[Interview] BoomBox Jams into a New Chapter
The first time I saw BoomBox was at Terminal West a year ago (you can read my review here). A friend introduced me to the duo by describing his own personal account of discovering BoomBox. His story involved a pressed pill, a ceiling fan, and a half naked venture into the smooth magic of BoomBox. Who wouldn't want to listen to them after a story like that?
The first song I heard was "Stereo." I fell in love instantly, sitting at my desk jamming to funky, psychedelic tunes. And now, one year later, there I was again at Terminal West sitting in the green room across from the duo.
Zion has been a part of BoomBox from the beginning and being a dead head by birth, it's no mystery where the unique jamtronica sound comes from. Accompanying Zion is a new face to the group, though not new the game by any means. DJ Harry joined Zion and the two are creating an even funkier, more jam-tastic sound,
(To Zion). Both of your parents performed with the Grateful Dead. What was that like growing up, and how did it influence your career?
Zion: It was crazy times, it was a whole different time period. I was involved up until I was about 7-years-old. It was a wild ride. Lots of love and laughter, lots of music. Hopefully, I’m able to reflect some of that back to the world, some of the music that I was exposed to. It’s kind of a hard thing to talk about, those days were like a whole other life on another planet.
Did you travel around with them often?
Zion: Yeah, my parents pretty much kept me with them wherever they went. I was lucky enough to go to Egypt and Europe with the band. [We went] all over.
You’ve had a big change recently. With Russ gone and DJ Harry taking over, how have you guys adapted to the change and what can we expect from this new chapter?
Zion: I think we’ve adapted really well. The shows have been tight! The fans have been staying to the end (chuckles). And it has really given us a chance to refine the music and dial it in even further. Harry has stepped in and done an amazing job. He came in at the pinch and kept the party going, and now it’s better than ever.
What’s your story, Harry? How did you get to be here as a member of BoomBox?
Harry: It's a long story so I'll try to condense it. I started DJing in the early '90s in the Bay Area and had a jam background as well. I got involved with the String Cheese Incident in the early 2000’s, did a remix album for them. I DJ’d dance music primarily to jam band crowds, so it was a very natural fit when Zion needed to change personnel. I had the dance music and the jam band background, so I fit right in.
Zion: And a mutual friend put us together.
So how long have you known each other now?
Zion: We met initially back in 2007 and periodically over the years we would run into each other backstage. That was about it until we finally started talking on the phone. But I remember Harry back when we played at a Grateful Fest, in the early Grateful Fest days, in ’07 and ’08. He was the only other electronic music representative there. And so, we would be like, 'Woah hey, there’s DJ Harry! He’s doing it too!’ Cause everyone else was still playing as a full instrumentation band, there wasn't much DJ related things going on. But I remember seeing Harry back then, thinking he was cool. And I had no idea he came from where I came from too, as far as our musical taste goes and our influences. We were both inspired by the same magic, the same specific magic.
Harry: Very specific, we were at the same parties, but didn’t know it at the time. So we were in the same room over 20 years ago.
Zion: And lots of unsung heroes are both of our heroes. People that no one else in this building would know who they were, but me and Harry know them. Just a small little window from back then, it was very magical to have these characters that were involved that we shared this connection with.
How does it feel to be back in Atlanta at Terminal West?
Zion: It always feels good, we love it here. We’ve been having fun in Atlanta for a long time now, and it’s always one of the highlights of our tour.
How much of your live performances are improvised?
Zion: For me, pretty much all of it.
What elements do you think are essential to be able to improvise well?
Zion: Listening is the key. You have to be willing to stop what you’re doing and listen to what someone else is doing. If you can do that, the answer for what you should be doing will come to you.
And how has the new dynamic been? Has it been a challenge or has it flowed pretty well?
Zion: It’s flowed really well. All things considered, for how little time we’ve been doing this as a team, it’s been good. And it gets better every night.
Harry: Yeah, it feels natural. It has to be like that for it to work. And I have a background as a musician, I was a musician before I was a DJ. So I identify with live instrumentation just as much as I do with the DJ side. And part of the key also is watching the crowd. That’s partially how you decide what to do next, especially as you DJ.
Having been in this industry for quite some time, what have been some of your biggest struggles making a name for yourself in the industry? How did you overcome them?
Zion: For me, it was when we started out, the idea of playing instruments on top of sequenced beats was not really understood or appreciated. Especially, in the beginning, it was like you would show up, set up and you would start playing and people literally didn’t know if they should be taking it seriously at all. We had to just keep pushing through and keep playing so by the end of the set they’d be like, ‘Ok, I think that was legit.' But they still weren’t sure. We were like aliens, we were playing a totally alien sounding brand of music that people hadn’t really digested before. So we got a lot of strange looks, and sometimes we still do.
Harry: And I think the one-liner on this is educating the crowd. That’s the hardest challenge, people reject it initially, but once you educate the crowd then you have your niche.
This year you have already released a new single, “Laid Back and Loaded." What can we expect out of your studio for the rest of 2017?
Zion: We’re gonna release another single next month, and subsequently we will try to release singles pretty much every month, as well as remixes. That’s kind of where our heads are at right now, is just putting out a bunch of material and figuring the rest out later. Good songs are where it’s at, so that’s what were focusing on right now.
Photos by Grace Kelly for Bullet Music.