Since The Boxmasters formed in 2007 the rock and roll band has driven through Montana a lot, sometimes on their way to shows in Canada. And yet they’ve played just one Montana show, a 2018 gig at the Pub Station in Billings.
“We had a great time,” lead singer Billy Bob Thornton said. “It’s beautiful in Montana, we love it up there.”
The hope is that the good times in Montana continue starting May 14, when The Boxmasters play in Whitefish at the Remington Bar and Casino. The show at the Remington is the first of a series of four Montana shows the band will play in four different towns across four days in May, and it’s part of a larger tour for the band involving dozens of upcoming shows.
The tour comes after the recent release of The Boxmaster’s 12th album “Help … I’m Alive.” Upcoming Montana shows include a May 15 show at Armory Music Hall in Bozeman, a May 16 show at The Newberry in Great Falls and a May 17 show at the Pub Station in Billings.
The band is influenced by the music of the ‘60s, including acts like The Beatles, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, The Box Tops and Big Star. Over the years they’ve opened for performers including ZZ Top, Steve Miller, George Thorogood and Kid Rock, and played on iconic stages like The Grand Ole Oprey in Nashville.
“We write songs basically in the mindset of if we’re a band in 1966, what kind of songs are we going to write, and what instruments are we going to play?” guitarist J.D. Andrew said. “But then at the same time we’ll have more contemporary lyrics, and Billy will write about, you know, more about personal things or things going on in the world. And there’ll be also just some straight up pop songs.”
“In other words, we’re a loud a— rock and roll band, and we’re an original band,” Thornton said. “We don’t do any, you know ‘La Grange’ or ‘Stairway to Heaven’ or anything like that. It’s all original music.”
Speaking recently from the tour bus as it idled somewhere in the mountains outside of Reno, Nevada, Thornton said there’s plenty he’d love to stop and see in the Treasure State, but that it’s a question of time.
“We’re doing something like 60 shows in 70 days,” guitarist J.D. Andrew added. Neither Andrew nor Thornton claim much by way of Montana ties. Andrew said his closest connection stems from a friend’s Missoula wedding about 20 years ago (he went fly fishing for the first time and actually caught some fish), and Thornton said he knows people who live in Montana but that’s about the extent of it. In their downtime, The Boxmasters enjoy bowling and watching sports on their tour bus. When it comes to sports, Thornton and Andrew revealed a little more of a Montana connection.
Thornton said they enjoy watching all levels of college football, and specifically mentioned watching University of Montana and Montana State University football. “So we keep up with Montana football a little bit,” he said.
While Montanans unfamiliar with The Boxmasters might know Thornton first and foremost as an actor, his connection to music predates his rise to stardom, going all the way back to when he played drums in his uncle’s country band, according to a 2008 interview with Country Music Television. In the same interview Thornton described working after high school as a roadie for a company providing sound production services, and having aspirations to make it in the music industry. Eventually life took him to Los Angeles where he began working as an actor and screenwriter. By the time The Boxmasters formed Thornton had already been performing and releasing solo albums.
Andrew said their agent joked that the California band was booking all these Montana shows because of all the Californians moving to the state. Truthfully, Andrew said “It’s really great to get to different places that we haven’t played before,” and added that the tour is something of a 50-50 split between places they’ve been before and new ones.
Part of the tour includes makeup shows from the last year that the band didn’t get to perform because of COVID-19, and so far it has brought The Boxmasters to a variety of venues, including performing arts centers, clubs and outdoor amphitheaters. The album “Help … I’m Alive” was recorded during the pandemic, and the fast-paced, upbeat sound of the title track is countered by lyrics that evoke isolation and uncertainty broken up by a shouted chorus that serves as a reminder of life continuing amid a world that has lost its way.
“There’s a world out there I can’t see anymore. I know for a fact it was there before. And it really wasn’t too terribly long ago,” Thornton sings. “It would be nice to go out and explore but I’ve grown so afraid to open the door. It’s okay, it’s not okay, I just don’t know.”
The Boxmasters have a limited streaming presence, and their albums are primarily available on vinyl or CD, so Thornton said that the actual act of getting out there and touring is how the band sells most of its albums. Thornton also described a kind of enjoyment that comes simply from having a different experience other than sitting in a recording studio with little other outside interaction to the point where he can lose track of time.
“For us, playing live, you get to see the people who buy the records, who are your fans, face to face. And you know, we get as much energy from them as we try to give them,” Thornton said. “It’s important to play live.”
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