Interview: Outside The Box

bill bodkin speaks with the Asbury Park band as they release their first album …

Outside the Box has captured the essence of that “vintage Asbury Park sound” on their first record, The Bridge. Filled to the brim with the same bar room swagger, danceability and personal, heartfelt lyrics of early Springstreen records, Outside The Box will be opening eyes, ears and hearts of many a new fan with this record.

With a voice that’s part Bruce, part The Hold Steady, lead singer Jeff Cafone gives us a sound from a bygone-era of rock ‘n’ roll — a sound that could’ve easily been heard while spinning at 78 rpms on record players throughout the world. However, there’s still a sense of immediacy, a sense of the now in his voice. This isn’t a classic rock retread, this is the rebirth, a reinterpretation of a sound that put Asbury Park on the map in the ’70s.

In short, if you love that rock ‘n’ roll music, picking up The Bridge is an absolute must.

Cafone spoke with Pop-Break’s Bill Bodkin, moments before their broadcast on SiriusXM’s E Street Radio about the new record, the influences of Bruce and Southside and the music scene of Asbury Park.

Pop-Break: Your record, The Bridge, is coming out today. We’ve seen a few EPs from you guys in the past, one even produced by Bon Jovi sideman Bobby Bandiera. How does it feel to have you first full length record done?

Jeff Cafone: It feels great. It’s really nice to have a final product that we’re proud of. We’re happy to really get it out there and to take ownership of. It’s a really important first step. It’s been a long time coming.

PB: You guys have been around for a few years. Why did it take so long to do a full-length?

JC: It’s an 11-song record. It started out with 14 songs, and we cut two in the studio, finished recording and then we totally finished another one and cut that one and then narrowed it down to 11. I think now was just the right time as far as where we’re at musically. I guess that’s one aspect. Another is that this is an expensive endeavor to put out a record. We really had some great help putting this together through a site called Kickstarter. So it was a culmination of the financing, the times, the songs and it’s a pivotal moment right now for us to take it to the next level.

PB: Speaking of Kickstarter, were you surprised not only did you meet your goal, but that you surpassed it?

JC: Yeah, it was great. It was a great feeling knowing that we have such supportive fans, friends and family. In the beginning, we were sweating, you know. We thought, ‘Are we asking for too much?’ Should we have set the goal lower? After it went on, we saw that people were engaged in what we were doing. It really worked out for us, and I’d recommend it to any band, and we’d definitely do it again ourselves.

PB: Did you guys have incentives for people who donated? I know when Nicole Atkins did a kickstarter campaign for her tour, she gave concert memorabilia to people who donated.

JC: Yeah, for a lot of different levels. We had a 102 backers total, which was really nice. We did everything from signed CDs to credit in the liner notes to tickets to shows, signed drum heads, anything like that. It really ran the gamut of rewards.

PB: Your record was produced by Jeff Kazee — a member of Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes. Why tap him as your producer, and what did he bring to this record?

JC: Our connection to Southside Johnny, he’s been a really good mentor within the Jersey Shore scene to us. Jeff is his keyboard player. Jeff took a specific interest in what the band was doing and he offered to help us out with the record. He’s a great piano player, he’s a great back-up singer and he’s just got a really good ear. Him sharing his musical experience helped us put out a better product.

PB: Let’ talk about your relationship with Southside Johnny. He recently sang guest vocals during one of your Stone Pony shows. He’s been a mentor to you. When was the moment where he was like, ‘Hi, I’m Southside Johnny, I love your band and I want to help you out’? And what have you learned from him?

JC: It happened by chance. We were playing for the Monmouth County Arts Foundation — it was this gala in Ocean, N.J. We were asked to be the band that played bumper music when people walked up to receive their awards and also for us to present an award to Bobby Bandiera. Southside ended up being there that night. And this was three years ago, and Southside just happened to be there. So at the end of the night, Bobby Bandiera got onstage to play, so Southside got up there to play, too. So we played some blues songs, like old standard covers, that made the introduction and solidified the relationship. Since then we played the Count Basie with them, we played The Wellmont Theater and at The Stone Pony. He’s taken a good interest and he’s a great music lover — he has a big record collection. His musical knowledge is expansive and we really point in the same direction for our love of music.

PB: I never ask about specific tracks on an album, but one song that caught my attention was “The Ballad Of Jackie Chan.” I was listening to it in my car and didn’t know which song was coming up and out of nowhere I hear Jackie Chan’s name dropped. It really caught my attention. Wwhat was the inspiration behind this uniquely named song?

JC: It’s pretty funny how that catches people’s attention — they’re not expecting to hear Jackie Chan’s name on a rock ‘n’ roll album. It’s just a metaphor about saying things that are harsh … use your words like karate. Using your words forcefully, harsh, and that’s a metaphor with relationships with different people.

PB: Okay, thanks for clearing that up. Martial arts references are usually reserved for groups like the Wu Tang Clan, and last time I saw your press photo, there was no resemblance between you and the Wu.

