Westword Music Showcase headliners: Meet the envelope pushers of BoomBox
These days, there are dozens of well known electronic-based bands of all shapes and sizes. Back in 2003, though, the very mention of a band that took a DJ and fused it with live instrumentation would've conjured up thoughts of Linkin Park or worse, Limp Bizkit.
When it formed, however, BoomBox, the electro rock dance duo from Alabama comprising drummer and studio engineer Russ Randolph and Zion Godchaux -- son of Grateful Dead alumni Donna Jean Godchaux -- wasn't just another entry in the rap-rock sweepstakes.
Instead, the pair blazed a trail of its own as a hybrid two headed beast taking a shared love of a DJ's ability to move a dance floor with the right beats and bass lines and fused it with the undeniable power of rock, with a live guitar and singer that falls somewhere into the netherworld between the two genres.
Although Boombox is quickly being recognized as one of the more popular hybrid acts combining electronic beats and loops with live instruments, the group's success most certainly did not come overnight. It has taken many years for people to come around and understand what Randolph and Godchaux are trying to do.
The same could be said about any band that smashes conventional musical wisdom about what instruments and genres of music belong together, but in the case of BoomBox, all of those years of sticking to their guns is starting to pay off as evidenced by a massive string of sold out shows across the country, starting notably in Colorado more than a year ago.
We had a chance to sit down with Randolph and Godchaux in advance of their Westword showcase appearance this coming weekend and our pre-party tonight at the Larimer Lounge ($15 gets you into the party and a ticket to the Showcase).
Westword (Dutch Seyfarth): Why do you think Colorado seems to have embraced your band so well compared to other places around the country?
Russ Randolph: Um ... I'm not really sure. I'm not sure why Colorado has become this really cool like...breeding ground or kinda hotspot for electronic music. It seems to be that, I dunno, that spot seems to be really just kind of a hotbed, or birthplace for a lot of this type of music.
I'm not sure what it is but it's really cool. It seems to be attracting kids everywhere. Everywhere you go, like at festivals and traveling around, it's like, "Yeah, we're bouncing out to Colorado," and stuff like that sorta thing ... I'm not sure what it is.
Zion Godchaux: For whatever reason, Colorado seems to be kinda like a testing lab area for this kind of a fusing of genres of music. [There are] Lots of people coming out of Colorado, lots of bands, who have been coming out of there, who have been doing a lot of experimenting and with different forms of electronic music with more of a jam type thing. And that's pretty much what we do, you know?
My guess is that what we do seems natural at the shows we play out there, and the kids that come to them are hip to what's going on with all this genre blending. Maybe they appreciate it a little more in Colorado, whereas in other states they look at it like we're joking around or that we're alien [laughs].
RR: You know, a lot of kids we meet in Colorado weren't born there, so a lot of the kids there are transplants from somewhere else. So they're maybe a bit wiser, a bit different musically than other places. You know what I mean?
WW: So is it fair to say that your band's type of music is catching on in Colorado a lot faster than other places?
RR: Yeah, for sure.
ZG: Yeah, oh yeah. I gotta tell you -- and Russ will back me up I'm sure -- we're honored that a place like Colorado let's us push the envelope as far as the music and stuff like that, and that they would embrace us. It's real special. It's like, "Wow!" These people really get to hear a lot of good music, so it's a real honor to be accepted out there.
WW: What were the circumstances and events that brought you two together to form this band?
ZG: It kinda started with an album that we recorded out here in Alabama at my parent's studio. I moved here from California; I lived in California until about 2003, something like that I guess. I moved out to Alabama to kinda really focus on what I was doing with music and stuff like that.
My first priority once I got out here was to record with my mom, my uncle, and my dad ... and just different musicians from throughout the area, to record a really nice record that really accentuated my mom's voice, not a loud rock and roll record, just really try to custom tailor, and capture the right sound just for her voice.
So I had to do that and get that out of the way. So it was when we were in the process of recording that we met Russ. We brought him [Russ] to engineer in the studio. So I dunno, I think about eight months or however long it took to record that record, we were together everyday.
So through the course of that time, we got the chance to exchange a lot of ideas and um, we really started to see that we could get a certain sound out with just me and him. It had to do with house music and electronic, real rhythm-oriented stuff mixed with songs, traditional songs. That way we could perform live and all that.
So we started to see all these things while we were working on the record with my mom. By the way, The Heart Of Gold Band is the name of the band, and the name of the record is At The Table. So anyway, through that process, we really started to see that we could bend some rules, mix it up a little bit, and still have the freedom for improv.
