Some musicians view their craft from a narrow scope, never venturing outside their chosen genre because it’s all they know. Wilmington-based jam-band enthusiasts Mac and Juice Quartet (MJQ), on the other hand, view their craft in a completely different manner: Music is like a buffet, so why not try it all?
The troupe, which comprises Mac Nelson (guitar, backing vocals), Brian Raynor (guitar, lead vocals), Jason Moore (bass), and Brian Mason (drums, percussion), will perform live at The Whiskey this New Year’s Eve. Combining elements of rock, soul, jazz, Americana, and bluegrass (there are probably some more genres in there), MJQ regards song structure as a blueprint. They prefer to improvise and never play a song the same way twice.
“It truly has been a process of evolution with defining our sound,” Raynor tells. “It has always been hard to put a genre stamp on our music, be we try to use that to our advantage. We’ve been recently referring to our sound as ‘jammy-soul-rock ‘n’ roll.’ It jams more than a rock band and rocks more than a jam band, with a touch of soul sweetness to smooth out the edges.”
Nelson and Raynor met in 1999 at ECU, where they both studied classical guitar. “The two of us began playing open mic nights in September of 2000 on Sundays at a venue in Greenville, NC called Peasants Cafe,” says Raynor. “At the first one we played, about fifty of our friends came out to see us do a 20-minute set. By the fourth week in a row, about 125 people showed up.”
The band’s first release, titled “Inside,” (2001), consists of Raynor and Nelson doing an 8-track live set in the studio.
The rest of the band didn’t actually meet until the fall 2011 when they were assembled to play as a part of a Allman Brothers Band (ABB) tribute concert, which took place at the now-defunct Port City Theatre, which is now where Bourgie Nights is. The set featured the core members of MJQ along with friends Calloway Ritch on guitar and Jason Woolwine on keys, while guest musicians appeared throughout the show.
After the ABB tribute concert, the quartet began playing gigs together more regularly. What solidified them as a group was a Halloween show in 2012, which showcased MJQ’s talents as an electric outfit with a rhythm section. It contrasted their previous acoustic stylings, which consisted only of Raynor and Nelson. Held at The Whiskey, the band played one set of originals and a second set covering (in its entirety) Red Hot Chili Pepper’s “Blood Sugar Sex Magik.”
According to Raynor, playing with Moore and Mason resulted in an immediate, natural chemistry. “Playing music with these guys is the best,” Raynor comments, “because Jason and Brian are as tight of a unit as a rhythm section as Mac and I are as a guitar team. It’s like having two collective brains onstage as opposed to four separate ones.”
Their seamless melding as a group lead to the band’s first group effort (under the name Mac and Juice), “Step Into the Light,” (2012). It a temporary roster (Seth Gaines on drums and Leo Kishore on bass) and is available at shows and Gravity Records.
The band’s attention to detail doesn’t stop at the inherent talent they possess behind their instruments. They are also a charismatic bunch dedicated to their fans. MJQ make a bold attempt to play a minimum of 125 shows per year. (Wait, what?)
“MJQ has consistently played over a 100 shows every year since 2008,” Raynor says. “The past few years it has been between 120-130, and this year it will be 112 shows.”
As well, MJQ exudes chemistry in their recordings. Their track “People Talkin’” fluctuates from deep jazz grooves and is reinforced by percussive, rhythmic precision and free-flowing guitar melodies. It’s not unlike a modern-day Dooby Brothers compilation. It demonstrates their propensity for marrying styles since becoming a quartet.
MJQ will play fewer shows in Wilmington this year. In the past, MJQ played predominantly in Eastern NC, but this last year they expanded their reach to Tennessee and Georgia. The crew only has bigger plans for 2015 in support of their sophomore effort, “Can You Tell Me,” which was released on November 4.
“We are going to continue to strive at making the best music, and playing the highest quality show that we possibly can,” Raynor says. “We feel really good about where our direction is going as a band, and we plan to embrace the future with confidence and ambition. We want to show at all times that we absolutely love what we do; that has always been and always will be the goal.”
It would seem that the band would lose their motivation or become weary and weathered from their constant ventures on the stage, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, they see each live performance as a growing opportunity. “MJQ are very much a live band,” Raynor says. “That’s how all of our songs really find their voices, by natural maturation from the road.”
Luckily, MJQ have another concert just right around the corner. They will be playing at downtown’s The Whiskey on New Years Eve along with their good friends Groove Fetish, who will be releasing their new EP. MJQ will be doing what they call a “Special Midnight Super-Jam,” wherein both bands will alternate on and off stage. Their goal is to keep the tunes flowing all night long.
“It is going to be a magical night, and we couldn’t be more excited to be ringing in 2015 this way,” Raynor declares.
Special Midnight Super-Jam
Featuring Mac and Juice Quartet and Groove Fetish
The Whiskey, 1 South Front Street
Wednesday, December 31, 10 p.m.