The Grateful Web’s John Schumm recently spoke with Zion Godchaux of disco-funk rock & rollers, BoomBox. Currently on tour in support of Filling in the Color, their Kickstarter funded third album, Zion took a few moments away from soundcheck in Missouri to talk about the evolution of his musical journey with Russ Randolph, his mother and former Grateful Dead singer Donna Jean Godchaux’s soulful influence, and the difficulty in describing the music they make together as BoomBox.
Grateful Web: My name is John Schumm with the Grateful Web and I’m here today with Zion Godchaux who is half of BoomBox. How’re you doing today, Zion?
Zion: Doing pretty good man, doing good. In Columbia, Missouri getting ready to soundcheck and hopefully have a good night.
GW: Nice. You guys are playing down at the Bluenote tonight, right?
GW: Nice, nice. Well, I guess while we’re on the subject of your tour, are there any specific states or cities or even clubs that you, BoomBox together, enjoy playing more than others?
Z: You know, not necessarily. Every show is its own thing that’s special, you know? Obviously we do better in some states, but that doesn’t necessarily dictate what kind of time we have. We just came from Colorado, which is a great state for us. We had a great time there, did a bunch of cool shows. The fans were really up to the task (laughter). So we like it there, but you know, it’s different everywhere, and we have friends in every state that we’re playing. So we always look forward to it.
GW: I’m calling out of Colorado, and was a little upset I missed the show here in Boulder. But it’s good to hear the fans held it together.
Z: For sure, it was a good time.
GW: Your first step into the life of an artist was as an infant on the cover of your parents’ album during their time with the Grateful Dead, called Keith and Donna. You’re forehead had a drawing on it by Jerry Garcia, but your mom’s association with music doesn’t stop there, even singing at Muscle Shoals with Elvis and other musicians. What kind of influence did she have on you to get into music, playing guitar, if any, and what else influenced you growing up?
Z: I mean, my mom, she’s got soul. She is soul. It pours out of her. As a baby, her singing voice, it’s always kept soul really close to me, you know. There’s certain feeling that comes with being around music like that. My mom being a singer, even before the Grateful Dead, singing backup with Percy Sledge and R&B artists. That voice really kind of tethers me to something and it has influenced me growing up as far as how I think about harmony and melody and the relationships with notes, and what combinations make your hair stand on end. It’s been a big influence on me, whether I like it or not. It’s powerful.
GW: I noticed the other day that she has a new album coming out in a month or so and I was wondering if you had any part in that, or if you were on it?
Z: Nope, I was just support, moral support. I listened to the mixes when it was in the works and gave my two cents on stuff but they really had that record pretty well together. They had a lot of really amazing players on it and it was mixed really well. She didn’t need my help (Laughter)
GW: Speaking of albums, Boombox has a new release (Filling in the Color), out on January 14th. I noticed you guys collected the money on Kickstarter to get it going and last I checked it had raised over sixteen thousand dollars. What does it mean to you and Russ to see the fans and people coming together to make that happen.
Z: I mean it’s beautiful. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s like having a family member bail you out of jail (laughter). It means a lot. A real honor, and that’s about all I can say. We love our fans and we pour our life into turning them on with music and the fact that they listen and like what we do is huge, and to help us out financially and to see the album through and help it see the light of day, I don’t know, it’s very deep, and we can’t thank our fans enough.
GW: You were saying how you play for the fans and that’s what its all about. Was there a blueprint when the two of you came together as BoomBox? Was there a course you saw yourselves trying to go towards, or has it just evolved as you go?
Z: As far as our relationship with the fans?
GW: More you and Russ coming together as BoomBox, where you started to where you are now, was there a plan as you came together or did it evolve out of the musical relationship you had?
Z: No, the first year before we even played a show, we were hammering out the foundation for how this machine would float on the open seas (laughter), and a lot of it was just technically- and I don’t know if there’s a word for it, philosophically technically? Our philosophy on technology was squared away and how the technology was going to allow us to just improv and flow without a net, yet still be locked in with computers and stuff like that. How we were going to stay organic in the middle of the computer. We had to figure that out. And we knew that if we figured that out, we could have a core foundation built to where we could easily improvise our shows and not need any kind of net. And how we could incorporate all sorts of different kinds of music, and samples and other people’s tracks and our tracks and how it would all kind of flow through the BoomBox filter. Then we would be able to take it as far as we wanted. We felt very strongly about it in the beginning. But it had to be hammered out before we played a live show. By the time we played a live show we were totally confidant in getting towards where we are today.
Since this is for The Grateful Web, the Grateful Dead put out a pretty good model for where that’s all at, as far as how you relate to the rest of the world and how you relate to the fans. And how you don’t try to become pop, and it’s all about your relationship with the fans. And if you have the fans on your side and you have word of mouth on your side then people in the countries and cities are listening to your stuff, and telling their friends about your stuff. You don’t need big corporations. You can sidestep that and make your own party, and paint your own picture. So we stay close to that as far as roadmaps go. I don’t know if that makes sense.
GW: No, it does. As far as painting your own picture and not becoming corporate or pop, it doesn’t feel like the music you guys make-I’ll call it BoomBox music-it doesn’t feel like it falls into traditional genres, not that those are important at all. But how would you describe what you guys do on stage and on an album to someone who has never listened to you?
Z: I have trouble describing it. I have trouble putting what we do musically into words. Trying to explain to somebody why they should want to come to our show, I struggle with that. It’s dance music, but it’s rock & roll. Actually it’s just funky. It’s soul music. I end up just throwing a bunch of names around and never really dialing it in. I like to call it rock & roll but that gives the wrong impression, too. It’s our own music, and it’ll make you feel god. I just say that. Probably make you want to dance, maybe make you smile.
GW: It seems to do all of those when I’ve been around and seen the fans at the shows. Kind of wrapping up, I know you just released the album and you’re on tour right now for a week or couple of weeks, but is there anything else coming up on the horizon? Anything you guys are thinking about outside of the tour and most recent album?
Z: Lets see. We’re going to be putting together some videos for this record. And honestly, we are really backlogged on our music. We have tons of tracks that haven’t been played live yet, let alone put on a record yet. I’ve just been waiting to get this record out so I can break out some more tracks. So that’s kind of where my head is at. I’m already a couple of albums down the road thinking about these other tracks and getting them into the rotation. I’m just glad this record is out and people are digging it and we can move forward. That’s kind of how my mind works.
GW: Some of the tracks you mentioned, do you plan on playing them live before laying them down on an album?
Z: Yeah, we usually end up testing them out on the road to see if they translate, and that’s kind of how we work. I don’t know if it’s for better or worse, but our songs make it onto albums because we know that they’re legitimate tracks that translate to people, and we tested them and they hold up. They stand the test of time. We put the record out and some of the tracks are older but we’re trying to get new listeners involved, as well as current fans, but we want to turn new people on. We know that these songs hit and are good tracks, so let’s put them out if we have a chance at broadening our audience.
GW: Right. Well, all right, I don’t know if you have anything else to add. That wraps up the questions I have.
Z: Cool. No, that pretty much covers it. New record is out, more music to come, stay tuned and we love our fans. Thanks for the interview
GW: No, Thank you. I appreciate you taking time out of your schedule for it.
Z: Cool man.
GW: Enjoy the rest of the tour, and have a good time tonight. I’m looking forward to everything that comes out.
Z: Thanks man, see you around. Take care.