Interview: Boxed Wine talk about Shows, Syncs and Cheap Fun

Friday, June 20th. My friend buys us tickets to see Dresses play The Studio at Webster Hall. I like the duo but feel as if my street cred is in question walking into a venue after a gaggle of fourteen year olds making some kind of remark about wearing dresses to a Dresses show. I try putting off going in for the openers, but between the scalper trying to sell me tickets to a show I already have tickets for, and the homeless guy on 11th street making me bear predictable Charlie Sheen jokes against my will, I realize it’d be easier to follow my friend inside.

Surprisingly enough, we walk into a beach-party kind of vibe. A band called Boxed Wine is on and I initially can’t tell if there are four or five members in the band—a guy in a ponytail and blue Boxed Wine shirt (apparently this guy never got the memo that this is bad luck) keeps bouncing on and off stage to sing gang vocals. Within minutes, the band has the crowd dancing. There’s a palpable sense of familiarity in the air—not in the sense that you recognize them from one of the OC mixes but in a way you know you’ve heard the songs before. When “Summer Wine” comes on, I find that I’m no longer thinking about rent, or my shitty coffee shop hours the next day. Instead, I ricochet into that two week long Halloween freshman year (Syracuse will stretch out any holiday where it’s socially acceptable to wear seasonally challenged outfits and spend the night adjacent to the toilet) when my friends drove up to my dorm, corrugated fiberboard boxes in hand, and we stayed in and got wrecked off of cheap red wine together. That’s the exact sentiment Boxed Wine captures in their music.

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With the lead singer of Silver Conor on their side, a song in an Adam Sandler movie, and tragicomic DIY music videos, this New Jersey band is out to show you that sometimes cheap really is more fun. In this interview, lead singer Chris Nova talks more about the band that we’ve all seen from the corner of our eyes.

Gauraa Shekhar: According to your website, you guys love Johnny Walker Red,  Magic Hat and Craft Beer. How did you end up with the name Boxed Wine?

Chris Nova: Well it happened after we wrote the first EP drinking Franzia Sangria every night (re: the cause of Summer Wine’s poor vocal takes, haha). We settled on ‘wine’ as part of the name, but argued between naming the band Fine Fine Wine or Winetown. Someone said why not just name it Boxed Wine, but we all assumed it was taken. When we looked it up and saw it was open, we were shocked and made the Facebook page that night!

GS: What brought you guys together?

CN: Ralph and I lived together for most of college at Rutgers, and met Mike halfway through mutual friends. Ralph played in a band called Jackie Treehorn with Mike (who’s also the best singer in Boxed Wine) and the precursor band to Boxed Wine, Le Le Low, but they both imploded and we all did nothing for a bit. Then Ralph and I started writing different songs when we were both depressed about how awful the ‘real world’ was. The songs were just an escape that grew gradually over time into a full band with other members. Eventually we settled on the current lineup, adding Mike and his friend Steve. Now we’re practicing with our new member Andrea who’s gonna be playing keyboard since that our sound is changing up a bit.

GS: Your songs are always in commercials, playing before Banks shows at Irving Plaza, etc. Do you guys have a say in the syncs at all or do you just randomly turn on the TV and go, “man, our song’s in a washing machine ad”?

CN: We played before Banks’ show?! That’s so cool! (Laughs) We must have a fan in NYC! We have say on some songs and not on others. The sync market is crazy competitive so they often need a yes immediately. We trust our friends in the licensing world to look out for us, but they did soundtrack an Adam Sandler movie commercial with “Waste Your Time” so we might need to reevaluate those friendships…

We never see the commercials first, our fans and friends usually text us and ruin the surprise. We don’t have cable though so it’s actually pretty helpful.

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GS: On that note, what’s the weirdest place you’ve ever heard your music play?

CN: We got a small random check for being in a Norwegian airlines in-company video, so though we’ll never see it we hope it made us a fan or two! Go Norway!

GS: These days artists have started giving music videos an importance again. Bands like Cable and Babes have quite the narrative play going on in their videos but you guys are definitely onto something new. What was the thought process behind the music video for “Spies”?

CN: Well Spies isn’t a music video we made, but we’re glad you enjoyed the guinea pigs! We don’t have enough money to make videos for all our songs, so we ended up stealing a bunch of footage from YouTube to give something entertaining to watch during the non-single tracks!

You should check out Arnold in the “Tearing It Up” video, or Nickelback in the “Into the Nite” one…

We love music videos though, but have kinda screwed up every one so far, especially Cannibal. That turned out to be oddly misogynistic instead of as ridiculous as originally planned. We might remake it with naked dudes and dogs, but the original idea was pretty much done in an MGMT video we hadn’t seen. They probably do more drugs than us, which is why their music video was better. Unfortunately it had a different and much worse effect on their last album…

GS: NJ has a very tightly kit music community. I just learned that Bruce Springsteen helped Nicole Atkins set up her new record label after they met at an Ashbury Park show once. Have you met anyone from NJ who has served as your rock and roll guardian angel?

