Printed Oct. 9, 2012. Published version here.
The story of the Shadowboxers is a transcontinental tale of hard work and talent. And they only graduated in 2011.
The musical journey began right here at Emory University where Scott Schwartz (‘11BBA), Adam Hoffman (‘11BBA) and Matt Lipkins (‘11C) met during their freshmen year. The boys quickly discovered their respective musical abilities fit together in perfect harmony.
If you’ve never heard of the Shadowboxers, it’s time to get acquainted with a soulful slice of Emory history. Be sure to drop by Eddie’s Attic on Oct. 12 to see these ambitious band mates jam in Atlanta before touring across the country.
Back in 2008 the original trio entered the first-annual Emory Arts Competition on a whim. At the time, they were just three sophomores with a nameless band and a song they had written for a music theory class assignment. They ended up winning the first place prize and subsequently started playing shows all around Atlanta.
Since that fateful talent competition, a lot has happened to the little trio that could. For one, they’ve quit doing gigs as simply “Matt, Scott and Adam” and have come up with a name that they hope evokes “the sentiments of old school rhythm and soul,” Schwartz said.
Beyond the addition of the spiffy penumbral moniker, the band has grown to include five musicians. Jaron Pearlman and Ben Williams joined the founding members during their senior year, playing drums and bass respectively.
The Shadowboxers’ sound is much like a cross-germination experiment in today’s musical genres. They’re pop, but not bubblegum. They’re smooth, but they aren’t exactly easy-listening. And they often dare to combine R&B-worthy vocals with instrumentation that closely resembles rock and roll.
When asked about their musical influences in an interview with the Wheel, the band articulated a particular passion for Motown and 1970’s. Lauded names of past and present music legends flowed freely from the mouths of the band mates. Everyone from Crosby, Stills and Nash, Stevie Wonder and the Allman Brothers to John Mayer and Dr. Dog got shout outs. From such a revered roster of idols, it’s easy to tell that quality vocals are key to the Shadowboxers’ musical outlook.
“We’re a harmony band because we’re all singers,” said Lipkins, the band’s lead vocalist and keyboardist.
In light of recent events, it seemed germane to discuss the band’s views on Emory’s standing as an artistic community. The Shadowboxers agreed that they would not have gotten where they are without Emory. They made many core connections through the Emory network.
However, the band didn’t always feel love from their alma mater.
“There wasn’t a lot of support for students to form a rock band. Nothing was built in for that to happen. There was no infrastructure,” Hoffman said. “In a way, we benefitted from being the only band on campus – when someone needed one, we were there.”
The band worked hard to make itself known on a campus that wasn’t the most band-friendly. They view it as “a blessing in disguise” since they might have received less recognition in a more artistically involved environment.
Schwartz asserts that it takes more initiative to find success in a creative field at Emory, but he remains hopeful for the future of Emory musicians. “I hope we’ve left a legacy encouraging musicians [because we] covered new ground,” Shwartz said. “Ultimately, the work of individuals can trump the work of the school.”
Lipkins suggested that their art may have benefitted more from Emory’s academic resources. “Adam took a lot of creative writing classes that were very helpful for songwriting, and I try to link music and psychology as much as possible,” Lipkins said. “I think it helped, having an understanding of group dynamics.”
The last time the Wheel featured this homegrown group, the Shadowboxers were bidding Atlanta farewell, ready to embark on a tour of the country with fellow Emory alums and Atlanta natives Amy Ray (‘86C) and Emily Saliers (‘85C) of the Indigo Girls.
Now, they’ll be joining the Indigo Girls for another tour in just a few weeks. So far, their relationship with the folk-rock duo has been a fruitful one.
“Touring with them is awesome for so many reasons. We get to play incredible venues that we wouldn’t be able to get in on our own,” Hoffman said. “They have incredible fans who know all the words so that’s great to be around. Plus, we’re getting our name out there and seeing the country.”
Schwartz likewise appreciates the veteran duo’s influence. “They’re both a good example of professionalism,” he said.
Lipkins explained that the Shadowboxers’ musical style may not be as different from the Indigo Girls’ as one might think. Both groups value tight harmonies, eloquent songwriting and choruses that pack a melodic punch.
“We revitalize their songs that have been heard for 20 plus years with our soul-pop element,” Schwartz said.
This past spring, the Shadowboxers recorded a full-length album entitled Red Room, which will be released in early 2013. They gathered material for their lyrics mainly from personal experience, but they’re definitely open to songwriting experimentation.
“[We’re] trying to write from a more story-telling perspective… writing from our own experience, the opposite experience or someone else’s experience,” Hoffman said.
The Shadowboxers look forward to showcasing their inventive songwriting styles on the new album, and they can’t wait to share their music with a wider audience.
Future aspirations may include lofty words like “booking agent” and “album debut,” but these Emory grads have stayed down to earth through it all.
In terms of what the Shadowboxers want to do after the much-anticipated album release, Lipkins put it simply: “To not screw it up.”
“None of us have goals in terms of fame or monetary success, if we can play music continually and live comfortably, I think that’s a goal of all of ours,” Hoffman said. “If we can establish a fan-base who finds joy in what we do – that’s really our goal.”