Hitting the official UK Top 40 singles chart is no mean feat. It is something that artists across all genres strive for and that has eluded the vast majority of emerging UK country artists along with the biggest names in Music City. However the year 2020 is an intriguing mistress and the Scottish duo JuBillee have managed what many before them have tried and failed. ‘Don’t Make Me Look Into Your Eyes’ also held the Number One spot in the iTunes Country Chart for five days in September. The duo have followed up the success of their debut single by releasing their first album ‘You And I’ at the start of November through the newly inaugurated UK label Vacancy Records [part of Sleepy Night Records which has handled releases from Miles Davis, Chet Baker and more].
Comprised of vocalist Justine Wilson and singer, guitarist and pianist Billy Warren, JuBillee offer a fresh brand of music that never loses sight of the history and integrity that underpins the genre. Justine says, “We have a really quirky sound, it’s a very commercial take on Country Pop and it seems that people are really getting into it”. Effortlessly blending voices, but also swapping lead, this duo has an instinctive mutual understanding that brings out the best in both. “We work well together as a team,” laughs Billy, “But we do have our moments!”
The 2020 lockdown has been a difficult time for many, but has also seem a flowering of creativity in many quarters. Certainly, this was true for JuBillee, who migrated online when the venues closed and have graduated from being competent and engaging performers at a grassroots level to a fully-fledged act with a slew of original material, a completed album and a record label behind them. Billy says, “We had eighty percent of the songs for the album done when we went into the album, but many of our ideas changed, evolved and just got even better as we put extra touches to them in the studio”.
With a Number One single already establishing their Country credentials, JuBillee are ready to take the next step. “The feedback from the growing army of fans has been incredible,” adds Justine, “The numbers are growing but it’s amazing how many people take the time to comment and encourage us. Views on social media are great but the human interactions are what make it for us”. That interaction is only going to grow as the JuBillee story develops. This duo make for a pretty special team; ‘You And I’ is the sound of a UK act worth celebrating.
Following on from the release of their album, Jamie caught up with Billy and Justine to find out more about the exciting new duo and life during lockdown. When we spoke, it marked the day after Scotland had secured qualification for Euro 2020 (to be held in 2021) which will be the nations first appearance at a major championship in football since 1998:
It’s unbelievable mate. Honestly, just all the years of heartache then now got a team that for me, doesn’t really measure up to some of the teams in the past that didn’t qualify. We’ve managed to get that balance and harmony here to get through, they’ve been absolutely brilliant the last few games. I’ve always thought it’s more about balance in football, than good individual players, even with England a good few years back when they had world beaters in that team, probably the best midfield in the world at one point with Gerrard and Lampard but they couldn’t do it. There was something just lacking there they couldn’t do and I think this current England team, man for man isn’t as good as that team was but you seem to have found the balance too! (Billy)
Apart from the rekindled sporting optimism for Scottish football, what else has kept the duo occupied through the crazy world of 2020?
Between us, we’ve got three kids, so they automatically keep us going, they keep us busy and on our toes. (Justine)
Then there’s been a lot of writing, studio work and interviews. It’s actually been a very busy last five months, even though we’ve been off work. (B)
I think if you’ve got more time, you find stuff to fill it with! (J)
From the professional standpoint of creating and releasing new music this year, where touring and promoting traditionally has not been straightforward, have they found ways to make the year highly productive and beneficial?
The lockdown thing really had its pros and cons through the whole situation. If it hadn’t happened, we would have been out touring and built up a progressional fanbase with promoting our singles and our album. On the other hand, we have found more scope for creating a bigger fanbase through social media because everybody was locked down. (B)
We gained a lot of fans by starting to do Facebook live streams every Sunday whilst people were sitting in their house. I think without this and the power of Facebook, we wouldn’t have been put on the map or picked up. Nobody would have known our existence apart from folk that are local and love to come and watch us. (J)
It has worked well for us because we’ve got the recognition and it’s now time to build on that. By the time that fingers crossed, we get out of this current situation that we will get out to perform and grow that following again. (B)
For people new to discovering JuBillee, how would they describe their sound and where does it fit into the wider world of the “country music” umbrella?
