Cardboard Boxer is the San Diego indie punk quartet that’s been crushing the local scene. The release of their recent single Tunnel Vision was accompanied by a raucous performance in the Voodoo Room at the San Diego House of Blues last month. Tommy (guitar), Shea (vocals), Evan (drums), and the newest addition to the band, Cameron (bass), have spent the past year touring their album Current Youth in the ambulance (jam-bulance) which they bought from their work as EMTs.
We met up with the band outside of 710 Beach Club last week to discuss where they’ve been and where they’re headed as a beloved band in the local scene.
Photo Courtesy of Reckless Management
1. Tommy and Shea, I read the first day you met in 6th grade you got into a fist fight? Who won?
Shea: We did get in a fist fight, yeah.
Tommy: There’ve been a couple along the way.
Shea: Once or twice. It was at the pool at his parents’ house.
Tommy: No one really remembers who won.
Shea: I don’t know if there was a definitive victor or not. I think we just stopped and I left, and I didn’t think I wanted to talk to him again.
Cameron: But if there were judges, who do you think would’ve won on a score card?
Tommy: It wasn’t like that. It wasn’t like that.
Cameron: Like, whoa had more effective strikes on the target?
Shea: I think I had some pretty effective strikes.
Tommy: I’d say I did too, ya know? I think that’s probably why it’s good not to get into it.
Cameron: Who was the aggressor?
Tommy: I don’t remember. I think someone threw something at someone, and then someone got mad that someone threw something at someone and then threw a punch.
Cameron: It was Shea, wasn’t it?
Shea: I think I was trying to push Tommy into the pool to be funny, but then he tried to choke me because he took it seriously. And then I punched him.
Tommy: Shea was trying to drown me. I remember he was holding me under water.
Shea: That’s not how it happened.
Evan: What do you mean? I saw it!
Cameron: I’m an investigator. He tried to kill you. Are you just gonna take that? Of course you’d defend yourself, ya know?
Tommy: Now that you mention it, I think he was trying to kill me. We were still playing together the next day. so…
2. The new single Tunnel Vision came out this month! 1 year ago almost to the day, your album “Current Youth” came out. What has changed in your lives between “Current Youth” and now?
Shea: Well, with me and Tommy, a bunch with school. We’ve been hitting the books super hard. Musically, I feel like we’ve been getting just a lot tighter as a band. We’ve been practicing a lot. We started a second band, so that’s kind of helped tighten up Cardboard Boxer as well.
Cameron: I mean, I’ve been in the band, so there’s that.
Tommy: You recorded all of Current Youth.
Cameron: Yeah, but I kind of walked into the material. For most songs, I just played what was written. So, I’ve only been play bass for a couple of years, or for a year seriously when I got in the band. So, I didn’t really have a style. I didn’t really know what I was doing.
Tommy: I feel like we’ve gotten a lot more input together with the new song Tunnel Vision and the other stuff we’re going to be releasing over the next few months, too. I think we’re all really happy with that.
Cameron: Yeah, I feel like Current Youth was kind of Shea’s baby. He was kind of the mastermind behind all of it. While he is still at the forefront of songwriting, the song process has become a lot more collaborative. Just kind of everyone coming together and having their own input.
Shea: I feel like we’ve kind of taken the parts we liked from the last album and tried to refine them, and capitalize on them, and do better with it on this new stuff we have. We have four songs right now that we’re working on recording. We’re in the process of it.
Tommy: We should be done with school in a couple of months too, so that should help a lot with making sure another year doesn’t go by without us releasing anything else. It’s been a nightmare with all that.
Shea: It’s hard to find motivation and inspiration.
Tommy: And monetization, ha!
3. For each of you, what has been the biggest challenge to overcome, being in a band these days in 2023?
Evan: It’s tough, dude. You gotta have a job to support your ass. You can’t just expect to make music these days as the only thing you do. You gotta really bust your ass to be able to support your habit.
Cameron: I feel like it’s kind of always been like that, where making it as a musician is challenging. I think in 2023 what sucks is how much the internet plays a role in online presence. We’re all old. Well, not old, but we feel like we’re old. We can’t figure out social media, and it’s so, so important. It’s a struggle.
Evan: I hate social media. Hate hate hate hate hate social media. But that’s what you gotta do in order to move forward.
Cameron: Back in the day it was just playing, ya know? Maybe do zines or interviews. That stuff is all really cool. It’s all involved in the scene, but what it really is is the most effective way to blow up right now is to just get lucky on social media. Just getting a song picked up on Tik-Tok or something like that. We don’t really use that stuff.
