Bill Monroe. Ray Charles. The Beatles. D’Angelo. With a list of influences that spans a collage of styles, it’s no wonder the Boston Boys haven’t been claimed by any one genre yet. “This is music for the sake of making music, not for the sake of making profit. I think we all kind of draw from that core inspiration,” explains bassist Josh Hari.
After touring the Middle East sponsored by the US State Department as ambassadors of American music, releasing an initial five-song EP, and crafting an original sound unlike anything else you’ll hear, the four-member future roots crew is getting set to release a new EP entitled ‘Keep You Satisfied’ before returning to Morocco and touring Europe later this fall. We caught up with drummer Nick Falk, bassist Josh Hari, fiddle-maestro Duncan Wickel, and vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Eric Robertson to get the story how the band formed, what went into recording their new EP, and what it’s like being a band among an atmosphere of individual artists.
Be sure to check the Boston Boys out in NYC on Thursday 8/29/13 at DROM NYC for the live experience!
When was the first time that the four of you actually all played together?
Eric Robertson: You know, that really could have been in the studio making our first record.
Josh Hari: We had all played in different capacities in each other’s bands. At Berklee there was this fiddle scene where all the people in the fiddle scene played with each other. That’s kind of how we met.
Duncan Wickel: The fiddle scene meaning like bluegrass and old-time music.
ER: Which was a scene that was really exploding in the last 7-10 years at Berklee, but before that, it wasn’t as happening. So it was definitely from that nucleus. The idea for the Boston Boys has been around for four years or so. I guess I was the common thread throughout the whole time, but once we all had played in the band together in different forms, we just kind of knew that this would be right—to just have four people in it and for it to be these four guys.
We decided to apply for the American Music Abroad Tour overseas and that’s really what drew us together. So we were physically brought together to apply for that and make a video to audition. I think that was the first time we played the four of us. We all came to my house late one night and we made this audition video. Once we played, from the get-go, I think we all just knew, “This is it.”
So you received some money from the American Music Abroad Tour, and that went towards your first album.
DW: Yeah, we thought, “Why don’t we take all the money from this tour we’re about to kill and put it into the band fund?”
ER: So we did the tour, and then we did the record. That was the first time when we really went in deep playing together. We went down to Richmond, VA to Montrose Recording for maybe five days.
Nick Falk: It was actually only two-and-a-half days. In that time we did What You Say?! our first EP.
The American Music Abroad Tour is an interesting program. You ended up travelling around the Middle East sharing American music. What originally excited you about getting that opportunity?
JH: They don’t actually tell you where they’re sending you immediately. They’re just like, “We’ll send you somewhere around the world for a month-an-a-half.”
DW: Things change constantly due to political situations as well. We were supposed to go to Libya, but that was around the time that the embassy got attacked.
ER: I actually did the tour two years ago with a bluegrass band. One thing I was really excited about with the Boston Boys is that with the bluegrass band, we were teaching one specific style of American music. With the Boston Boys, we went over and showed that we have all learned a lot of different styles of music and we write our own music. Moving the music forward is a big part of what we’re trying to show people.
NF: Along with that is inspiring younger generations and not just reaching the older people. The other thing about that tour that was exciting was that it was a chance for us to literally play two gigs a day for a month-and-a-half. Just being on the road together and rehearsing in the van together on the way home from gigs really cemented us.
ER: Yeah, with the bluegrass band it was a side project that was put together to teach bluegrass over there. With the Boston Boys, it was like we were sharing with people what we do for our living—this mysterious thing of us being friends and writing music together.
DW: Also the gigs that we did there would be in like these little towns in Morocco where we were the biggest event to happen there in like a hundred years or something. We’d show up to these audiences that would treat us like the Beatles. Doing that twice a day for a month is pretty good for band morale [laughs].
JH: One thing that was really important to me, is that bands don’t really exist anymore. The highest paying gigs of my career have involved me meeting the rest of the band on the stage. So for me what was most exciting about getting that tour was being in a real band. We played together every day, had to deal with each other’s foot smells in the car, you know?
NF: All the good and all the bad. And that comes through the music too.
There are a lot of differences between your first What You Say?! EP and the new EP you are getting ready to release. What was the vision going into the studio this time and what changed between the two sets of recordings?
NF: Well one thing that changed was that we played a lot more together.
