by Michael Buffalo Smith
Billy Bob Thornton is one busy cat these days. Besides the recent premier of Mr. Woodcock, and the never ending line of films and TV appearance, Billy has been spending a huge amount of time both in the recording studio and on the road.
On the heals of his great new album Beautiful Door, Thornton and his band The Boxmasters recently wound up a summer tour with rave reviews, and set about recording a debut Boxmasters album. All of that and a new solo album from his guitarist and friend Mike Shipp has kept the legendary musician/actor/producer/screenwriter pretty busy.
We at Swampland and GRITZ were very fortunate to be granted a second interview with the man of a thousand faces, not to mention Southern icon, Billy Bob Thornton.
I know you and The Boxmasters just wrapped up your summer tour. How was the tour for you guys?
You know, it couldn’t have been better. I mean, we got great reviews all over the country, and of course yours was brilliant. As a matter of fact, we read yours on the bus. We were in the Pacific Northwest. Both of them, the review and the article describing your night hanging out with us. The guys just loved it.
Oh, great. Thank you.
But the tour went great, even in the towns where we didn’t expect the crowds we got. There were places up in the Pacific Northwest where we didn’t know what to expect, like Boise and Spokane, places like that. Places we’d never played before. We packed the places and had great shows, so it went really, really good. And we got four and a half out of five stars in Rolling Stone for the record, which is not easy to get these days, because they hate everything. Unless your 19...
Yeah, they like Fall Out Boy, and stuff like that. So we’re working away on the Boxmasters thing. We just did a Christmas song, The Boxmasters. At Christmas time we will release it and it will be the first exposure to the public of Boxmasters music. Two Christmas songs, one is a cover and one is an original. The original song is called “I Got Screwed By Santy Claus Again.” (Laughs) We did a regular Christmas song but we did our own special Boxmasters thing as well.
A CD single?
Well, I guess it will be a download on iTunes. Things seem to be going more and more that way. I guess we just have to get used to it. I mean, music stores are going away.
Well personally, I love my iPod. Of course I still like CDs and especially my old vinyl.
You know what I miss the most is the art work.
Me too. Big art work. I mean, they have reissued a lot of stuff with the original liner notes, but it’s so tiny, I have to put on my glasses to read it.
To read words on the inside of a CD? It’s impossible.
Two other questions I wanted to ask about the tour. I understand the Leanin’ Man showed up for the Huntsville gig.
Funky Donnie Fritts. (Laughs) He sure did.
And you co-wrote a song with him, right?
Yeah, remember the song we did called “Build Your Own Prison?” Donnie and I wrote that together.
He is a great song writer.
He sure is.
Also, I read online that Karl Childers even made an appearance at the Huntsville show.
We did two shows. Four shows actually, since The Boxmasters opened both shows.
Oh yeah, that was the night after Myrtle Beach.
It sure was. The place we played at is a new place called the Merrimack Hall. It’s a great facility, but the theatre only seats 300 people, and we sold out the first one pretty quick, so we just added another show. So in the second show I kind of ran out of stuff to do (Laughs)... There were a lot of people there that are just huge Slingblade fans. That town is just full of them. Donnie told me, he said, everybody down here loves Karl. That character is like an icon. So I decided on the spur of the moment to do a little bit of Karl..(Laughs) I didn’t do too much though. I like to keep him in my pocket.
(Laughing) Don’t let Karl steal your show.
Exactly! Once Karl comes on, how are you going to top it?
I was watching one of my favorite shows a couple of weeks ago when I heard your voice on the opening theme. How did The Boxmasters end up doing the opening theme to Weeds on Showtime?
It was great for us to get this Boxmasters thing out there, I thought that was a great way to kick that off. We had to audition for that. They had a lot of artists who recorded a version and sent it in. Of course it was done through Universal and everything. Their TV and movie placement guys just come up with different ideas, and they said “Listen, this year Weeds is having different people do the theme song every weeks, so would you guys like to record a version? They accepted eight out of dozens and dozens of submissions. We got accepted so we are pretty darn proud of it. We decided if it was to be a Boxmasters song we had to go hillbilly all the way. (Laughs) But it’s an odd song. We had to record it at exactly the length that they needed to fit with the opening credits. When you’re trying to do something that specific you don’t have a lot of freedom, so it was a job when J.D. (Andrew) and I cut the demo.
Let’s talk about the Boxmasters album.
