You can tell from the way Nick Junkunc talks about music that he wasn't really meant for this age. At 21, the Box Social singer/guitarist refers to his rangy, Replacements-styled band's latest CD as a "record." Most of his musical heroes also hail from the glory days of alt-rock. Forget the latest emo, screamo and indie-rock sensations. Junkunc and drummer Brian Peoplis (a musical partner since high school) don't feel any allegiance to the music of their rock 'n' roll peers. Instead, they've cadged song-writing and performance tips from the likes of R.E.M., Tom Petty, Elvis Costello, Nirvana and the 'Mats, some of whom held sway with college audiences as far back as Jimmy Carter's presidency.
"It's just stuff that we really liked that was song oriented. Things that were timeless." says Junkunc, when asked to explain the band's preferences for music of the '70s, '80s and '90s.
"We attempted to be a prog act for a while back in high school," he adds with a laugh. "That didn't work out very well."
A late summer show playing a support set for Brighton MA at a half-empty Café Montmartre found Junkunc, Peoplis and the rest of the Milwaukee-bred, Madison-based foursome hurtling through a fast-paced set of originals like the hormonal, TV-soundtrack-ready "Big T" and "Hot Damn!" and a cantankerous, thoroughly rocked-out (not to mention apt) cover of Talking Heads' "Life During Wartime." The bespectacled Junkunc thrashed in from of his mike like a less tousled Dave Pirner, and cagey lead guitarist Nick Woods provided just the right amount of distorted aural frenzy to keep the music from becoming too atavistic. Woods may have been swigging sparkling wine throughout the proceedings, but this was very much a brown-bottle kind of performance - anxious, inspired, sentimental, loose in all the right places.
Junkunc says the band is hoping that their very polished 2007 CD, Get Going, will open a few doors. Back in Milwaukee, they'd put on a number of successful shows with a group of co-supportive local bands that included Juiceboxxx. They've seen what a little good publicity has done for the party-perfect geek-rap phenom, and they think they've got a product and an attitude that fans across the country will appreciate.
As for the indie ethic of operating in the red in order to remain true to a tight cadre of like-minded, anti-corporate fans, Junkunc and Peoplis offer a polite "No thank you."
"We're not all about whoring ourselves," says Junkunc. "But we are more mainstream. I have no difficulty admitting that. I think the basic ideologies brought on by punk rock and indie rock in the '70s and '80s no longer apply."
Peoplis adds that anyone who worries about "selling out" to the suits probably hasn't spent three weeks sleeping in a van during a self-financed tour booked through MySpace. "After a while, when you've been on tour as long as we have, and you're in California with two dollars in your pocket and you have to get to Seattle to play a show...," he says, pausing to find just the right words. "Well, I think you have to be realistic. I'd take some dollars from a label for a regular hotel room."