ER: Like we said, the first record was pretty much the first time we played together as the four of us in the studio. The second record was after the Middle East.
NF: The second was right about a year later. We had played a lot more gigs as a band and we played that big tour where we played together every day. We knew a lot more about each other’s styles.
JH: We also had about four times as long in the studio.
ER: One of the songs on the new record, “Honeycomb,” is co-written between the four of us. It’s got all of our vibes in there and I think that’s why it sounds the most like music from outer space [laughs]. We don’t know how to classify that. That was the first time the four of us had written a tune together.
JH: The other cool thing about having that much time in the studio is that all of us have produced records for other artists. It doesn’t happen often that you have four producers in a room working towards something. We learned to let go of our egos a bit.
ER: We’d spend a couple of hours on like a minute of music.
NF: We were also blessed with an engineer that we really like named Adrian Olsen at Montrose Recording in Richmond.
ER: Yeah and he was cursed with us [laughs].
So now that the record is completed, you guys are actually going back to Morocco.
JH: Yeah we applied for an independent grant outside of the American Music Abroad Tour for October and we’re working on booking a tour through Europe for all of November. We’re probably going to hit about seven countries—Portugal, Spain, France, Germany, England, Scotland, and the Netherlands. It’s kind of an ambitious endeavor for a band that’s not signed or anything.
ER: Between the four of us, we have enough connections with promoters and venues to put together four weeks of touring after we hit Morocco.
JH Business models have changed in terms of how bands get known. While the overnight success exists, the other side of things is bands that play really well live and get success through that route. I think that’s where we are now; our live show is a really strong part of this band. When we go on this tour, we’ll book one show and then end up playing a house party and a café on the same night.
NF: I think with our second EP coming out, we’re still in the early stages of this band.
ER: Yeah, the latest move we’ve made is that we all live in New York City now. We’ve never even lived in the same city as a band. Now we can actually call each other and go rehearse.
You’re live sound is equally as complex and exciting as your recorded vibe. How do you achieve such a refined live sound?
ER: Our live show consists of an odd instrumentation—it’s mandolin, fiddle, bass, and drums. We’re still working on it, but one thing is that both Duncan and I use effects pedals to elaborate on the sound. That’s opened up a lot of sounds for the four of us.
JH: The other thing is that there isn’t really a model for this kind of instrumentation. That gives us a lot of freedom. I kind of play guitar and bass at the same time; I’m playing double-stops and stuff like that all the time. The sound is figuring itself out over time I guess.
NF: Another aspect is that a lot of times we’ll jam or rehearse acoustically. Normally our live show is pretty electrified, but since we all come from those roots backgrounds, we still love to do the acoustic stuff.
ER: And that’s a huge part of the band’s schedule. The fact that we can play acoustic means that we never stop playing. I’ve never been in a band like this. It never stops between the four of us. It’s some sort of weird testosterone-driven competition where it’s like, “I’m not going to be the dude who stops playing or stops writing or stops learning.” We’re rolling around in a small SUV with the radio off just playing in the backseat. So the balance of switching between acoustic and electric is the toughest to balance, but also makes it really interesting for us.
In the studio we can use both. On a lot of the tracks on the new record, what you’re hearing is a mixture of acoustic and electric.
What else can audiences expect to hear on the new record?
ER: The new record is danceable. It’s good to play loud. It wasn’t designed to be academically analyzed necessarily. It’s music to move to.
JH: With a lot of new bands you have to keep this air of mystery around them. I think we’re past that. The music is supposed to feel good. We’re really not trying to hide anything.
ER: When you see our live show, you see that what we do is what we do.
DW: A lot of people say they are “open,” but you really don’t see that unless it’s around you all the time. I feel like with this project, I’ve really been challenged to be open. For example, I never considered myself a singer, but we all sang on this record.
NF: We have a raw energy. Something is different every time we play a tune. Maybe that’s coming from all of our roots in jazz and bluegrass and that kind of music. We would be stupid to pretend that we didn’t have those roots and to hide them.
What’s next for the Boston Boys?
ER: Now with the second EP getting ready to drop, I think we’re getting ready to take our time and look at the next record for which we have a lot of the songs already written. Most of it is already written.
NF: We’ll be looking at some co-writing opportunities as well.
ER: I think with the next record we’ll also be looking working with a producer who can see us more as a unit that has progressed over the last couple years.
Interview by Eric Sandler (@ericsandler)