang my Head, Only Stone, and Colorado . . . they were how we wrote the blueprint for everything else. It was kind of weird constantly evolving the songs to fit the story of what I was trying to tell and the vibe of what the band would become. The only song that never changed lyrically was Hang my Head.”

Fox: “Why do you think that is?”

JS: “Because it was honestly good the way it was created and it was written ten years ago. The first draft I found a couple of weeks ago while moving and it was still surprisingly similar. It is a powerful song in my opinion.”

Fox: “It has a lot to do with shame, right? And the chorus of the song, how does it go?”

JS: “It’s never good enough. It’s this new me covered in dust. I’d do anything, but you just walk away and I hang my head. It’s something that came to me later in life. It was written after an argument with my parents when I literally ran away from home. I was struggling with a queer identity, with depression, based around the fact I was rejecting that part about myself. The song for me is really about that spot, that place I was in after I came home, and that shame and stigma of having a mental illness, depression, anxiety, and being ashamed of being queer even though I had absolutely no reason to. It never really has a positive ending to it because it’s where the story on the record begins, where The Road is the prologue. It starts off with things Matt wrote after living a lifestyle of partying and drugs and not living up to your fullest potential. For me, the way I identified with it, is with the road less traveled lead nowhere at all.” 

Matt Braswell on drums for Juxton Roy; photo by Travis Merchant
Matt Braswell on drums for Juxton Roy; photo by Travis Merchant

 

Juxton Roy’s drummer, Matt Braswell (known affectionately as Brazzy), clicks the drumsticks and the music strums to life. Consecutive chords followed by a cheer and yeah! fills the bar. Matt Graham begins singing:

My train has come

soon I will die

I’ve got a dollar

and a pocketful of sunshine.

 

The crowd is singing along, specifically a large group of people in the front near a stage that is maybe 10×14. JS sings:

 

The road less travelled

lead nowhere at all

 

The music is heavy and fills the entire bar. The group up front have their hands up, some have lighters out in jest, there is collective clapping and the energy is rising.

 

I know I’m going to see myself

I just have to try

 

The ambient guitar’s tremolo picking fills the air. People are nodding, dancing in place. At the end of the first song in the set, the guitars fall away and JS pushes the mic into the crowd and people are singing in their place. They know the words. After their last note, Js turns their guitar around and holds it in the air. On the back of their Fender, there is blue duct tape spelling out the words, Queer AF. At this point, the entire room roars in approval.

 

X

 

Fox: “What is the idea behind the music that you as a group create?”

 

M. Graham: “It’s a bit of a complicated question, as there are a lot of elements that play into our music, but the general idea is reminding people that they’re not alone. We’ve all been in places in our lives where we’ve felt alone, and sometimes all we need is someone singing or talking about the thing that you’re feeling for you to know that you aren’t and that its gonna be okay because at the end of the day if someone feels the same as you do you know that you’re not weird or some kind of freak. That you’ll be okay.”

 

Fox: “When you say feeling alone, what kind of isolation? Is there something specific?”

 

M. Graham: “When things about you are considered deviations from the norm, such as mental illness or being members of the LGBT community, or even general feelings of sadness or pain it can be incredibly isolating. You feel like no one understands you; which is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with. What we talk about is that it’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to hurt, it’s okay to be different, but you’re going to be okay. You’re different, unique, and that’s good.”

 

left to right: Charles Holt, JS Ray, Kevin Headrick, and Matt Graham; photo by Travis Merchant
left to right: Charles Holt, JS Ray, Kevin Headrick, and Matt Graham; photo by Travis Merchant

The song Colorado begins, and I’m immediately struck by the country twang in the lead guitar and the influences of older country rock. At this point, people have come in from chain-smoking and are crowding the room in the front and gathering in the back. The song continues and, eventually, Charles, the lead guitarist, shreds out an incredible solo sharp within a higher octave. The song winds down, and ambient guitar is filling the room. A chant goes up within the room:

 

“Fux wit Jux! Fux wit Jux! Fux wit Jux!”

