BoomBox is two people, namely, Zion Godchaux and Russ Randolph. But nobody — not even Randolph — would argue with the fact that it’s Godchaux that makes the duo hum.
While the duo itself formed in that boundlessly fertile music town known as Muscle Shoals, Ala., one could trace the band’s complete lineage all the way back to Palo Alto, Calif., and to The Grateful Dead. Godchaux’s parents, Keith and Donna Jean, both played with The Dead throughout the 1970s, and the younger Godchaux’s time around the band indelibly shaped him. And while there’s often little similarity between The Dead’s sound and that of BoomBox, Godchaux embraces the band’s influence and mentality.
“I couldn’t get away from the Grateful Dead and the influence they had on me, whether intentional or not,” he said during a phone interview from Denver, Colo. “The Grateful Dead are ultimately a dance band themselves. That was one of their powers, was the ability to give people the freedom to dance and feel free. Even in the electronic music scene, that’s kind of at the heart of what we’re doing. So even though they’re different sounds, their similar (in intent).”
Influence and intent are all well and good, but without the proper medium and catalyst, they’re just lip service. But in 2006, while working on the album “At the Table” for family project The Heart of Gold Band, Godchaux found someone to fully complement his vision.
“We met out in Alabama,” he said, speaking of Randolph. “(I was) making a family record at our studio, and we brought Russ in as an engineer. So as we were working on that record we got to know each other and started passing ideas back and forth.”
Godchaux already had plenty of songs written — he’d been working on this idea for a while — so that first collaboration was mainly Randolph riffing on Godchaux’s work. But from there, a collaboration was struck, and the pair were off and running.
These days, Godchaux is still the primary song writer, with Randolph supplying the musical teeth.
“I’ll put down demos and get kind of a general idea of the song,” Godchaux said. “Then I’ll take it to Russ, and we’ll hammer it into a recordable version from there.”
Godchaux likes sticking to that “general idea” mantra for his songwriting. BoomBox’s work has been called highly relatable, and that’s something in which Godchaux takes pride. He feels that the impressionistic qualities of his work allow the same song to slot multiple meanings for multiple people. It’s his way of being inclusive without dumbing things down.
“I don’t try and pin things down to where they are too literal,” he explained. “I try to keep things as broad as possible. Some writers write very succinctly. They write very detailed, personalized (accounts). For me, I like to distill that down into the simplest strokes I can, so it can be applied very easily to different people.”
But the populist approach to the music shouldn’t be misconstrued as detachment. For Godchaux songwriting is still a very personal and cathartic process.
“It’s almost a bringing out of what’s already inside of the soul,” he said. “These different frequencies just bouncing around. It’s the feeling that you have to purge these things out.
“I feel better after I’ve written a song,” Godchaux said. “It’s a coming to grips with a part of yourself. That’s kind of the drive behind these songs. The need to hear it in some kind of form. You need to know you’re not crazy.” CV
Chad Taylor is an award-winning news journalist and music writer from Des Moines who would love to take his talents abroad if the rent were not so much more affordable in Des Moines.