Denton's Boxcar Bandits have been playing their warped version of Americana for just over half a decade. In that time, they've played countless shows and produced two albums: 2008's Smells Like Grass and the recently released Live at Dan's Silverleaf.
And while live efforts are often perfunctory product issued to fill gaps between studio efforts, Live at Dan's is a minor revelation. Recorded with amazing clarity, it perfectly encapsulates Boxcar Bandits' striking mix of traditional Americana and ragged alt-country. Speaking from his home in Denton in anticipation of tonight's weekly gig at Dan's, lead Bandit Rex Emerson spoke about the band's comfort level playing live and some of the strange places they have plied their craft.
Why did you decide to make your sophomore album a live effort? We tried doing some stuff in the studio and it wasn't clicking. Then, we got the opportunity to record the shows in April. We even got signed to Flight Music Group, but they didn't hold up their end of the agreement, so now we are going to put it out ourselves.
Is it a more natural fit for you to record the album live? For sure. We felt that since we play so many live shows, that is where we are the most comfortable. On stage is where we think we are playing our best. We are playing almost every night.
How many times did you have to redo a song because someone messed up? No, we just rolled the tape. We had two sets a night for four nights and so we had a lot of songs to choose from. What's funny is that we had this planned out set for the first night and when we listened to it, we didn't like what we heard. Maybe we were nervous or something. We said the hell with that and we started playing looser, the way we normally do.
The sound quality on the album is pretty amazing. [Guitarist] Grady Sandlin is kind of our sound guru. He ran sound and recorded the album. We had a line coming from the sound board and we had a lot of other mics in order to get the best mix that we could. We kind of approached the entire live aspect differently. We egged on the crowd and wanted people to get kind of crazy. Plus, it was a mix and match from several sets.
The cover is pretty hilarious. Whose idea was it to parody Dylan's Blonde on Blonde? That was [bassist] Ryan Williams' idea. That's me on the cover. One day, I noticed he was looking at me a little crazy. I told him he was in charge of the packaging. He might have volunteered. He said he had a great idea. He even made the inside pictures look like those on the Dylan album.
Why not include a Dylan song on the album? We do a couple of his tunes live, but it became kind of a cool idea to have the cover look like one of his albums, but not put any of this songs on there.
Has the membership of the band stayed pretty consistent? We've had a number of changes over the years. Myself and bassist Ryan Williams have been the two constants. Once we started touring, we added a fiddle player. Since 2009, it's been a pretty solid five-piece. We turn into a six-piece when we add an accordion player. We just got back from a tour as a five-piece and I think that's how it's going to stay for a while.
How long have you been doing the Monday night shows at Dan's Silverleaf? We started doing that in August of 2010. We're good friends with the owner and the Monday night thing used to be for Paul Slavens. He would do his improv comedy thing. And one day, he just stopped doing that and we stepped into the vacancy.
Are the crowds pretty consistent on Monday nights? The crowds have been pretty varied. It's a free show and they have pretty cheap drinks. We get a lot of people who don't have too much to do on a Tuesday morning. It's a pretty good crowd, usually.
What does a typical fan of the Boxcar Bandits look like? That's pretty across the board there. We have some older fans since we play bluegrass, but we have a lot of college kids come out. Since our style of music can appeal to a lot of people, we get the chance to play at a lot of places besides bars, like farmers markets and other family- oriented establishments.
Any weddings? Yes, all of the time. We do some where we actually perform the music for the ceremony, the processional and recessional. We then play a couple of hours for the reception.
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How much do you charge? We usually try to go a hundred [dollars] a man. We try to go for six hundred, because we will carry another man on board. It also depends on where it is. We are playing a wedding in June in New Mexico and that one will cost a little bit more.
What's the strangest place the band has played? About the strangest place we played is this tree house-type place in New Orleans. It's this housing co-op and in the back they have this giant tree house with rope bridges. That was pretty insane. We hauled our stuff in there and had a little jam. We also played a gator farm in Beaumont once. It was right off the interstate and people could have a tour of the farm and then have a nice gator dinner in the restaurant where we were playing.
The Boxcar Bandits perform tonight, February 6, at Dan's Silverleaf.