Friday night, Josh Hoyer and the Shadowboxers will release “Living by the Minute,” the soul band’s second album, at a Bourbon Theatre show.
Tuesday, Hoyer and the band’s five instrumentalists will load up the van and head to Salt Lake City, where, on Wednesday, they will play the first of 14 shows on a 15-day tour to the West Coast and back.
By the time the Shadowboxers return to Lincoln to play the Zoo Bar on Thanksgiving night, they’ll have gone 5,000 miles on their first extensive tour outside the middle of the country.
Becoming a road band wasn’t in the plans when Hoyer started the Shadowboxers two years ago.
“When we started this group it was to have fun on the weekends in Nebraska, to have a dance band,” Hoyer said. “People really enjoyed it. It’s kind of grown naturally. It wasn’t something where I sat there and said, ‘I want this band to up and tour the country or the world.’ It just happened naturally.”
“Living by the Minute” will be the band’s calling card on the tour -- and to radio stations, writers and soul and blues fans around the country who already have heard of the Shadowboxers through their appearance at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis and their Blues Blast Music Awards nomination.
The latter came for the band’s self-titled debut album that was released in January. Nine months later, Hoyer and the Shadowboxers were back in the studio to record album number two, this time signed by Silver Street, the label operated by Charles Hull.
The original intent was to record the songs that came to make up “Living by the Minute” at Silver Street’s Ashland studio. But Hoyer wanted to cut much of the record live, and the Silver Street studio could not accommodate a full-band recording.
So the sessions were moved to ARC Studio, the Omaha facility that’s home to producer Mike Mogis and has been used for multiple top-level national recordings.
Hoyer and the Shadowboxers spent two days recording the tracks for the album, three days overdubbing, and Hoyer and engineer Ben Brodin mixed the record over the course of a week.
Hoyer’s credited as the record’s producer. “I don’t even know what that means,” he said. “But I made the final say on what we were doing. That’s what I wanted. On the next album, I’ll have a better idea of where we’re going.”
“Living by the Minute” sounds like a live recording, but not one done in a venue. That was Hoyer’s intent when the recording process began.
“I wanted the vibe to be the same as when the band plays,” he said. “When we play together, there’s a palpable energy in what we’re doing -- you can lose that when you’re recording one instrument at (a) time. It isn’t a flawless recording. But I think we captured the essence of the band.”
Hoyer wrote the songs on the record with the band in mind, musically. The lyrics are his expressions and continue many of the themes of social commentary and troubled relationships that he has explored in his previous recordings with the Shadowboxers and other bands.
“I think good soul music is uplifting,” Hoyer said. “Lyrically, there’s still some challenging things I talk about. That’ll always be something I do …There’s a lot of fluff out there, and I want it to mean something. But as far as the vibe goes, we’re trying to be engaging and uplifting.”
There will be one major difference between the album and what those who catch the band on tour will hear. The trio of female backing vocalists will be home in Lincoln.
“It’ll just be the six-piece,” Hoyer said. “That van would get tight going that far with nine people.”
It took three months for Hoyer to set up the 14 gigs on the tour. But he’s happy with the outcome that will take the band to, among other stops, San Francisco’s Biscuits and Blues and Phoenix’s The Rhythm Room.
“A lot of them are similar to the Zoo,” he said of the tour’s venues. “They’re cool rooms that are built for music. A lot of them are roots clubs. The most challenging thing has been convincing people in different cities to give you a shot. Getting into new cities and venues for the first time is exceptionally difficult, even if they know your music.”
Hoyer and the Shadowboxers will hit the road again in February on a three-week tour that will go from Texas to Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Chicago and St. Louis. That tour is being booked by Monterey International, a Chicago-based agency that represents many of the biggest artists in roots and blues music.
“That’s really awesome,” Hoyer said. “They’re looking at us as an emerging artist, and they’re a major player. They’ve got Dr. John, Charlie Musselwhite, Tedeschi Trucks and The Super Soul Revue with Sharon Jones. The agent saw us in Chicago when we played there and was blown away. To my surprise, he followed up. He really enjoyed the show and wants to see what the response is.”
The February tour also will be supported by radio promotion aimed at Americana stations and a publicist hired by Silver Street. Three of the “Living by the Minute” songs will be edited for radio, and a video is being done for one of the songs, he said.
There will be a major change in the Shadowboxers for the February tour. Drummer Justin G. Jones, who operates Jones Produce, a Crete-area organic farm, will not be touring with the band. He’ll be replaced by Kenny ‘Memphis’ Shepherd, a Californian who has played with the Soul of John Black. Shepherd may be moving to Lincoln, Hoyer said. If so, he will play with the Shadowboxers full time, and Jones will move to percussion for area shows.
The touring will be something of a shakedown cruise for the band, which has toured only in the center of the country and played only Sioux City, Sioux Falls and Topeka multiple times.
Hoyer says he’s confident that the Shadowboxers will draw some good crowds on the November tour, in part because of his connections and those of Jones and guitarist Benjamin Kushner, who each have toured extensively in other bands.
That confidence can be seen manifesting itself in Hoyer’s plans for the band that include recording another album and finding five or six markets within 1,000 miles of Lincoln and building them by repeat appearances there.
“I'm curious where we’ll be next year at this time,” Hoyer said. “I don’t want to build up expectations too high and get let down. But I think if the band stays together, continues to work hard and keeps the same perspective on what we do, the sky’s the limit.”