JF: [laughs]

PB: You were tapped by SiruisXM’s E Street Radio to host a segment on Tuesday. How did you guys, an unsigned band, get chosen to host and perform on an internationally recognized radio channel?

JC: It’s my first time ever up there. They have a great live room, which is basically a big fish bowl in the middle of this office building which is surrounded by financial people. They have the whole floor up, and when you walk in there’s this big, giant glass structure at least two stories tall, and that’s the live room. So it’s in the center of Sirius XM radio where you’re playing. So we got set up there and we played two original tunes and two Bruce tunes. We basically recorded that live, then we went into the other room where they do interviews. We picked some of our favorite Bruce songs and made up a set-list. And we talked about the Bruce influence and our songs and our trajectory as a band. We also talked about or show this Wednesday. And that’s how they got interested — they heard about our show. [We covered Springsteen’s 1973 album] The Wild, The Innocent And the E-Street Shuffle this Wednesday at the Pony. They got interested in that and got interested on the ambition of a four piece band performing that album live.

PB: Why cover an album with such legend and lore surrounding it, both on the national scene and in particular, the Jersey Shore?

JC: Kind of started out as: Should we do Bruce or not? It’s kind of a touchy thing doing Bruce at The Stone Pony. [laughs] So we decided we should go ahead with it — we were getting a good response from people we mentioned it to. The interest in, it turned out, was even better with the interest from Sirius XM interview. We were featured on Backstreets Magazine, which is the main Bruce fansite, and we just did a thing with 90.5 The Night. People seem to really east this thing up. It’s funny how Bruce in this area, the mention of anything involved with him mobilizes people. [laughs] I think it’s pretty telling how much of a strong grip he has on this community and how his music has really inspired us enough to cover it. And he inspires everyone else to flock with it.

PB: Speaking of The Stone Pony, during your residency at the club you’ve performed a number of classic albums — Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde, Tom Petty’s Damn The Torpedoes! and Elvis Costello’s My Aim Is True. Why go this route? And how was the response from the audience?

JC: It’s to keep it interesting. To not be doing the same thing every Wednesday. Hopefully, it’ll get some people interested in listening to those albums and seeing them juxtaposed with our own material — seeing our stuff right after we’ve played Elvis [Costello], CCR, The Band. To really see first hand how that’s influenced our own writing and playing. It really keeps people engaged.

PB: Let’s talk about Asbury Park. You’re multi-time Asbury Park Music Award winner, and this is your third year as The Stone Pony’s house band. What is the importance of this city to the band?

JC: Asbury Park is great. There’s not that many places, including New York City, that has that tight of a community. The Stone Pony is just known throughout the world as a really important venue. Whether they’re music people or laymen, it resonates with them because of all history there. And it’s a real honor to be a part of that — treated by others like we’re an important of that. So it’s really nice to honor that.

PB: In your personal opinion, how do you feel Asbury Park has changed since you first debuted there? You talked about the tight sense of community, but what else has changed from the time you played your first gig there to today, when you’re releasing your first record?

Performing with mentor Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes

JC: We started there five or six years ago. The boardwalk is much more built up — it’s a place where people want to be and people are finding out it’s the place they should be. It’s great to see more people, especially in the Pony to see more of a walk-in crowd. They’re checking it out, because it’s, ‘Wow, this is the Stone Pony.’ And then having people come up to you after the show and say, ‘Oh, I never heard of you and I was just in Asbury Park for the night, and we really enjoyed it.’ And it’s great to see that kind of thing happening in this town. I hang out there all the time — it’s a place I like to be and surrounded by the people who are there.

PB: Anyone who knows the musical and bar scene down at the Jersey Shore knows that cover bands rule the world. I know you guys play the bar scene, but do you think the original music scene is starting to come more to the forefront of people’s minds where they’re starting to come out and see original bands more than they did, say, five years ago?

JC: I don’t know if I comment on it from our own personal experience. Right now, yes. People are getting interested in our originals and what we’re doing. I really think the album is largely responsible for that. The lyrics are in the booklet — they can see it at the bar, and I think that’s what grasping them. We’re finding that on these Wednesday nights that original stuff is bringing people back as much as we’re doing the cover albums.

PB: What are your immediate plans for 2011 and some ideas of what you’ll be doing in 2012?

JC: We’re immediately looking to get this album into as many hands as possible. To have as many ears listen to this and continuing to listen to us and find us on Facebook and Twitter. This fall, we’re hoping to hit New York more. We’re playing Bowery Electric Sept. 20. We’re contemplating, we haven’t discussed this, but we might carry over what we’re doing at the Pony — we might bring it to New York, see how it works up there. We’re going down to Florida again for a festival in Delray Beach in February. Last year, we opened for Buddy Guy, which was fun. This year, we’re not sure who the headliner is. Also early next year, we’re looking to get outside the country for a short tour as well.

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites