Programming A BoomBox with Zion Godchaux and Russ Randolph
Over the past few years, Zion Godchaux and Russ Randolph have toured and recorded as BoomBox. The House-mix/Jamband duo features Godchaux on guitar and Randolph on a range of sound-producing apparatus. A recent electrifying performance at the Crossroads in Huntsville, Alabama saw the duo effortlessly roll on from one song to another, touching such favorites as “Round and Round,” “Couldn’t Get It Right,” “India,” “ Who Killed Davey Moore,” “Stereo” and an amazingly mellow yet psychedelic version of “Shakedown Street” that the band has recently incorporated into their set.
“Shakedown” is certainly a fitting selection as Zion is the son of The Grateful Dead’s Keith and Donna Godchaux, and a veteran of his mom’s Heart of Gold Band. However, BoomBox has carved out its own identity over the past few years, through steady gigging as well as the release of its 2005 debut recording Visions of the Backbeat. A new disc, downriverelectric is set to hit shortly, as they explain in this interview, which took place after their crackling Crossroads show. Godchaux and Randolph also discuss the origins of their music and look to future plans.
BT: For starters, where did you meet? Muscle Shoals?
RR: Yeah, actually I was living there, Z was living out in California. His folks have a studio there in the Shoals and hired me to come out and kind of help them upgrade studio equipment and engineer a record.
Zion Godchaux: We were recording this record under the band name Heart of Gold Band.
RR: A record called At the Table. Cool record, we’re really proud of that record.
ZG: We were making that, kicking it in the studio for six months and that was kind of just ultimately passing through. I was going to record some music and take it to Europe and then me and Russ started putting our heads together. We were both tired, we were both frustrated with traditional band structure, you know, bass, drum, guitar, keyboard kind of thing. It was a pain in the ass getting that many people together.
ZG: You know, it’s like a needle in a haystack in the chemistry with numerous musicians, especially with this kind of stylized music. I never really could get, I tried but I could never really find players who thought like that.
RR: So Z just happened to have one of the drum machines that we’re using live, and he’d been writing tracks with the drum machine. And then we get together and thinking that we could develop these tracks and if we put two drum machines together we could transition mix the way a DJ would, you know, between tracks and we just snowballed from there. That was four or five years ago now.
BT: From that original impetus, was it like that (snaps)?
RR: Oh yeah. Once we realized we really could make this thing happen, we got similar ideas. It’s like, one door opens and like a hundred doors swung open, it’s like that, it’s like
BT: Like exponential growth
RR: Yeah. I mean, we did spend probably a year in the studio before we ever played our first gig. Once we had the first idea and we thought this thing through, it took us a while to kind of logistically figure out exactly how we were going to pull this off. Transitioning from machine to machine.
ZG: But we knew that once we connected those first initial dots, you know, we knew that it was on, it was just a matter of
BT: Drawing the rest of the picture.
ZG: Yeah, kind of keeping our ears open, listening for like the next information to come down the pipe.
BT: Speaking of that besides normal heightened consciousness that you may experience from the interaction between audience and band, do you eve sense that you’re tapping into something deeper?
RR: We’re always open to that but lightning doesn’t always strike. I mean, that magic is obviously bigger than us and we try to do our best to be the best conduit that we can; some nights, lightning strikes and it’s a magical thing. Some nights, it’s a good time, but it’s not that magicalsomething bigger than us, it’s truly working us, and it’s truly magical.
ZG: The idea is, the idea is to, uh, to make room for God to walk in, you know what I mean? So we’re always trying to kind of get out of the way; we play better and things come from more of a real place, the more we kind of get out of the way.
RR: We try not to force anything and we try to put a lot of space in the music so that the room and the collective energy, the collective God or whatever it is that people call this thing that everybody’s connected to, that can kind of take hold and do its thing.
ZG: We come off the stage on a really good night and we feel like we’ve taken a shitload of psychedelics, (after) three and a half hours of disappearing into thatthe onenessthe whole room kind ofyou know
BT: Zion, would you say Jimi (Hendrix) or Jerry (Garcia) was the bigger influence?
ZG: Garcia taught me, you know, how to explore and Jimi taught me how to cut heads off, well, at least, attempt to(laughs)
RR: I try to look at each night as its own thing. I try not to go in, you know, we try not to go in with like a game plan, but you do in the back of your mind, try to refrain from playing the same set. As much as I want each night to be its own thing and each track to just develop as it should in the crowd.
ZG: Just like a DJ, you know, like at a party is gonnago with the flow.
BT: So, do you consider yourselves based out of Muscle Shoals?
RR: Oh yeah.
BT: Do you have like a headquarters there or something, a house or whatever?
ZG: We used to have a warehouse.
RR: We used to live together
ZG:..we probably will have that warehouse till the day we die
BT: Have you ever thought of chopping “Sing Your Blues Away”?
RR: That’s funny you said that, I was just listening to that last night in the car.
ZG: I played rhythm guitar in my Mom’s band in like ’98, and we were doing some tours and we decided to cover that one and I was going to sing it, and that song is really complicated.
RR: It’s a very orchestrated arrangement.
ZG: It’s actually really, you know, pretty tricky too and that’s why the Dead didn’t do it. So anyways we were playing it one night, and I completely butchered it. I completely train-wrecked on that tune and that was it.
BT: In terms of songwriting, do you have a regular process?
RR: Zwith the vocal mic and guitar, he’s really writing kind of, the hook, or the melody, that kind of stuff, and then we both program tracks in the studio together. (Our album) Visions of the Backbeat is the one we put out in ’05, we’ve got a new record called downriverelectric is gonna be out later this year.
BT: Do you record every performance or are those shows from audience members I’m getting?
RR: Everything that is on Archive(.org) is from someone other than us. Now, we do record shows, but we just don’t have our shit together, I mean I’ve got equipment failing all over the place. At some point in time we’ll hopefully be able to sell every live show.
ZG: We’ve got a bunch of live shows multi-tracked.
RR: We just need to go back and actually mix all this stuff.
ZT: That’s another project, to kind of shell out some more live shit that actually sounds good.
RR: After we finish this album, you know the next thing I think will be just a bunch of live stuff.
Brandon Taylor is a freelance music journalist living in North Alabama.