It is almost 2 a.m. at L’Alizé. There I am, drinking alone. Indeed, the audience has hastily vacated the premises – the ungodly metro closing hours are quite restrictive. However, the show is still going. After the lamentable act of some hipster crooning sorrowfully over his acoustic guitar, Juliana & Jesse are finally on. This is the moment I have been anticipating for the past six hours: the acoustic duo of siblings Juliana and Jesse Just-Costa, accompanied by bassist Sam Robinson and drummer Jessy-James O’Neil. Although the four of them were at the venue as of 8 pm, they only get to play hours later, to a watered-down audience of four or five people. Unfortunately, the early birds seldom actually catch the worm.
Thus, as I wait by Juliana and Jesse’s side, I witness several lucky bands play during the climax of the show, with dozens of enthusiastic drinkers cheering them on. Keystorm really impresses me with their instrumentals (particularly when the latter drown out the vocals) – a special mention goes out to their incredibly dynamic bassist, Mike Russell. Jukebox Ocean, a singer-deprived math rock band (a vocalist in math rock is seldom good news) dazzles me with quite the solid drumming. However, all of these positive impressions are forgotten as soon as Juliana & Jesse go on. Even the best local groups cannot begin to compare with Jesse’s wicked guitar solo’s and Juliana’s gem of a voice. As their set begins, something incredible dawns on me. These artists are definitely not some amateur teens going through a rebellious “I’m a punk rocker with a band” phase. Juliana & Jesse are a group of serious musicians making a living off of their art – and these performers simply radiate maturity.
Hence, the petite, curly-haired Juliana mounts the stage with her tall brother sporting an amusing fedora, their Slash look-alike of a bassist and physically imposing drummer at their heels. There commences a warm, down-to-earthy set of what the siblings have labelled “urban folk” music.
Hearing Juliana Just-Costa’s voice live is quite the transfixing experience. I do not want to sound unprofessionally biased, but there truly is something about that voice… Imagine honey in an auditory form. Varying from soothingly sweet to cheeky and vibrant, this super human sound is beautifully complemented by Jesse’s soft back-up vocals. I’m just so happy that with a voice like that, Juliana sticks to writing the folk songs she loves instead of working on more mass-appealing material to sell out. And the tangibly positive band chemistry radiates human warmth throughout the whole venue; there is something so playful and contagious about the artists’ interactions.
Eventually, matters drastically intensify as Jesse and Sam start full-out jamming together because, as Juliana put it: “Long story short, I stole my brother’s metal band (Sam is his ex-bassist), so we got to let the boys rock out a bit.” Drink It Up is the perky coffee shop melody anyone would like to wake up to. Jaded Memory really emphasizes the instrumental section of the group. Although Fly may be a tad on the corny side, its chorus is undoubtedly catchy. And Juliana’s sound becomes charmingly coy during her cover of Jason Mraz’s Geek In the Pink.
To top it all off, this lovely experience was completed by one of the friendliest interviews that I have ever conducted in my life:
Nadia Blostein (NB): What made you two siblings want to collaborate on this project?
Juliana Just-Costa (Juliana): We started writing together. I was going to do the album on my own, so it was almost last minute that Jesse came in. We wrote these three or four awesome songs last summer and we decided that these had to be on the album and they were Jesse’s songs too. And he’d already helped so much with the other songs that us working together was just meant to be.
Jesse Just-Costa (Jesse): Yes, we kind of had a one-month deadline before going to record in Vancouver, and originally I was just going to go put some guitar parts on the album for the sake of it. However, we still had a few more songs to fill on the album so we started writing together and we realized the potential in it. And from there, we just never looked back.
NB: On a darker note, what are some of the disadvantages of being two siblings in a band?
Juliana: One thing is that Jesse always forgets his water bottle, so he always has to drink out of mine
Jesse: And she’s too broke to buy a tuner, so she always uses mine.
Juliana: And today, he went to get himself a guitar string that he broke, but he forgot his wallet so I had to go bail him out.
Jesse: So we kind of overcorrect each other.
Juliana: Yeah, we kind of just pick up the slack for each other where we need to.
NB: So I guess being siblings in a group is kind of an advantage. What other benefits do you reap from this family endeavour?
Juliana: Well sometimes he just knows what I’m thinking. For instance, I didn’t know that he as going to wear a shirt with this triangle thing on it – and I wore a shirt with a triangle thing on it too! So we’re just mentally on the same page, I think.
Jesse: And fashionably as well.
NB: And Jesse, how do you feel about the transition from singing for a metal band (Turning Tides) to writing folk music?
Jesse: It’s very different; I can take my abilities in metal and cross them over to some not-so-heavy stuff. I mean, I’ll still keep a lot of rhythmic elements, and we even have some more rock-oriented stuff, but it’s really good to be able to start loud and tone down from there because you already have the other perspective.
Juliana: I mean he’s only twenty, but he’s really mature as a musician, because he knows when to tone it down, and he can play anything! He can play any genre, this guy.
Jesse: It’s also a lot less stress per say to play an acoustic show because you don’t need to prove something, you know? You don’t need to really show every single person in the audience that you’re heavier than the next person around. It’s also just nice toning it down musically because you then have a lot more control over your sound as opposed to when everything is blaring, which makes one lose the melodic value and musicality of one’s sound.
