Jean-Marc of The Box talks new songs and his best Spinal Tap moments
August 3rd 2018 Montreal, Qc
Canadian music icons The Box are back with a great new EP called Take Me Home. The title seems to be a play on words as if this music is taking them home to their sound of the 80s which of course you must always remember. Original member and lead singer Jean-Marc Pisapia took time out from their tour to talk with me all about the new songs, band line-up and two of his best Spinal Tap moments.
Ron : Good morning, Jean-Marc.
Jean-Marc : Hey, how are you doing?
Ron : Fine, thanks. I want to compliment you on the new EP Take Me Home. I think even though The Box is current and moving forward with their music these songs have a totally 80’s retro sound from the melodies, and singalongs. Am I right?
Jean-Marc : Not only are you right but everybody says that to me. Everybody. Funny thing is this EP was not even my idea. It was the band’s idea. They’ve been with me since 2004. That’s 14 years. So this line-up has been together longer than the first one.
Before I used to do all the writing of music and lyrics. This time around they wanted to be involved in writing the music since no one writes the lyrics other than me. So as to not repeat ourselves we went in with no preconceived ideas of what the music should be like. In other words I told them let’s get some music going, we’ll get together in one room, rehearse the parts until we are happy with the result and we’ll record it. They were the ones who made this record sound like the 80s without being a caricature of reheated stuff from the past. So when I hear someone like you say “It sounds like The Box from the 80s yet it’s still fresh and new” I don’t take credit because it’s all them. I didn’t even think it sounded like that when we were recording it. I’m really delighted.
Ron : So take me through this EP. The first single is called Hey Little Rock Star which is of course why I had to interview you since I’m Ron Roxtar.
Jean-Marc : (laughing) Of course. It’s all about you.
Check out the video for the song ihere : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqjzvJDJoUE
Ron : (laughing) Right. So what’s this song about?
Jean-Marc : As I say explicitly in the song it’s me talking to my younger self. Our guitar player François wrote 100% of the music so here I was staring at a blank piece of paper for the lyrics wondering what it is I’m going to write. It reminded me of my younger self writing material for the first album 37 years ago wondering what am I going to write about. It’s just me talking to my younger self. That’s what it is.
In the second part of the song you can see it’s a mash up of all the key phrases from hits we had in the 80’s.
Ron : I think the best song on the EP is Endless Days. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Jean-Marc : Of course. Endless Days is about my life as a performer and not just on the road but at home. That song is dedicated to my wife, Emilie. Let it be known I’ve been married for 30 years. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky because as you know people in this business don’t last long as couples.
In 1990 when The Box were recording the fourth album is when things fell apart. I ended up at home and was there all the time. I started a new business for advertising music. I set up a studio in my house and worked there for about 10 to 12 years straight. I got to see my kids grow up and was with my wife who was very understanding about the fact that the band seemed to be over but I was still making music all day long,
In the advertising world as you many know you have to do a lot of different music which was very interesting for me. I knew about music but I had to learn about so much more styles. One day they want a reggae song, the next they want a classical song, the next day prog rock. Sometimes it was very challenging. That brought my career as a musician to a whole new degree and I loved it.
I had been getting relentless pressure from the music industry to reform The Box and do shows. So when the time came to put the band back together I went to see the members and none of them wanted in. Absolutely nothing. In the meanwhile I had met a bunch of people by doing the ad music and they happen to be the guys who are in the band right now. So I proposed to them to reform The Box and that’s how we started in 2004.
Ron : That’s what makes Endless Days.
Jean-Marc : All that but mostly about how my wife was there with me through every step of my career which ultimately made it what it is. I’m very proud of it. I never fell into the traps of success which can destroy not just your career but your life. And I say that in so many words in the song “I’m the luckiest dog alive.”
Ron : What about the song Don’t Do What I Do?
Jean-Marc : That is more or less me being a father to my daughters. I always told my kids since you have a brain, use it. As every parent has said ‘don’t do what I do or have done just do what I say (laughing).’
Ron : Then there is the title track Take Me Home.
Jean-Marc : That was the first track written for this EP and it was entirely written by me. I am very much into politics and very well informed. I do believe as performers we should never get involved in politics and that’s why I’ve made it a point for this band to never get into taking a political stance, ever. I do believe in the last decade that things in the world have been getting so depressing. When you’ve been out there hearing all these things it’s really about coming home, getting your feet back down on the ground. It’s the only time you can reflect on things with a certain detachment and a feeling of security. Home is everything, especially when you’re on the road. Being at home with the ones you love is what really counts and everything else is an accessory. So in a nutshell that’s what that song is all about.
