BoomBox began as the meeting of two new souls in Muscle Shoals, the famous town in Alabama where Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones and others recorded albums. Producer Russ Randolph met singer/guitarist Zion Godchaux during a 2004 recording session for the Heart of Gold Band with former Grateful Dead member and Zion’s mother, Donna Jean Godchaux. This family link gets shoveled with media attention, justified perhaps by BoomBox’s funked-up reinventions of the Dead’s “Shakedown Street” and Dylan’s “Who Killed Davey Moore.” The first difference, which both members are practiced in pointing out, is how quickly they traded in their bandmates for drum machines.
In a phone interview with Boulder Weekly, the two members hardly mentioned guitars or drums (or saxophones, one of their best assets). There was likely a lot to say about Godchaux growing up with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, but instead he went straight to the first time he saw a particular deep house DJ perform.
“It wasn’t until I went to see Doc Martin that I saw the full potential of what was going on,” Godchaux says, “what a DJ could do and how mystical that whole thing could be. He was the sort of cat that showed me that electronic music isn’t just prefabricated elevator music, [but] real expression.”
“Doc showed me that, yeah, this was made by machines, but it’s a hell of a lot deeper than that when you get a couple thousand people under one roof and that beat’s going so hypnotically,” he says. “It’s not some cheesy Casio keyboard sound, it’s the whole style of presenting a rhythm and melody.”
In this context, BoomBox is a revivalist group battling against the “push play” DJs that they believe are endangering a lost art form. The music isn’t “a competition of noise,” Randolph says.
Godchaux adds, “If it seems laid back, that’s just the way the medicine takes.”
The music has an effect of drawing you into the present moment rather than sending your mind miles away. It uplifts without a firm grip; or, as the members put it, bad shows are like bad dates. Good vibes can’t be pushed or threatened.
Naturally, though, the element of risk and the probability for fault can be the most interesting part.
“Sometimes it doesn’t always work out,” Godchaux says. “It’s a leap of faith in a way, but the payoff is when we really do that, it can be something really special, so it’s worth it to us to take that chance.”
“Those turntables don’t know the other one is there,” Godchaux says. “It’s that tension that brought me into this band to begin with. Human tendency craves resolution, and without that tension in the dynamic of the track, part of the conversation with the crowd is lost. We play without a net.”
Godchaux explains further, “The same reason a great rhythm section is so cool is the same reason two independent turntables sound cool. There’s something about human nature that makes people like to watch people take risks.”
Both members greatly admire, and rely on, the skill of reading a crowd before knowing what is required for that moment. They share that they see the crowd as a communicator of where the music should go instead of expecting them to like whatever is going on.
“We are almost, in a way, asking a question onstage to the audience: “What’s the proper prescription for tonight?” Godchaux says.
“Know the maximum potential of your tracks and use them accordingly,” adds Randolph. “It’s all about playing the right tracks at the right time, shifting the energy in the room and that kind of thing. It’s difficult for a band to turn on a dime, but a DJ can shift gears and really take the party in a different direction.”
BoomBox has appeared at big-name festivals such as Wakarusa, and national jamtronica circuits have yielded room for the band in the five years of heavy touring between albums. “When we put out the first record,” says Randolph, “we’d never have done a live gig. Now we have the wisdom of five years on the road.” Their second album, Downriverelectric, contains grooves that are far more tuned than 2005’s Visions of Backbeat. During the nonstop touring in between, they found a chance to play for crowds off the beaten path of electronic music. Randolph said BoomBox’s show in Salida “was a beautiful moment.”
“Kids and grandparents dancing,” Randolph remembers. “It does get old playing for the same young, tripping, rolling college kids. The collective whatever can only get so high. Once you get out of that world a bit, there seems to be more of a wide-open energy, and I’m really excited to reach a new market.”
On the Bill
BoomBox play the Mile High Music Festival on Sunday, Aug. 14. Set starts at 3:15 p.m.
Tickets are $99.50 for one day, $150 for the weekend. For full line-up, see page 25. Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, 6000 Victory Way, Commerce City.