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Jerry Lucky: The eighties was a great time for The Box…five albums and many hit singles…tell us briefly how The Box came together.

 

Jean-Marc Pisapia: We were a trio of college friends who pretended to be in a band rather than actually being a band! Eventually, things began to look a bit more serious and my short stint in Men Without Hats as keyboard player precipitated things in that I made crucial connections in a short period of time. We then added the missing members and played by ear (so to speak) from there. Contrary to most cases, our success was instantaneous and never really let go until 1992.

 

JL: At that time, how would you have described the band’s musical style and approach?

 

JMP: We were definitely a pop band with progressive influences. Radio being what it was at the time, there was no way we could have survived in the prog genre, considered passé and derelict in the early eighties. Even the mega prog bands such as Genesis and Yes were all turning into pop bands one after the other.

 

JL: I thought I detected some hints of prog in the music. Were there any specific progressive rock influences in the music of The Box?

 

JMP: Songs such as “The Great Summer Fair”, “Checkmate” and “Friends” were all heavily influenced by progressive music from the '70s. Others such as “Walk Away” weren't at all.

 

JL: You went through some personnel changes and ultimately The Box ceased to exist…a difficult time...how did that all happen?

 

JMP: There's been a tremendous number of people who have transited through the band although things quieted down from '85 to '89 when the line-up stayed the same 'til we lost Luc, a founding member, for personal reasons. When the band split in '92, we were exhausted and we felt we had said what we needed to say and that it was time to take a break and regroup. I ended up being the only one who wanted to continue in the music business, all others having diverged in different fields of occupation.

 

JL: Then you released a solo record, correct?

 

JMP: It wasn't a solo record as much as the band's fifth album which had been written by me and two surviving members between '92 and '93. Problem is by the time it was ready to go to press, there was nobody left in the band. Our New York manager at the time suggested I put the album out as a solo project called John Of Mark (an Americanization of my first name) and that went nowhere big time!!  But that was also what planted the seed to the bands rebirth in the person of François, whom I met at the time to play John Of Mark live and who has been a very vocal advocate for the band's restart ever since.

 

JL: Did you keep trying to revive The Box? 

 

JMP: There was a relentless pressure from the industry for us to play live, especially with the '80s music revival that took place a few years ago and never quite let go. But I wasn't interested in hitting the stage twenty years later with nothing new to offer. However, I had the idea of getting around the problem by simply writing a new album, something totally different than what we had done before... A prog record, which I had always fantasized doing! 

 

JL: I’m guessing not all of the former band members were interested?

 

JMP: You're guessing right! They thought I was barking mad to go back to the record industry. In any case, they wouldn't hear of it. But a parallel project I was doing live with François and other people (who are now the actual Box) meant I could set the whole operation up rather quickly and that's exactly what we did. That was back in 2004. The album came out in '05 and here we are the same line-up bar our early keyboard player.

 

JL: This brings us to Black Dog There first time I heard it I was quite amazed. The vocals obviously had a familiar ring but the music was so much more adventurous. What prompted you to write in that direction?

 

JMP: Precisely that: the possibility of being adventurous with the music. Keep in mind the new album was just a tool to get back on stage and I couldn't care less if it was played on the radio or not. I knew the record business was in a state of transition no one knew how to handle the changes except by cranking out production of flavorless young blonds with big boobs and sexually implicit lyrics and videos. I knew we would get no support from traditional media and that no record company would ever spend any marketing money on us so I had no illusions about the commercial success of the release and thought it better to target a precise niche rather than getting lost in an ocean of pop acts, especially on the internet.

 

JL: That CD is also a concept work, correct?

 

JMP: Correct. It was inspired by my interest in modern physics, quantum mechanics and relativity, string theory and all. It tells about an astronaut who finds himself stuck in a parallel universe after an explosion of the space shuttle he was crewing. Sounds a little pot headed but it's not, really. Billions are being invested in the CERN particle accelerator in Geneva to validate some of the most mind boggling claims made by modern physics about how the universe works.

 

JL: What kind of response did you get to Black Dog There? Did it sell very well?

 

JMP: As predicted, it sold very little. But also as predicted, the label put close to no resources at all behind it so... We have switched labels since, needless to say!

 

JL: I remember emailing you after listening to it and you indicated that in your mind it was only 50 or 60% prog but that the new material you were working on was much more in the progressive rock vein. Did you find yourself holding back? Or what did you mean by that?