That will come out in the spring, so when we go out and tour again, not only will be have the solo record but we will have the Boxmasters record out too. That’ll be kind of nice. We want to work it out so that we can play some of the same places again, because that’s how you start to build a following in different areas is to come back, like Widespread (Panic) or any of the others. So we want to try and come back to Myrtle Beach and Huntsville and do that again, you know.
I saw a photo where you were in the studio with Mike (Shipp, Billy’s long time friend and lead guitarist) working on his new solo album. How’s that album coming along?
It’s going real good. We finally got everything tracked. The label he is doing it for, Cleopatra, always like an artist to bring in a lot of guest stars. So far we’ve got Dusty Hill, Ricky Medlocke, Les Dudek and we’re going to put Shooter Jennings on it. And Stephen Bruton came over the other night. And they consider me a guest star I guess because I played drums on a few of the tracks and did some background vocals. They wanted him to do six covers and six originals. For him it will expose his music, so we went along with it. I mean, he didn’t want to do that many covers, but to get a record deal at all these days is such a miracle...it’s still a great way to expose his playing, so... Of course, Mike’s music is a little heavier than ours, it’s more like what we do in our second set. You know, his sound is more blues rock, more Texas rock, like ZZ Top. But one of the things we tried to do on this, because Mike’s style has always been compared to Billy Gibbons, who was his hero growing up, was to try and get away from that a little bit. I think we did good. We even got an Allman Brothers song on there. We put “Not My Cross To Bear” on it.
I know Beautiful Door is still kind of new, but I understand you already have some songs in the can for the next one.
Yeah. We’ve got a bunch that we didn’t use. A couple of things we plan to use. The only thing is, the style that we were playing them in was a little bit different, so we want the next album to sound a lot like Beautiful Door, we want it to be the same type of record, so we have to re cut them. Brad Davis is in the process of writing a terrific new song. We’ll do it like the last one, just as we can. Brad’s got his thing going on and I’ve got two movies coming up, so we’ll just do it as we can.
I saw Mr. Woodcock. Another good one. My friends were calling me up saying “Turn on the TV, Billy Bob’s on Regis talking about the new movie.” Of course by the time I turned it on you were already gone.
(Laughs) That’s funny, because my Mom always wants to know when I’m going to be on live. I’ve done Regis before where they’ll shoot two shows in one day, one to go live. i never know when it’s going to be on live or later. I also did the Top Ten list on David Letterman.
I saw that. (Laughing)
The Top Ten Things I Want the Public to Know About Me. (Laughs) The one that got the most applause because she was a guest of the show was “I have a tattoo of Martha Stewart on my ass.” (Laughs)
(Laughs) I hear you.
I got a souvenir out of it. He did a bit about the New England Patriots getting caught for filming the other team, and he had a football out there, and he said look here, we have the ball from the game. And he opened up just the nose of the ball and there was a camera in it. When he came over to shake my hand after the top ten list he handed it off to me. So I kept it and put it in my trophy case.
On Woodcock. What a mean, mean man.
(Laughs) Your worst nightmare.
And you got to work with Susan Sarandon for the first time.
Yeah, I never knew Susan before that. When I met her I was kind of in awe of her, because I’ve always been a big fan. I told somebody on TV, it might have been Conan, that Sean William Scott and I both had a crush on her. Tim Robbins visited the set one day, and you couldn’t have seen two bigger chickens. Tim’s about six-six, so when he came to the set, we just kind of sat down and got quiet.
(Laughing) And after Mystic River he’s pretty intimidating. What’s next for you movie wise?
I’m doing a cameo in a movie called The Informers. The movie takes place in the 1980’s - it’s a lot like - remember Love, Actually where I played the President?
It’s that kind of movie. Basically everybody has a cameo, you know? It’s a bunch of stories all strung together with a through line. Everybody’s got their own bit. In my part of the movie it’s me and Kim Bassinger and Wynona Ryder. Kim plays my wife and Wynona plays my girlfriend. (Laughs)
(Laughs) What a job you have.
Boxmasters in Jacksonville, FL.
(Laughs) The next movie I was supposed to do was with Halle Berry, but she turned up pregnant.
(Laughs) Now there’s a Southern thing, “turned up pregnant.”
(Laughs) So we had to postpone that until probably Marsh or April. That’s kind of it. Working on Boxmasters stuff and doing the Informers film.
Thanks for talking with us Billy.
Anytime Michael, anytime.
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Special Thanks to Lisa, Kristen, Mike, JD, Brad and of course, Billy Bob.