As the members of the Shadowboxers took the stage at the Masquerade last Thursday night, a subtle smile came across lead vocalist and keyboardist Matt Lipkins’ face.
The crowd was filled with fans eager for headlining indie pop band MS MR, so at first they were pretty uninterested in the soul pop sounds of the relatively new, lesser-known opener. But Lipkins, calm and confident, knew he could turn the audience’s ritual and polite clapping into genuine applause.
The Shadowboxers learned of this opportunity just two days prior and jumped at the chance to test out their new material.
The Masquerade is definitely one of Atlanta’s more unique performance spaces, but the two-story “heaven and hell”-themed building lacks the physical structure to deliver a clear and audible sonority.
Nevertheless, the Shadowboxers’ strong performance soared and made the audience forget the imbalanced acoustics.
The iconic harmonies of the three vocalists sliced through the audience and turned heads. During the show, I had trouble keeping my eyes off the group’s most recent addition: bass player Carlos Enamorado. Armed with a fretless bass and a style reminiscent of jazz bass legend Steve Bailey, his addition has allowed the group to explore new territory while providing a jaw-dropping visual.
When Lipkins met his now-bandmates Adam Hoffman and Scott Schwartz at Emory in 2008, there were no established bands on campus and limited avenues for the arts. Lipkins and Hoffman joined a cappella group No Strings Attached, which allowed them to develop their vocal abilities and cultivate their chill-inducing harmonies early on. With no other groups competing for shows, they became the go-to band at and around Emory.
Over the course of their four years at Emory, the group honed their craft while developing a true musical bond with one another. Local performances grew in size, and so did their fan base.
In 2010, the Shadowboxers became the opening act for fellow Emory alums the Indigo Girls, validating their hopes to pursue music professionally. But after the tour, the group was back to square one.
With no label or the fan base to support a headlining national tour, the group began shifting their focus to refine their style and attract fans through an online marketing campaign: #covertuesdays.
For the last year the group has released YouTube videos on the first Tuesday of every month, putting their unique pop soul twist on songs spanning a vast array of artists, from Paul McCartney to Frank Ocean.
Validation for a group can come in many different forms, but nothing really compares to a tweet from Justin Timberlake. In December, none other than JT himself retweeted the Shadowboxers’ cover of “Pusher Love Girl.”
The tweet garnered thousands of new listeners, and after two more posts praising their performances, it’s clear that the Grammy Award-winning Renaissance man is a fan.
So what’s next for the Shadowboxers? When we sat down to chat last Monday, Lipkins explained, “There’s no master plan.” Recently, the band has been focusing on their songwriting.
The members joked that they “lock themselves in for days,” individually pitching riffs and ideas and then collectively experimenting with new song structures, vocal styles and fresh sounds. They approach each song as if it was a cover, trying to rewrite material the same way they arrange their covers.
The greatest struggle of an emerging band is producing a unique sound distinguishable from a large and mostly generic market.
The Shadowboxers recognize that and, from the very start, have utilized their tight vocal harmonies to add a unique twist to their once squeaky clean pop sound. For years, the band wanted to infuse their pop songs with funk and soul.
With the additions of bassist Carlos Enamorado and drummer Cole McSween, Schwartz explains, “We can finally make the sounds we hear in our heads.” Adam says their music is “Stevie Wonder songs with Crosby, Stills and Nash singing them.”
It’s their songwriting process and new musical direction that will set them apart in an extremely competitive market of new artists.
The band’s first full-length album Red Room was released in January of last year. The album showcased raw talent and breadth of musical ability; however, the songs were disjointed and left the listener wondering what type of band the Shadowboxers aspired to be.
Hoffman says Red Room “spanned the full spectrum of what we could do and liked at the time.” The Shadowboxers attempted to capture what they do live with mixed results.
Given the influx of electronic sounds, correction software and other studio technologies, studio and live performance have become two entirely different worlds.
However, the band promises to “harness a sound for [their] next album,” something more concerted and unexpected. It’s a common problem for new artists, but it’s clear that the Shadowboxers have learned from experience and plan to wait some time before returning to the studio.
As we discussed their history, the three singers stressed the role Emory played in their success.
In our conversation, the bandmates agreed that although opportunities in the arts at Emory are somewhat limited, there are a ton of talented students just waiting to find each other. Their senior year, the harmonious trio lived with two filmmakers and an actor.
Their advice to current Emory students interested in pursuing the arts: surround yourself with other creative people.
All six of the students living in that house went on to pursue their dreams, defying professional norms and abandoning their academic pursuits.
The band concedes that although it may set them back a few steps in “cool points,” being Emory grads is something they are truly proud of. Schwartz explained that Emory gave them the critical thinking skills, determination and work ethic to set themselves apart from other acts their age.
As we wrapped up our interview, I asked the Shadowboxers a difficult question: where do you want to be in 10 years? Aside from hoping to be the same weight with 12 kids, Lipkins humbly responded that he simply hopes they are still growing as a band and as individuals.
Hoffman jokingly interjected, claiming that they will surely be “the biggest band in the world.” With such immense potential and an unpredictable future ahead, we can only hope he’s right.
– By Jason Charles