Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


From burned CDs to gigs, band’s success not easy

Around eight years ago, the computer boom finally hit
working-class families. Most high school students were content to download free
music from Napster and search for porn. A few of us saw an opportunity to make
music of our own. It wasn’t particularly high-quality audio, and they weren’t
the catchiest songs, but we stayed up late with scissors and jewel cases from Walgreens, packaging our art and selling it in the halls.

In my initial foray into recorded rap, I released a collection of horrific tracks under the name Supercell, a moniker stolen from a baseball bat. The album was titled Evolution via Microsoft Paint’s spray painting feature juxtaposed against scanned children’s book cartoons of the Montgomery bus boycott.

Around the same time, another kid from Rufus King High School in Milwaukee, Jordan “Vision” Sandvig, and a friend released a collection of down-tempo rap under the name Grits. The album’s cover had the two sitting at a bus stop.


The titles and themes of each album point toward a premonition that these projects were the beginning of a longer journey. (Ignoring the fact that my next high school album was called Project Armageddon.) Since then, I’ve become the vocalist for The Urban Correspondent, and Sandvig is the frontman for Minneapolis-based instrumental hip-hop band, The Hotbox.

“I just realize now how much more experience that gave
me, that it has really prepared me for now,” Sandvig said of his high
school album, adding that his memories of the recording process led him in the
direction of a live band. “It’s been an evolution since then.”

Our respective hip-hop outfits may tout better equipment
these days, but the journey doesn’t get any easier. On a winter evening early
last year I caught a Hotbox show at a dive bar near the University of Minnesota
campus. The first band to play that night performed a set full of the worst
kind of whiney pop-rock, but brought along a fairly large crowd of dancing
drunks. The Hotbox, on the other hand, played their spirited blend of hip-hop
and horns-anchored funk to a mainly empty hall, save a few barflies and the
Badger Herald editors I dragged along from a college newspaper convention.

The most frustrating part of the musical process is that
success isn’t correlated to talent, but the connections one stumbles upon. I myself
couldn’t deal with that uncertainty — with the feeling that I don’t control my
own destiny as a professional. So rather than tour extensively, I record albums
as a hobby and analyze news as a profession. A few brave souls like Sandvig,
however, go all in for the love of music.

“We have gotten more serious recently,” Sandvig
said, with the pace of his voice quickening. “Our long-term goal over the
next year is to live together and try to get signed.”

All the while, The Hotbox survives through the challenge of
coordinating the schedules of six members who took divergent paths to arrive in

“We got two people in school right now, and three other
people work in Burrito Loco,” Sandvig said. “It’s kinda funny because
half our band works at Burrito Loco.”

Like most bands that form on the college scene, The Hotbox
was brought together by a combination of convenience and luck. About a year-and-a-half
ago, the project began with a series of inauspicious jam sessions between
friends and acquaintances. Currently, they tout a drummer, vocalist, two
guitars, bass and a trumpet. In fact, one of the guitar players, Gavin Werner,
co-produced my Supercell album and is a University of Minnesota student.

With such a sizable investment of effort into certain
uncertainty, there’s gotta be some payoff. All of the gigs at burrito joints
where they’re undercompensated, run the sound board, rent all of the equipment
and move it themselves can be wiped away by one show that makes all the grunt
work worthwhile.

“One of our craziest shows might have been at the
Dinkytowner during winter,” Sanvig said. “It was just an hour of sweating
and jumping; it was nuts.”

Building a band’s grassroots organization is a lot like
running for Congress — attend events to gain name recognition, build a network
of dedicated volunteers and never miss an opportunity to let the people hear
your stump speech. The difference is, instead of campaigning on better health
care or lower taxes, it’s Ben Hering’s trumpet riff on “Cigarette

This August, the campaign hits the road again with a
Wisconsin tour, and the band expects to record a new EP in May. It will be a
few more long, hard years before you hear The Hotbox on terrestrial radio, but
if we’re lucky they’ll join my band at the Mifflin Street Block Party and
collect a hefty handful of noise violations.

$172? Well worth it.

Bassey Etim ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in political science and journalism. He respectfully requests that all Rufus King alumni with a copy of Evolution burn the disk and all related sound files immediately.

Correction: Sandvig, not Sparks, is the frontman for Minneapolis-based instrumental hip-hop band, The Hotbox. Also, the second-last paragraph originally said “Conor Dlute’s trumpet,” but it should have said “Ben Hering’s trumpet.” We regret the errors.

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