Interview: The Boxcar Boys

Five years ago, Canadian clarinet maestro John David Williams started busking at St. Lawrence Market in Toronto, meeting fellow busker and accordion player Kelsey McNulty there.  Shortly after, Williams met sousaphone player Nicolas Buligan at a club in Toronto, and asked him, along with school friend and trombonist Karl Silveira to come to the market and give busking a whirl.  Five years later, the collective, now known as The Boxcar Boys, has played dancehall, theaters, festivals, has three records under its proverbial belt, and in true roots fashion, they still busk, “It’s been a big part of what we do. We all play acoustic music and the nature of this genre of music really lends itself well to playing on a street,” explains Williams. “Originally that was our only plan, we just wanted to jam at the market, but then we started writing our own tunes.”  Not only do The Boxcar Boys still play at the St Lawrence Market, the band takes to the streets wherever they just so happen to be performing. “It’s a good way to promote our shows when we travel. We really like that spirit, that communal celebration of music,” says Williams.

Inspired by different folk sounds including klezmer, jazz, and folk fusion, The Boxcar Boys released their latest album, Cicada Ball, this fall.  Band member, violinist, and resident insect enthusiast Laura Bates named the record.  “Our previous two albums we recorded as a five piece. This is the first time we’ve had a sixth member in the band, we’ve added a washboard player,” Williams explains.  “The cicada sound is like a rickety sort of washboard sound.”

The Boxcar Boys also like to incorporate their favorite musician friends into the recording process; band friend Lotus White plays cello banjo and sings on Cicada Ball, and “secret seventh member” Adrian Gross, plays mandolin on half of the album.  Says Williams, “We also have a dobro player, Mike Eckert, he’s fantastic, he plays in all sorts of crazy things in Toronto as well.”

Uniquely, the album was recorded in close quarters–a covered, small, backyard shed, with the entire band in the space playing together.  “Every time we record, we try to make it as live as possible.  We’re all in the same room, no one has headphones on, we’re just playing the music.  We try to keep it open as to the arrangements of the tunes and try to keep it spontaneous, like who’s going to solo when, we don’t necessarily have that set.  We try, as much as possible, to capture us having fun playing the music, instead of trying to make it perfect,” says Williams, adding, “You lose something of the real sound of people actually playing music when you try to make it perfect.”

Snag a listen to Cicada Ball here:

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Susan Hubbard

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