 

JMP: We wrote Black Dog There the way we thought it should be. But we loved the artistic experience so much we decided to go flat out on Le Horla.

In the eighties if you lived in Canada

and listened to the radio it's a safe bet that

you heard The Box. At the time they were big.

Lots of hit singles with lots of radio play. At the same time you, like me, may have heard something deeper in the music...something almost...proggy. Here then is an eye opening chat with leader Jean-Marc Pisapia.

JL: In fact Le Horla, is another concept work. Perhaps you can give us the story summary.

 

JMP: This album is a direct adaptation from a short story by French author Guy De Maupassant, a pillar of French literature of the 19th century. I don't feel comfortable telling you what the story is about from fear of ruining the multiple levels of comprehension one would get from it. Suffice it to say that Le Horla is actually part of the curriculum in French schools. That's how I came to know about the author and his work. It's a fifty page thing that reads in an hour and the story is as avant-garde as it gets, being as real today as it was the day it came out more than a hundred years ago. But don't take my word for it. It's easily found on the net. Read it and you'll see.

The album is also all French by the way (a first for The Box) and we haven't looked to modernize the language in any way which produces an eerie combination of "classical" language style over modern music... Imagine Metallica doing Shakespeare.

 

JL: There’s no question thatLe Horla is very much in keeping with a symphonic prog sound…very orchestrated with longer songs and so forth. How did you approach the writing of the music this time around?

 

JMP: The book actually dictated 90% of where the music would go. At first I thought the album would be essentially something like four 20 minute songs and that's it. But no... The thing began to have a life of it's own as it progressed. It soon became clear that scene "a" (for example) couldn't be put to music if scene "b" was to be omitted. Then we would realize the album was way too dark and needed something lighter to give it a break. So scene "c" had to be inserted etc.

But generally speaking, I knew this album shouldn't be too much thought out and that we should do whatever sounded like a good idea. After all, I always thought that that was what prog is all about, right?

 

JL: And as you’ve already mentioned the lyrics are in French. What prompted that decision?

 

JMP: Simply the fact that Maupassant is French and that at the very least, there had to be a French version of it. As it turns out, we started with the French version and frankly, we don't much see the need for an English version as we all know that the typical prog audience is more than sophisticated enough to appreciate it as it is. I think our efforts and energy would be better put to use in writing the next project instead.

 

JL: I see that initial response to the recording has been very positive.

 

JMP: I spent an entire month on the road with the promo man from the label doing nothing but press and radio and I can assure you that Le Horla is by far the album that got the most praise of any I've promoted before and the level of enthusiasm the most genuine so far. And the same is true for the web so far. There's even a trend I see on our blog and elsewhere by which people complain that we don't play enough of it live, a situation we will correct very soon I should say... 

 

JL: I have to ask…the CD ends with a track called “Super 61”…it’s a very catchy piece of music, I like it a lot but almost seems out of context.

 

JMP: Actually it is and it isn't. True, “Super 61” has nothing to do with the story itself. But it recounts the circumstances surrounding my first contact with Maupassant and Le Horla at age thirteen as I had taken the book to read while on a plane trip to Italy in 1971. I was traveling alone for the first time although my dad's family was picking me up in Rome. The aircraft was a CP Air Douglas DC-8, Super 61 series. I fell in love with the book, but especially with the young flight attendant from Calgary who was assigned to me for the duration of the trip. That explains the only female vocals of the whole album, sung by my daughter Léa incidentally.

 

JL: That’s a great story! So what’s in the future for The Box? Will we be seeing any live performances?

 

JMP: For sure. Although my greatest desire would be to tour the prog festivals around the globe... And as I hinted earlier, I don't think it will take three years for us to release the next album so stay tuned. www.theboxband.com  All info about the band, tour dates and blog are there.

 

JL: Lastly then Jean-Marc, if you were stuck on a desert island and could only have 5 CDs with you, which ones would they be?

 

JMP: The five CDs on a desert island question is a pain in the butt question because it's absolutely impossible to isolate only five albums as the top best. Plus, some of the best music I ever heard is actually part of some of the worst albums ever. A case in point is "Pathway to Glory" from Loggins and Messina, a gorgeous progressive track on an album that otherwise sucks from one end to the other!! Besides, what good would 5 great CDs do if there was no hot girlfriend and a few Pina Coladas to enjoy them with? Cheers to all!

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The Box