 

I track down the origin of the phrase later. It was created by Ryan Day, a local emerging comedian, male romper enthusiast, and close friend with Juxton Roy. Although, the band business manager and self-proclaimed biggest fan of Juxton Roy, Jonas, can be heard laughing as the phrase gets louder, repeats, gets louder, and repeats.

 

X

 

Fox: “Being the biggest fan, and manager, of Juxton Roy, what is your favorite song and why?”

 

Jonas: “It’s a difficult question for me to answer because I think that I have a weird perspective on the band. I’ve been here since they all started taking it seriously, and I connected with Hang my Head first. They dedicate this song to me live every time they play it, appropriately and inappropriately (M. Graham in the background: We love you Jonas). It encompasses everything I love about them as a band. It’s all about . . . the past is like a demon man. It can haunt you. The song Hallelujah tells me not to fear it as much and it says to me that I don’t have to fear it as much. It’s important that you learn from yourself. It also just fucking rips. It slaps. The vocals, the drums, the guitar riffs, it just comes together and represents them all as people.

 

When you listen to their music, it feels like you’ve won. They talk about pain as though you will overcome it. That’s what they do for me; that’s what their music makes for me. When I’m there in the audience, I feel a part of something deeply personal. I legitimately listen to them every day. Its deeply cathartic. I haven’t been to a single show and not cried at least once.”

 

Fox: “So, basically, from what you’re saying, if you come to a Juxton Roy show, even if you don’t believe in Jesus, is like arriving at a come-to-Jesus-meeting?”

 

Jonas: “If you can relate to it at all, it can’t not be cathartic.”

 

JS Ray: “Do you think you would feel that way had I not sent you all the lyrics the day before we recorded this record? Like, without that personal connection, do you think you would feel this way?”

 

Jonas: “Can you lead sing this question, please?”

 

There is a collective fit of laughter between the four of us.

 

Jonas: “The only difference is that I gave it the time. I didn’t have to. I gave it time, and you earned my patience even though you didn’t need it. I connected with it immediately. I try to tell JS at least once a month that I connect with your music besides being the manager. I want as many people to connect to this music just as I did.”

 

Fox: “How, Jonas, do you feel that Juxton Roy’s formation has changed you. Their music, their presence, their lyrics?”

 

Jonas: “You two both stay silent (he looks at both Matt Graham and JS Ray with a glare) because there’s no way to answer this question without sounding incredibly dramatic. I would have to say that, within all intents and purposes, they have literally saved my life. Their music came when I hit a new rock bottom, and, you know what man, I didn’t understand what the point was anymore. It gave me something I didn’t know I wanted. It gave me something to look forward to. It gave me more passion once I was included into the family. Their music speaks to anyone in a point in their life when they want to quit. Why are you so afraid of that? I was afraid to try. You listen to Hang my Head, a song about how you feel like you aren’t worth a second chance. You listen to The Road and you feel like you can figure this out. You listen to Only Stone and its just like fuck that! I’m going to do what I feel like I’m supposed to do. I’m going to live with everyone around me that I love and I got that out of this band in a time when I was either going to live my life as a miserable sack of shit or I wasn’t going to live it at all. That’s what this band has done for me.”

 

Fox: “When you’re at a Juxton Roy show, how does it feel in the room?”

 

Jonas: “It’s like going to a wake and the person in the casket wakes up and fucking rocks your face off. You’re sad, you’re emotional, and thinking about loss and pain, and just giving up, and the person or thing you need the most resurrects and puts on a fucking fantastic show that sticks with you.”

 

Fox: “So, it makes you feel alive?”

 

Jonas: “Yeah. It makes me want to feel alive.”

 

M. Graham: “So our shows are like My Chemical Romance’s Helena music video?”

 

Jonas: “Yes, but without the shitty ballet.”

 

M. Graham: “You ever seen a fat man in an overcoat dance ballet? I can demonstrate.”

 

Jonas: “But, it’s also about being in a room that feels as personal as a Juxton Roy show does. Whether it’s a damp record store or a dive bar, I’ve never been able to look in the singer’s eyes and know that they’re singing for themselves. It looks like medicine when JS is on stage; and that, in turn, feels like medicine for me.” 

lead singer, JS Ray of Juxton Roy; photo by Travis Merchant

JS begins speaking into the mic. “Thank you everyone who is here and has come out,” they begin. “Let me just say whoever you are, that you are here and you are loved. Keep being who you are and do what you’re doing, whatever it may be that keeps you living. We love you.”