NB: So besides all the whole metalhead package, what are both of your biggest musical influences? I mean, I have always really liked your covers of artists such as The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Sixto Rodriguez…
Juliana: I’m a big Jason Mraz fan. I mean I like everything, but I’m a big Jason Mraz fan. Beause he puts in everything.
Jesse: I love The Beatles. And although I really like Jason Mraz, in terms of singer-songwriter, I’d probably chose Ed Sheeran over him. Hate me all you want.
Juliana and I playfully scoff at this.
Juliana: But Paulo Nutini’s got it going on.
NB: And if there was one band you guys could play with, whether its members are dead or alive, or ultra famous and inaccessible, who would it be?
Juliana: Green Day! Just joking.
Jesse: She’s got this long-running obsession with Green Day. Or any trio that vaguely resembles Green Day.
Juliana: But seriously. What band would we tour with, Jess?
Jesse: I mean, if they’re too big, there’s no point going on before them because they’re only going to blow us out of the water and make us look bad.
Juliana: No, come on. This is our dream tour, who are we going on tour with?
Jesse: I would chose The Beatles.
Juliana: I would go with The Beatles as well.
Jesse: They’re a rock band, but then you listen to a lot of their stuff and they’re hippies at heart.
As the clocks strike midnight, the interview is briefly interrupted by adamant friends wishing Jesse a happy birthday… Man, this fellow’s getting old.
NB: What’s the coolest venue you guys have ever performed at?
Juliana: You know what was really fun? Jardin Gamelin, a big outdoor stage by Berri. There were big lights everywhere, great sound…
Jesse: Otherwise, there’s just our usual stomping ground, you know. Something like Café Shaika.
Juliana: We love like the café scene too. We have like two dynamics going on. The big full band electric, and we also like cafés where people really listen. Really low key atmospheres there.
NB: How many hours a week do you guys busk in the Montreal streets? And what are your favourite areas?
Juliana: Depends on the week. I’d say roughly six hours a week. Sometimes together, sometimes separately, but we usually busk separately. And then we band practise minimally twice a week.
Jesse: I like busking in the metro, honestly. Villa Maria is a great spot. Downtown’s cool but it’s so far.
NB: And you guys have been involved in a couple contests, right?
Juliana: We won the first prize at Le Petit Medley, a place up on Saint-Hubert. It was like an unplugged contest type-of-thing. We kind of went into it not knowing what to think. It was just about a year ago, before we went off to produce our first album, and we won 1000$ which really helped finance our recording. And then this summer, on Saint-Hubert again (I guess it’s a good street for us) we won second prize at Atmosph’Air. Again, we didn’t really expect anything; we just went, great sound, outside, it was fun. And then, it worked out.
NB: I also vividly remember you guys getting paid in unlimited grilled cheese sandwiches at Edwina’s once time. What’s the coolest form of payment that you have ever received for a show?
Juliana: Okay, well for me, it was at this proposal party we once did. While people carried roses and candles, we played the Train song Marry Me. And then the guy proposed to his girlfriend there. For me, that was a pretty cool form of payment.
Jesse: Yeah, that was a lot of fun. Otherwise, you can’t go wrong with a 50$ bar tab.
Juliana: Although Jesse ate Edwina’s out of bacon.
Jesse: Yeah, they actually closed down like a month after.
NB: So you probably feel all of that guilt inside of you.
Jesse: No, I just feel cheese.
NB: Now tell me about your lyrical influences.
Juliana: I write most of the lyrics, and I really like philosophy and poetry. Songwriting is incredibly spiritual for me.
NB: Do you have any personal favourites amongst your songs, or are they all like your children?
Juliana: I really like Dead Or Alive, a new one we wrote. We might play it tonight. We’re all really feeling that one right now.
NB: And we are to expect your first album to come out pretty soon, right?
Jesse: Yeah. The first album will be out in a couple months. And we wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help of producer Sidney Perez; he’s honestly an incredibly talented guy.
Juliana: Yeah, and our listeners are to expect a big variety of music – we really tried to showcase a lot of styles. It’s just such a fun collection of songs. It’s about growing up.
At this point, the inconspicuous drummer and bassist join the conversation, accurately maintaining the low-key profiles expected from the instruments they play.
NB: Let’s quickly shine the spotlight on the drummer. Any words from you, Jessy-James?
Jessy-James: We’re going to be rocking it. Those new songs are totally nuts. I only got in a few months ago, so this is still brand new but it’s so exciting. It’s pretty dope.
Jesse: Yeah, dope has been the group word lately.
Juliana: Well not since Sam came up with our new motto today. As soon as he opens his mouth, we all tensely anticipate what wise words he is about to say. Today, Sam went: “Well, you know, the thing is, things just happen the way they happen so, like whatever happens, happens.”
We all cheerfully laugh at Sam’s fatalistic, so-called wisdom.
Sam: Yeah, whatever happens happens and we just rock it. The fewer the people, the harder we rock. But also, if there are a lot of people, lets rock really hard.