After being discovered by Justin Timberlake in 2013 and later signing with the superstar’s development company Villa 40, Nashville-based band The Shadowboxers have spent the past few years working meticulously in studios in both Nashville and Los Angeles to craft a swirl of classic pop music with infectious R&B and electronic elements. That one-track focus resulted in their EP Apollo, which released in March.
Now, the Nashville band, which consists of Scott Tyler, Matt Lipkins, and Adam Hoffman, is on the road opening shows for Timberlake’s Man of the Woods tour. The tour stops at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena tonight (May 9), followed by a Shadowboxers show at The Basement on May 10 as part of their On The Side Tour.
MusicRow spoke with the band about the tour and about their recent EP, Apollo.
MusicRow: Why the long wait for this album?
Scott: First, we wanted to get the songs right. We had been writing and recording for a long time and it took a while to get the songs exactly where we wanted them. They went through a lot of forms and also, we wanted to get in the studio with Justin [Timberlake] and his schedule is so busy, we needed to set aside the right amount of time to work with him. Once those two things lined up, we had a body of work that we felt represented who we were.
MR: How many songs would you estimate you wrote during that period?
Adam: We actually wrote probably 150 songs and we demoed 130. We have a SoundCloud that perhaps will see the light of day that we wrote, and some of those songs are co-writes but a lot of them were just us in our studio in Germantown writing every day. Through that process, we found out what Apollo was going to sound like, and what statement we wanted to make. We weren’t willing to go in to record until we felt we had the best of the best.
Matt: We have a lot of different ways we write and musical influences. One of the biggest hurdles we’ve had is figuring out how to put out a body of music that sounded consistent and a lot of songs that made sense together. A lot of the Apollo EP came from one writing session, with a co-writer and co-producer named K-KOV. “Brakes,” “Hot Damn” and “Timezone” and “Shadowboxer” came from a week we did in Los Angeles, and then “Runaway” was a song we had had for years. They all worked together. But I think writing a bunch of those songs at the same time when we were in the same mode really helped.
Scott: When we would finish writing a song with K-Kov, we would drive over to another studio in Los Angeles and play them for him on the main speakers there and that was like, an immediate test of whether the song worked or not. When we first played “Timezone,” he threw up his hat and ran around the studio, he was so amped up. It was that week that we wrote the majority of the EP.
MR: What did Justin bring to the mentoring and creative process?
Scott: He pushed us to be bolder with all of our decisions and vocal takes. Being songwriters from a more coffee shop, listening room space, as well being used to writing in our dorm rooms or home studios, it’s easy to get lost in the musicianship of a recording, and it’s easy to lose the boldness and vibrato that is required to make a statement for a new band at this point. We are now realizing the potential of these songs because they were meant for arenas. You can tell the difference in a song we wrote before working with Justin and K-Kov. The songs we did with them feel bigger and more worthy of reaching someone in the back row.
MR: How do you describe the songwriting vibe in Nashville versus Los Angeles?
Scott: We live in Nashville and we write in Nashville, so when we fly to L.A. for a songwriting trip, it makes all of our decisions into intentions. There’s a certain amount of gearing up mentally that you have to do, because you want to make the trip worthwhile. Going to L.A. made us focus more on creating, not that we don’t in Nashville, but it’s a different thing. We are spending money to go out to L.A. to record so we have to make it worth it.
Adam: In L.A., you exist indoors and outdoors at the same time. The weather is always very accommodating so it’s nice to always be able to step outside and get that vibe and return to writing. But in Nashville, I love that the seasons can influence your writing. There’s a lot of that in the batch of songs. We had a lot of cold weather songs we have written.
Matt: Also, Adam you have seasonal depression [laughs]. Putting on your pants and going to the library gets you one type of work, or song, and another type of song is the sitting at home in your underwear at 3 a.m. [laughs] when the thinking part of your brain is off, kind of song. Sometimes that’s when the best ideas come, when you are at home, and the things you learn from the day swirl together and you get to be subjective and create.
MR: As the tour has progressed, how have you had to tweak your set?
Matt: This tour has been the best learning experience as a band that we’ve ever had. We’ve never played the same show twice on this tour. After each show, we go into the greenroom, and it turns into a locker room vibe, watching highlights, where we are tweaking songs, changing out songs. It’s been a slow development of us realizing that we are not just there to promote our EP as Justin’s darling band, we are there to hype up this crowd and get everybody prepared for the headlining act. That has allowed us to maximize the effectiveness of all of these songs.
Scott: There’s no question we are opening for one of the greatest entertainers to ever do it, which is a huge amount of pressure, but that pressure forces us to get every bit of energy out of the songs and the transitions.
MR: After tonight’s Bridgestone Arena show, you will be at Nashville’s The Basement the very next evening, as part of your On The Side Tour. What impact does that have, alternating between Arena dates and more intimate club shows?
Scott: We know how to play a club, that’s our home. We take that energy and we are projecting to the back row of an arena. When we bring that into a club, you can feel that energy coming back immediately, it’s like we’ve been training with weights on our wrists and ankles and then we take them off and do what we know how to do and everything feels easier. The arena show has to be about the energy, but we can break it down and do some more intimate songs in a club than we can do in an arena. It informs both kinds of shows. The arena shows are the most fun working that you can have.
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