If You’re Ever in New York City….
The Box Social Interview
The Box Social is a fun-loving power-pop band from Milwaukee, WI, signed to No Karma Records. No Karma released their last EP Blown to Bits, which you can read a review of here. Guitarist Nick Woods had a chat with us over the phone about things like Metallica, the joy of record labels, and nearly dying in New York City.
Independent Clauses: What’s your name about?
Nick Woods: In all honesty, when the name got picked out, I wasn’t in the band. What basically happened was that our singer and our drummer got really drunk hanging out in the drummer’s basement watching Family Guy or the Simpsons and writing songs about Brian’s high school. In the morning, they remembered it. There’s no real story- it just sort’ve sounded cool to all of us. It’s catchy and that’s about it.
IC: How has life on No Karma Records been?
NW: Being on a record label is kind’ve a lot better than not being on a record label. I’d recommend being on a record label to someone who’s not even in a band- that’s how cool it is. It’s cool to be able to say, “You can go buy our album in a store,” instead of going through some shifty online store. The No Karma guys run their own online store, but it’s different. With No Karma, the guys who run it have been in bands and they’re not out to screw you. They really know how to work hard and make us feel important, whether we are or not. And that’s really the main thing- we feel important whether we are or not. IC: Kinda like permanent fans. NW: Yeah, just like that. It was weird, actually- we met Michael when we opened for Thunderbirds Are Now! within the first few months of us being a band. I hadn’t really heard of No Karma, but they released stuff by a band named Managra that I really liked. So I had bought Managra CDs from No Karma, and that’s all I had heard about them. We opened for Thunderbirds at a venue that’s since been shut down, and Michael was there. He didn’t say hi or anything, but the next day we got an e-mail from him that said, “Hey, I liked your show.”
We said, “Sweet! A record label exec saw us!” So we went and recorded a really crappy demo called What, Too Soon? and sent it to him up at No Karma, and basically said, “Okay, you can sign us now.”
We sat around for a couple of weeks and didn’t really hear anything. Later I ordered a CD from No Karma and when I received it, attached to the CD was a note that said “Thanks for buying this CD. Thanks for sending us a copy of yours, too.” And we thought that was the end of it. We played a whole bunch of shows and we even played some shows with Michael’s band The Five Mod Four. We went and recorded another demo called Golly Gee Whiz and that was pretty cool, and eventually we ended up with this EP called Blown to Bits. By this time we knew a little bit of what we were doing, so we were trying to get a label to help us out a bit. We were going to these labels that were really small and really didn’t know what they were doing. They were making us all these promises and we were a little bit skeptical. As we kept going…
IC: Wait, hold on. I need to catch up on my typing.
NW: Oh, sorry man. I’m used to doing e-mail interviews with teenage girls who have a zine, and usually they’re like “You play in a BAND?? SWEET!!” Cause nowadays everyone has a zine. It’s like everyone has a band. But most of the time they’re just a pile of shit- no one knows what they’re doing. We’re glad to have someone calling us who knows what they’re doing.
IC: Yeah, we try to look like we know what we’re doing.
NW: That’s what everybody tries to do, so yeah- it’s cool.
NW: Anyway, as we kept going, more and more of these labels kept sketching out on us. Most of them were real little, run-out-of-the-basement type things, and it just wasn’t working. I mean, not that there’s anything wrong with running a DIY label, but there’s a line between knowing what you’re doing and having no idea what you’re doing. So basically, we were still in touch with Michael from No Karma, and Michael said, “No, we’re not having any of that shit. We’re doing it my way.” And so we got signed to No Karma.
IC: When do you release your next release (and is it an ep?!)?
NW: It’s going to be a full length, finally. I think the plan is to put it out next summer, pending complications that everyone doesn’t foresee. Actually, we never meant to put out three EPs in a row- we’ve wanted to put out a full length for two years. Originally, we had songs and no demo, so we recorded an EP (What, Too Soon?) and it was a piece of shit. So when we finally got our shit together we had 6 more songs so we went and recorded those. So we said, “Now we have 12 songs- we can go record at Pachyderm Studios.”
NW: It’s a fantasy- Nirvana recorded there.
NW: We got around to next summer, and we decided, “Some of these 12 songs are really really not too good- we’d better ditch some of these.” So we went to drop some of the songs and write some new ones to replace them. By the time we finished those 5 replacement songs, it turned out that they didn’t go with the rest of the noisy pop thing we had on the first two EPs that we did. I mean they did, but it was a lot more rock and roll than the old thing. So we met with Michael and it went from there. Now we’re putting out a full-length next summer, and we have it all written.
