The Boxmasters, the country-rock group led by singer-actor Billy Bob Thornton, have signed a new Nashville record deal and are readying a double album to be released next year on 101 Ranch Records. Titled Somewhere Down the Road, the dual LP consists of one disc of British Invasion-influenced jangle pop, and a second disc of moody Americana.
"Double albums weren't a rarity when I was growing up. It was just something that people did," Thornton tells Rolling Stone Country. "We have so much music, we've recorded 200 to 300 songs over the past couple years. When you have a momentum going, you don't want them to just sit there forever and turn them out years later. You want to get them out there while there's something crackling about them."
Thornton played the album in its entirety for a small group of media and music-business insiders in Nashville this past weekend. True to his description, the first side leaned heavily on a vintage British sound.
"It's influenced by our love of the British Invasion and late Sixties L.A. rock & roll, like the Byrds and the Burrito Brothers. As well as our great love of the music of Memphis: the Box Tops, the Gentrys, and out of Chicago, the Buckinghams," Thornton says. "And especially Big Star, which obviously Alex Chilton started after the Box Tops."
The companion disc is decidedly Americana, full of ballads and story songs. "It's definitely what some people might refer to as 'Southern gothic.' The only British influence on that side of the record would be Pink Floyd. It's kind of like if J.J. Cale or Kristofferson had Pink Floyd playing the music. It's very spooky," says Thornton.
The Boxmasters, which in addition to Thornton includes J.D. Andrew, Brad Davis and Teddy Andreadis (who toured with Guns n' Roses on the Use Your Illusion Tour), are the latest act to sign to new Nashville label 101 Ranch Records. The band joins gruff-voiced Nineties star Mark Collie on the roster.
"Collie and I go way back with each other," says Thornton, citing the title track to his 2001 solo album Private Radio that he and Collie wrote. "It's great to be associated with him on the same label. I'm actually writing songs with him for his album."
Thornton, who was recently nominated for an Emmy for his role in the FX miniseries Fargo, acknowledges that while he is the face of the group, it's not, as he said during the listening session last week, "Me and the Academy Awards." "I'd call myself Bozo the Clown if I could," he said then.
Instead, he goes by his nickname Bud in the group. "It's not like people aren't going to know, but it's my way of saying, 'Just look at me as a member of this band.' That's really all I am," says Thornton, who once worked as a roadie for country singer Johnny Paycheck.
"I was playing in bands since the time I was a kid. If somehow, in 1981, when I started as an actor in L.A., if I had fallen on my ass doing that, and then somehow got a record deal, I'd be putting up with the same thing in the opposite direction," he says, letting go a self-aware laugh. "If you want to talk about paying my dues, it's all I ever did. I wasn't in theater. I was only in music."