It’s always refreshing when a band employs humor. That is, humor among the actual group members, not in the songwriting. Funny songs are great, to be sure, but when a band itself can be funny, that’s simply refreshing.
Meet Madison-based power-pop quartet The Box Social. This foursome — singer/guitarist Nick Junkunc, guitarist Nick Woods, bassist David Griesbach and drummer Brian Peoplis — take themselves so lightheartedly that it’s a wonder the band even bothered to name itself. Hyperbole aside, the band is genuine in its objective to be the premier power-pop band in Madtown — that’s for sure. But it’s the laid-back mentality that makes them so special.
Certainly, on the surface their sound would force the assumption that the band plays their indie cred power-pop as generically as possible to avoid alienating possible fans. The Box Social, however, has a secret weapon: a penchant for idiosyncratic live shows.
For example, when they told the crowd at their Sunday afternoon performance for the Willy Street Fair that they were going to do a Ramones cover, they asked the audience to “vote” on which song they would like to hear. The obvious move for a band is to have the choices be something like “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “I Wanna Be Sedated.” Instead, the band threw out the choices of “The KKK Took My Baby Away” and “Rockaway Beach.” Then, after the voting, the band surprised the crowd by playing both songs back to back.
And how does TBS end this particular show? With a Talking Heads cover, of course. Once again, picking carefully, the band transformed “Life During Wartime” from the anxious, cynical freak-out into a rock-with-our-cocks-out anthem.
Although the band has a considerable fan base in the city of Madison, TBS actually has its roots in the Milwaukee area.
“Three of us grew up in Mequon, and I grew up in a little town called Oconomowoc. It’s halfway between Madison and Milwaukee. Nobody stops or lives in Oconomowoc; they just see the sign on the highway and tell everybody about this ridiculous town that they saw,” explains Woods.
It was during high school that Woods and Junkunc met. Bassist David Griesbach, who’s the new guy in the group and has known drummer Brian Peoplis “since first grade,” used his connection to the group to eventually join up.
“[The band] went through a number of bass players. I was good enough for Brian, and then I just asked if I could join,” recalls Griesbach.
Woods chuckles, “Bass players were always problematic for us, so that’s the theme of that story.”
The band members, even when admitting their own faults — be them their hometown(s) or the fact that half their rhythm section was a revolving door — have a rather self-deprecating humor.
When asked if the Milwaukee music scene is different than the Madison scene, and whether the difference has affected the band and/or its music, the band all around has thoughts.
“The main difference is that we played different material here than we do in Milwaukee. Everybody in Milwaukee has known us since forever, and so we always played really old material. When we’re down here we get a chance to try new stuff,” illustrates Woods. “It’s sort of a different scene in general. People down here are more supportive.”
Woods and Junkunc then expound on the difference, inter-splicing their thoughts together to form one cohesive whole.
Junkunc jumps in, “Milwaukee is a lot more elitist.”
“It’s kind of a ‘cool kids club’ hanging out in Milwaukee,” Woods continues.
Then Junkunc: “It’s hard to get people to pay for shows in Milwaukee. People [there] seem very entitled for whatever reason. Not to knock on it; I really like Milwaukee, but I prefer the music situation here. Not to mention there really aren’t any bands left in Milwaukee. They all kind of went extinct for some reason. Besides The Saltshakers, there aren’t any bands left.”
Finally Woods: “It seems like if you go back to the whole entitlement thing, it seems that bands form in Milwaukee and move away really quickly. In Madison, there are bands here that have been operating for, like, 20 years. There’s nothing like that in Milwaukee. Everybody forms a band and either breaks up after three years, or looks for a bigger city and breaks up a year after.”
Their view that elitism plagues Milwaukee’s music scene may well explain their penchant for populist-esque songwriting.
“[A song that’s] topical, as soon as that period of time ends, your song becomes really dated. The kind of stuff that I’m mainly interested in is timeless songs that everybody can relate to,” Junkunc asserts.
This, of course, explains why the band would never write a political song. When asked if they would, the answer from the entire band is a resounding “no.” Initially, the band members all speaks at once, the quartet sounding off simultaneously like something out of a sitcom.
“We don’t take ourselves too seriously,” Junkunc says first.
But then Griesbach adds, “Those are really important issues, but they don’t always need to be communicated through song. Actually, I find that most of the time it comes off sounding kind of contrived.”
Woods then takes over: “I think a big thing, too, is that when people come to see our band play, it’s for fun. You wanna leave politics behind. The last thing you wanna think about when you come and see a band play is the election.”
Next, Junkunc cuts in with the quip, “Well, some people do, but they’re not into having fun.” He then discusses the issue more in-depth. “Politics isn’t fun, and I don’t like to be preachy. And I don’t feel that anybody should care about what I have to say.”
Griesbach agrees and adds, “I don’t feel like I’m in any position to tell people about politics. Why should anyone listen to me? Go talk to the Obama tent, they are much more qualified than me.”
All around, the band’s response was quite level-headed. This, again, exemplifies the sensible nature of the band. And this unassuming worldview also extends to the band’s future goals.
Woods sums up the band’s goals rather succinctly. “I think the main goal for all of us is to be in a position where we can do it for a living, as a regular job rather than having to have a side job and having to live with our parents for stretches at a time. Not having a day job would be great.”
Drummer Brian Peoplis is much pithier. “Keep playing, keep integrity and dignity.” Griesbach laughs, “I’d like to play a show at Lambeau Field.”
For those interested in the band’s future endeavors, TBS is in “pre-production for [their] second album,” which they promised would be out within the next year. Their next show in Madison is during Freakfest. For more information, visit www.myspace.com/theboxsocialrocks.