Photo by Gil Bitton

Photo by Gil Bitton

One of South Florida’s greatest contemporary solo musicians still criminally treading water down at the end of the United States to not enough global recognition is Jose Ferrer, a.k.a. Boxwood. The 34-year-old multi-instrumentalist and singer has just self-released his second EP, “Moon Garage.” We covered the release of his first one (Boxwood, a one-man wall of sound, releases “Sun Garden City” EP today). The man with the celestial obsession was casually introduced to me by another local musician, Alex Diaz, who also has been down in Miami, evolving as an artist for even longer (read my 1997 profile on that guy in the Miami New Times here and check out his soundcloud).

I had no idea what to expect of Ferrer’s music, but he was introduced to me by someone I trust. Though some will detect similarities in sound to The Cure, My Bloody Valentine or Radiohead, no one makes music like Boxwood. Though he performs solo, he layers parts, including percussion, guitars and vocals via loop pedals to create a lush, dynamic brand of music all his own. He does it live both on stage and in Boxwood bandcamp imagethe recording studio. Over an open air dinner at the Vagabond Hotel in Miami, the slight-of-frame musician says, “A lot of the stuff that I come up with is because of the loop pedal. I’ll come up with a part to a song, and then I’ll kind of isolate the rest of a song, and I’ll let that part ring out.”

The flow of a Boxwood song’s construction comes across as strong as it does because Ferrer prefers to follow the resulting music in its hazy swirl of hooks and melodies and not force some strict construct. It seems counter-intuitive for a solo artist who has complete control over his work, but he says he prefers to follow the music almost subconsciously as if he was a one-man jam band. In fact, he would prefer it if all his songs came out blended together. “I’m always thinking that it will be cool if this song went into something else,” he says. “Like the last part of this song can go off, and I’ll see if I can write something to that, like a medley, and then I end up coming up with another song.”

Whereas collaborative musicians in a band jam with each other to create music, Boxwood feeds off inspiration from the looping parts he creates. It’s a process of exploring music that the musician finds liberating for his creative process. “I’ve also tried to play like just whatever and just loop it and then try to fill in the gaps to see what comes out of it, and that’s interesting,” he explains. “When you listen to some songs and then all of a sudden the drums come in not where you’d expect it, and the guitars are doing something that’s cool, so I try to do that not to throw you off but just for myself, and then songs come out of that, and then I change them around.”

Here’s one song he is streaming free on his bandcamp, “Let It.”

But a favorite he won’t give out for free is “Affected,” featuring pummeled drums affected by echo, an incessant buzz of electrified rhythm guitar and a catchy hook that sounds like it was made by an electric slide guitar. In the middle of the song the hook drops and three guitar parts stack up one by one. One is a simple repetitive plucking and the other two are call and response parts with slightly different shimmering effects. Though he speaks a bit low, Ferrer’s singing voice is something else, especially on this number. It’s bold and compliments the range of effects on his instrumentation. He’s not a neat singer, but it comes from a place of potency you will never find while talking to him over dinner. There are whines, growls and slurs that obscure the lyrics, which are sometimes filled with bitterness: “Good morning, here’s another shit storm coming my way, panicking heads, visual shit, audible waste.”

It’s a little scary, but Ferrer is quite an affable fellow in person. He’s also a new dad, having recently had a child with his longtime girlfriend. It’s apt that he plays his music under an abstract moniker because the man is certainly different from the musician.

His exploration of music began at a perfect time: his early teen years. At 14 years old he learned a few chords from a friend and the rest by ear. “I don’t even know the chords I’m playing,” he admits. “I never learned how to play guitar. I just kind of write. I’m not a player.” In fact he adds, “I wouldn’t call myself a painter or a musician or a carpenter. I like to make things.”

He may not call himself any of that, but he studied art at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in Manhattan, focusing on illustration. So, like any good artist, he contradicts himself a bit. “I did a little bit of everything but mostly oil painting,” he admits.

Like his last release (see images here), he has made the physical version of his new EP a handmade affair. “It’s a wood casing with burlap seams and a random booklet inside taken from school text books,” he explains. “I work with wood at my job all the time. I have access to a shop and liked the idea of having a wooden CD case, with an organic feel and look. Something that was clearly handmade. And also, like the previous EP, no two cd casings are alike. This is probably also the last chance I’ll get to make a CD since they are quickly becoming more and more obsolete.”


Which leads one to think that maybe a vinyl release might be on the horizon. “I would prefer to buy vinyl, if getting music in the physical form,” admits Ferrer, “but Lord knows I can’t afford to press vinyl at the moment. Unique handmade packaging I think makes up for whatever format the music is in.”

