Shoebox seems like a regular dude, as far as dudes named Shoebox go. Shoebox is an imposing, 300-pound, über-mulleted individual, but he's nice as hell. No alarm bells go off when you talk to him. Nothing stands out as a threat or as any kind of mental defect... until you hear his music, something he calls "comedy synth-punk."
Shoebox lives and performs here in Rochester, and travels around the country as the one-man band known as The Worm Quartet. Musically, The Worm Quartet is lo-fi industrial synth-based insanity. Lyrically, it's somewhat juvenile, completely retarded and funny as hell.
It's also genius in its irony.
But it wasn't always music.
The Worm Quartet originated from Shoebox's high school doodles. "I started drawing pictures of worms doing stupid crap, primarily out of boredom," he says. "And they were a band so at some point I decided for some damn reason that they should make music."
The Worm Quartet began recording in Shoebox's bedroom, releasing assorted tapes and sharing them with friends.
"It was always angled toward comedy," he says. Shoebox's delusions were those of music, not grandeur; that is until syndicated oddball DJ Dr. Demento dragged him into the national spotlight in 1999.
"People would say, 'You should send your stuff to Dr. Demento,'" he says. "I sent him 'I Bit William Shatner' and he liked it."
Dementites ate The Worm Quartet up, and still do.
"I've been in his Top 10 three times so far," he says. In 2002 he had the second-most requested song of the year with "Frank's Not In the Band Anymore." The song "Great Idea For A Song" was the most requested song of 2004 and his 2005 collaboration with comedy rapper Sudden Death titled "Inner Voice" was also voted the most requested song of the year.
The demand for his dementia is strong, and keeps him constantly on the road. He covers as far west as Minnesota and as far south as North Carolina.
"Usually I drive," Shoebox says. "It's nice being in a one-man band 'cause I can tour in a Cavalier."
The Cavalier brings him to audiences of all sorts.
"My fans tend to be some punks, some indie-rock people, and some full-on sci-fi geeks," he says. The Worm Quartet plays lots of sci-fi conventions.
Shoebox usually takes the stage backed up by a lone CD player. Sometimes he'll don one of those Yamaha Keytars "just for the purpose that I'm a 300-pound man and I look ridiculous holding a freakin' itty bitty Yamaha."
But it's when he opens his mouth and the mad 'n' manic diatribes, rants, raves, and ruminations let fly that he really gets attention. Just try to imagine the lyrics that might accompany song titles like "Hair On The Soap," "Ice Cream Has No Bones," "Smell My Nipple, Win A Prize," "Call Me Jennifer And Steal My Stapler," "Calculator In My Bum," "Archie Got An STD," and "Eskimo Pie Is Not Pie And Contains Very Little Eskimo." That's right.
"I like to open with something that's immediately going to turn heads," he says. "And make people think, 'What the crap is this guy doing?'"
Some just don't get it, but Shoebox doesn't blame the music.
"There are timbre-Nazis out there that can't deal with anything that doesn't have guitars or whatever," he says. But Shoebox's wife digs it, along with his 20-month-old son. Shoebox's folks...well..."They are aware that it exists."
The Worm Quartet could simply be filed under "wacko," but there's something more to it. Perhaps it's Shoebox's self-deprecation, or the irony he sees in his success. Maybe it's the fact that people are genuinely entertained by this music and its off-kilter humor. Frankly, we need a few more artists that don't take themselves so seriously.
Who knows what its legacy might be long after The Worm Quartet is worm food. Shoebox, aware of his coif's cult status waxes absurd: "People will dig up the CD, look at it and say, 'Oh my God! He had a mullet?"
For more information on Shoebox and the Worm Quartet, check www.wormquartet.com.
Depending on who you ask — or when you ask the question — you'll get a variety of explanations of what the Sound ExChange Project really is: A local contemporary classical ensemble; a chamber group; an artist collective; composers; curators; educators; community-investors.