There are pros and cons to having a movie star as frontman of your rock and roll band. Having a built-in fan base that will buy records and concert tickets certainly helps, but it could take longer to build a following of loyal followers dedicated to the music.
Back on the plus side, there will always be interesting items to autograph.
“We’ll be out there trying to promote our record and there will be a bunch of people with ‘Sling Blade’ posters,” says Billy Bob Thornton, who won an Academy Award for writing for that 1997 film and is also the founder and leader of The Boxmasters. “But the weirdest thing I ever signed was when this girl came up to me holding a trash bag and said her dad was a big fan of mine and she had something that a lot of people had signed, and she started naming off different people like Johnny Cash and a bunch of others. I said, ‘Yeah, sure,’ and she pulled his artificial leg out of the bag. It was a little odd. But I was happy to do it. You don’t see that coming around very often.”
The Boxmasters, returning to Las Vegas this week to perform for the first time at the Rocks Lounge at Summerlin’s Red Rock Resort Friday night, have been around for more than a decade and released seven albums of 1960s-influenced, bluesy and twangy rock. The band has been at it long enough to earn that dedicated following beyond Thornton’s fame, and he’s grateful. “All that other stuff has fallen by the wayside as the years go one. You keep beating them up and after a while there’s submission,” he says with a laugh. “We really love our fans and we’ve had some really crazy fans, in a good way.”
The band is currently touring behind new album “In Stereo,” which Thornton calls the group’s most different-sounding material so far. “In terms of sounds, this record covers anything from the late ’60s to the early ’70s,” he says. “We are influenced by The Beatles and The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield and Big Star, and people like that are reflected on this record. It’s almost like a journey that way, but it starts with the later stuff and as the record goes on, the further back it goes in terms of those sounds.”
The Boxmasters’ co-founder and guitarist J.D. Andrew says the process of compiling the album was a bit more experimental this time around. “This one is a little different sonically. We used two horn players, trumpet and sax, which we’ve never done before. We have a song called “Tahiuk” that we wrote specifically to sound like Traffic, a band that Billy loves. He took me down the journey for that one and it came out with a bit of a free jazz sound. That’s different from anything we’ve done on any records because it’s been drums, bass, guitar. It’s fun to try other things but at the same time, it’s still us, it just lets us stretch a little here and there.”
The Boxmasters recording schedule tends to bend around Thornton’s acting roles. Lately he’s been focused on the Amazon series “Goliath,” which released its second season earlier this summer.
“The great thing about ‘Goliath’ is it shoots mostly here [in Texas] where we live,” Andrew says. “Most of the time he’s shooting a mile or two from where I live. There have been times when I will pack up the equipment and take it down to his trailer, set up and mess around with things between shots. Or it’s a weekend here and there where we’ll run into the studio and cut three or four songs. Recording and writing is what we love to do, but you don’t get that feeling of mutual admiration when you’re just in the studio. You have to get those songs out in front of people and get feedback instantly.”
The band has done that in Las Vegas many times, most recently playing two nights at Smith Center for the Performing Arts last spring. Both Thornton and Andrew enjoyed the downtown venue. “That place feels like Vegas. It’s a beautiful room,” Thornton says. “I’d love to shoot a concert film in that place because it has such a great look to it and sounds really good.”
Those gigs had the Boxmasters thinking they’d love to come back to Vegas to play a series of shows, perhaps even a mini-residency.
“Our show is a rock and roll show but very stylized,” Andrew says. “Billy tells the audience a few stories and talks about what are songs about and really engages the audience. It’s not just sitting there and listening to some songs. But we’re not kids anymore so we’re not going to be jumping up and down all night.”
“Right, we’re not going to get lowered from the ceiling,” Thornton says with another laugh.
Billy Bob Thornton and the Boxmasters perform at 8 p.m. July 13 at the Rocks Lounge at Red Rock Resort (11011 W. Charleston Blvd., 702-797-7777) and more info can be found at stationcasinoslive.com.