The young and the restless

Box Elders break out of the basement
By MICHAEL BRODEUR  |  March 17, 2010

GOOD STUFF: The fire and sugar that Box Elders force into their garage-pop gems isn’t from some tired formula — that’s pure teen spirit they’re tapping.

Clayton McIntyre of Box Elders has one of the better "why nothing makes me nervous" stories I've heard. When he was a kid, his dad's buddy helped cater all the big shows that rolled through Omaha. This, of course, meant getting smuggled in to see Shaggy at the age of eight. Backstage, Mr. Boombastic not only scribbled on young Clayton's T-shirt, he brought him out on stage as a special guest. And there, in front of 20,000 screaming fans, Clayton wondered, if he could get this sort of reaction for just standing there in a Shaggy shirt, what could happen if he actually did something? He then waved to the crowd, headed backstage, and walked straight past a security guard into Tone-Loc's dressing room. They chilled.

"He thought it was awesome that I was just like 'Fuck it' and came right in," McIntyre recalls. Although Shaggy and Tone didn't teach him much about music, he learned valuable lessons about not giving a shit and doing what feels right. It wasn't long before Clayton and brother Jeremiah were busting out their own songs in their Omaha kitchen: Jeremiah played guitar, Clayton played bass (and drums — with his feet), and their mom would get drunk and sing back-up. Toss in a nominal wink to the bugs that infested their house at the time, and sub out tipsy mother for simultaneous drummer/organist Dave Goldberg, and you pretty much have Box Elders as they remain today: a potentially neighbor-enraging tirade of restless teenage garage pop. (And right now, they're playing bigger shows than Shaggy is.)

Clayton's running around town getting ready to leave for their tour with the Black Lips (which comes to the Middle East next Thursday). Unlike Jeremiah (who lives in San Fran and has a Red Kross cover band called Cover Band), Clayton stuck around Omaha. I asked whether he realizes that a lot of people think of skinny, whiny boys with guitars and asymmetrical bobs when they think of Omaha, and he does. But he also knows that his home town isn't just the mouth of Saddle Creek. After spending eight months on tour, he's comfiest at home — and you can hear this comfort in the Elders' debut, Alice and Friends (Goner), which they recorded in the basement through two broken mixing boards (half one and half the other) and a shitty eight-track.

"The funny thing about this record is that everyone's talking about how 'lo-fi' we did it," he says. "But that's all we could afford. I mean, everything was breaking all the time." Basement-quaking rave-ups like "Jackie Wood" sport equal parts youthful vigor and ancient grit — you can practically smell the pot smoke and the dryer sheets. Meanwhile, "Stay" wants to be a rueful ballad but can barely contain its own stray voltage. The whole album is kind of brilliantly reckless and beautifully damaged — which makes it a perfect souvenir for their live show.

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