Billy Bob Thornton thought a wardrobe malfunction would make a good promotional giveaway for his band’s upcoming Columbia show. Register at the merchandise table, and you can win the actor-turned-singer’s stage shirt.
“We all have shirts that have a name patch, the member’s astrological sign and the band’s logo,” Thornton said. “They made one too many, and I thought I’d make it available, since no one in the band can fit that shirt.”
After a lengthy film career, you might recognize Thornton as a small-town Texas football coach, a drunken mall Santa or the NASA scientist who had the bright idea to blow up that asteroid. But for more than a decade, Thornton has toured and recorded as a musician too.
He and his band, the Boxmasters, are currently touring the country promoting their ninth album, “Speck,” including a show at 7 p.m. Thursday at The Senate in Columbia.
Despite being most famous for his movie roles, after a dozen years and eight records, Thornton thinks the novelty of an actor fronting a band has worn off.
“That stigma has gone by the wayside,” he said. “There are very few people who have a poster or two to sign outside the bus. But the audience isn’t there for that.”
You might think balancing a touring schedule that has 16 show nights in a row with an award-winning acting career would be difficult, but Thornton says he has gotten used to the schedule
“I’ve been doing this for 20 years,” he said. “If I hadn’t figured it out by now, I’d be screwed.”
Thornton began performing in bands when he was a teenager in Arkansas. Even as his acting career took off, he recorded a string of solo country albums in the 2000s. He came together with guitarist J.D. Andrew in 2007 to form the Boxmasters, which now includes Teddy Andreadis on piano and harmonica.
Thursday’s show will be the Boxmasters’ first in the Columbia area since a 2015 show at the Newberry Opera House, a show Thornton enjoyed.
“The South in general is good for us,” he said. “South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama. We’ve got enough Southern in us, even though it’s a California band, a couple of us are from the South originally.”
Ahead of a show in Portland, Maine, Thornton and Andrew told The State the album is a memorial to Geoff Emerick, the legendary sound engineer who worked with the Beatles on “Revolver” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
“Speck” will be the last record for Emerick, a Southern California neighbor of the Boxmasters, who died in October of last year.
“He made a few choices we may not have made,” Thornton said of Emerick’s style for mixing a record. “He likes to clear out any noise that prohibits you from hearing a clear lead vocal. The instruments are secondary. Our songs are more jangly, so ... there’s a little more space in the songs on this record.”
But he admired Emerick’s skills, even as the Brit was tight-lipped about his process.
“You hear him do a vocal, and it’s the same way he did John Lennon’s,” Thornton said. “And I’d say, ‘how did you do that?’ and he said, ‘You think I’d tell you?’”
Having a Beatles alum might also have fit with the group’s 1960s-influenced style, as Andrew explains it.
“Early on we were a mix of hillbilly with the British Invasion,” the guitarist said. “But after five years we were more rock n roll. The Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Byrds, the Kinks, all the bands we grew up listening to, mixed with whatever Billy’s writing about.”
Emerick’s involvement with the record came after Thornton had conceived of it as a “Sgt. Pepper”-style album, with songs connected by topical lyrics on homelessness, recent natural disasters and political issues.
But Thornton hastens to add, “In no way am I saying this is as good as ‘Sgt. Pepper.’ People will say, ‘these creeps think they’re the Beatles.’”
“We’re not even the Rutles,” Andrew added.
Doors open for Billy Bob Thornton and the Boxmasters at 7 p.m. Thursday at The Senate, 1022 Senate St. Charleston-based Americana band the Travelin’ Kine will open the show.