C.J. Boyd is a man on the move.
For the last eight years, the bassist has been on permanent tour--living out of an old ambulance converted to run on veggie oil, playing night after night in coffee shops, bars, art spaces, punk houses, and just about every other imaginable venue. And that's just how he likes it.
"If I didn't like touring, I wouldn't tour. Nobody's making me," he tells KRCC.
A onetime graduate student in philosophy, Boyd dropped out of his PhD program to pursue his music and live his life on the road.
For many musicians, touring is a means to an end, a way to get the word out, meet your fans, and make some money. For Boyd, the constant traveling is an end in itself.
Boyd's music is spare and evocative, blending bass loops and fuzzed-out textures with visceral singing and a composer's ear for tension and release. Think Arthur Russell meets The Microphones meets Tortoise and Brian Eno--mesmerizing, challenging, and heart-wrenching all at once. It's gorgeous, immersive music, and a potent tonic in these turbulent times.
"I think that when the world is as tough, as hostile as it is, there's something that I value about taking some time to just be somewhat at peace, and in a safe place, and just revel a little bit," he says. "[I want the] music to be a place where things are beautiful, and things are kind, and things make sense and express love."
Boyd was recently in town to perform at Mountain Fold Books in downtown Colorado Springs. Before the show, he spoke to KRCC for the latest episode of Air Check. We talked about his music, his permanent tour, and his ability to find home on the road.
Listen to the full interview in the player above.
In this interview:
On his decision to embark on a permanent tour in 2008
I had toured a lot before that--normal tours of a few weeks, a few months. It just sort of got to the point where I thought, okay, that's the thing that I love doing the most--traveling and playing music--so why am I doing other things just to be able to do that once in a while? When I set out, it was open-ended, but I didn't know how long it would last, I thought maybe six months, maybe a year, maybe multiple years, I didn't know.
On dropping out of his PhD program
I was a graduate student for four years. I was studying philosophy. As much as I loved that for the intellectual stimulus, I felt more and more like, I don't want this life, I don't think this is me. I felt like I was attempting to become something that didn't work, so I quit the PhD program. At that time, I just thought, when I'm on tour, I really like that, that's fun, and I feel like myself.
I think a lot of people are willing to do things that they don't enjoy because they think there's some payoff in the end, and sometimes there is. But that tendency in general, this idea of necessary evils... I think we settle for that explanation a little too much.
On how touring affects his perspective
When you travel around and see the differences that exist in place, it puts you in a better position to think critically about the way they do things where you're from. If you stay in one place you're not going to have things to compare to, and you are more likely to be sucked into the idea that it has to be done this way, because we've always done it this way.
On whether his music reflects his philosophical values
I don't know. I honestly don't know. I feel like that music I'm compelled to make comes from a very different place in me than my more critical thoughts. I do think that what I do can be an escape, and in general I'm not a fan of escapism. But I think that when the world is as tough, as hostile as it is, there's something that I value about taking some time to just be somewhat at peace, and in a safe place, and just revel a little bit. In those moments where the world is so difficult, there's something that I do look for, and want to provide--for the music to be a place where things are beautiful, and things are kind, and things make sense and express love.
On whether there's a place that still feels like home after more than eight years on the road
A lot of places feel very home for me, but not in the same way. I grew up in California, a little town called Santa Maria. That region still feels like home for me, because I grew up there--you have these associations, your first kiss, your first fight, no other place is going to have that...
But I do think the shift that happens with being on the road this long is that, maybe by necessity, you just grow to feel at home regardless of where you are. I mean I've recorded in In-N-Out bathrooms and slept in my van in every possible kind of neighborhood. Over time you have to feel like this is all home, this is me, everywhere is where I belong.
On coping with hard stretches on the road
Another thing I get asked a lot is, "so long on the road, doesn't that get exhausting?" Well, yeah, but don't most jobs get exhausting, don't most jobs get tedious after time? No matter what you're doing--I don't just mean professions, I mean like relationships, everything in your life probably at some point can get tedious. But I've learned to accept that there will be moments where you think, 'this was a bad idea.'
But then you play certain shows... For my fourth year anniversary of being on permanent tour, I happened to be in Memphis, Tennessee, and I played this show in the forest. These kids got a generator. The flyer just said to meet at this certain spot, and you had to just trek with them out into the forest, it must have been like a 20 minute walk or something. And, yeah, there's just these moments where you're like, 'God, this is my life? I get to be playing music in a forest for a handful of kids who are all super stoked to be there? That's so cool.' I don't want to say that like I'm gloating or anything, but it's so awesome. If that's a thing that I do, I can totally withstand some of the like, playing a saloon in a cowboy town, I can handle that once in a while. Probably try to not do it anymore than necessary, but I can do it.