Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters
Billy Bob Thornton would be the first to admit that acting has always gotten in the way of his first love—music. With all the accolades and Academy awards for memorable performances that seemed to come so naturally to Thornton on the big screen, also came the spotlight on his personal life in supermarket tabloids. Because of all that unavoidable craziness of life in the fast lane, the music has been his calm, his safety net, his salvation, the place where he feels at home. It is in lyrics and music that Thornton finds himself, his passion for all things real and his own truth.
Luckily he has found guys who understand that need to stay grounded in that reality, guys who get his vibe, and love to play music as much as he does. That’s how Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters came to be in 2007. Ten years later, the group is still busy touring the country and playing and recording music. Many of their songs have made waves on the American Music Association chart, such as “Modbilly,” which made it all the way to the No. 1 position. Their song, “I’ll Give You a Ring,” is featured in the film, The Winning Season, starring Sam Rockwell.
Co-founded in Bellflower, California, by W.R. “Bud” Thornton (it’s how he’s credited on albums and songs) playing drums and providing vocals, and J.D. Andrew on rhythm guitar, and vocals, their fellow front man now is Teddy Andreadis on organ and piano. The group has released three albums on Vanguard Records.
Their sound is a bit unusual—’60s hillbilly fused with Americanized British Invasion pop—but then if they sounded like everybody else, there would be no point, right? If nothing else, the guys get high marks for their originality.
“I never intended to become a movie star, it happened accidentally,” Thornton has stated. “Music is what I love.”
Evidence of that started when Thornton played in cover bands of Creedence Clearwater Revival and ZZ Top and worked as a roadie with Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Johnny Paycheck, Blood, Sweat & Tears, the Statler Brothers, and other bands during high school. During his acting career, Thornton released four solo albums from 2001 to 2007.
Thornton brought in sound engineer J. D. Andrew to help with his 2007 album Beautiful Door. After jamming together, they started to record some of their material. Andrew had known former member Mike Butler “for six or seven years” and called on him to play guitar for them. According to Andrew, after the trio played together, they said “Shoot, this sounds like a band.”
During its early days, the band played several live shows in the California area, as well as in Tecate, Mexico. From mid-2008 to late 2008, the group embarked on a tour across the United States, ending in Los Angeles.
The group has covered The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Turtles, and Mott the Hoople in its unique style. It also plays original songs, mostly written or co-written by Thornton based on the “white trash” figures he had seen in his Arkansas childhood. The members play while wearing well-dressed ‘Mod’ outfits such as tailored black suits, white shirts, and narrow black neckties.
Last year was one of the group’s most productive, with albums Boys And Girls…And The World released in August, followed closely by Tea Surfing in last November. Now the guys are on the “Tea Surfing Tour,” with one of their stops at the Riverside Resort Thursday-Saturday, April 6-8.
We talked with J.D. Andrew about the group, their music and the show they’re bringing to Don’s Celebrity Theatre. Here’s his take:
You guys have been together for 10 years. What surprises you the most about that?
Andrew: I guess, I’d like to say that we keep getting better—and that’s kind of true and kind of not true at the same time. Like our new record we just put out at the end of November—Tea Surfing. It’s our newest record, but really it’s songs that were written in 2010. The one before that, Boys And Girls…And The World, that was all songs pretty much written at the time over the previous year. Unlike bands who have had their differences and break apart, and become more fractured, who show up and do their work and don’t ever talk to each other, over the years we’ve become more close. We’re the opposite of those other groups. We’ve become closer. I talk to Billy every day, even if it’s just about a basketball or baseball game, which is something we’ve always kind of done. It’s fun. The little bit of success we’re having so we get to keep touring and making records, just having a few more fans at the shows, and the opportunity to put out a couple of records in a year—all of that just makes us work harder at it. We just keep going.
It pretty obvious that you guys are more about having fun and playing music together than having success.
Andrew: Well, yeah. We know we’re never gonna have hit songs. We’ve always had the luxury of writing whatever we wanted and so we do. We get to make the music exactly the way we want.
