by Andrew Frey
May 2009

Minneapolis' Heatbox

Minneapolis' Heatbox

Vocal organists are a hard lot to find. Humans may all be born with mouths, but what emanates from that orifice varies greatly. Babies tend to be the most creative but also unrefined when it comes to their vocal expressions. Some folks however take the time to refine their vocal tool and the results can be spectacular. Case in point HEATBOX, the one man beatboxing sensation from Minneapolis, MN who describes his music as sounding like a “funky a’ capella group from outer space.” 

His new release is called “System” and drops on May 5, 2009, necessitating a tour and therefore a fantastic opportunity to see him live and in top form. I’ve seen HEATBOX several times over the past several years and he is always extremely interesting and entertaining as a performer.  I was pleased when he recently had a moment to answer a few questions. Since the amount of solo beatboxing performers is a slim one at best, I was curious as to how he chose his musical path.  “I have always had a nerdy spot in my heart for a’ capella music… and funk!” Heatobox begins. “But really I think it chose me.”

When performing, Heatbox is far more than just a simple a’ capella performer. Hums, whirls, squeaks, scratches, thumps and bumps are but a paltry attempt to semantically replicate the types of sounds in his arsenal of vocal slurries. I questioned if certain sounds are harder to generate than others?

“I don’t really think so,” confides Heatbox. “But there are sounds that are harder for “normal” people to make. Almost anyone can produce a drum sound with there mouth, but turntables are much harder.”

Speaking of machines and electronics, Heatbox uses his voice to produce all the sounds in his performance and through a process of sampling and overlaying tracks compiles a song. Or as Heatbox explains, “The sound goes from the Sure Beta 57a microphone, through a DigiTech Vocal 300 (which has some reverbs and an octave shifter etc.), then through a Boss LoopStation RC-50 (which lets me loop the sounds) and then out to your ears.”

I then asked the beatboxer about electronic based music as the natural way for music to be in the future. He then proposed this conundrum about himself? “I don’t consider myself to be electronic music at all,” Heatbox states. “I am using electronics to record the most un-electronic thing possible.”

Many Heatbox songs contain strong anthemic choruses while others seize upon catchy rhythms that get the body moving. What makes for a successful Heatbox song? “I have no idea,” Heatbox deadpans. “I think maybe the big variety of my songs over-all is a plus. I Need a Jack and Coke is a silly song with no verses at all. It’s barely a song. While Remembering Me and Good Kinda Usin are much more about my life and what’s going on. And Suburban Dessert is a story song. Also they are all different genres. I Need a Jack and Coke is a “techno” sounding song. Remembering Me is more “R&B”, Good Kinda Usin is more “country” sounding, and Suburban Dessert is “Rap”-ish. People have usually never seen anything like me before and that brings a smile to there faces. I am also easy to remember because I am just one guy.”

Speaking of being “just one guy,” I noted that being a solo performer certainly is a lot different than being in a band.  “I get to avoid so many of the negative things that happen in bands,” expounds Heatbox. “Things like fighting, or drug abuse, or money problems and such. I never have to do anything other than exactly what I want to do in my art. I also have very little gear to carry around. On the other hand I come from a band called “Root City” in Minneapolis, and there is nothing like the feeling of really rockin’ out with your good friends. I miss that sometimes.”

When poised with the question of memorable audience reactions to his performance, he had this to say. “I was at a bowling alley not too long ago hangin’ out with some friends. This guy, who I think was the cook there, was standing outside smoking a cigarette while we were doing the same. I turned to him and said some joke or something and we all laughed. Then he sort of pulled me to the side and told me that his friend had showed him my stuff and he really liked the song Edge of the Universe. He said it had gotten him through some really tough times recently and that he was very grateful for that. I never thought that song would affect anyone’s life like that. It made my day!”

So what is in the future for this enigmatic performer? “I really don’t know,” Heatbox ponders. “If you had asked me that five years ago I never would have said “touring the USA as a one man beatboxing show.”

And as a closing thought, Heatbox offers some sound advice for aspiring musicians.

“Don’t be a Douchebag!” No seriously. You never know who you are going to meet or when or where something good can happen to you. If you maintain a reputation of being a nice guy and hard worker who shows up and rocks faces, then you will go far.”

Heatbox will be performing LIVE as part of his System CD release tour 5/14 at The Annex in Madison, WI; 5/15 at The Cabooze in Minneapolis, MN, 5/16 at The Stones Throw in Eau Claire, WI and at the Bella Madre Festival [www.bellamusicfest.com]

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