*pause* If there’s one bit of advice I’ve got, it’s this: do a whole bunch of practice runs. Don’t spend a whole bunch of money when you record your first album. Even if you have a whole lot of money and someone producing it, you need some really good time to figure out what you’re doing. I’m glad that we’ve taken our time and I think that we will all be happier with what we’ve put out, now that we’ve taken our time.
IC: Is there a story or reason behind the hilarious artwork on Blown to Bits?
NW: I don’t know, really. The guy who did it (Tony Weber) runs a really small design company in Milwaukee. He’s really really super good with screen printing- definitely impressed us. Nick knew Tony kind of well. He said, “This guy’s really good with screen printing, and this would fit a little bit better with what we’ve been doing. It’s a little more primitive and less cartoony.” So we went to his house to talk to him, and we were prepared to lay out $300/400 for the art, but he said, “Yeah, you can have this one for 50 bucks.”
It’s really unsatisfying to talk about meanings, because everything we do, we do because it seems to fit. There is no active story or deep meaning; we just did it cause it fit.
IC: Funniest Tour Story:
NW: In June we did this long tour: two weeks out to New York and back. We were like, “Sweet! We’re gonna play New York!” We drove out to New York and Brian said, “We don’t know where we’re staying.” So he calls his Mom, and she cashed in all her hotel points and we got a free hotel night. Really fun. So we get to the venue, and it’s this really really small bar. This place doesn’t even have a sign over the door. There’s a bartender who looks pissed to see us and that’s it. We load all our stuff in to the basement where we’re playing, then go back up top to hang out outside. Brian and Nick are smoking cigarettes, and we notice this homeless guy who’s wandering up to us. We’re thinking, “Shit, he’ll ask for money.” Instead, he asks for a light, and Brian says, “Yeah man, here’s a cigarette lighter.”
He lights up and he says, “Who are you guys? You guys in a band?” We say yeah, we’re in a band. He says, “Oh yeah? Where are you playing?” We point at the bar behind us and he says, “I’m the guy who booked you for that show.”
We’re like, “Okay…” So we find out he’s from Green Bay and we’re from Milwaukee, and he knows everyone we know.
So we’re talking a bit, and then suddenly, this guy takes off running. Like full speed, up the street. We’re kinda confused, so we go inside to hang out a bit, and we see this really really gay and really really drunk man. He kept touching Matt and kept rubbing the back of his head, and all Matt could say was, “No, man- I’m not like this.” The guy kept saying “Just jokes, man- just jokes.”
Eventually, the homeless guy comes back, and he says “Let’s go up to my apartment and hang out.” We all agree, and we start following this guy. But he stops and says “This guy’s my friend, we’re going with him.” So the gay guy comes with us, and we go.
Just as an inventory, you’ve got four kids in NYC 4,000 miles from home with no money, a homeless man, and a boy-hungry pedophile. That’s the company. The homeless guy walks to the door next to the bar, and we all get into this really skinny staircase with one bare lightbulb hanging, like we’re in this serial killer thing. The homeless guy turns around and says to us: “If the Pakistani guy below me hears me I’m going to prison, cause he doesn’t know I’m up here.”
At this point, we know he’s homeless- literally. He’s squatting on this bar. So, to recap, we’ve got this boy hungry nymphing pedophile-
NW: Yeah, nymphing. I heard it on Family Guy. Side note- if you ever say anything and no one gets it, say it’s from Family Guy and everyone is required to laugh.
Anyway, so we’ve got homeless man in front and pedophile in back, and we don’t even know these guys, and it’s ten o’clock at night in New York City. We get to the top of the stairs and he slams the door. I’m thinking “Oh shit, this is where we die, he’s going to stab a knife in my back and I will die.”
But we didn’t die. He turns on this lamp, and it’s one bulb of piercing fluorescent light. It’s so bright that it’s blinding us, pretty much. It’s bad. The guy says yeah, “That’s where I sleep,” and nods towards this rotting mattress. The story’s getting kind’ve sad, actually, cause it’s this rotting mattress and it’s just nasty. I mean this guy lives in his own filth- just one mattress and a lamp and nothing else.
So he says, “We’ll go back downstairs now, but we can’t let the Pakistani hear us.” Throughout this entire episode, he calls him the Pakistani- the guy never gets a name. It’s not like he doesn’t know it- it’s pretty much full-out racist. So he says that we’ll go down by the elevator. He walks over to the breaker and sticks his hand into the breaker and sparks go everywhere. He gets really shocked. And we’re shocked too, cause the guy just stuck his hand in and shocked himself! So he keeps putting his hand in to flip the breaker, and this thing shocks him every time. After a bunch of “AH’s” and yelling he finally flips it, and we take the elevator down to the floor. By now it’s funny- we pretty much know we’re not going to die.