If we had to make the same kind of records every single time, then, yeah, we’d probably get bored and not work very hard at it. With every record we have a point we’re trying to make or a sound we’re kind of chasing or some kind of concept of what a record is going to be, we always have something to shoot for.
Thornton’s take on songwriting…
Andrew: Billy gets to write the lyrics that are whatever he has in mind, whatever is bothering him. It’s therapeutic to write about whatever he wants. As he’s said before, “if I didn’t write songs, I’d go crazy.”
Music is therapy for artists who unintentionally live under a microscope.
Andrew: He gets to put his thoughts, and there are all sorts of ways that he does it, on paper. Some of them, I have no idea what he’s talking about, but I know it’s something on his mind—it’s personal. Then other times, his songs are just fun and entertaining.
Explain what “Tea Surfing” is and why is that the name of your most recent album and tour?
Andrew: When we were putting this record together, instead of saying this is just a tribute to those English Mod and British Invasion bands and California pop rock bands we loved in the ’60s—we took the position of what if we were one of those bands at the time? What would we be doing? So we purposely set out to write songs like that. When it came time to finish the record and put it together, Billy sat down with his 12-year-old daughter Bella and said, “Hey, what should we call this record. We’re combining British Invasion and California pop surf music and stuff.” And she just instantly said “Tea Surfing.” That became the title of the record. We gave her credit on the record for coming up with the title and she’s very proud that she was able to do it. And we like it.
You guys have a new project coming out this year…
Andrew: We’re almost done with it. We’ve got a couple more things to finish up. Once we get back from the tour, we’ll wrap up the rest of it. I think while we’re on the road, we’ll try to have Kirk (McKim) play some guitar stuff on the bus, make use of technology and the fact that he lives in Texas and we all live in California. It’s better than flying him out for an extra day, so we’ll just kick it out while we’re out and spending time together.
You were a recording engineer for Guy Clark. How did that come about?
Andrew: I was the engineer. It was my first recording credit. It was on Guy’s Cold Dog Soup record. It was just one of those things where the other engineer who worked at the same place I worked at had a family emergency and had to leave. He knew that I worked in the studio every night after he left so he said, “I gotta go, can you take over?” It’s one of the greatest experiences of my life being able to sit there with Guy and Verlon Thompson, and help mix the record. Anyone who has ever been in the vicinity of Guy Clark knows what a presence he was, just an ambassador of music and a very amazing man. I was very honored to have been able to meet him. Everybody who’s ever met him has the same affinity for him. He treated everyone pretty much the same. Me and Billy are both tremendous fans of Guy.
So talk about the show you’re bringing to town? How many musicians are you bringing with you?
Andrew: Me, Billy and Teddy are the three official, on-the-cover-of-record guys. We’re the official Boxmasters. Then we have three other guys who come and fill out the sound. Kirk McKim plays lead guitar with us, Dave Fowler plays bass, and Eric Rhoades plays drums. I play bass on the records and Billy plays drums so we gotta have more people fill out the rest. Then we have Kirk who also plays with us on the records.
We’re a pretty straight-ahead rock and roll band with our bass and ’60s pop and rock. We have a lot of influences like Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers so we sound a bit like that—jangly American rock and roll.
Is there one song or one segment that goes over well with people no matter where you go?
Andrew: Billy tells a lot of stories between the songs, so he talks a lot when it’s necessary. I know people really enjoy hearing what the songs are about, the stories he tells, along with we have some pretty “garagy,” almost punky sounding stuff at times and we really get revved up. We’re playing for either the more sit down crowds or for people who have been imbibing a bit and like the good old rock and roll numbers—and sometimes it’s at the same places. We tend to do the same set no matter what, but we have a few things we can change up and different ways we can go depending on the level of intensity of the crowd.
BILLY BOB THORNTON & THE BOXMASTERS
Riverside Resort, Don’s Celebrity Theatre
Thursday-Saturday, April 6-8. 8 p.m. (See Showtimes for tickets)