Tim Pritchard and The Boxcar Suite, a group that consists of studied and accomplished musicians who’ve long been staples of the Dayton, Ohio, musical landscape, play thoughtful rock ‘n’ roll. Their songs are designed to enlighten as well as entertain, and deliver on a self-imposed band/fan contract that positive vibes are paramount and experimentation and musicianship will exceed even the highest listener expectations.
On their latest effort, Across The Vast & Deep, the band allows their power-pop, guitar-centric sensibilities to meander through a variety of genres and inspirations, from psychedelia to country and from folk to glam. Although the band isn’t reinventing the wheel, it is clear the group is covering some new ground.
Ghettoblaster recently spoke with Pritchard about writing and recording the record, crowd funding and the band’s goals for 2015.
In early December you released Across The Vast & Deep. When did you begin writing the album?
Some of the material that made the record has been around for a while, but many of the songs have come about since the inception of The Boxcar Suite. I’d say in my mind, the writing process for this record actually started in 2010 on a trip to Mexico. I was travelling around the Yucatan with my future wife during a fairly transitional period for me, and a handful of those songs including Our Humble Expanse, from which the record title is taken, started there.
As far as writing and arranging music with the band, it began about two and a half years ago when we picked up Tony Moore and officially formed The Boxcar Suite. This record captures what we consider the best of a large pool of material explored during our first year and a half as a band.
When and where did you record it?
We worked with Darryl Robbins and recorded the whole thing in the studio space we share with him and The Motel Beds beginning in early 2013. Most of the actual recording took place during 2013 and early 2014 and the remainder of this year saw a lot of time spent on mixing and production.
How did the process of making this record differ from that of your past efforts?
Across the Vast & Deep was recorded by the most cohesive band I’ve ever had. My last record, It Shall Be Revealed, is a collection of music I recorded with several groups, and the stuff I did with Flyaway Minion before that began as a studio project. So naturally, I think this record really captures that live band energy more than anything else I’ve done. Even though it isn’t entirely tracked live, most of the recordings started with a live-in-the-studio approach.
Additionally, this is the most hands-on I’ve personally been in terms of recording. Darryl Robbins recorded all the live takes, I’d spend some time on my own experimenting with sounds and then we’d reconvene for production, final takes and mixing. He’s amazing to work with and I’ve learned a lot from him.
Were there things that you tried out or tried to accomplish with this record that you hadn’t previously tinkered with or realized?
We did a lot of sonic experimentation during these sessions. While they are all mostly based on live takes, we wanted the final product to be a sort of augmented version of what the band does live. Though this isn’t that much different from my approach on previous projects, I think this time we took it far deeper and spent a lot more time finding our way. We were also very careful not to overdo it, so not all the experiments made the final cut.
Hopefully, this creates replay value for the listener. Each track has ear candy that may not present itself upon first listen. There are synths, steel guitars, pianos, organs, loads of percussion instruments and a lot more vocals than we have live.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years tinkering with guitar tones and effect, as well as learning how to capture them in different ways. I think that added fire to this record. I’m happier with the sounds we got on this one more than any other I’ve made.
Was there a theme or artistic vision you were hoping to achieve with this record?
Well, similarly to the way we experimented with sonic layering, I wanted the lyrical content to present itself on multiple levels as well. There are a variety of themes woven throughout, but overall it’s a record about seeking enlightenment and embracing universal love while reconciling life’s ubiquitous challenges and overcoming inevitable personal follies. It isn’t entirely autobiographical by any means, but there is a lot of confessional subtext within lyrics that probably come across as fantasy narrative at face value.
Ultimately, I believe that good songs lend themselves to interpretation and belong just as much to the listener as the writer. They should be just as entertaining to the casual listener as those who like to read deeper.
The record was crowd funded to some extent, correct?
Yes. We set up an Indiegogo campaign as a pre-order to cover expenses associated with mixing, mastering and manufacturing hard copies.
Was that the first time you did that? What perks did you offer to make it worthwhile for fans?
This was my first experience with crowd funding. We offered fans downloads, CDs, t-shirts, sets of all the records I’ve release, acoustic shows, full band shows, and an exclusive first listen party which was particularly fun. We cooked up a veggie fajita feast, poured some nice wine and cranked up the stereo. Totally awesome.
Was it validating to see so many fans and friends get behind the record in this way?
Yes, we are unbelievably grateful for all the support. Even for a relatively frugal band, it isn’t cheap to make a record and the opportunity to recoup some of those expenses and get started on the next one right away is so valuable. I always try to let folks know that contributing to crowd funding, going to shows, buying merch, and just simply talking about the music you like is what keeps rock and roll alive. This day and age, bands really have to take the public radio approach and just ask fans to contribute a little where they can.
Did you have label support for the record or is that even something you entertained?
No, not for this release. This one is truly for the people, by the people. We’ll see about the next one. If there is a label that seems like a good fit, I’m not opposed to working with one.
How do you believe the band fits in to the larger Dayton scene?
The Boxcar Suite plays rock and roll, but in the broad sense where anything can happen and therefore, I think we resonate with a wide demographic. We have a good working relationship with many of the local bar venues as well as places like The Old Yellow Cab which appeal to a more eclectic audience including the youth. Our goal is to be bringers of positive vibes everywhere we go.
What niche do you occupy that few other Dayton bands do?
We share a lot of common ground with bands around here, but I can’t really think of one that is doing the same thing exactly. The Boxcar Suite is melodic rock at the core and if one were to trace our Dayton lineage back to the 90s, they’d recognize bands like Cage, Shrug and Mink (three of my favorite), with whom we share that sort of power-pop guitar rock sensibility. But, in my opinion, this band incorporates elements of psychedelia, country, folk and glam in a combination that I don’t really recognize among our regional contemporaries. None of it is reinventing the wheel, but I do think it’s pulling that train into new stations.
How do audiences in other cities respond to the band?
Great so far! I think the music sounds like a fresh take on a variety of familiar sounds and the world seems ready for rock and roll again. Don’t get me wrong, we love a lot of electronic music, but I think that market has kind of saturated itself over the past few years and people are ready for live and dangerous in real time. That, we can deliver, and people seem to appreciate it every place we’ve been so far.
Will you be touring extensively in support of the record? What are the band’s loftiest goals for 2015?
We’ll be playing all over the Midwest and trying to expand our regular stomping grounds. We’re making another record too. Loftiest goal? Probably that one about selling out the Ryman, but I’ll admit, it’s extremely lofty.
(To learn more about Tim Pritchard and The Boxcar Suite, please visit theboxcarsuite.com.)