Boombox ATX Moves To Highball
By Thomas Yoo
Over the years, Boombox ATX’s weekly gigs at the Lucky Lounge garnered a reputation for their high-energy, improvisational jam sessions. The weekly affairs became a favorite gathering place among local and touring musicians of varying genres and occasionally guest starred the likes of John Popper, Charlie Sexton, Cee-Lo, and Bushwick Bill.
The Boombox shows featured a group of Austin musicians, each locally renown in their own right, freestyling and fusing elements of hip hop, funk, jazz, latin, blues, and rock. Comprised of artists from various musical backgrounds, the members of Boombox have performed with such diverse musical acts as Jason Mraz, Willie Nelson, Kelly Clarkson, Rob Thomas, Blues Traveler, Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians, Bob Schneider, Chaka Khan, and Chamillionaire.
After roughly five years at the Lucky Lounge, however, Boombox will take its unique blend of hip-hop ladened funk and jazz to the stage at the Highball (1120 S. Lamar Blvd) on Tuesday nights starting July 13th. Carlos Sosa, the band’s saxophonist and mastermind, took time out of his busy schedule to talk about the evolution of his brainchild, Boombox.
Thomas Yoo: For those that aren't familiar with Boombox, how would you describe your sound?
Carlos Sosa: It’s weird. It is kind of an acid-jazz, hip hop thing. The closest thing I can think of to describe it would be the Roots, but, because there's the horn section, maybe Earth, Wind, and Fire meets the Roots? The original idea for Boombox was that, in any city where there is a pool of talented musicians like New York or Los Angeles, there is usually a place where a bunch of bad-ass musicians get together and just play. We wanted to pick an off night where a bunch of great musicians get together and have a blast, and people know great music is going to happen on that night.
Yoo: What has been going on with Boombox?
Sosa: We actually stopped playing Lucky Lounge about a month ago. We had been doing that for about five years every Tuesday. It had just been a long time, and we wanted a change and to take a little break and reorganize and find another venue that was more suitable to what we wanted to do. We had a lot of offers. We wanted to get away from downtown, so we found a really great place, The Highball. We've been talking to those guys for a while, and we are really excited and ready to get started again.
Yoo: How do you think the change in venue will affect the show?
Sosa: I don't know. I know all the guys in the band are looking forward to it. They've got a bigger stage, and it's a real music venue. It'll be a little different crowd. It's South Austin, and it's not downtown. You don't know until those things happen. The band will definitely be able to hear each other better. It's a big stage with a great P.A. system, and we feel we can be more creative. We are all definitely excited.
Yoo: It’s been a few years since the first Boombox release, Feel the Boombox. Do you have plans for a new Boombox album?
Sosa: We do. We have enough material. We just need to get in one place and record it. We've got a ton of material. A lot of the songs happen organically, because we improvise on stage, and then all of a sudden you play something you like and it is really fun and cool and the crowd gets it and the vibe is good and then it becomes something -- a new song. We've probably got thirty new songs. We just need to sort through them and find fifteen that will be suitable for a record. I'm sure by the end of the year, we could crank one out.
Yoo: How has the Boombox sound evolved over the years?
Sosa: We are all doing so many different projects. We write stuff for ourselves and for other musicians, and then we bring it in to Boombox. We've been writing a lot lately, especially the last couple of years, for Jason [Mraz] and others. We do a lot of records every year, so we write a lot of stuff and just start playing with it and the guys rap over it. I think it's kind of become more musical -- definitely not the standard kind of hip hop show where you've got a couple of guys and a DJ. It is a very good live band with really, really talented MCs.
Yoo: With each of the members of Boombox involved with multiple projects at all times, how do you manage to stay in sync?
Sosa: We just know that we are going to get together every Tuesday and have a blast. We get together and communicate musically and create. We just set it, and that's our meeting spot for the week.
Yoo: Your shows are reknown for their energy. How do you keep things fresh?
Sosa: We make up stuff. We just make it up. Sometimes we'll play two one-hour sets. The first hour, we'll say, nobody play anything that you've ever played before. Then the next hour, we'll play songs that we've done before. It's cool, because everybody is just constantly creating. It just kind of inspires us. Some stuff is kind of lame and doesn't work, but most of the stuff works and is awesome. We have a blast. Everybody is coming up with stuff on the spot.
Yoo: How has the crowd changed over the past couple years?
Sosa: It's hard to say. We kind of created a scene. That was our goal: to get a club that has an off night that doesn't do so well, so we in turn help out that club by bringing in a new influx of people by creating a scene where people want to go and hang and listen to really great music. You can't really know every night. You've got different world touring musicians that come in, like Charlie Sexton, who plays with Bob Dylan, or Bushwick Bill or John Popper, and play with us, and then that becomes the cool thing. It's weird. You have your die-hards that are there all the time, but then sometimes it looks like you're in one of those clubs like Pure or something -- or one of those trendy, fashion-y clubs with silicon and steroids everywhere. Then sometimes, it's like you're at a hip-hop show. It's weird, but it's awesome, because sometimes people are there to drink and have a good time, and other times people are there to listen to music. It's a good feeling that we created that.
Yoo: In the past few years, you've been busy touring the world with the likes of Jason Mraz, Kelly Clarkson, and Rob Thomas. How does playing the weekly Boombox shows compare to that?
Sosa: Musically, I've grown up here in Austin. I've been here for about fifteen years. I started with Bob Schneider and the Scabs, so I've played pretty much every club in Austin. I love what I do. I love performing. If you're playing in front of 50,000 people, sometimes there is a disconnect between the energy between that many people and the energy that you get back. Whereas, personally I'd rather play in small club that is packed and sold out, where the energy is just constantly back and forth between the audience and the band.
Yoo: How does the Austin music scene compare to what you’ve experienced globally?
Sosa: The musicians here are all like a big family. Everyone knows each other and supports each other. It's great. There are so many great musicians here. When new musicians come to town, they hear about Boombox, so they come out. It's great to inspire people and be inspired by people. I love it here. There's no where else in the country that you can find that quality of music on a daily basis.
I'm convinced that there are the most amazing musicians in the world here in Austin. Hands down. I've always kind of thought that, but now I know that for a fact. It's weird, because a lot of Austin musicians are struggling, but it is such a beautiful community of amazingly talented musicians. I learned my craft here. I don't think I'd be as good at what I do if I hadn't done it here in Austin. There are just so many opportunities to play. As a musician in Austin, you just play constantly and you refine your craft. There are just not those opportunities elsewhere. You'd be hard pressed to go to L.A. and find a good band any night of the week. Here in Austin, you can go out Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday ... there's always a good band somewhere.
Yoo: It has been a busy year for the Grooveline Horns (a three-piece horn section led by Sosa that is the backbone of the Boombox music): recording with Willie Nelson, touring South America, attending the Grammy's, releasing an EP, Grooveline Horns, and hosting the Grooveline horn section clinics. How do you juggle all your different endeavors?
Sosa: Not sleeping much [laughs]. We had a vision about fifteen years ago. We just figured that if we stuck together, we'd be more successful as a team than as individuals. Basically, it's just what we love to do. We just kept coming up with all these creative ways to do it. It's great. We're a team. We're like brothers. We're constantly working together. We basically live together, and it's a good formula.
Yoo: What can we expect from Boombox in the near future?
Sosa: We are just going to keep playing and try to create a great music scene in South Austin. All the people at Highball have been really supportive, very excited, and very cool. I think that will give us even more inspiration. We'll try to pound out another record and see if we can't do a couple more ... and just keep going.