Ron : One thing I would really like to discuss and support is the current line-up of The Box. Can you tell us about who they are
Jean-Marc : Okay, well let’s start with the first guy I recruited who is François Bruneau on guitars. He was with me when I was doing ad music. He was also there when The Box was breaking up and we did a side project called Dupont et Dupond based on the two brothers in Tintin. Which when you translate it means the two idiots (laughing). So François was first. Then we had Martin Lapierre on drums and from there we got Daniel Volj on bass. Then we got Isabelle Lemay on vocals and that’s been the band ever since. I was doing keyboards but we later on got Guillaume Jodoin to play keyboards so I could always assume the position of being the front man. One reason we hired him was because he was 20 years younger than all of us and if there’s one thing you have to be up to date with is electronics and keyboards and he was. This band has been together now for 14 years with no change in the line-up and no bickering on the road or anything like that. It just works.
Ron : What about Daniel Volj? I know he’s been doing a lot.
Jean-Marc : Daniel is a bass player who’s been a gig person but who’s also a producer. He did a lot of work with artists who came over from France and needed a bass player on the spot. He was tired of doing that and wanted to be part of a band. He worked with us on Dupont Dupond and there was a chemistry there between him, François, Martin and I. When it came time to do the new version of The Box he was absolutely in.
(As a side note Daniel Volj is fronting his own musical project with Bowie Revisited that also features François Bruneau. It is a musical celebration of the music of David Bowie and not to be missed. Check out their facebook page and site for upcoming shows). http://bowierevisited.com/
Ron : In all the years you’ve been in The Box either with this lineup or the original what has been your most memorable Spinal Tap moment?
Jean-Marc : (Laughing) I have one heck of a Spinal Tap moment for you. It’s 1986 at the Montreal Forum. The Montreal Canadiens have just won the Stanley Cup. We were invited to play at this big party there and it was packed to the rim. We were invited to play alongside other artists like Celine Dion, Martine St. Clair, Paul Piche and others. We were asked to play L’affaire Dumoutier so the crowd goes completely crazy and it was fantastic. A minute later Celine Dion comes out on stage wearing a hockey jersey with number 33 on it, which was the number of Patrick Roy. She starts singing her song and 16,000 people start booing her from beginning to end non-stop. I turn to our manager at the time and say “What is happening?!” He says “Well yeah. She sings at the hockey games for the Nordiques in Quebec City. Now she shows up here when the Canadiens have won the Stanley Cup wearing a number 33 jersey. This is something you shouldn’t have your artist doing. What is wrong with her manager?!” So Celine walks offstage and she is crying. She’s got nobody there, even Rene Angelil (Celine’s manager) is nowhere to be seen. This was when she was just starting out not being the superstar she is today. There she is all alone sitting on a bench in the back alley of The Forum just sobbing. So seeing that I felt so bad I go over and sit beside her rubbing her shoulder telling her “Don’t you worry about anything. Everything will be just right. But you know what? Maybe you should change managers.” (Laughing) Could you just imagine if she had followed my advice and dumped him. Think about the career she has today.
Ron : On your current tour you are playing all the hits everyone loves as well as promoting your new EP, but I saw that you guys are playing a cover of Safety Dance by Men Without Hats. How did this come about?
Jean-Marc : That was a happenstance. We played the Cafe Campus in Montreal about three
years ago. Daniel put it on Facebook as an event. Ivan from Men Without Hats wrote a message saying he would come. I used to be the keyboard player in Men Without Hats before Safety Dance was released. So I told the band ‘how cool would it be if we rehearse Safety Dance and invite Ivan to come on stage and sing it with us.’ The thing is Ivan didn’t show up.
Sitting at the bar was Ivan’s brother Colin, who was also in Men Without Hats and resembles Ivan a lot. Daniel peaks out from behind the curtain and sees Colin sitting there. So he comes to the dressing room and tells us that Ivan is here.
We go on stage and do our full set. Near the end I address the crowd about me previously being in Men Without Hats and then announce Ivan is here. I invite him to come onstage and join us for Safety Dance and… nobody shows up. So Colin comes up to the front of the stage and tells me Ivan is not here only him. I ask him ‘if he can sing it’ and he tells me ‘not really.’ So I sang the song and people went crazy. Especially when we did that and followed it with Closer Together. The place just blew up.
I thought it was so good that we should keep on doing it. Plus we do a more rocking version of it so it’s really a no-brainer.
Ron : When you think about it, that whole story you just told me is another great Spinal Tap moment. So I got two of those stories from you.
Jean-Marc : Oh yeah! Indeed.
Ron : I really enjoyed this time together and I hope you did too.
Jean-Marc : Absolutely.
Ron : I wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your new music along with the current line-up and give it all the support that’s needed.
Jean-Marc : I appreciate it a lot. It’s very kind of you to do that.
Ron : Thanks so much and all the best.
Jean-Marc : Thank you and good-bye.
Make sure to see The Box on their tour dates near Montreal.
August 4th at Les rendez-vous du village, Rue Blainville Ouest, in Sainte-Thérèse
August 17th for the Festival de la Relève in Thetford Mines.