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The Boxing Lesson: Our Exclusive Interview

22nd July 2008


Easily one of the most interesting bands we’ve come across all year, The Boxing Lesson offer a brazen revival of the psychedelic blues sound, tinged with a love of the early punk and new-wave they grew up–and fell in love–with. Hailing from the fertile creative grounds of Austin, this is a band that’s as open about their influences as they are committed to an identity of their own, a band that made Culturespill’s recent “Most Interesting Bands To See This Summer” list, and a band whose new album, Wild Streaks & Windy Days, promises to make more lists here at Culturespill–our best-of picks at year’s end. Glistening with a lo-fi adrenaline that weaves together a perfect recipe of sounds from across the decades, Wild Streaks is clearly the work of a group of guys who play for nothing other than a love of the song, a passion that yields the kind of controlled abandon that gives way to great rock ‘n roll. Here now is our exclusive interview with Austin’s The Boxing Lesson (Oh, and check out this little tease from their upcoming video for “Brighter,” one of many killer tracks from their new album):

1. One of the things that fascinates me the most about you guys is how open you are about your influences. With song titles like “Dark Side of the Moog,” the whole space-rock persona you push, and the psychedelic blues sound of your latest album, it’s clear that Pink Floyd is a big influence. How did Floyd come to factor so prominently in your work?

Paul: I’ve been attracted to Pink Floyd’s songs and David Gilmour’s guitar tone for a long time. When The Boxing Lesson moved from Los Angeles to Austin in 2004, we were hooked on Animals, Wish You Were Here, and Meddle in addition to a lot of other things besides music. Certain albums and certain substances go hand in hand. As we were building Jaylinn ‘s synthesizer rig, we were searching for those classic synth sounds that recalled the epic textures of Floyd yet at the same time modern enough to push our sound into the future.

2. As with fashion, music’s “next big thing” usually turns out to be a recycled artifact of the past, as in the still-thriving post-punk movement captained by bands like The White Stripes, The Black Keys, The Gossip, etc. Other than yourselves, though, I don’t know that there is nearly as visible a revival of the psychedelic blues sound. So maybe you can correct my ignorance here: What other bands might you credit with a revival of the sound you’re bringing back?

Paul: There is a revival of the psychedelic blues sound going on down here in Austin in some ways. The Black Angels have gotten very popular by preserving the 60’s psych sound. In regards to The Boxing Lesson, I think we have our own little twist on the psychedelic or neo-psychedelic movement due to the fact that our songs filter in other decades of music than just that one specific late 60’s sound. As we say in our bio, our sound is psychedelic but not in the traditional sense. This is modern druggie music that we are making.

3. Other than Pink Floyd, what other bands have proven to be your biggest influences?

Paul: Spoon, Brian Eno, David Bowie, The Cure and Failure

4. I’m always leery of bands brave enough to cite rock ‘n roll Gods as influences. Another band we covered in Culturespill, Low Water, liken themselves to The Kinks. Do you fear that you may be imposing lofty standards on yourselves by citing such gargantuan influences?

Paul: I’m not scared. We created this album out of a genuine place. We are not trying to be a Floyd tribute band or anything; we are trying to just be ourselves. We are huge fans of music, in general, not just Pink Floyd.

Jaylinn: You can’t help but have influences seep into the music you make when you listen to a particular album hundreds of times, especially when all you are doing is literally listening to and absorbing the music – not worrying about the outside world, but focusing on the sounds at hand. It gets into your subconscious and becomes part of who you are.

Jake: I have to agree with both Paul and Jaylinn. I love music. I love all different kinds of music. Who would not be inspired by Tony Williams, or Capitan Beefheart, or Jimi Hendrix? I grew up listing to all kinds of music and that music has made me the player that I am today. A wise man once said to me, “I don’t need to go to school to learn how to play music; my record collection is my school.” I took those words to heart. I think when you list great bands as your influences it might just mean you have great taste in music.

5. Critics have also slapped the “post new-wave” label on you guys—I do hear perhaps a vague echo of new-wave in songs like ”Brighter” or, of course, anytime that synthesizer comes roaring in. Do you acknowledge any “new wave” roots in your music? And, if so, what new wave bands in particular have contributed to the development of your sound?