We say to this guy, “Before the show we’re going to go bar-hopping.” So we walk around the corner to this bar, and you could tell it’s an old breakfast club, which was cool. The stove is a set of video games and such. The homeless guy says, “Go talk to the guy behind the bar and get us some beer. Tell him you’re friends with me. You’ll get free beers- just give him this ten bucks.”
So one of us walks back to the bar to give him the money, and the bartender walks away and doesn’t take the money. When he gets back, the homeless guy says, “He didn’t take it?” Now this homeless guy is acting like someone is on his tail, like someone is out to get him. He hisses at us “Pass it to him under the bar! pass it to him under the bar!” So we go up with the money and the bartender comes over and takes the money from under the bar. Really freaking weird.
The homeless guy comes back again and says, “I’ve got somebody who’s going to guest musician with you guys tonight.” and he brings over this old black guy named Melvin. He says, “hey, you guys play in a band? I’m gonna play with you.” And we’re like, “Great- this is a homeless friend of a homeless guy and he’s going to drunkenly cavort around on stage while we’re playing.” We found out later that the guy who booked us with a show doesn’t even work at the bar- in fact, on numerous occasions he has gotten kicked out for stealing liquor. He’s a known criminal, he’s homeless, and he’s booking shows.
So we finally go downstairs to play our show, and we play to three people. There’s a drunk lady who’s dancing hardcore, and a guy in the corner who’s acting more and more weird. And the third guy is Jimmy Fallon. I didn’t even notice, but our drummer did, and he said, “Yeah, man- that was Jimmy Fallon in the back.” We found out later that this bar was so low-key that it’s a place celebrities go when they want to be alone for a while.
IC: Are you serious?
NW: Can I make this stuff up?
IC: I guess not….this is pretty crazy.
NW: I know- all throughout the night we were waiting for the story to end, but it just kept getting more and more hilarious. It never seemed to end.
IC: It’s still not over?
NW: Not yet. So we finish our set, and our booker comes over and says, “You guys are gonna play another set.” We don’t have another set- but we said, “We’ll play another set, whatever.” Melvin comes in, and we say, “Shit- this is where we have to play with drunk, homeless man number two.”
We get up on stage, and we ask “What do you play?” He said, “We’ll play Jimi Hendrix for a while.” So I’m just riffing, our bassist is playing a walking bass line, and our drummer’s playing a shuffle. And suddenly, this guy just goes off. I mean he’s seriously wailing. Seriously really fucking good- just an absolutely incredible musician. We found out later from our booker that he played back up for B.B. King for a while. But right now he’s making up words and singing them as he goes along. These are really incredible songs- right off the top of his head. It was amazing, actually. So we finish the second set and we’re hanging out. We’re like really freaking drunk by this point and we don’t care that they’ve got no money to give us- at this point we just want to tell the story. We’re about to leave, so me, Brian and Nick go out the car. Matt’s hanging out in there, and he’s been hitting on this chick that our booker knows. Before we leave, the guy says, “Do you want me to mess with him a little bit?” And we said, “Oh yeah, do it.” So we’re outside waiting by the van, and suddenly the booker kicks the door open and throws Matt out on his face, yelling, “Don’t ever come in my fucking bar again!” And throws Matt on his face. And that’s the end of the story- we got in the van and went to the hotel.
IC: *laughing* that’s an amazing story.
NW: Most bizarre and ludicrous situation ever- we kept waiting for the story to end and it never did. It just got more and more and more ridiculous.
IC: What’s the best thing to ever happen to the Box Social:
NW: Getting signed to No Karma. It’s an unbelievable difference being on a record label that cares for you. I have the utmost respect for DIY bands who do it without help, but I don’t know if I could do it myself forever. Once you get signed, it opens a lot of the doors to meet new people and find new audiences. I think it’s really fun being DIY, but it makes it a lot easier to have people behind you willing to work as hard as you are.
IC: Reason that playing in the Box Social is awesome (and infinitely hilarious):
NW: Man, there’s a lot of it. I love music a lot. I think that’s the number one thing. I really like playing in a band, even with the bad tour stories- it’s all about being able to come home and tell your friends what happened. Another thing is getting to drive around with your best friends for two weeks and do nothing but play music. Just drive around and play around and have a good time with the band.
People say that it’s all about the music or all about the money, but for us it’s all about the experience- the fact that we can go on a vacation for two weeks that doesn’t cost much. That’s why people follow the Grateful Dead and Phish around- to follow the music and just hang out with their friends.
IC: Where do you see the band in 3-5 years?