 

The music starts for the third song. Slower, a lingering eeriness in the chords and JS begins singing. I was most struck by the consecutive lines “why can’t I be right this time or the next?” and “why can’t this little light of mine just stay lit?” Hang my Head continues into an explosive series of chorus and verses. Soon, everyone in the audience is banging their heads or have hands in the air. Jonas can be seen in the front on his toes, though he is at least six feet tall, jiving to the music.

 

And I stopped praying ‘cause I lost all my hope

and I got so high at times I got to come down

 

The audience has almost all conglomerated into the bar and is packing into the front near the stage. People in the front have placed their arms around each other and are swaying.

 

it’s never good enough

I guess I’m shit out of luck

I’d do anything but you just walk away

so I hang my head, hang my head in shame

 

I notice Jonas wipes a hand over his eye. I notice JS has his eyes closed. I notice that in all of this, no one has lifted a drink to their mouth. All eyes are on the five band members in front of them.

 

X

 

Fox: “Tell me the story of how Juxton Roy formed. How did the emotions behind the songs become pertinent to form the band? What lead you to need to start the band?”

 

JS: “There was a need for me to write these songs after E died. There wasn’t quite a need to form a band; however, we were playing together and it didn’t become a need until we all realized we were really good and worked well together.”

 

Fox: “Tell me about E. Who were they? How does this fit into the formation of Juxton Roy?”

 

JS: “E was a close friend to me who I lived with between 2016-2017. A little over a year, year and a half basically. I had known E since high school, met in 2010 and kept up with each other and E was friends with my first girlfriend and we eventually moved into a house together with a friend of ours named John Santor.”

 

M Graham: “Juan-scantron.”

 

JS: “But, anyway, me and E were close. E was queer. I feel like E knew a lot about who I was before I did. We were close and friends and when E died it deeply affected me. It came out of fucking nowhere. For the record, I won’t discuss how or why out of respect for E’s family. It really broke my head in a way and made me feel this need to be me and live my life and starting the band and writing this music was a big part of that. I didn’t know until this band came together that it affected me. I’ve been writing the music since I was eleven. But, I knew I had to do something to be myself in a creative way and live my life.”

 

X

 

“This is a new song. It has not yet been recorded. I hope you all enjoy it: it’s titled Flatlining.”

 

A collective cheer goes up. Hands go up and are swaying. The music is a fast, grunge filled anthem to being oneself no matter what, no matter who says someone goddam can’t. JS voice is easily heard, but more so at the end of the song when the drums and guitar drop out. JS remains the sole voice in the room. I get goosebumps. People are rooted in place as though magic has stuck their Chuck Taylors, boots, or high tops to the ground. The feeling has completely changed in the room. People are turning to each other. People are smiling at one another.

 

This is when I feel it. I want more. The crowd wants more. The audience is present in this moment together and they know it. Whoever from wherever and however they arrived here, the room has become a reality no one in it can turn from. This is happening. It feels like we belong here.

 

X

 

Fox: “Okay, so this is the part of the interview where I speed date each member of the band. This is the Juxton Roy edition. Matt, it’s your turn. I ask ten questions and you answer as quickly as possible. It starts right now. What’s your favorite food?”

 

M Graham: “Pizza.”

 

Fox: “Why pizza?”

 

M Graham: “Because I’m a pop-punk kid at heart and I’m lazy and ordering pizza is easy.”

 

Fox: “Last heartbreak?”

 

M Graham: “Pass . . . well, no – the breakup of Letlive. I mean, it’s understandable, Jason had a kid.”

 

Fox: “Favorite sexual position?”

 

M Graham: “Napping alone.”

 

Fox: “Nice. Most recent song you listened to as of today?”

 

M Graham: “I was actually listening to the new Basement Life record which just came out and I want to learn the lyrics so I can point and shout them back at them at their performance.”

 

Fox: “Favorite beer and/or liquor drink.”