Paul: We are children of the 80s. How could it not be in there somewhere? One of my first cassette tapes ever was “Never Mind the Bullocks…” While not exactly new-wave, I thought this punk sound was so risqué and powerful. It gave me goose-bumps. This lead into the whole post-punk new-wave thing for me and I fell head over heels in love with The Cure as a teenager. The Boxing Lesson has been doing a cover of “Jumping Someone Else’s Train” recently and it is so fun to play. I’ve wanted to do that song with a band since I was 16 years old. Some of the better new-wave bands had this really raw energy in the songwriting that I was attracted to. I’m really a ‘student of song’ in a lot of ways. As an adult, I went through a huge Elvis Costello phase about a year before making the move to Austin. His songwriting is exceptional and he has a voice that is so strong. It’s a voice of a generation. I feel like in The Boxing Lesson, we are attempting to morph together all the things we love about the different eras of music into our own voice and our own sound to make the music that we want to hear right now.

Jaylinn: Being in high school in the late 80s lent itself to bad haircuts, skater boys, Depeche Mode and New Order. I remember thinking New Order was probably the coolest thing I had heard – until I discovered Joy Division… And that was the coolest thing I heard until Jane’s Addiction. I went from new wave to indie in one fell Nothing’s Shocking swoop. I smoked my first joint with a dude named Chip listening to that album.

The Boxing Lesson: “Dance With Meow,” Wild Streaks & Windy Days (2008)

6. Though Paul’s roots extend back to L.A. , you guys hail from the fertile creative grounds of Austin , TX , home of the great SXSW festival. Can you talk about what it’s like to be a part of that rich culture, and how, if at all, Austin has changed over the years—especially given the increasing popularity of SXSW?

Jake: Well, Austin has changed over the years. The way the city is changing demographically has had an impact in the music scene. Downtown housing has become more and more expensive thus pushing the musician out of that area and the downtown music scene in general. The people who are moving downtown are pushing for a noise ordinance. I find it a little peculiar that one of the greatest things about Austin is its music scene and that the people that are moving downtown want to destroy it. I think if you move downtown you should expect some noise. If that is something that is going to bother you, maybe you shouldn’t move downtown. Maybe you would be more suited to live in the suburbs. Let me get off my soap box and get back to your question at hand. There is a strong community of musicians in Austin. On any night of the week you can go see (and be a part of) great live music. I cannot express enough how much I am inspired by watching a great band play. It makes me want to go home and play. I have lived all over the U.S. and there are only a handful of place that inspire me as much as Austin does. I feel that SXSW is great for Austin, maybe not so much for the Austin musician, but for Austin it is a great thing. The festival is incredible. Bands from all over the world flock to our city for a week of music and fun. It is something that any music lover should come be a part of. That being said I feel that the festival has gotten away from its roots. It is my understanding that it was for unsigned and up-and-coming acts. Now it is headlined by the likes of The Flaming Lips and Tom Waits. Please don’t get me wrong, those are two of my favorite artists, but do they really need the publicity? If you ask me their careers are well on their way. As a band from Austin, it is incredibly hard to get invited to the festival. For me it is a love/hate relationship.

7. A lot of bands out of the NYC area—particularly Brooklyn —talk about how hard it is to get noticed in a place as huge as that. But isn’t it almost—if not just as—hard to get noticed in a place like Austin, where it seems that just as many bands are crawling over one another to make it. Is that the case?

Paul: I think it’s hard to get noticed anywhere. When we first came to Austin, I thought it was going to be so easy here. In a way I was right and in a way I was wrong. It’s just different down here. Music is the cornerstone of the community and there is definitely a strong sense of support for local acts. There are a lot of bands down here fighting for shows and recognition but it is Austin and everyone is very cool about doing so.

Jaylinn: I think the recognition comes from not going away. We played over 100 shows in Austin alone our first year in town. We have not slowed down much. It’s hard not to notice a band that has shows listed every week!

