By Matt Wickstrom
Playing their first gig in the fall of 2009 as a three-piece, Bowling Green’s Fat Box has since grown into a six-piece armada of funk, jazz, and rock’n’roll. The diverse and energetic group is currently celebrating the recent release of their live album, recorded last March in Lexington at Cosmic Charlie’s.
According to Fat Box co-founder and guitarist Murf Adams, the group expanded rapidly from three to its current six-member configuration in a matter of months after the group’s humble beginnings in and around Western Kentucky University. Along with Adams, the current lineup includes Jonas Butler on the drums and trumpet, Paul Hatchett on bass, Troy Mimms on percussion and drums, Clay Powell on guitar and keys, and Ryan Stiles on the saxophone.
“(Mimms) would haul his gear all over town asking to sit-in with bands”, said Adams. “Our paths crossed and we had him sit in with us, and we decided to add him to the mix full-time soon thereafter.”
The final member to join Fat Box was Clay Powell. According to Adams, the two met while jamming at a mutual friend’s bonfire, where they were introduced by David Downing, the client relationship manager at Bowling Green-based Yellowberri, an advertising and marketing agency. Soon thereafter Adams began joining Powell around town for his once solo acoustic gigs, before inviting him one evening to a band practice for Fat Box.
“(Powell) came to a band practice that day and just fell right in”, said Adams. “We immediately knew we wanted him in the band.”
The group’s admiration for the jazz infused music of New Orleans and Chicago soul have largely influenced their sound, along with artists such as Galactic, Widespread Panic, The Grateful Dead, Frank Zappa, and Parliament Funkadelic. The end result is a wide-ranging blend of music that is unique to itself at every one of their shows.
“Our musical influences are all over the map”, said Adams. “At practice earlier tonight we played a Herbie Hancock tune. We just play whatever we want without regard for what people expect us to be or do.”
The chemistry shared by the members of Fat Box on-stage also lend to the group’s diversity and individuality. Adams took on a very interesting angle when he described the band’s stage chemistry as one big conversation.
“Everybody picks up licks, and every lick is like a word or phrase to be used in a conversation”, said Adams. “Over time we’ve developed our own lingo of musically speaking to each other, just as people do in their groups of friends.”
According to Adams, the group was discussing the idea of recording a live album in the van on their way to last March’s show in Lexington. When they arrived, Cosmic Charlie’s sound guru Eric Meyers approached the band to see if they wanted their show recorded. Adams didn’t hesitate to say yes.
“(Meyers) had a laptop and the mixing board he was using had the capability of recording everything in each individual track”, said Adams. “He got me the tracks and I was able to mix it myself… Studio albums are cool, but we have a totally different energy when we play live.”
Adams remembers his nerves running wild the night of their show last March at Cosmic Charlie’s that resulted in their new live album. The same night of the show the Kentucky basketball team was taking on Notre Dame, hoping to move to 38-0 and advance to another Final Four. The Cats won a thriller 68-66, much to the relief of Adams and his Fat Box comrades.
“We were biting our nails hoping UK won, joking about how rough a gig this could be if they ended up losing”, said Adams.
With the live album now in the books, Fat Box’s focus has began to shift toward a new studio release to follow up 2014’s “Meteor A’ight”. The group is currently recording at their own home studio, the same location they hold band practices.
“We run cables everywhere”, said Adams. “For instance my guitar amp goes into a bedroom on the complete opposite end of the house. Our horn players are in different rooms from us too, so we all listen through headphones.”
According to Adams, the band already has six or seven tracks complete, with plans to have 10 or 11 tracks for the record when all is said and done for a fall/winter release. Adams went on to describe the inconsistency of getting into the studio to work because of other conflicting responsibilities.
“We all work full-time and play on the weekends, so it’s hard to make time to actually sit down and record, so we’re just doing what we can when we can”, said Adams. “Sometimes we may go a month or two between sessions.”
The group will be at PlayThink Movement & Flow Arts Festival at Homegrown Hideaways in Berea from June 15-19, and in Louisville on July 30 for the Grateville Dead Festival, honoring the life of Jerry Garcia and music of the legendary Grateful Dead. Check out Fat Box’s other upcoming shows on the band’s official web site.
You can pick up the new live album at any upcoming Fat Box shows. The album first became available on March 12 when Fat Box returned to Lexington to share the stage at Cosmic Charlie’s with Louisville’s Vessel.