CN: Our bassist’s dad is Joe Cerisano of the 80s rockers Silver Condor. He also sang the ‘Be All You Can Be’ Army theme, which is awesome. He’s been super helpful with general career advice, which is great. Unfortunately half the people he knows in the music business are dead from an overdose of Rock and/or Roll.

Fun fact: he also sang the best version of “When a Man Loves a Woman” with Clarence Clemons on sexy sax duties. It is jaw dropping.

GS: How do you guys deal with situations where fans in Boxed Wine T-shirts insist on coming up on stage three times per show to sing gang vocals?

CN: We have an officially licensed Homer Simpson ‘Reachin’ Stick’ that we use to push them off stage.

Haha just kidding! We love our fans and honestly wish our shows were crazier, kinda like a Black Lips show. I have never been drunker or happier jumping off the stage while they played through ‘Bad Kids’ and that’s a memory to cherish. We want our crowd to have those memories too.

GS: Which show has been your favorite thus far? Why?

CN: We’ve played some seriously great basement shows in New Brunswick, but the best in our memory was April 20, 2013. It was insane and we had a whole basement soaked and exhausted at the end. That was a memory indeed.

GS: What would you say is the difference between performing in NY and NJ?

CN: There’s no venues in New Jersey, so there’s the answer. Haha kidding again. There are a few, but our best shows have been in basements, hands down. The Court Tavern finally noticed us recently and we had a good show there so we’ve set up another for August 30th.

Unfortunately there are more scammy venues in NJ than NY. There’s a difference between a draw requirement and “here’s 50 $20 tickets to sell or you don’t play an have to pay us back.” NJ has more of the latter and it’s absolutely awful. We’ve always said no to that garbage, and they’ve only tricked us once, causing us to purposefully invite no one and cancel the day before, ha.

GS: People in NY are slightly…well, insane. They tend to say a lot of ridiculous things (paging guy down the street from me who sings dirty versions of nursery rhymes and claims to be a pirate)–what’s the most bizarre thing someone’s said to you at a show?

CN: The exchange went as such:
Homeless man: “you look like a Beatle, can I have a dollar?”
Chris: “what?”
HM: “you look like John Lennon, give me a dollar!!!”
Chris: “thanks but sorry I don’t have any cash”
HM: “FUCK YOU JOHN LENNON GIMME A DOLLAR!!!!”

He then chased us. Very slowly…

GS: I know you guys look up to bands like Bear Hands. In an ideal world, which artists/bands would you like to tour with?

CN: All we want to do is tour and hang out with Tokyo Police Club, that’d be like a dream come true. I’d say Spoon would be a close second. I met Britt and he was so appreciative of his fans; just an all around nice dude. My dream, though, would be to play with the Strokes, but I imagine the second coming of Bowie would happen first.

GS: What are you all listening to right now?

CN: Ralph is listening to a bunch of synth pop bands like Magic Man and Betty Who, so now he never shuts up about Charli XCX. He keeps playing the new Blondfire record on repeat as well.

I’m currently obsessed with Mounties (because Steve Bays is a musical god) and have listened to their debut album like 40 times this month. I’m also crazy about JJAMZ because Alex from Phantom Planet is in it. Unfortunately JJAMZ has been quiet since 2010.

Mike never stops listening to Gaslight Anthem, and it’s clearly influencing the awesome solo songs he’s been writing. Frank Turner and the Fratellis are other passions of his, as well as the Naked and Famous.

Steve listens to way heavier stuff and loves Crosses and the Deftones when he’s not listening to Rush. That’s why he’s the greatest drummer in indie pop, haha.

GS: What’s your favorite Boxed Wine song?

CN: My favorite is currently our next single “Innocent.” but I also really like “Young Lovers”.  Ralph’s is probably our new single ‘Quiver.’ Mike is a rockist and likes “Bones” and Steve likes another b-side that’s our heaviest track. It’s untitled currently but will be out pretty soon, we hope.

GS: What led you to make your new album available for free download on Bandcamp?

CN: We’re just realists. Everyone steals music, including us, so we felt this was a way to give back. People have the option to give us a few bucks and they often do, which shows us the true good in humanity. We line our pockets with humanity! Really though, we’d rather people buy a tangible T-shirt and come see us instead of spend the money on the digital songs themselves. We just try not to be jerks, and expect the same from any fans.

Unfortunately we’re forced to charge on the bigger sites, but if you’re not smart enough to figure out how to get it free then unfortunately you must pay handsomely, ha.

GS: Why should our readers pick up “Cheap, Fun?”

CN: It’s FREE, why wouldn’t you take it?! In all seriousness, it will hopefully make your day brighter, guide you in times of trouble, and bring you closer to His Holiness (sic.) David Bowie. All we want to do is help people forget that the world is a cold, dark, cruel place with no rhyme or reason to anything other than the fact that we should all be dancing way more often. And eating pizza. And taking naps. That’s it.
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Download Boxed Wine’s latest album Cheap, Fun here.