We are in the “country” genre, but we are not set on the typical country type of country, there’s the country pop or country rock style which is why I think we are bursting into the all-genres because we can really spread out. (J)
It does have a country feel and country is so big now but it’s so widespread, it’s come a long way from where country was just country! There are all these different sounds and types where we feel we have adapted to this newer country sound, then in this country certainly from what I’ve been hearing I think we’ve put a new stamp on it. (B)
And what is it about their debut album “You And I” that they feel gives it the more widespread appeal to reach out in the all genre categories where other artists have not quite been as successful?
Every single person will at least like one song or find something that will suit them. There are guy songs as you would say, there are funky sounds, more girly songs that are a bit sassy and there’s also ballads so it’s very diverse. (J)
On the process of how the album came together and creating it:
Gary (Gillies) contacted us in April, said who he was and had a few songs that he would like us to hear. He sent them over, we had a look and had a Zoom meeting with Gary then within the month we had learned one song which was “Don’t Make Me Look Into Your Eyes” and performed it on the live. (J)
We were always going to want to use that one right away, that and “Bed Of Lies” because we really liked the two of them. (B)
We knew one of them would be the first song to show. (J)
We had a meeting with Vacancy, Gary showed us some more songs and we picked the ones that we liked. (B)
Luckily the lockdown easing at that point was majorly good timing for us, we were in major lockdown at the start then by the time we had learnt some songs, it was time to meet in person and it gave us time to do stuff whilst we were off work. Then we flew down to Birmingham where we recorded the majority of the album over two trips. (J)
Then I started to write, I wanted two or three on there that were new or things that I had written in the past that didn’t quite suit what we were doing. (B)
There were two or three that we recorded in our living room doing the vocals ourselves then sending it down to be produced. (J)
We had some songs that we had got hold of and tweaked about because they had been written and demoed in the past by a guy or a female so we changed them into duets and to fit the JuBillee style. (B)
We worked really hard on them, then went down to Birmingham for two days and got seven songs recorded! (J)
Then we went down again to get another four or five and then we did two up here! (B)
How has recording in this way felt and was it something that was challenging?
Just watching the Graham Norton show and Kylie Minogue was a guest talking about her brand new song which was recorded in the downstairs cupboard with sheets over her head. (J)
She used the same tools as I did! As long as you do know what you’re doing, we know what we are doing so we can achieve it, which is ideal and we obviously send it off for the production to get done down at Pete’s. (B)
How did the duo come to light to initially decide they collectively had a good fit to perform together and hone in on their style?
I always did solo singing at weekends and Billy was in another duo. (J)
I’ve done some solo, been in some bands, five-piece music bands and was in a duo which did reasonably well around the clubs but went our separate ways. I wanted a specific look and specific sound then approached Justine for it. (B)
At first, I was like I don’t know? I was young, I was used to doing my own thing and didn’t have to share the stage with anyone where you had your own ways. You sand the whole song yourself and you know what you’re doing so was a bit apprehensive about the whole duo thing but I gave it a go and started to absolutely love it. We got on like a house on fire and I started to really enjoy my gigs more, it was so nice to have someone beside you and here we are since 2017. (J)
Looking ahead to the future, touring the record and getting to play for new audiences will be a big part when the environment allows it but what else is on the cards musically for the duo looking forward?
Everyone knows to get your name out, you are going to have to travel and branch out so that’s what we intend to do. In the meantime, we’ll just keep writing as we want to get started on our second album as soon as we possibly can and get touring as soon as we possibly can. As soon as we’re allowed, we are there! (B)
Then finally, what is it about the JuBillee sound that is making it so attractive across the board and not just in the “country” circles which is something that people should be excited about?
Anything to me that fits into the UK charts is working. Any of the songs on that album could slide into the charts, be played on radio and not needing to be on Radio 2. It could be on Clyde 1 up here, Capital FM or any one of them. It does fit, it’s very contemporary in the country, rock or pop and people can relate to it. (B)
“You and I” the debut album from JuBillee is out now and available physically and at all major streaming platforms (Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon & Deezer) plus you can keep up to date with Justine and Billy on Facebook Twitter and Instagram.