We started laying the foundation for BoomBox during the recording of At The Table -- and even on that record, there's a few tracks that are almost like prototypes where we were making electronic loops. So that was kind of our first round, after that we pretty much got down to business with BoomBox.
RR: Yeah and when we first met in the studio, we both had similar frustrations with previous bands. We were both just kinda in our own world trying to do something like -- you know, I had given up being creative for awhile. I'm a drummer. I write, but I mostly just did recording and mixing for other bands.
When we started working together on these tracks, Z actually had a drum machine he was writing his own songs on. We started playing around with some of those songs, and it got to the point where, "Shit, we could really just do this with a couple of people. I could control these drum machines, we could mix back and forth, kind of do the DJ thing but combine the live band with Z, where he could still play the guitar and sing.
We could both make these tracks where we would want to hear them on the dance floor, and kinda blur the lines between all of that -- I don't know, a party, party kind of a thing. Like one door opened, and then a million [other] doors opened up at the same time, and man, we knew we could really do this. Two people is a lot more efficient, a lot easier to tour, and well you know -- it went from there.
WW: So being frustrated with previous music projects and bands drew the two of you together? Or was it like a lightning striking type thing music chemistry-wise that drew you two together? A combination of both?
RR: Well for me, it was a combination of both. There was definitely a lightning strike moment, and it wasn't like, "Oh, this is more simple with just two people" -- that was more of the second thought. The first thought was, "Oh shit!" The thought was moving a dance floor like a DJ and having a DJ with two heads. I think, for me, this was the initial thought.
I mean, it's become it's own thing and all the other things became apparent, like the efficiency and all that. For me the lightning strike moment was, "Oh shit, we can do this, and we can take the idea of a top DJ throwing wicked beats but expand it just to the point where it's a rock and roll: Live vocal, live guitar."
ZG: Well for me, I grew up around music. I grew up playing the drums, playing guitar, writing songs, and I had various bands. A lot of it was very reggae influenced, and also I grew up around the Grateful Dead, and was really aware of being able to travel musically. Really it's via your instrument and ultimately taking other people's voices, so there's that side of it.
When house was really cracking in the early '90s, at first I just kind of thought: "Electronic music, it's not real stuff." But, then I went to some underground warehouse parties that blew my mind -- you know, how the whole place could be so connected, under one roof, under one groove.
That's when the lightbulb went off. It was being around all these people and everyone was not looking at each other, not trying to hook up, they were being moved by the bass line and the beat. Just responding to the music -- period. That was when the lightbulb went off.
WW: Starting out as a duo, was there ever a desire to ever seek out a third or fourth instrumentalist in the band?
RR: Well, of course in the beginning, before it became more ... of course now, this is our entire world, so we feel this whole kind of electronic jam world we're in; we kinda feel it's everywhere because we're around all day everyday. But, I do feel that this more commonplace than we first got started.
Like our first record, Visions of Backbeat, we put out in '05, we were selling out of the trunk of a car before then. It was difficult for people to understand as in, "Oh, you don't have a live bass player? You don't have that?" In the beginning it was difficult to get people to understand what we were trying to do.
I think at this point in time, people pretty much understand our goal, and it really is two people. We've had other people sit in with us, but the more people you get in the mix, you know, you get this momentum going, and ... it's more difficult to drop and turn on a dime. It's difficult to stop the train.
Z and I both feel that we know where we are in our heads, because we've lived this for many years. It's difficult for a musician to walk in off the street who can really get in there. Now that being said, our friend Steve Molitz, who plays with Particle, sits in occasionally, and we have a great time.
But, you know, there are very few instrumentalists or musicians who, I feel, can do that on that level. But I've never thought for a moment that, "Oh, we [should] add another instrument." Nothing like that.
ZG: Our conviction on that ... well, it's maybe one of our most solid convictions, actually. All we need is me and him, what matters is that rhythm -- to take people someplace -- that's the crucial thing. Together we can hold onto that rhythm; we can supply that.
WW: Since your a band of two people, how do you settle disagreements? How do you do tiebreakers?
RR: [laughs] Uh, we have a manager who does a pretty good job of tie-breaking, but a lot of times it boils down to who is the most stubborn on the issue at hand, you know? [laughs]
ZG: You know, if Russ is giving a thumbs down to particular option or decision, I respect his ... I mean, if he's giving a thumbs down, then I don't necessarily try to push it. We're more likely -- if one of us has an issue -- we're more likely to drop it, and find a different direction. You know?