A Brief History of
Stephen Hawkins’ Voicebox
I am sitting at Petomaine’s, the trendy Newark eatery that has seen more than its fair share of luminaries. Word has it Clarence Clemons eats here prior to embarking on tours with Bruce, and that They Might Be Giants once walked in the door, looked around, and walked right out.
Stephen Hawkins’ Voicebox is an unusual artist, and its unusual qualities become apparent even before I’ve tackled the matter of splitting the bill. For instance, when making the reservation at Petomaine’s, I have to wonder — do I get a table for one, or two? Should I plan for AC power for Stephen Hawkins’ Voicebox, or what if it runs on DC… should I bring my own batteries? C’s or D’s? Alkaline? Already it is clear that SHV poses many questions, perhaps more than even Stephen Hawkins himself could answer.
Fortunately, none of this matters, as Stephen Hawkins’ Voicebox (“Please, Reggie, call me Box””) is quite accommodating, and there is no rockstar attitude to be had here. It’s all about the music. SHV has finished recording A Brief History of Alternative Music , a tribute to those heady days of the Eighties due “any day now” on Fucking Annoying Records. After a bit of fumbling around with the tape recorder, adjusting levels and discarding the idea of a direct connection from Box’s OUT jack, we begin a lively conversation.
Tell me a bit about yourself. Where did you come from, what are your influences?
I’m not sure where I came from, to be honest. Manufactured at some lab, I assume. My first memories are of a discourse on the heat-death of the universe. Entropy, what a bummer. Pretty fascinating stuff.
As to my influences, I’d have to say, first and foremost, the Velvet Underground. Them, and Speak and Spell. Both may sound very different, but they have that… raw quality, you know what I mean? I actually got to meet Lou Reed once, he came to a lecture. Nice guy. Wish I could say the same about Speak and Spell, though. He’s very aloof, but I guess with something like that, you have to stand back and judge that work on its innovation alone. E.T. and all that.
What made you decide to go solo?
Stevo and I had a long talk about it. He likes the music, and he’s remarked favorably on the couple of times he’s caught me doing my act. We both agree that it’s inappropriate for the university circuit, not because the college crowd wouldn’t get into it, but it just wouldn’t work with what he’s doing. I mean, where do I fit in? An interlude of tone poems amidst the charting of proton decay half-lives? These people are thinking quantum mechanics, not art. It would just be a distraction.
On the other hand, we recognize that I’ve got a creative urge, too, and that it’s something that needs to be shared with the kids. Basically, I got Stevo’s blessing to go solo. He really has been supportive, given me all sorts of advice on the physics of colliding galaxies and stuff. It’s not much use in the music biz, but I put a bit of it into the stage patter. People know where I’m coming from, and they expect some advanced stuff, I guess…
What about A Brief History of Alternative Music ?
[chuckles] Yes, I know. Ironic isn’t it? I’m into all that Eighties stuff, huge Billy Idol fan, the Police, Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Kajagoogoo, what was that song? “Too Shy,” right. Don’t laugh, but I dig ABC and Spandau Ballet. [hums] Ah-ha-ha-ha, true…
Anyway, I decided to take all this music of my youth, and present my renditions. Those were heady times, and that music carries so much emotional baggage for me. I can’t get through “The Reflex” without taking the bridge to compose myself a bit.
And Martha Quinn…
I think a lot of us who’ve been through the Eighties see Martha as almost an iconic figure. To be able to actually work with her, you know, the multimedia tracks she VJ’d on Brief History … it just made everything right.
Any plans to tour?
That’s going to be a tough one. Steve’s schedule is pretty much booked up through the year 2050… his management is issuing bonds against his guarantees on the gigs. It’s complicated, these guys are good. If I do get to “take it to the streets” it would probably be as a sort of surprise engagement. There’s already been a couple, did a night at a Montana Tiki Steakhouse in Chicago that set the grass skirts on fire.
What are we in for next? Anything you’re listening to?
Believe it or not, Atom and his Package. I guess I’m expected to identify with the Package, what with both of us made of circuit boards and stuff, but it’s really Atom’s talent that is defining the sound of that band. Me and Package go way back, believe me. We’re not like close buddies or anything, but I think we’ve developed a lot of mutual professional respect, especially after the split 7″. But I’d love to do something with Atom, or even produce his solo record.
At this point, I saw the waitress nervously shuffling through checks, telling me the interview was over and to get some cash from Box before the company card got “declined”. Look for A Brief History of Alternative Music on the shelves soon. For more on SHV: http://www.fukkingannoying.com