*This article was originally featured at CityPages.com. It can be found here.
You want to ask what the band’s contemporaries are. You want to know how they can involve so many people without the project falling apart. You want to know how two of its artists can survive in a school bus.
Juniper Douglas invites these questions, but revels in the fact that they’re nearly impossible to answer. Seeing the show for yourself is the only way to understand the group.
Speaking with the band in person is the best way to find out what it’s all about, although the answers might still be vague. Zeke and Yvonne are the points of contact, and mentioning their last names feels cheap considering the rest of the mystery. “Well, you don’t even really know that I’m Yvonne and he’s Zeke,” she says. “We’ve been calling everyone in the group ‘Tom’ because we don’t want anyone to feel less important than someone else.”
The reason for this is twofold. Juniper Douglas shows (only three of which have ever happened) are not meant to sound the same. Even calling the group a “band” is unfitting. What with the 20+ people on stage, each performance takes on its own character and no one’s contributions are pigeonholed.
The second reason they call everyone “Tom” involves compensation. The Grocery Store, the three-day Juniper-curated arts and music festival at the Southern Theater this weekend, features a litany of phenomenal acts. “Every performer is getting paid the same amount, and we’re making a donation to bolster the music program at Urban Ventures,” explains Yvonne, whose demeanor is chatty while Zeke’s is more reserved.
“‘Tom’ is just our stand-in character name for everyone in the play portion of the band.” Juniper Douglas is a band, sure, but performance takes precedence over recorded material. “I’ve been doing professional theater my whole life, and I have a lot of problems with it,” says Yvonne. “Theater is a big psychological game between actor and audience, and we’re going to break that down on stage.”
The group also has an album coming out later in September. The teaser track, aptly named “fibastimpastastan,” is fine evidence of Juniper’s ability to incorporate seemingly disparate genres and artistic media. It begins as a simple guitar song before numerous voices and electronics appear, creating a mood of controlled chaos.
It takes quite some time to organize all these elements. Yvonne and Zeke put in 16-hour days to pull everything off. “There’s marketing for the festival, contracts with the bands, general computer work, and a rehearsal that takes around six to eight hours. It’s usually around one a.m. by the time we wrap up,” she says.
There’s a seriousness to the pair as they discuss the project, and you have to ask if they’re content to maintaining such a high level of mystery. “Yeah. A lot of this is about letting go of our preconceived notions about the performance,” Yvonne says. “We both still have a lot of letting go to do before the festival.” It’s odd to conceal so many details out of a show that has taken so much time to prepare. but the festival is sure to shatter expectations.