Much of today's music industry is obsessively focused on the future.
Just about everyone is out there trying to create the next big sound, find the next big thing, or stumble onto the next big viral marketing scheme.
Not the three guys in Boxcar Stringband. The Bend-based trio — which will celebrate the release of its new album Saturday night (see “If you go”) — lives in the 21st century, but its music is a convincing throwback to a bygone era.
“When I think of our band, we're playing basically everything that was around in 1953,” guitarist Joseph Balsamo said in an interview last week. “We just have bigger, stronger amps than they had.”
Indeed, Boxcar's blend is equal parts rockabilly, electric blues and early rock 'n' roll, pumped up for maximum fun in modern times. The band has built a loyal following in Central Oregon over the past few years with its fervent live show, which features buckets of Balsamo's fiery slide guitar and distorted vocals, bassist Casey Cathcart's old-school slap style of playing, and plenty of pounding, primal rhythms. (Drummer Sean Garvin, 38, joined the band in January. Before that, Boxcar got its beat from a single bass drum, powered by Balsamo's foot.)
The trio's sound is a product of its influences.
Balsamo, 33, grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, where he listened to oldies (Elvis, Buddy Holly, etc.) before moving on to blues-based hard rock bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Cathcart, 26, is a Bendite who migrated from punk rock to psychobilly to more straightforward rockabilly. They both cite The White Stripes as a favorite.
The two came together three years ago after answering a Craigslist ad placed by Bevan Frost, who was looking to start an old-time jug band.
Shortly after the group gathered, though, that idea went out the window in favor of a more blues/rock sound, and Boxcar Stringband was born.
And when Frost moved away two years ago, the band already had gigs booked. That left Balsamo and Cathcart to figure out how to fill a room with just two people.
Enter the bass drum.
“It became more rhythmic. I think it got more rooted,” Balsamo said. “People started dancing. And when people start dancing, then as a band all of a sudden you have this energy going on and you're feeling it coming from the crowd and you're getting excited. And when that happens, you're like, ‘Oh, now I know why people play in bands! This totally makes sense.'”
One problem: When a band gains fans, those fans are going to want to buy some recorded music. Boxcar had no such thing.
“I always felt like kind of a jerk when people were trying to buy a CD from me and I'm like, ‘Sorry,'” Cathcart said. “It's always weird.”
That problem will be solved starting Saturday when the band releases “Going Down South,” its 10-track debut album. Recorded in March at Featherlight Studio in Bend, “South” is a fine representation of what makes Boxcar's live act so irresistible, crackling with the same kind of energy that buzzes through the bars they play. (The final two tracks are, in fact, live recordings made at a McMenamins gig.)
The album features several of Balsamo's tunes, but also a couple written primarily by Cathcart, with some help from his band mate. That's something the band is doing more of, Balsamo said.
“One of the things that has come out of being in a band for me is the process of being able to collaborate creatively is awesome,” he said. “It's just one of the coolest things ... to be able to sit down in a room with Casey and work on a song. That is so fun.”
Fun seems to be the word of the moment around the Boxcar camp.
“You know that you're having fun,” Cathcart said, “because you don't have to do the band. It's not like it's paying the bills.”
Balsamo concurs: “It's one of the better things going on for me, really.”