Shea: It’s really tough because you can be a good band for 10 years and make a bunch of really good music, and never get noticed. And then put out a 10-second clip on Tik-Tok and blow up, and get a world tour. I feel like it’s all super volatile in a different way than it used to be. It’s still fun though, playing music. That part isn’t different.
Evan: That’s part’s always been fun.
Tommy: As far as what I’ve seen, I suppose the way you promote stuff has kind of shifted but it seems like that same as it was being in a band back in 2012. We’re just trying to promote as much we can, and play the best shows we can play. At least that aspect stayed the same to me. And trying to get the best sound in venues. Make sure we can hear ourselves in our monitors. Sometimes it’s great. Sometimes it’s not so great. But the shows are always fun no matter what. As long as people turn out, ya know? I feel like since the beginning, promotion has always been shifting what you have to do and what the new big thing is. I’m sure it always will. It’s always going to be frustrating.
Cameron: It just feels less organic because it used to be just handing out flyers and going to shows and talking to people, which we still do.
Evan: We actually have a lot of success doing that.
Shea: I have to run all our social media, so I have to constantly be on it every day. It’s kind of draining because I feel like it can’t be healthy to be on social media so much, but it’s just kind of what has to be done, being in a band as I’m sure you know.
4. At REVOLT, we reject the traditional way of doing things. For example, serving wine in kegs instead of bottles. In what way are you guys railing against traditions and the norm?
Tommy: I feel like the unique thing about us is just the product we have. We’ve known each other for so long and have been playing together for so long. No shade on anyone else, but it seems like a lot of bands are people who are musicians and meet through that, but we’ve been friends 10+ years for the most part. I feel like that gives a different aspect to our music and cohesion. I wouldn’t be in a band if I wasn’t playing with these guys, so I feel like that kind of sets us apart in a way.
Shea: We also have the medical thing where three of us are in paramedic school. We’ve been EMTs for a long time. We have an ambulance as a tour vehicle. We’re pretty open about working.
Cameron: We’re a working class band.
Shea: Also, I feel like the music we make isn’t exactly what’s popular right now. So, I feel like that’s kind of different also. Every album we just kind of play what we’re feeling at the time. We don’t have a strict genre we stay to, which has kind of bitten us in the ass a little bit, but that keeps it kind of fun.
Tommy: As far as going dark on promotion, as much as I would like to and I’m sure everyone would, I feel like we have to seize every opportunity to promote the band that we can. It doesn’t seem realistic in this day and age to forsake an avenue we can potentially introduce ourselves to new people with.
Evan: That’s the thing, too. As much as that would satisfy my soul, you’re kind of a fool not to do it. You’re definitely putting yourself at a disadvantage if you don’t take advantage of it.
Cameron: It’s not just an artistic endeavor, it’s a business.
Shea: I guess the important thing about Tik-Tok and steams is that a lot of bookers look at Spotify as the new metric of if you can pull in the city you’re going to.
Cameron: It’s kind of the equivalent of CD sales, and what that used to be back in the day.
Shea: That’s how Facebook was at first. You had to have over a thousand Facebook followers to get booked. And then it was Instagram, and now it’s Spotify. Is it really a metric of if you can really draw in a city? Probably not. Maybe? I mean, Tik-Tok followers don’t translate. I was talking to a venue the other day, and this person who blew up on Tik-Tok booked this huge tour, and just nothing sold.
Evan: That’s one thing that we do. We make really good music for the people we love that come to us live, and that’s what it’s really all about for us. We want to do everything that we can so that the people who buy a ticket to come see us are satisfied and have a good time. That’s our thing. We’re a working class band for the people, and make music for people that just want to fucking blow off some steam and come have a good time at the show. Social media is cool, but that’s mainly what we’re about.
5. I’ve heard about the Ambulance, and that most of you guys work as EMTs. Has that line of work influenced your songwriting, or is music more of an escape from it all for you?
Shea: Personally, I love music and I also love the medical field. Both are really fun for me. More-so, doing that is kind of a means to also do music because music isn’t paying super well right now. And it’s something I also like doing. I used to work at Jack In the Box. Like, I’m not working somewhere I hate. It’s at least a job I really enjoy and feel value in. I feel like I’m making a difference at work, and I feel like I’m making a difference playing music with my friends.
