CD sales may be down, but that doesn't mean music is no loner spreading. Enclaves of listeners are still very interested in physical media, especially if it's not digital. Seven-inch and 12-records records are the form of favor in many niches, from noise and metal to garage-pop and punk. And, for the rest of you, the Internet offers a portal to any sound imaginable—that is, if you're willing to look, link and listen. As we've progressed, we've continually left certain methods behind, while rediscovering the benefits and comforts of things we'd once considered obsolete. Sometimes, if the song demands it, these disparate modes of transmission even work together.
Enter a band like Box Elders, a terrific garage pop-trio from Omaha with a sound half velvety fuzz and half magnetic pop buzz. "Hole in My Head" is 100 seconds of verse-chorus-verse-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus magic, popping in and leaping out in just the amount of time it takes you to memorize the melody. Written by brothers Jeremiah and Clayton McIntyre about the time they started the band with their mother (she soon quit), "Hole in My Head" is agile and nervy and perfect, the sort of jangly number that makes you forget that, in its first several seconds, someone dies on his frontlawn.
We found the band on the Internet and rang them on the strength of the tune. Apparently we're not the only ones: When Box Elders swings through North Carolina tonight, the four-track piece of vinyl that holds "Hole in My Head" won't be with them. They sold out several shows ago because—as you might have guess—they've grabbed a following online. Yup, it's that addictive.
INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: How long has this song been a part of Box Elders' repertoire? It's one of four you've released.
We wrote this song a little while ago. It was one of the first songs we wrote. I had moved home with my mom for family stuff, and we were dorking around and started a band on accident. That was one of the first songs we wrote.
What were the circumstances surrounding the song? What were you listening to and thinking about?
I think I was listening to a lot of girl groups at the time, The Shangri-Las and that sort of stuff. The song is, lyrically, I'd read this Philip K. Dick biography, and it was kind of about that he went nuts at the end of his life. Some little girl came over and he thought her Jesus fish burned open his third eye or something, and he was all obsessed about the fact that he got transmissions from outer space. They were going to mail him a package, and the package was going to be like the secrets of the universe. Then he would understand everything, but then it would kill him. So he got an unmarked package in the mail, and he had a stroke. I thought that was kind of neat. It's what I was thinking about.
How did your interest in girl groups develop?
Just listening to oldies radio. You always hear those songs, and they're the ones that are really catchy. I started buying records. There was a really great used record store. Actually, Omaha has a lot of really good used record stores, so you just started picking up stuff like that for cheap.
How old are you?
I'm a bit younger than you, but—growing up, going on road trips with my family—I listened almost exclusively to the music of your parents' youth. And no matter how much I resisted at the time, I remember a lot of those songs and love them.
You definitely do. That stuff is what you grew up on. It's like the alphabet for you. You've heard all those melodies so many times, and the songs are really simple. But they're still amazing.
This song is 100 seconds long. It's guitar, drums, bass and vocals—simple and short.
That's the way I always thought songs were supposed to be! Really catchy and brief.
Did you write the lyrics at once, then bring them to your informal trio?
Me and my brother had a couple lines here and there. We'd play around and practice and play the song and, close to a year later, it became what it was.
You had a few different drummers before the lineup that's on this song, correct?
We tried a couple of different guys. Originally, it was just me and Clayton and my mom, and she would sing. Clayton and I would alternate on drums and guitar. Then we ended up getting the drummer we have now ... when we decided to make a full band.
The seven-inch record for "Hole in My Head" is a few years old. Are there plans for new recordings?
We're going to do a full-length on this label Goner out of Memphis, and it should be out pretty soon.
You mentioned the early philosophy for this song, "really catchy and brief." Has that evolved, or does the full-length operate on the same idea?
It's pretty close. It's what three people that get together and do something [sounds like], and it usually falls into what those three people would make. Everybody in the band, our record collections are pretty similar. We grew up listening to the same things, and there's a connection that way. Really, raw simple American music—folk music, I guess. Even if it's not some dude playing a banjo, it's still folk music.
Speaking of folk music, this sort of recent garage revival is interesting because so much of it is based on old technology. This song is on a 45rpm record, for instance, but the word gets spread through a mix of the Internet and good ol' touring in vans.
Yeah, it's rad because we've been playing in the South for the last few weeks, and it's been neat that you can be from thousands of miles away and still have something in common.
I found this song through the Internet. Has that been pretty common for Box Elders?
It makes it so much easier to get to people. We've sold way more records to people. A lot of people that bought the record aren't on some big slick Web site, but it's just a guy somewhere who collects 45s and is pretty passionate about it and writes about it. A huge chunk of the records we've sold have been to people like that. The Internet has really worked for us. Not everything they say is cool about it, but a lot of the stuff they've said levels the playing field.
Box Elders plays Nightlight Thursday, Jan. 7, with Whatever Brains and Gross Ghost. The 9:30 p.m. show costs $5.