*  *  *

You can read more of my conversation with Boxwood, including more intimate details on how a quiet guy like Ferrer finds such a powerful voice on stage by jumping through the logo of the Broward New Times Music section below. You can also stream another new song off the EP there. The same story that you’ll find after the jump also appears in print in this week’s “Miami New Times” music section:

Broward Music NT

Hans Morgenstern

Boxwood will take the stage in Miami at Will Call this Friday, April 3. Show begins at 10:30 p.m. with special guests Sigh Kicks. There’s no cover charge. Here’s the FB event page. Let us know if you’re going or even if you wish you could go in the comments below.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

If the Field Mice and Big Country had a baby and left it on the doorstep of Yo La Tengo’s Hoboken doorstep in the eighties, that thing may have grown up to be the Drums.  The New York City-based group does new romantic/twee like the best of the pioneers that came before them.

Having first been released as a digital album and then on vinyl LP, the Drums’ self-titled debut full-length has finally caught up with the dying medium of the CD (it was released just this past Sept. 14, I was given an advance copy by the band’s PR firm for review ahead of that date). Just a few days later, they are scheduled to make their live debut at Miami’s Grand Central with Surfer Blood* in support. The double shot of poppy post-punkers should prove for an entertaining double bill.

The Drums have had a lot of excitement in the press following them, and hearing their debut full-length for the first time, reveals some good reasons why: short, catchy tunes that mimic the eighties sound of post-punk with scary devotion. A flood of bands from the era come to mind at first listen, but mostly those of the mid- to late-era 80s British twee scene pioneered by bands like the Field Mice, Ocean Blue and of course, the granddaddies of it all, the Smiths. Unfortunately, I strain to name more bands because the sad truth is that I forgot their names, as this music obviously became dated for a reason. Though under the alternative rock umbrella, this music was nothing more than pop music—the sort that fit well on a John Hughes movie soundtrack, but would not last to make it to the coolness level for inclusion on a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack.

And there lies the rub for the Drums. Don’t get me wrong, I love many of these songs, as they have a self-aware wittiness and a supreme knowledge to the details of what made a song in the early eighties a hit. However, I feel the music might wear out on me soon (hence why I wound up selling my Smiths, Ocean Blue and Field Mice CDs a long time ago). I am still playing the band’s album in the car CD player (several times already now, at that). It’s just that, based on experience, these kinds of albums don’t last long in my heart.

There is great energy to the first few cuts of the album (check out the new video for the opening cut in the video for “Best Friend” below, where you will also note a tribute to the minimalism of many a new wave band’s video aesthetic — not to mention dancing):

However, the album does soon grow cloying and redundant by the fourth track. Unlike bands like the Magnetic Fields and LCD Soundsystem, who can explore eighties-era sensibilities while subverting them, the Drums take it all too seriously. The album even has a song that not only recalls the eighties’ sound but also captures the fifties nostalgia that seemed to permeate that era’s culture. On “Down By the Water” Jonathan Pierce sings with Righteous Brothers élan, above a simple guitar groove and steady, sparse, echoey drumbeat. Throughout the album, though, Pierce does whiny acrobatics with his voice like the best of eighties-era singers (hence my earlier Big Country reference, which could also apply to frontmen like Morrissey, Robert Smith, Ian McCulloch, etc.).

“Book of Stories” even has a title that sounds like a song by an eighties new wave band. It has a sonic quality of coming off an album from an appropriately forgotten eighties band, with it’s synthesized flute and dreamy choral melody (often when a chorus appears in a song on this album, the band employs whooshing, dreamy synthesizers to back up the vocals, a trope common in new wave songs). The chorus “I thought my life would get easier, instead it’s getting darker … without you” also captures the classic doom and gloom of naïve teenage heartache (after you’ve grown up from that sentiment you realize that it will always get better… well, unless you’ve committed suicide).

With a runtime under 45 minutes, the band keeps the songs short and punchy. But it still feels like it wears on the listener, as an inherit shallowness to the music does not move this kind of sound to another level that honestly merits the critical praise that has followed this group. These guys are fine craftsmen, as they show an adept and heartfelt awareness of their roots. It just never rises to a level beyond imitation. Here’s to hoping that someday it will on a follow-up album.

*Surfer Blood, who are no strangers to Grand Central’s stage, originally hail from West Palm Beach and are actually on tour with the Drums.

(Copyright 2010 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)