Q&A: The Shadowboxers
Interview by Bridjet Mendyuk
Nashville-based soul/pop band The Shawdowboxers have had quite a journey since their formation in 2008. They’ve toured with Indigo Girls, been taken under Justin Timberlake’s wing and released some incredibly catchy tunes. Their unique sound and soulful performances have garnered them a loyal and ever-growing fanbase while also transcending genres and reaching new audiences on a daily basis. We caught up with the founding band members–Scott Schwartz, Matt Lipkins and Adam Hoffman– to talk about their creative process, plans for the future and more! Check out the conversation below!
The Shadowboxers started with getting to go on tour with the Indigo Girls, that’s so rad. Can you tell us a little about that?
Scott Schwartz: Touring with the Indigo Girls was the perfect way to begin our journey. First of all, they are incredible musicians who care deeply about putting on a great show for their very loyal fans, so seeing their professionalism as they executed everything that goes into playing a show and touring was an invaluable example that we studied. And secondly, we opened for them and then served as their backing band, so learning how to open a show, winning over a crowd, and being on stage for three hours a night were all necessary skills that we use to approach our own live show.
You just released a new single “Build The Beat” and one last year “Woman Through The Wall.” What are those songs about?
Matt Lipkins: We released these songs back-to-back because we felt that sonically and rhythmically they played well off of each other; they’re both groove based and certainly steeped in some dance floor nostalgia. But now in retrospect, I think that sonic nostalgia is carried through in the lyrics of both of these tunes because they’re very hopeful. They both make a point to look positively towards the future, so the aesthetic makes a nice contrast. “Build” is about having defiant hopefulness for oneself when a relationship has ended, but also about how difficult that can be sometimes. Because it’s easy to fall back on what was once comfortable, it’s easy to get down on yourself about lost love, and we’ve all been there! So I think we tried to emphasize that emotional push-and-pull, the trial of moving on, by giving the song a real triumphant Jackson’s vibe. “Woman” is about fantasy, but not in a sad way. Sometimes fantasy is enough, in fact, sometimes it’s preferred. Because if that object of desire remains on its pedestal, then its power always stays in tact. That hope that the “perfect” woman could live just upstairs and that yet the subject may never actually meet or be with her is enough for him, because it means there’ll always be something to strive for. So here we used all these sexy ’80s sounds so it’s almost like the instrumental itself is tempting the subject to break that barrier down and ruin the mystique of this girl with all her shoe boxes and booze.
It’s been a couple years since you’ve released new music, what were you doing during the time in between?
Adam Hoffman: Apart from developing a shared passion for crochet, we built an app for pairing great wines with great cheeses. Think Uber for your average sommelier.
In all seriousness, we’ve been writing pretty much nonstop for over 3 years. We’ve written over 100 songs and have about 90 of them demoed. Our lack of output has been partly out of our control, but we’re also being extremely diligent and critical this time around. Only the absolute best material will make it out, and sometimes it takes writing 100 songs to get that 1 that makes it all worth it…we hope. We’ve also toured quite a bit and have really spent time crafting the live experience. I think our fans have seen that.
The Shadowboxers have a very intricate sound – it’s jazzy, poppy and soulful with a dance flair. What’s your process for making a song? It seems like it’d be an incredibly long process.
SS: It can be. But it can also fall into place quickly. I guess our songwriting process is like anything else in that way. We often start our songs individually, meaning one person will bring in an idea that is roughly developed, and the other guys will help to complete the song. Some songs have taken 30 minutes to write and some have taken a year. You mention a dance flair, and I don’t disagree. I think that with the dancy aspect of our sound, we’ve let our live show inform our writing process, meaning we notice what audiences are responding to (up tempo dance songs) and trying to write more songs in that vein. We do have tons of great ballads though that we’ve written…we just don’t play them live at the moment, since it’s harder for an audience to latch onto a slower song they don’t know (yet).
Do you have plans to release an album anytime soon? If so, what is it about?
ML: Man oh man, I think we’ll certainly release an album before people forget what albums are, but I don’t think it’ll be “soon”. More singles? An EP or two? Absolutely, that’s happening this year.
You were able to work with some heavy hitters like Chris Bell (U2 engineer) and Bradley Blade (Dave Mathews Band), was that a unique experience for you guys being a newer band going into the studio for the second time?
AH: Well that was quite a long time ago, so everything was pretty unique at that time. Now we’re jaded and spoiled and totally miserable to be around. Just kidding. It still amazes us everyday that we get to make music for a living. For example, today is Wednesday. And we’re all gonna get together at our little studio in Nashville and write, record and be total idiots for the entire day. And same tomorrow. It’s a weird life.
Who or what are some of your influences or inspirations?
ML: – Kevin Parker (Tame Impala)
– You know….all that good stuff from the 70’s and 80’s (Stevie, EW&F, Nile Rodgers, Skippy peanut butter, the friendship between Rocky and Apollo, etc).
– Stand-up comedy
– Smoothies with aforementioned nut butter
Very few bands can say that Justin Timberlake is their mentor. How did that start out?
AH: Total stroke of luck. We covered “Pusher Love Girl” about three and a half years ago and put it on YouTube. Somehow he saw it, was able to overlook the fact that Matt had a porn mustache and he reached out to us. Literally, he just called us. We met a few weeks later, and he said he wanted to help out in any way he could. That’s still really crazy to say.
Getting to go on tour with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill is so cool! The audience sizes will be huge. Are you nervous at all? That’s a lot of new potential fans!
SS: We’re thankful to Tim and Faith for this opportunity and are excited about our shows with them (5/4 – Newark, NJ and 5/5 & 5/6 – Uncasville, CT). While the audiences will be way bigger this time, we have had some experience opening for big crowds, and we’ve been able to develop a pseudo nothing-to-lose-no-pressure mentality that is actually quite freeing (and helps us stay less nervous). Even though we’re a pop band playing in front of a country music loving crowd, we see that as an opportunity to stand out and make new fans.
Starting from Atlanta, Georgia, there’s so much great music coming the city and the South in general is a giant hub for anything funky and soulful. Has being from the south influenced the music you create?
ML: I’d certainly hope so! I think we have the tendency to be perfectionists sometimes and to do things cleanly. Lately, we’ve been trying to fight that tendency, to EMBRACE THE DIRTY, be a little swampier, a little wonkier, and a little more out. If that’s not a southern influence, then it means we’re just getting sloppy!
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
SL: The last time we were in Los Angeles, we played a sold out show at the Troubadour on a Tuesday night. The show itself was electric, but aside from that, knowing that we had more than doubled our audience size since the last time we’d played LA was such a tangible feeling of growth and progress. Though we’ve had many highlights, some involving bigger names and numbers than the one I just mentioned, the Troubadour that night just felt like a new tier of exposure that we’ve been working towards for a long time.
What are you looking forward to the most in 2017?
AH: Hoping for the complete eradication of Polio (let’s go Western Sahara!!) and we’re going to release new music. We’re all really excited to finally be able to release some of the material we’ve poured over these past few years. And no matter the reception, it will feel SO good to know that this music is exactly how we want it to be.