As you know, Billy Bob Thornton wrote, directed, and starred in the southern gothic film Sling Blade, which won an Academy Award and allowed him to collaborate with directors like Jim Jarmusch and the Coen brothers. It’s the world of independent film that made it happen. The account is dead, or at least close to it.
But the world of indie music, where Billy Bob Thornton spends so much time and energy these days, is slowly moving in the opposite direction. The indie sector now accounts for his 66% of all record releases and his 20% of all revenue. Of course, how much of that affects the artists themselves is another matter, but the signs are relatively encouraging.
This is one reason why Thornton and his band, The Boxmasters, have spent over a decade touring and releasing albums, including 12 of them, the latest in 2022 with their Keaton “Help…I’m Alive” released on the label. They are scheduled to play at Penn’s Peak on Thursday at 8pm.
They continue to call themselves Billy Bob Thornton and the Boxmasters, and while a face on countless tabloid covers must be worth it, this band is actually It’s an equal partnership between Thornton and JD Andrew, who won his first Grammy Award for this work. Kanye West’s debut album, credited to The Rolling Stones’ ‘A Bigger Bang’, Guy Clark’s ‘Cold Dog Soup’ and, of course, The Pussycat Dolls’ ‘PCD’ .
All of this helps explain why the two boxmasters are doing interviews together, and why Thornton is insistent on talking about music rather than anything else.
question: This first question is for JD. Before the pandemic, the two had recorded an album with Jeff Emerick, who was the sound engineer for The Beatles’ “Revolver” and “Sgt. Martin.” Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Abbey Road, and many more albums. Did you learn any tricks from him?
JD Andrew: Well, that’s interesting. I’m a recording engineer, so of course Jeff was one of my biggest heroes. So when it came to working with him, I tried to figure out some of his tricks. Because he did all these things sonically while we were like, “Oh, that sounds like John Lennon,” or “Oh, that sounds like McCartney,” or whatever. because it was So we sat there and were just amazed by it. And we’re like, ‘Jeff, what did you do to the vocals? How did you make it sound like that?’ And he will say, “I didn’t say that.” And, as you know, Jeff passed away not too long after we made this record….
He will take his secrets to the grave.
JD: Right, but here’s the problem. When I went to his memorial, there were some very famous engineers and producers, and they said one after another, “Oh, Jeff taught me so many tricks,” “He was always so positive.” I was. about everything he did. ’ And I stood back and said, ‘That son of Abu.
Q: So Billie will never hear John Lennon sound again?
Thornton: Well, do you know? JD is a world class engineer and was able to observe a lot of what Jeff was doing. So we actually learned a lot from him, but it was never what he told us. One night, when we were recording a song he was producing, he instructed his assistants at the A&M studios to go to the trash and bring some cardboard boxes. And they came back with boxes of different sizes and shapes. I pick up a mallet and try them all. “I used to do it with Ringo all the time,” he said. And it’s not a very clear picture, but it was taken at A&M, where he’s standing over me while I’m sitting on the floor banging on a cardboard box. He was such a wonderful person to spend time with. And, as you know, he provided us with vocal arrangement ideas that we would never have thought of in a million years. Mix it up and you’ll have a beautiful finish.
Q: You sing a lot of harmonies together on this new record. Is it more so than on previous albums, or does it sound that way because the arrangements have been stripped down?
Thornton: I think it’s both. You know, we found the harmonies sounded really good on the early records. Therefore, we have always paid great attention to them, and that is very important to us. It comes from listening to The Beatles, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and others alike.
But yeah, the first two albums we made were based on what JD and I came up with, very stylized, just bumping our love of British Invasion and hillbilly music. It was an experiment that was done. It was strange and uncharacteristic of us. You know, I wasn’t singing (like I am now). JD wasn’t playing like he is now. We had Mike Butler in the band at the time and it was just the three of us. We always tell people that on the first few records, we were thinking, ‘If Frank Zappa decided to make a Hillbilly record, what would it be like?
Q: In a previous interview, you mentioned that you wrote “Sling Blade” while listening to Frank Zappa’s “Burnt Weenie Sandwich” over and over. is that true?
Thornton: That’s correct. I have a cassette of “Burnt Weenie Sandwich” and I recorded one of the songs on another cassette. It was the song “Holiday Inn Berlin Full Blown”. It was like an orchestra that Zappa did and it was like seven or eight minutes long. And I listened to it all the time on my little cassette player.
Actually, it’s not entirely true. Because after talking to you, I remembered that I was also listening to the Fairport Convention album at the time. I was like, ‘Okay, let’s listen to some British folk rock with fairies and dwarves in the bush.’
Q: Well, now that venues have reopened, many musicians are making up for lost travel time by playing as many shows as possible. Because obviously no one is making a lot of money off of Spotify. But I don’t think that’s a big part of the motivation for the tour, as both of you have had quite a bit of success in your respective fields. What is
Thornton: Well, that’s how we make money. To be honest, the way we keep recording is to give the money we make in merch back to the band. So whatever it costs to make the next record, I spend all my merch money and show money. Because that’s the only money we make.
Q: If you don’t sell enough merch, you may need to run a crowdfunding campaign.
Thornton: Hmm, no, it’s not really like that… I mean, thankfully the audience is supportive enough that I don’t have to do that. But as you know, we haven’t made any profit in this business for several years. On my last tour, I had to go on hiatus after a month, so I wasn’t even sure if I had even broken the bank there.
But you know, we don’t do much outside of the band. We each do some things here and there to support our families. But between making records constantly and then going on tour once or twice a year, it’s amazing how much time bands take out of our lives. As you know, we are not living a life of luxury here. We have a 10-passenger bus and a trailer with all the gear, t-shirts, CDs, records, everything we take from gig to gig and set ourselves up.
That sounds great and terrible at the same time.
Thornton:That’s right. That’s exactly right. And that’s what we want to do. We want to record songs in the studio, we want to play shows on tour and, you know, we’re here to kill ourselves playing every night. Because that’s what we imagined ourselves doing as we grew up. We saw the concert and were like, ‘We want to do this, we want to play on stage in front of a wall of amps and drums and, you know, roadies want to move things. . And thankfully, we are still able to do so, even though we are no longer children. Because it is the greatest thing in the world.
Bill Forman is a freelance writer.