Billy Bob Thornton and The Boxmasters Have A Bad Case of Hillbilly Blues

Billy Bob Thornton and The Boxmasters Have A Bad Case of Hillbilly Blues
Thomas J. Miller/WikiMedia Commons

Since their 2009 studio release, Modbilly, the Boxmasters have spent a lot of time recording their hybrid of mod music and country rock in singer/drummer Billy Bob Thornton's home studio. Thornton and bassist/rhythm guitarist/vocalist J.D. Andrew had completed four or five albums' worth of songs in that time; the archival recordings have just recently been made available as digital downloads via their website. In the meantime, 101 Ranch Records had them record an additional double CD, Somewhere Down the Road, which the label released in April.

"When we ended with [previous label] Vanguard in 2009, we just recorded, recorded, recorded and didn't have anywhere to go with these [songs]," Andrew says. Finally, he and Thornton figured, "Let's just make stuff available online," and as long as the Boxmasters are out promoting the new CD, Andrew says, the label is fine with their digital content being out there.

On Aug. 13, the band released Providence, one of the albums they recorded in the basement studio of Thornton's previous home. Andrew did the mastering on the record; his production credits include producing, engineering and mixing for artists such as the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac and Kelly Clarkson. But the songs for Somewhere Down the Road were all recorded at the historic studio of A&M Records. Working outside Thornton's home changed the frequency of their recording sessions. "We still record a lot, but obviously when you're on the clock, it's a little bit different, and there's something about going to the studio away from the house," Thornton says. "It feels like you're going to work, which is a good thing for me--because when you have the studio right there at your disposal, you can start to kind of take it for granted."

Andrew points out that the A&M sessions forced the band to come into their own to some extent. "[For] some of the older records, it was hyperstylized stuff," he says. "[It was] kind of blending old hillbilly music with British Invasion; Billy sang pretty much every song in some sort of character and/or in a David Allan Coe kind of impression." But when it came to recording this album, he says, "We would just kind of bang out the songs as quickly as we could, and when we bang 'em out quickly, we play 'em as naturally as we can, and that's how this record sounds. It's our natural sound."

That sound has at least two distinct modes. The first

Somewhere Down the Road

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CD is very uptempo, while the second is much moodier. At concerts, Thornton likes to introduce the songs, explaining that the sound of the music doesn't necessarily reflect the message. "Even our happy, pop-sounding songs are usually pretty heavy in terms of the subject matter, so the music is kind of juxtaposed to the lyrics a lot of times," he says. "That's why I like to tell the audience the story sometimes because they might be listening to something that they think is just about taking Suzy to the malt shop, but it's really not."

The Boxmasters played the first show of their first tour at the Coach House, so concluding this tour at the same venue feels akin to a homecoming. "It's a nice, intimate place, and people are right up there with you and everything," Thornton says. "It's almost kind of like sitting around your living room."

The Boxmasters perform at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 496-8930; www.thecoachhouse.com. Thurs., Sept. 17, 8 p.m. $27. All ages.

See also: The 50 Best Things About the OC Music Scene The 50 Worst Things About the OC Music Scene The 25 Greatest OC Bands of All Time: The Complete List

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