Original Writeup

Dayton’s The Boxcar Suite Holds a Mirror to Society That You Won’t Want to Look Away From on “Every Side of the Abyss”

by Brody Kenny

Every Side of the Abyss is such a satisfying listen because of how well Pritchard and company eschew easy answers on both an ethnographic and musical basis. You’ll want to listen again and again. Sometimes, to catch the melodies; other times to catch the meanings.

Looking for some of that old-time rock ‘n roll but also some of that new-time societal anxiety? Then you’ll love Every Side of the Abyss, the new album from The Boxcar Suite. The Dayton three-piece packs their songs with power chords, soloing, and harmonies, but their lyrics are written and presented so vociferously, with verses and choruses being equally stirring, even if the underlying feeling is, “Now that we know, what do we do?”

Bandleader Tim Pritchard’s enunciated rasp proves remarkably nimble and versatile, turning verbose mea culpa like “I guess we’re always gonna dance with the people we used to be, falling on our faces, falling to my knees.” into sing-a-long choruses hitting the same mental pleasure centers as The Hold Steady and PUP’s best songs. Pritchard, and his bandmates – bassist Phil Caviness and Trevor Bell (guitarist Trevor Bell, who also contributed to the album, moved to Ireland in 2019), also know when to emphasize space and melody. When things “slow down” on a track like “Rakes of Yore,” they’re certainly not letting up. If you have love for Love or The Byrds, you have even more reason to check out Abyss.

The Boxcar Suite are looking at issues that are easy to identify but difficult to discuss without feeling like you’re in a perpetual state of mental short-circuiting. Every Side of the Abyss is such a satisfying listen because of how well Pritchard and company eschew easy answers on both an ethnographic and musical basis. You’ll want to listen again and again. Sometimes, to catch the melodies; other times to catch the meanings.

Stream Every Side of the Abyss below, and read our email interview with the band.

There’s tons of energy to be found in the lyrics and performance. Where does that come from?

Well thanks! I obviously appreciate that and I’ll try to answer thoroughly without overdoing it.

Every Side of the Abyss is the culmination of years spent playing together and being friends. We’ve all been through some seriously good times together and seen each other through some heavy shit. I’ve mentioned before that after the last album we kind of hit a point where most projects would probably implode, but fortunately, the challenges pushed us to create what I think is our most honest material. I don’t mean that it’s autobiographical, at least not expressly, but rather that it wasn’t written with any pretense or restriction. It was simply about tapping that energy we’ve developed playing live and hangin’ out to see where it would take us. That journey occurred through a rather tenuous time in terms of the society we live in and one that was personally reckoning for all of us in unique ways. 

Lyrically, much of the record deals with the dark forces that commodify and degrade everything that is good about being alive. We’re coming at that sentiment from the simpleton perspective of a rock band amidst a sea of “rock bands” which must decide whether to write the real or take a crack at the big time by writing what they think corporate America will bite on, but it applies to fast food, shitty movies, mainstream music, and coopted social movements/renaissance. A lot of the album is protest music against the sheer complacency of a culture that allows itself to sink to the least common denominator so that the folks on top can live in excess while the masses toil and lose the opportunity to enjoy their time on earth, which would be to focus on living a simple but meaningful life. The record kind of starts with the most pointed critique of this mess in “Turndt Awn” and ends with a metaphorical character study of “Jim Mouse” who has sort of entered a fully enlightened but also disillusioned state of being. In between, we explore ecological disaster, addiction, social media, mental health, etc. Real sunny stuff. But, I don’t think of it as a downer record at all. To me, the best rock and roll has always tackled dark matter and turned it into dark energy. It’s the push and pull of the universe…or at least our universe.  

What’s present on this album that might’ve not been on previous releases?

I think this album is illustrative of our natural progression as a band that was basically backing me up to play cuts from a solo folk-rock record to one that is very collaborative and integrated. I still did the majority of lyric and basic songwriting, but the collective writing process was stronger than ever and everyone brought significant contributions. “The Flight” is Phil’s song that we worked up together and “King’s Ex” started with something Tony had come up with and I kind of ran with. “Wrecked Locomotion” was written almost spontaneously with the whole band just diving in. It’s a simple rocker, but it just kind of appeared one night. We just started playing and that was that. I wrote real lyrics to it the following day or so. 

Where a lot of our material has been fairly lofty and escapist in the past, which I do enjoy, this album is much more embedded in real life. It’s still pretty humorous, I think, and perhaps that’s another unique aspect. There is a lot of my attempt at dark humor on this album. Not like writing joke songs, because I couldn’t live with myself, but it’s written in a very honest voice, which for me is always a sort of a paradox of being a seriously cynical Polyanna.

The sound is different on this record as well. The production is a little more modern than say, Further in and Farther Out, where I was sort of obsessed with accomplishing a 70s rock sound. This one draws more on 90s and 2000s power pop and punk rock. Still not exactly contemporary, but more so. I think it sounds unique and is certainly the closest thing I’ve achieved in terms of my sonic vision.

Some songs seem to be about expressing frustration outward, while others are about expressing it inward. How do you balance those two components?

Very perceptive. I admittedly struggle with both, but I think that is true for most people and there is a continuum between outward and inward struggles. Balancing those components in song and music in general is best achieved by honesty I think. Again, I don’t mean honesty as a purely autobiographical mode because I think it’s super important not to be stuck there as a songwriter or any kind of writer. A person’s own experiences should inform their writing, of course, but most auto-biographical narrative isn’t that interesting unless you’re Tom Robbins or the like. Tibetan Peach Pie is a pretty great autobiography, but he insists on calling it a memoir. Maybe that is the difference. The frustrations and struggles illustrated on Every Side of the Abyss are more a synthesis of memoir than anything autobiographical. Tom Robbins is a storyteller and I presume much of that book is a combination of reality and storytelling. I’ll admit to following in the footsteps of folks I admire.

Is the “Abyss” of the album’s title something that can be described in words, or is it more metaphorical?

The “abyss” from a vision I had that relates to much of the material on the record. It’s hard to describe visions, but I’ll try. We’re presented so many things in binary terms – liberal or conservative, one or zero, religious or atheist, good or evil, hot or cold. It’s unrealistic to think about much of anything in these terms, but we do it anyway and it warps our perception in a way that isn’t conducive to empathy or productivity. It results in continuous conflict and only benefits a slight few at the top of the food chain who thrive because if this. Imagine a top predator like a cheetah that is able to keep all of its prey conflicted. It would be the most evolutionarily fit being on earth. Humans have kind of become both this super predator and among the prey simultaneously and I think it has a lot to do with this sort of hardline binary thinking and the inability to recognize the real overlap in likeness. 

In my vision, that abyss is the division that just continues to grow like a black hole as the energy of meaningless arguments, propaganda and otherwise divisive energies are generated into existence. The equal and opposite reaction which must occur due to the laws of physics is an infinite overlap of likeness, empathy and understanding that exists in the opposing dimension. Is the universe expanding due to the mass of dark energy propulsion or is it contracting due to the gravitational pull of dark matter being created? Well, here’s another binary argument that is probably pointless because clearly both are occurring!

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