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Up-And-Coming Aotearoa Artists: JUNIOR JUNIOR

We get to know JUNIOR JUNIOR, a rising New Zealand band looking to impress in 2024 and beyond



If you were at Cross St Music Festival in Auckland at the beginning of March, chances are that JUNIOR JUNIOR caught your eye with their performance. 

The local band put on a mightily energetic set in their hometown, presumably keen to impress both new fans and faithful listeners alike.

The four-piece – lead singer Sione Roberts, bass guitarist Tuva’a Clifton, lead guitarist James Butler, and drummer Dan McDonald – came to the festival armed with delightfully genre-bending songs from their debut EP, In the Light, which arrived late last year.

Describing their music as being indie/surf-rock at its core, they’re also fond of throwing in flourishes of jazz, funk, and R&B whenever they can. Before their Cross St Music Festival appearance, they put on a sold-out out EP launch show at The Wine Cellar, the packed room highlighting the growing appreciation for the band even at this early stage of their career.

And it sounds like there’s more to come soon: “We’re busy organising some super exciting things for 2024, so keep in the loop as we have some news coming up!” they wrote on Instagram last month.

Before any new music arrives, Rolling Stone AU/NZ caught up with JUNIOR JUNIOR to find out more about them, which you can check out below.

JUNIOR JUNIOR’s In the Light EP is out now. 

Rolling Stone AU/NZ: How did music influence you in your early life?

James: My parents aren’t musicians themselves, but they’ve always both been big listeners and big fans of different kinds of music; always having something playing in the background around the house etc.. Because of that sort of environment, listening to music became a shared hobby for us. Given that a lot of music I grew up listening to via my parents was guitar music, I think that early exposure definitely had a hand in influencing me to pick up guitar as my instrument; particularly hearing albums like Queen’s greatest hits on repeat. 

What artists influenced you growing up?

Sione: My mother always played music from the Beatles, Bread, The Doobie Brothers, lots of funk and disco music like Stevie Wonder. My sister (who was very influential in my upbringing) played Muse a lot. My dad also played Michael Jackson, Fat Freddy’s Drop, and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

What are your career highlights so far?

Dan: There’s been so many highlights so far, but the number one has to be releasing our debut EP. It felt great to just have our music out there finally after months of practise and hard work behind the scenes. Following on from that we had our EP release party, which we held at The Wine Cellar in Auckland, a sentimental venue for us. It completely sold out days before and it was awesome to sell out the first show we were headlining.

What kind of personality traits and values do you believe it takes to succeed in the music industry?

James: Success means different things to different people, but regardless of how you view it, there’s a huge element of luck involved I think; really can’t be overstated how important a factor that is. Luck aside, I think dogged persistence is massively important for musicians; with any skilled pursuit, improvement is grounded in a strong work ethic, and I think being a musician is no exception to that. Like Frank Zappa said, “There are only two things to remember… Number one: don’t stop. Number two: keep going.”

How would you describe your music to a potential fan?

Our producer Emily has a joke that we’re “just four Kiwi dudes playing in a band,” which seems to fit quite well. Most simply, Oour music is indie surf/rock at its core but is mixed with elements from other styles like jazz, funk and R&B; the kind of music that will make you feel good even when you’re down. Kind of like Ocean Alley or L.A.B with a bit more jazz thrown in.

What are your goals?

Initially our goal for 2023 was to average at least one gig per month, which we’ve hit ahead of time. We also had an informal list of Auckland venues that we were all keen to play at, and we’ve already ticked most of those off. We’re looking to record our second EP in early 2024 and we’re tinkering away on organising opening slots for some bigger bands as well. 

How did you first meet each other? Were you in other bands before forming JUNIOR JUNIOR?

Dan and James have known each other for ages, originally playing in bands together at school. JUNIOR JUNIOR initially came about after about five years of them telling each other “we should start a band” every time they’d get on the piss together.

Finally, they managed to actually put an ad on NZ Bands, which is where they found Tuva’a, and he slotted in well right away. From there, the three of them spent a number of months auditioning singers before they found Sione; he’d actually been on Tuva’a’s show on bFM before he came in for an audition. 

From there it’s all moved really smoothly – it’s important that you’re able to get on well with your band mates and we’ve got a nice group of guys here which definitely helps. 

How did your EP launch at The Wine Cellar go?

Sione: I think I can speak for the band when I say it was the best gig we’ve played so far. Playing an hour-long set to a sold-out crowd is something that every band dreams of for their first headline gig, and we got to live out that dream. Seeing people sing back our songs was such a treat, and we cannot wait to experience it again.

Tell us about In the Light; what’s the EP about? 

There wasn’t really a defined artistic direction in terms of what songs were included in the EP; we just picked three songs that we thought contrasted well and expressed our unique sound. Considering this, there is unintentionally an ongoing theme of relationships. Each song touches on different relationships which are all sort of destined to fail.

What themes did you explore in the songs? 

Lyrically, all three songs are based on fictional relationships and explore feelings of lust, loss, and revenge. In terms of music, this EP kind of shows us finding our footing in terms of our sound; taking reference from bands like LAB, Ocean Alley but throwing in other elements to come out with something that sounds like JUNIOR JUNIOR.