Cameron: Yeah, I like working medical because it’s a career that’s ethically justifiable. Most of the day you’re doing nothing. Sometimes you’re helping people that are in a bad place.
Shea: Well I guess all of our new songs: 30,000 Feet, Fentanyl, Tunnel Vision. I think they’re all directly correlated.
Tommy: I feel like everything in your life influences the art you create, so I’m sure it has more of an effect than we even know.
Shea: And I’ve noticed that as we get more serious jobs, the music has gotten more serious. I don’t know if that’s a coincidence.
Cameron: Well, as much as I like the job, and I like the field, it is stressful. For me, music and being creative is an outlet that’s a way to blow off steam. That’s what’s nice about it: having that artistic outlet as a way to blow off the stress that comes from your job.
Shea: I guess it’s impossible to not let your outside life influence your music. It’s just going to inherently get absorbed into it. I think it’s positive, other than us not being able to practice regularly because of how long the shifts are.
Cameron: The schedules are horrible. The hours suck. The pay is alright.
6. What’s been one of the hardest lessons to learn since forming as a group?
Cameron: Make sure your van has locks on it in LA.
Tommy: We lost some prized possessions.
Shea: A couple thousand dollars.
Cameron: People go in (to the ambulance) looking for the drugs.
Shea: Routine maintenance on vehicles before travel to prevent a terrible, terrible breakdown.
Cameron: Oh my god, we were stranded in Lake Tahoe, and I think we were all at the point of wanting to give up on he band and kill each other.
Evan: I was going to set the van on fire.
Tommy: I had quit a couple of times at that point.
Cameron: Yeah, it just wouldn’t turn over in a Safeway parking lot in the middle of Lake Tahoe. I think I was this close to being like, “fuck you guys. I’m getting an Uber. I’m going to the airport, and I’m fucking flying home.” I said if the van doesn’t turn over, I’m done.
Shea: I think we were just going to leave the ambulance, rent a car, and bring our shit back.
Cameron; And then some dude in a limo rolled up.
Cameron: Doug. We just see the passenger window roll down and he just goes, “what’s up with you, boys?”
Shea: Our savior.
Tommy: The only thing that kept us going.
Cameron: Literally, the only reason we kept going through that tour.
Shea: He hopped out. He’s like, “oh. You guys in a band or something?” We’re like, “oh yeah, we’re broken down though. I think we’re just gonna go home.” He’s like, “fuck no. Don’t do that.” And he gave us like $200. And he’s like, “here. Trust me. It’ll get better. Just keep doing your tour.”
Cameron: And then it turned over.
Shea: The clouds cleared, literally.
Cameron: The sun. It heated up our Diesel engine.
Shea: It started fine. And we were gonna go back, but we can’t now. So, we did the rest of the tour, and it was super fun. The rest was super fun.
Cameron: Every time we broke down after that we were like, “we have Doug with us. We can’t be stopped.”
Shea: We kept Doug in our hearts and souls, and it just kept going. We made it to Vegas. Doug was like, “go have fun. Go gamble.” We’re like, “alright. Double down.” We were like, “what would Doug do?” So we let it ride on black. We doubled all of Doug’s money. We did it three times in a row, and then we were like alright let’s call it.
7. Given that you’re a band still on your journey, what’s some advice that you’d give to someone just beginning theirs?
Tommy: Don’t do it. No, I’m just kidding.
Shea: It’s like a relationship. There’s gonna be down periods and ups, but it’ll get better eventually. Just keep having fun and doing what makes you happy.
Tommy: When you hit those bad parts, just remember the good parts and you’ll get back there soon enough.
Cameron: Mine would be, I joined. I just played bass in my bedroom for a year during Covid. I met these guys during work. It was rough playing live initially, so I would say just try to get out. Play shit bar shows and play live. Because playing live is a totally different skill than even doing it in a practice room.
Shea: Yeah, because we practiced for like a year straight before we did a live show.
Cameron: And it was still horrifying.
Tommy: Yeah, you didn’t move a muscle on stage.
Shea: I think your first show was like a 500-person sold out show.
Cameron: I didn’t move an inch. I just stood there fucking staring at my guitar.
8. What’s next for you guys?
Shea: We’re trying to figure that out right now actually.
Cameron: We’re gonna do a 4-song EP. We have Tunnel Vision, and we have three others we’ve been working on for a while now. It’s kind of a new direction.
Shea: Realistically, probably not until the new year for actually releasing. Probably January. Something like that. Then we’ll follow up by putting out on an EP.