BoomBox plays in Carbondale
September 6, 2012
CARBONDALE – Zion Godchaux and Russ Randolph had both tried the typical music route of putting a band together. And both found the process draining and ultimately not worth the effort.
“It’s tough to find players who want to do it, who could show up on time, then dealing with a bunch of personalities,” Godchaux said. “That’s tough work.”
Compounding the difficulty was the sort of music Godchaux and Randolph were hearing between their ears, something precise and locked in.
“The sound we were looking for required tight drums, tight bass, a lot of syncopation,” Godchaux said. “The type of music I had in my head, I couldn’t pay musicians to play that.”
So one day, in the early ’00s, Godchaux suggested they ditch the band idea. They could strip it down to a duo, rely on their knowledge as producers and multi-instrumentalists, and delve into the digital technology that was creating interesting new sonic possibilities. Instead of bandmates, they got drum machines and electronic equipment.
What began as a way to solve a human-resources problem has become an artistic breakthrough. Working under the name BoomBox, Godchaux and Randolph found the realm of electronic music, which seemed to address another problem of the standard rock ‘n’ roll band – it had hit a dead end.
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“We were ready for something different,” said Randolph, who hadmet Godchaux while both were working on a project by singer Donna Jean Godchaux-McKay, Zion’s mother and the one-time singer with the ultimate organic band, the Grateful Dead. “This music gave us a shot in the arm. It moved both of us.”
A decade ago, getting into electronic music wouldn’t have been considered a great career move. Yes, it was a way to bring down the expenses associated with a full band. But audiences weren’t about to buy tickets in any big numbers to see two guys play synthesizers and computers when they could see a guy wail on guitar. But Godchaux and Randolph knew that electronic dance music was enormously popular across Europe and was the sound that got nightclubs in New York and Los Angeles hopping. So they haven’t been surprised to see electronic music grow exponentially and see acts such as Skrillex, Deadmau5 and Pretty Lights become festival headliners.
“I wouldn’t say we’re amazed,” Randolph, 35, said. “We knew it would have this kind of momentum. It just seems to be the next extension of rock ‘n’ roll. Everyone was looking for something new.”
“It’s been huge in Europe forever. It’s household over there. It’s always been pulsating,” Godchaux, 38, said of electronic dance music. “I think a lot of people have come around to the idea of music being made by a digital process.”
With a decade under its belt, BoomBox counts as an electronica trailblazer. When the duo started out, there were a handful of bands using live instrumentation to try and mimic what DJs were doing. But Godchaux and Randolph were among the first to take the full dive, recording much of their music with drum machines and digital programs and then re-creating it live onstage, with Godchaux on guitar and vocals and Randolph handling the electronic end.
“We were reaching for a sound. And the reason we were reaching for it was that no one else was making it,” Godchaux said. “It was like we uncovered a rock with a gem underneath.”
Godchaux and Randolph remain fans of music made the old way.
“We’re big Deadheads, big into jazz and blues. We respect that whole thing,” Godchaux said. “But we also respect the electronic situation. We can reach out to the people who aren’t interested in electric guitar, we can introduce the ravers to blues guitar, and we can also get people who like jazz and blues. We should all be able
to hang out under one roof and groove.”