Nebraska is not a state normally associated with soul and funk music, but then talent as deep as Josh Hoyer’s is a rare find. The 38-year-old Lincoln native displays his prodigious vocal and keyboard talents on his second recording, Living by the Minute, which drops this month. In addition to producing the album, he also wrote and arranged all of the music performed by his band The Shadowboxers, which includes a crack horn section.
Josh, a fan of Otis Redding, James Brown, and Curtis Mayfield, is a composer of songs so evocative listeners might mistake some, such as “The First One,” for classic standards instead of the contemporary observations of a Midwesterner. Most of the music on Living by the Minute was recorded live with minimal miking and engineering which contributes to the authentic emotional feel of the performances.
From the time Josh made his stage debut at age 4 singing “It Hurts So Good,” Josh knew what he wanted to do with his life. “I’ve always known deep down that I want to play music,” he says. “That’s my most honest way of living.” The infamous Zoo Bar in Lincoln also served as inspiration. “I’ve been going there since I was 21, and before that I listened through the vents in the back alley. A great number of musicians have been through there.”
After high school, Josh, who was at that time a self-described “wanna-be hippie,” took off in a van to watch music around the country. He spent time in Oregon, lived in a forest in Washington, and ended up in pre-Katrina New Orleans in 2002 where he discovered that music is a way of life. “When somebody dies, they play music. When somebody is born, they play music. When someone is married, they have a fucking parade and play music.”
Eventually he worked his way back to Lincoln where he obtained a degree in journalism. Asked why he did not study music in college, he replies, “When I go into a classroom for music, it takes all the magic away. Music is more about life experience than it is about knowing the theory of it.” He met and married his wife, Sarah, and they now have two daughters, 1 and 5 years old. When he is not on the road, he is a stay-at-home dad.
Fitting Josh’s music into any one genre would be an impossibility. While the band’s music is rooted in the blues, its foundation is not the traditional 1-4-5 chord progression. “That can be good, and that can be bad,” he says. “There are so many tastes and flavors; I like to incorporate a lot of them into what we do.”
The band’s experience at the International Blues Challenge in 2014 brought that home to him. While Josh made many connections in Memphis, he was frustrated with the comments that he was not playing blues. “Just because it’s not a shuffle doesn’t mean it’s not the blues,” he observes.
After that trip, Josh wrote “Misfit Children” which proclaims, “Just putting my foot down, ain’t buying in, ain’t going to change just so I can win, I got my mood right, I’m dressed so tight, I’m paying my dues… on down the road of misfit children.”
Josh’s music is hitting all the right notes with many people. He received an invitation to play the Salman Arm festival in British Columbia in August. “That moves me to know that people know of us. We’ve never been to Canada. I didn’t know anyone there was listening to us.” Josh and The Shadowboxers will be making their third appearance at the Big Blues Bender in Las Vegas in September and are on the bill for the Greeley Blues Jam in Colorado in June.
The six-piece band is embarking on a 4500-mile tour this month booked by Monterey International which will take them through several states including Louisiana, Florida, and North Carolina. “I’m excited about what could happen in 2015,” Josh says. “I just want to play.”