NW: I don’t know. I don’t think any of us know. I hope to be…I think for all of us the major goal is to be able to do this for a living. That’s any serious musician’s dream. If I could, I’d tour full time. That’s what I’d be all about. I’d come home to talk to my friends and family, but I’d drive all around for my entire life. Hook up with a major label or maybe No Karma will grow- but right now we’re going to do what we’re doing and see where it takes us.
IC: Bands you looked up to when you were a kid:
NW: Oh my God- depends on how young I am.
IC: You can choose that.
NW: I’ll bet I had better taste in music in 4th grade than in 8th grade. In second through fourth grade I was all about Tom Petty, Michael Jackson, Green Day, and Silverchair. That’s probably a lot better than 8th grade- I was into some really really bad shit. Metallica was my biggest obsession. Me and our singer were freakishly into Metallica. In fact, I paid 50 bucks for a Metallica bootleg. I had all their shit arranged in a closet with a special light. I know Brian was really obsessed with KISS….
NW: Yeah. Have you seen Some Kind of Monster yet?
IC: No, I haven’t, actually. I wanted to.
NW: Oh my God, Steve- you need to see it. This is the exposure of a band that has just reached into the greatest depths of hell. Nobody trying to be that bad could actually be this bad. I mean St. Anger was so bad that when it came out there would be magazines giving it 0 out of 10 stars. It’s so ridiculously bad. In 8th grade I was in awe because they were sweet- now I’m in awe because they’re so ridiculous. I mean, they’ve done some pretty good stuff- I don’t want Elektra records getting on my case because I’m not a fan of Metallica anymore or anything. It’s pretty sweet that Metallica stood up for Beatallica- that was cool.
IC: *laughing as he types* let me catch up on typing.
NW: Alright. *pause* Here’s something…We were talking about band philosophy, and none of us are out to be artists. We like playing rock- it’s cool that there’s some artsy bands out there, making an art form out of it, making huge leaping soundscapes- but it’s not for me. I subscribe more to the 50’s philosophy where there’s pop and stuff that entertains. Some of the emo and hardcore and stuff- no offensive to them, cause there’s some really good stuff that I still listen to- but it kind’ve sucks that they’re trying to create aesthetic emotion in some person’s mind. It doesn’t mean you have to sell out, but I don’t know why people can’t take themselves less seriously. There’s no reason for what you play and what you have fun with to become a burden.
For example, remember when Krist Novoselic threw his bass into the air and it hit him right in the face? It’s so cool that you’re into these songs and that you’re into it, but sometimes I’d like to see a band that dances on stage and trashes equipment and just goes nuts.
IC: Yeah, there’s this band I know of that played a show up here, and their bassist was going nuts the entire time- dancing around and stuff. They had the last spot, so they could play as long as they wanted and they didn’t know when they were going to end. They got to a part in one song where the bassist played a really sweet solo and then freaked out- he jumped, and then threw his bass into the drum set, then fell off the stage. That was the end of the show.
NW: That’s what I’m talking about man- that’s cool. At this point in my life, I would rather see an unbelievably shitty band that goes ape-shit on stage. It’s cool if you’re tight, and I’d rather see a really good band that does that stuff too, but I’d rather see you go ape-shit than stand around. I’ll use this for example. I went and saw the Plea for Peace Tour when Further Seems Forever was headlining. Further Seems Forever, these supposed huge indie legends. So they get on stage and they just don’t do anything- it sounds like I’m listening to a record.
There’s a defined difference between an album and a show. You make a tight album but when you make a show, you’re entertaining. I don’t like that they go verbatim, straight off the record. There are so few bands now that go on stage and play music and have a good time with it. There’s a band named Mclusky that does it- I never got to see them live, I really wish I could’ve. You could tell that they went into the studio and had nothing polished. They’re a super tight performance, but their recordings are all noisy. *pause*
Punk rock has fallen down the tubes- it doesn’t exist. Everyone’s about these ‘great’ performances. I’d rather have a great time and make an audience go nuts on stage. It just doesn’t happen very much any more, and I wish it would.
IC: What have you been listening to lately?
NW: Geez, not much of anything. When we’re in the van we listen to Mclusky. The Thermals are a really cool band on Subpop- Michael introduced us to them. Their old band The Urban Legends was on No Karma back when it really wasn’t No Karma. Dillinger Four. Phantom Planet has a new album coming out soon that I’m really excited for…that’s pretty much it right now.
IC: Hey, thanks for the interview.
NW: No, thank you. Have you ever seen Almost Famous?
IC: Yeah, it’s my favorite movie.
NW: Alright, then you know when I say, “Man, just don’t make us look lame.”
-Interview conducted by Stephen Carradini in December.