Junior Smalls and the Criminals is a catchy, new power-pop outfit from the Midwest fronted by producer John “Junior Smalls” Randall, who is an odd music machine to say the least. With childhood fascinations ranging from The Smiths to NWA; Dinosaur Jr to Public Enemy; Junior Smalls is a musician formed through years of experiences so varied and polarized that even he struggles to understand how they all came together.
For his musical diversity, Junior credits a combination of his uncle Scott’s influence, and the strange neighborhood in which he grew up. “It was like some sort of funny social experiment,” says Junior, “within a three block radius there was a housing project, a middle class neighborhood, and a golf course complete with mini-mansions overlooking the green, so from a very early age I got a taste of the whole American experience.”
Meanwhile, just next door, Junior’s uncle, Scott Randall, could be heard on any given night practicing with the legendary Saint Louis area band that he fronted, Fragile Porcelain Mice. “It was great because as a kid, I could go next door into my uncle’s room when he wasn’t home and steal all kinds of awesome music, and he was hip to everything, so I would walk outta there with the strangest combinations. I remember one time I went home with Morrissey’s ‘Viva Hate,’ and Public Enemy’s ‘It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back,’ and I loved both of them.” This musical hodge-podge would prove to be life changing and provide inspiration for many of Junior’s later endeavors, as well as earn him stupid nicknames; friends of Junior’s, amused at his comfort in both the indie rock and hip hop worlds, began to jokingly refer to him as an ‘emo-thug.”
Spending most of his adolescence in Saint Louis, Mo, area punk and hardcore bands, Junior Smalls eventually found his way into hip hop production, most notably producing the majority of Afroman’s (of ‘Because I Got High’ fame) new works, as well as pulling DJ duty for Afroman on several tours.
After coming home last year from one such tour, Junior pulled together a few old friends from former bands to create Junior Smalls and the Criminals. “I had been walking around with all of these song pieces in my head, some of them for years, and I finally made myself sit down and finish them. Each song on the album is basically about different moments in time, something that happened here or there and inspired a hook, or a few lines that came to me at the time. I had been producing for the last few years, and the itch to perform again kept getting stronger and stronger, and so I tidied up these ideas, and the album ‘Best Laid Plans’ was born.”
‘Best Laid Plans’ turned out to be an infectious collection of songs reminiscent of Lifetime and early Saves the Day, thrown in a blender with The Descendents and ‘Dear You’ era Jawbreaker. UK publication Leicester Bangs described the criminals sound as having, “Plenty of crunchy punk guitars, but with a lightness of touch, which is refreshing,” and elaborated that “Randall is an appealing chronicler of his life experiences, and doesn’t shirk his responsibilities when it comes to applying a hook or two.”
With songs about life and all its intricacies, irreverent odes to friends passed away, and nostalgic tunes about places dear to the memory, Junior Smalls and the Criminals want to bring you some music that makes you feel good about the strange journey that is, as Embrace put it, our ‘dance of days.’