Jose Ferrer, aka Boxwood, is a bit of a deconstructionist. He showed up at Sweat Records in Miami a couple weeks ago to talk about how he puts together luscious, noisy, catchy, swirling sounds of noise pop as a solo musician using loop pedals, guitar and percussion instruments, with a box of hacked up vinyl records refitted as CD covers for his first EP, “Sun Garden City.” His idea of CD packaging is useless 12-inch dance records. “It’s serving a purpose,” he says of the vinyl records re-purposed as gatefold CD cases, adding that the records he butchered are around six years old and no one would care to use them on the dance floor nowadays. A DJ friend of his gave him a stack to sacrifice to a buzz saw. “We saved the good stuff,” Ferrer says, assuring that he still loves the vinyl format. Here’s an example of the EP folded open, outside and in:
The small, elfin musician is soft-spoken and looks 10 years younger than his 33 years of age. It’s hard to believe this guy has a 10-year history as an acoustic strumming singer-songwriter in New York City before becoming Boxwood, a creature far evolved from acoustic guitar and voice, now residing in the low-key suburbs of Hollywood, Florida. He does his best to answer questions about what lead him to his distinctive sound but often mumbles and stumbles for words. This is clearly a musician who prefers to have the music do the talking for him. “I hate promoting,” he finally admits. “You have to be on top of people. It would be easier if I had some kind of management or something.”
Of course, he is talking about setting up shows and releasing records and then having to deal with their promotion, but he might as well be talking about talking about life when the music stops. He perks up when asked about the experience of being in the music, be it on stage or in the studio. “The music comes first. I like performing … I like the recording process. I compiled a bunch of stuff from the time in New York, when I came here [in 2006]. I printed out a CD full-length of songs from a span of 10 years. It’s a lot of the singer-songwriter stuff. I made 1,000 and still have 980 but I forget to get them [they are sitting in storage somewhere in New York]. I’m gonna have them if someone is curious. It’s still me, but it’s not representative of Boxwood.”
He left behind that singer-songwriter sound a long time ago for something decidedly more original and distinctive featuring a treated acoustic guitar that sounds electric and a variety of percussion instruments recorded and looped through effects pedals. “I’ve been to so many open mics. At least in New York, there’s like a million singer-songwriters,” he says. “You get sick of it. I can’t sit and listen to it. It gets boring. Not that it’s not good. I just can’t do it anymore. I did a lot of it. The thing that draws me now [to music] is really getting a nice sound out of the equipment.”
By “the equipment” he might as well be talking about his voice as well as guitar and percussion, which he often buries and treats with echo, submerging it into the swirl of reverbing sounds looped through pedals. Boxwood’s sound recalls the dream pop of bands like My Bloody Valentine or the heavily affected recordings of Deerhunter. “I used to focus more on my lyrics. I was more of a singer-songwriter prior to getting into the pedals. It was very vocal, lyric-based, but since then I have been trying to get away from that to just make the music more interesting,” he explains.
He performs live using the pedals to create a wall of beats and melodies and captured it on his new EP with minimal, if any, studio tricks. “I wanted the same sound as I have live,” he says. “It’s all recorded from the same loops that I do with all my equipment. Nothing was MIDI. I didn’t add any other instruments. It’s just kind of what I do live.”
Upon hearing “Sun Garden City,” beyond the layers of guitars, the polyrhythmic quality of the beats standout. Being a teen in New York, the rise of hip-hop in pop music did not escape Ferrer. He says he was 12 when he started really noticing the presence of hip-hop artists on MTV back in 1994. “Hip-hop had so much personality back then,” he says. “Rhythmically, I like the sound of the drums, which are samples of old drums of funk and soul.”
The results are smartly constructed pieces of blissed out layers of melody and noise. “Balance” opens “Sun Garden City” with a beat composed of clicks, rattles and thudding booms before a guitar coats the fuzzy rhythms with quavering noise that seems so high in treble it occasionally squeaks. Then Ferrer begins his terse, breathy and occasional growls from what sounds like the depths of a well. It’s all tinny, catchy rhythmic din until the beats halt to highlight the quavering guitars and Ferrer repeats “untie me” over and over, as if on over-lapping loops. An inspired wash of soft, synthesized drone or hum glistens over the final seconds of the track, bringing it to another level.
“Palisade” follows, raising the dramatic dynamics to an even more exuberant level. Ferrer’s lyrics become a little less easier to understand, as he spews his words with a forced pressurized delivery. The percussion has been changed up to something lighter, sparse and more wooden but just as dynamic in its qualities as “Balance.” The guitars offer a prettier side to Ferrer’s melodic capabilities and there’s even a swelling sting of a drone. A demonstration of how he puts together the loops that make up the track can be watched on Boxwood’s YouTube channel, here:
From that humble beginning (and it is just a beginning), the results are amazing on record. Ferrer’s has offered “Palisade” as a free MP3 download here, so you can hear the difference. Across the six tracks of the “Sun Garden City,” which also include an atmospheric, rhythmic instrumental interlude, the music never relents. Boxwood is one inspired creature and proves there are not many limits to acoustic guitar and percussion.