Jake: I lived in Manhattan for a little while and I can attest to how many bands and musicians are up there trying to make it or even just get noticed. I always felt that New York City was very compact. I think that when you have that many people in that small of an area it is going to be tough to get noticed. I think that one of the advantages that bands from NYC have is that there are hundreds of small towns that they can branch out to and play. You can go up and down the east coast and hit college town after college town. So it might be hard to get noticed in NYC, but in general I think it is easier to tour. As for Austin, there are lots of bands here, and Austin is not a large town. We have less then a million people who live here. So when you consider how many bands and musicians there are here, it starts to become very competitive. Also to tour from Austin is a little difficult as well. If you are only doing little week long or two week long tours, it makse it a little challenging to say the least. We are in the center of one of the largest states in the union. When you drive west, that starts to become very apparent very quickly. In the end, I think that no matter where you live, if you have good songs and you love what you are doing then you have made it.

8. I love the space-rock persona you guys indulge, always making sure to credit Paul as a songwriter just as much as an “astronaut” and member of “the Cassini Spacecraft Team.” On your MySpace page, the band’s sound is attributed to “everything they collected in Space,” which included “researching the magnetometer’s detection of the presence of ion cyclotron waves in the vicinity of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.” What inspired all of this celestial imagery, this theme of space travel?

Jaylinn: I am a theoretical astro-physicist. Theoretical. And in my quest for knowledge of all things above my head and below my feet, I found the most interesting thing about Saturn. Recorded by the Cassini Huygens spacecraft, Saturn is a source of intense radio emissions. They are closely related to the auroras near Saturn’s poles. They are like the Northern (and Southern) Lights… except when recorded, they sound like a Moog. (check it out here: I mean, what keyboardist WOULDN’T be fascinated by a planet that creates or emits the very sounds that twiddling knobs does? It blew my mind right out of my head. When trying to get just the right imagery for the album artwork, and after weeks of frustration at different design options, I decided to watch a little Science Channel to clear the brain, and what did I find? Cassiopeia A – it’s the image on our album cover (and back). This was taken by Hubble, and although it’s touted as the “Birthplace of Stars”, it’s (more accurately) a supernova remnant (death of a big-bad daddy star) and the brightest extrasolar radio source in the sky. Neat.

9. One of my favorite songs on the new album is “Brighter.” Can you talk about how that song came to be—the lyrics, the music, its subject matter?

Paul: This is one of the songs that just came to us in a rehearsal. We played it in its entirety the first night and luckily recorded it on the spot. The melody was there from the beginning but the lyrics evolved over the course of a few months. The opening riff is so raunchy and this song has one of the fattest bass lines on the album, in my opinion. The lyrics are about my conflict with myself over major changes that I was making in my life at the time, and the battle between being true and being free. I think it rings out loud and true. We recently shot a stop motion photography video for this song in an old graveyard in East Austin. Keep your eyes and ears open for that one this Fall.

The Boxing Lesson: “Brighter,” Live in Austin, 2-28-08

10. Songs like “Hopscotch & Sodapop”—both in sound and title—seem like such wild departures from the album’s predominant mood—it strikes me as the most distinctly “American” rock song on the LP. How did a song like that find its way onto the album?

Paul: Hopscotch was one of the last songs that we wrote for the album. I had a weekend to myself and locked myself away to write a few pop tunes that I thought the album was missing. After “Lower” I knew there had to be a quick song with a light mood to counteract the heavy theme that came before it and to give the listener a few minutes of reprieve before the album got really dark and heavy again. Hopscotch’s theme is positive and I think that vibe is needed to make the album move forward in momentum like it does. We were drinking a lot of scotch at that time and Jaylinn came up with the play on those words and named the song Hopscotch & Sodapop. It’s a breezy song with a breezy name.

Jaylinn: It’s the scotch and soda in the middle that make you wanna hop on pop at the end.

11. Is Wild Streaks and Windy Days a “concept album”?

Paul: Yeah, in a way…. but it’s far from a rock opera. It’s a concept album about our lives if it’s a concept album at all.

Jaylinn: This album embodies a time and place. It is a time capsule of sorts. Because our inspiration was specific, I can see how it could be labeled that. But it’s no Tommy, you know? We weren’t trying to be. It’s a journey from the darkest of nights to the windiest of days. It’s just not linear.

Jake: I say no. I think that these songs came to life by living them. Each song is a story of our lives one way or another. Some of the songs did not make sense till after we wrote the song. It is weird like that. We will be playing the song live and I will be singing along with Paul, and some of the lyrics just hit home with where my life is now. At the time the song was written it had a different meaning. It is truly amazing. We put so much of us in these songs that I think the listener has no choice but to come along for the ride. I think that when we recorded these songs we had a concept in mind. We recorded the album from start to finish. We started with the first song, completed it and then moved on to the next song. That was the first time I had ever done that. I feel that we really got a chance to concentrate on each song. We got it were we wanted it before we moved to the next one. I feel that that is part of the reason why it takes the listener on a journey, a true experience.

12. That raises another question, and possibly a very stupid one, so consider yourself warned: are you guys a “concept band”? Or do you worry that such a label might be too confining?

Jaylinn: A concept band? No. We DO conceptualize, though, and it seems that our last few releases are a pretty good indicator of that. Labels can be so awkward…

Jake: Concept band? I am not too sure I understand what that means. What would give you that idea? I think, no…. I know that what the three of us have is very special. We have incredible chemistry together. I feel it every time we set up and play. I felt it the first time Paul and I played together. I am not sure if that answered your question. Let me say it this way: I try and stay away from labels. I definitely would never label myself. If you think it is something and want to call it that, that is fine, but I would never label it anything other than music that I love to play with people that I love to play music with.

13. How, by the way, did “Dark Side of the Moon” become “Dark Side of the Moog?”

Paul: It didn’t intentionally start out that way. I was trying to find an introduction to our live set one day at rehearsal and I was looping big A and F chords on my Boomerang and found that opening riff and the vocal melody rather quickly. Jaylinn had been playing around with these really deep dark sounds on her Moog Voyager at the time and had named this one specific sound Dark Side of the Moog. I think it is very fitting and a great opener for the album and a good introduction for the songs that follow.

14. What did you guys think about the Pink Floyd reunion with Roger Waters at the Live 8 Show?

Jaylinn: We happened to stumble in on this one. . . We were at rehearsal and decided to take a break from the studio. We wandered in the house for drinks and on the TV there was something pretty amazing. We didn’t know it was coming on, and we’re all like, “Is this FLOYD???” Seeing David Gilmour’s face up close while he was playing was so beautiful. I could see his facial reactions to the notes that were being played. It felt like I was sitting right in front of him. Covered in chills and inspiration, we went back into the studio and had a great sesh.

15. David Gilmour looked like he couldn’t get away from Roger Waters fast enough when they wrapped up their set, putting down his guitar and scampering off the stage as soon as humanly possible. Roger had to wave him back for a collective bow. Do you guys think we’ll ever hear new material from that lineup again?

Paul: We have all heard the stories about how difficult Roger was to get along with and what he did to Syd Barrett and David Gilmour over the years. I guess some wounds cannot be healed with time alone. I don’t think we will ever see new material from that lineup again nor do we really need to. They have left quite a legacy.

16. Any thoughts on the life and death of the great Syd Barrett, by the way?

Jaylinn: Don’t do drugs.

Jake: Music is a funny thing. You don’t need it to sustain life, but without it, life is a lot less colorful. I think the world is a much more colorful place because of Syd and the music he left behind. Cheers!

17. Do you guys have any new music in the works?

Paul: Yes, we have been writing a batch of new songs recently with no purpose in mind other than to have fun and experiment with our sound. We have no idea when we are going to put out another release. Wild Streaks & Windy Days just came out in March so we are going to ride this one out for a while.

Jaylinn: If there wasn’t new music in the works, The Boxing Lesson would be disbanded – all puns intended. Paul writes new music everyday. One of the troublesome parts of releasing an album is that you are married to those songs on that album for quite a while. We play all kinds of stuff at rehearsal that won’t make it to a stage for quite some time. We are trying to give people an opportunity to hear that what we do on that record is what we do on a stage. So the answer is yes and no. Yes, we got it. No, you can’t hear it…yet.

Jake: Well as long as we keep on living, we will always have more music to write.

Thanks so much for spending some time with us!

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