Boxmasters’ Billy Bob Thornton and JD Andrew remind Cincinnati they’re ‘alive’ | Music function | Cincinnati

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Photo: courtesy of The Boxmasters

Billy Bob Thornton and JD Andrew of the Boxmasters

At first, Boxmasters’ pandemic life was pretty much business as usual, other than the songwriting sessions conducted over Zoom and the social distancing seen in the recording studio — and perhaps the fact that the studio was both a workspace and a refuge.

“It was definitely less stressful for me in the studio than it was back home with my three boys trying to get to Zoom school,” said renowned recording engineer and multi-instrumentalist JD Andrew. CityBeat. “It would drive anyone mad.”

And in some ways, Boxmaster quarantine may have resulted in a little too much extra time at home.

“It hasn’t changed our lives that much because we have kids and we stay home most of the time anyway. Unless we’re touring or in the recording studio, we’re at home. home with the family,” says Billy Bob Thornton, studio drummer and live frontman for the Boxmasters. “The day we left LA for a tour, my wife was actually wearing a party hat.”

What’s amazing about this period for Boxmasters is that it resulted in the creation of three separate albums: a set of almost all the holiday originals, christmas in california, which fell at the end of last year; just released help me…i’m alive; and the always in box nothing personala morose work tinged with prog with reflections of Pink Floyd and King Crimson. nothing personal was the first of the albums to be completed, and there is a simple explanation for the release order.

“When the lockdown started to loosen we thought we better put out the most upbeat record because people won’t want to hear how we felt during the pandemic. They will want to see some sun,” says Thornton. ” We are going to leave nothing personal when everyone’s wounds have healed so they can reflect on that time instead of still being there.

Just like the title of nothing personal is dripping with irony – it is, according to Thornton and Andrew, completely personal – so is help me…i’m alive.

“That was the idea behind the title,” says Thornton. “Instead of saying ‘Help, I’m dying’ or ‘Help, I’m drowning’, it was ‘Help, I’m alive’.

“Actually, I think that’s the song that kind of sparked the whole album,” he continues. “It seemed like a great theme for the record. There are regular boy and girl songs, but they all have to do with things we were thinking about at the time.

help me…i’m alive is a sonic palette brilliantly splashed by Pollack from the diverse influences of the Boxmasters, from British 60s Invasion pop and its American counterparts to local country, rockabilly and Americana (a musical gumbo that Thornton and Andrew christened modbilly ). But there is darkness in the light of the album. Andrew was mourning the suicide of a childhood friend while recording the album, and Thornton channeled a long-standing fear into the album’s final track, “You’ll Never Be Mine.”

“Looks like it would be about a girl, right? But what it really is is that I have long suffered from agoraphobia (fear of crowded places and going out of the house). My mum had agoraphobia and I still have some of it,” Thornton says. “So the ‘you’ in ‘You’ll Never Be Mine’ is actually life. It’s this guy who sings about those houses where there’s parties and wonders what it’s like there- Or he sees smoke coming out of a chimney and he thinks, ‘I wonder who started that fire?’ but he’s afraid to go in. Unless you buy the record and read the lyrics, you’ll never know what it’s about.

Sonically, the Boxmasters’ founding hasn’t changed much since the group’s formation in 2007. Prior to that, actor/director/writer Thornton had recorded a handful of albums under his own name (the native of ‘Arkansas had moved to California to pursue music and fell on acting), and Andrew was an in-demand engineer. Since the Boxmasters’ debut album, the band’s founders have been the studio’s main creative drivers and have engaged friends to showcase their music on the road. The current circuit includes lead guitarist Raymond Hardy, bassist Kirk McKim and drummer Nick Davidson.

help me…i’m alive sounds like a Boxmasters record, but we progress a little more each time,” says Thornton. “We add things to what we do. The last two or three albums have become more and more sophisticated.

“We’re not going to stick to the same thing,” adds Andrew. “At some point during the pandemic we added a Mellotron, so we play with that a lot. Somewhere along the line I bought a fuzz pedal and started using it for the first time. We used to rely on another keyboard player or guitarist to lay down solos, but now we’re confident enough that we don’t have to.

“We play all the roles ourselves; it’s just me and Billy, making a record the way we want it to sound and the way we want it to be. These are all our ideas, start to finish, and we don’t pass them on to anyone else. From songwriting to mixing, we do everything ourselves,” continues Andrew. “The only other person putting their finger on it is our mastering guy, Eric Boulanger, who’s getting it ready for the masses. It’s about as DIY as you can get stuff.

All of the Boxmasters’ hard work over the past decade and a half is clearly paying off. The band’s fanbase has gradually expanded from what Thornton describes as a cult following to a solid following, and the band plays in venues and areas they are often visiting for the first time.

It’s tempting to credit the internet for the growth of Boxmasters, but the group isn’t so sure.

“We take care of social media ourselves, so that’s not possible,” says Andrew.

“We’re horrible at that,” Thornton seconded. “At least JD can turn on a computer. I can barely turn on my cell phone.

The next best explanations for their popularity are old-fashioned word-of-mouth advertising and the tenacity of Boxmasters on the road. Their upcoming show at Ludlow Garage on June 8 is a good example of this.

The Boxmasters’ last show in Cincinnati was a disaster. Thornton and Andrew say they were double-booked in a venue on the same weekend as an EDM festival, moved to a basement that was intended to be a music venue but hadn’t yet opened for that purpose (the band kindly did not share the date or location with CityBeat). A few dozen people showed up for the show, but it was the kind of experience that could cloud a group’s opinion of a market for a long time.

But not the Boxmasters.

“I’m still getting messages from fans who were at that show, and they say how much they loved it but were disappointed there wasn’t a bigger turnout and hope we’ll be back,” Andrew said. . “So hopefully they’ll see we’re coming and tell some friends about it.”

Of course, it’s possible that a percentage of Boxmasters attendees are curious due to Thornton’s fame and notoriety, which he is well aware of. Thornton has a way of dealing with a crowd if he feels they might not be fans of the music, which ties into a weird press release note that Boxmasters are at least partially ruled by the music. spirit of Frank Zappa.

“It’s not on the surface of the music, except sometimes on the lyrical level when we’re writing a more humorous song,” says Thornton. “If we have an audience that doesn’t understand anything, I’ll talk about something crazy that they won’t know what it means, just to entertain me and the band, and sometimes I’ll go into Zappa’s voice for the do. . Like when we played in Dallas, I said, ‘We have a lot of fans around Dallas and we know a lot of you here have seen us many times and you know our music. For anyone who are new and don’t have our records and have never seen us in concert, we don’t do “Stairway to Heaven”, “Color My World” or “House of the Rising Sun” This is all original music So if you don’t have our albums or don’t know our music.’ And then I came into Zappa’s voice, “Get ready for the worst two hours of your life!”

The Boxmasters play at Ludlow Garage (342 Ludlow Ave., Clifton) at 8:30 p.m. on June 8. Info: ludlowgaragecincinnati.com.

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