 

M Graham: “My favorite beer is PBR. Then, an old fashion or a hottie totty but only if JS makes it.”

 

Fox: “Favorite color and why?”

 

M Graham: “Red because of my brain washing and indoctrination here being close to NC State. It’s engrained in me, it’s in my blood. Literally. I’ve injected chips of the exact wall paint into my blood.”

 

Fox: “Favorite album cover?”

 

M Graham: “This is going to sound cliché as fuck, but it’s Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. It’s so simple and elegant and says what it needs to say while saying absolutely nothing. It’s absolutely gorgeous. Also, David Gilmour and I share a birthday, just a fun little fact.”

 

Fox: “What is it you hope for?”

 

M Graham: “I hope I just keep getting to make music with the people I love.”

 

Fox: “What makes you rejoice?”

 

M Graham: “That feeling that I get when we finish something new, a new song and everything’s come together, and I get to feel our music come together for the first time. It’s this awesome feeling of completion I don’t get anywhere else.”

 

X

 

The word rejoice comes up a lot in the social media hashtags when it comes to Juxton Roy. I looked up the Juxton Roy Instagram page, and found several different posts utilizing the word.

 

This month we’re at @schoolkidsrecords in Raleigh with our buddies in @foxtureband and @lazarispit. Come on out and show the vinyl heads y’all know how to #rejoice.

 

. . . We’re deeply honored and very excited to be playing this huge festival (Hopscotch) our first year as a band. So come on jux bois and grrls, lets show Hopscotch how we #rejoice.

 

We’re incredibly blessed to be part of such a great community of bands, fans, and friends. Thank you so much for last night to all of you. Let’s see each other again soon. #rejoice #fuxwitjux

 

In all of this, the word rejoice comes up repeatedly. It’s not something I as a fan or music enthusiast have seen very often. It’s something I do feel. however, whenever I’m with the Juxton Roy members. They act like family. They care about everyone that comes to their shows, new or familiar. The take their time to talk to everyone. Ask about everyone’s lives. To care about something larger than themselves, namely a community of people who thrive off the music of their generation.

 

X

 

 

JS switches guitars and announces the next song title: Hallelujah. The song is a slower, solemn original dirge to a relationship long over. There is a rising of tension in the music toward the end of the song when it feels everything is happening so fast. The wall of noise, intricate and yet like a fugue, hits its height in the bridge and, suddenly, I hear it. The word. Rejoice. I am sweating in the bar room and yet shivering. This is what passion is. Despite all the pain and agony of this one life, despite misunderstanding, despite judgement and deliberate ignorance on the behalf of others, here is something I can hope and can believe in: these five men, on this stage, singing their hearts out and playing until their fingers bleed. 

left to right: JS Ray, Kevin Headrick, and Matt Graham; photo by Travis Merchant
left to right: JS Ray, Kevin Headrick, and Matt Graham; photo by Travis Merchant

Fox: “What do you hope for?”

 

JS; “A lot of things . . . I hope Juxton takes off and my love life and personal life gets its shit together.”

 

Fox: “What makes you rejoice?”

 

JS: “Any fucking moment that is good. I appreciate all the good that happens in my life. To rejoice is the action of expressing joy.”

 

X

 

Fox: “What do you hope for?”

 

Jonas: “I hope I figure all this shit out eventually.”

 

Fox: “What makes you rejoice?”

 

Jonas: “My friends and my family and the support of people I love and people who have grown to love me.”

 

X

 

 

In all this time that I spent with the band, I have learned that joy comes easiest when you’re with those who truly enjoy your presence. A thing like happiness is fleeting. Joy is something that accumulates: in the quiet moments of setting up a stage for a show or breaking it down to applause, in smoking a cigarette with people who know you as you are and can laugh about that with you, or in the car rides home in silence when the music is still roaring in your head. I think a lot about the moment JS holds up the back of their guitar: queer as fuck. I see it, not as a defiance, but as a rally cry. It takes courage to grow into who we really are; however, it takes more courage to do so with love in our hearts and joy on our lips. In all this time, facing who we are among everyone else on this planet, I realize it isn’t as hard as we want to make it. Maybe all I needed was a song to get me through and friends to sing it with.

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