Jason Setnyk

Interview with The Box co-headlining Cornwall Music Fest

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Cornwall Ontario – The Box will be joining Michel Pagliaro, The Darby Mills Project, the Barstool Prophets, and seven other bands at the second annual Cornwall Musicfest titled “The Barley & Hops Tour” which takes place on Saturday, August 19th, 2017 and is hosted at the Nav Centre.

The Box, a Juno nominated Canadian New Wave Group, achieved commercial success in Canada by recording four charting albums, and 10 charting singles. The Box is fronted by Montreal keyboardist Jean-Marc Pisapia a former member of the Canadian band “Men Without Hats” who had the hit song “The Safety Dance”.

“I was in the band “Men Without Hats” as a keyboard player in the early days just before the album “Rhythm of Youth” came out. I left for personal reasons, but mainly because I knew I wanted to do The Box. I knew I couldn’t do The Box material with in the confines of Men Without Hats, so that’s why I left. We had the same manager, same record company. “Safety Dance” was written right after I left, so I had nothing to do with it. I think it’s a piece of genius that song. It might sound like a pop dance track but any song that says, “Ah we can dance if we want to, we can leave your friends behind. Cause your friends don’t dance and if they don’t dance, well they’re are no friends of mine” – How can you go wrong?,” said Jean-Marc Pisapia.

The Box has  numerous hit songs including “Must I Always Remember”, “Walk Away”, “My Dreams of You”, “L’Affaire Dumoutier (Say to Me)”, “Ordinary People”, and “Crying Out Loud for Love”. But perhaps their biggest hit song was “Closer Together” recorded in 1986 as a part of a campaign to help fight leukemia.

“The song “Closer Together” was a commission. It came from LuCan, the Canadian Association to fight leukemia cancer to help sick kids in hospitals throughout the country. They approached us. That was back in 1986, when the Montreal Canadiens just won the Stanley Cup. They were putting together a fast fundraiser, which included the Montreal Canadiens, us, and other people – under the theme “Closer Together”. If we get closer together we can fight this cancer, leukemia. We were just handed it like that. Here is the title, make up a song. I did it, and when the song was finished, the record company just blew a gasket. They thought it was such a hit, so they decided to incorporate it into the third album, and it became the hit that everyone knows,” Jean-Marc Pisapia reminisced.

The music video was recorded in the Dominican Republic, and it received a lot of airplay on Much Music.

“The video that we shot was taken in the middle of the winter. We didn’t want such a song portrayed by snowbanks, so we moved the whole band to the Dominican Republic and shot it there. There is a confusion for people, because Sass Jordan is in the video, because she was our backup singer for about five or six years. However, she’s not the one singing on the album. It’s another singer from Quebec, named Martine St. Clair who was also very popular at the time, who was also approached to be a part of the fundraiser for LuCan. So Martin St. Clair sings on the album, but it’s Sass Jordan everyone sees on the video. It creates a little bit of confusion because everyone thinks it’s Sass Jordan who sings it, but it’s not,” Jean-Marc Pisapia explained.

Sass Jordan and Marie Carmen were both backup singers for The Box, and both had successful musical careers. According to Jean-Marc Pisapia, both singers had the right attitude to succeed in the music industry – they were hardworking and down to earth people.

“It was great working with them. Sass Jordan is a trooper, a real rock and roll person. You can leave for an entire tour, sleeping in a van, just eating hotdogs, and she’ll be there and won’t complain. That’s exactly how she was with us. She had been in rock bands before when we hired her to be a back up singer with The Box. She was pretty happy because she found out right away that we weren’t a fussy bunch,” Jean-Marc Pisapia boasted.

“With Marie Carmen, same thing, she became extremely popular in Quebec after she left the band. Every time I see her, she still has that non-diva kind of attitude. This was what we were looking for really. The most important aspect of any band is personal relations. They come before performance, virtuosity, anything like that because, it’s no good to have a Beethoven in the band if he’s going to throw a fit every once in a while. You need people who are able to stick together and go through the hardships of being on the road without too much of a fuss. Sass Jordan and Marie Carmen, were exactly like that, and they sang very well too. It was a win-win for us” Jean-Marc Pisapia added.

Jean-Marc Pisapia understood the music industry well. He knew what the band needed to do to succeed.

“We knew if we were going to have any kind of success with the band, we knew we had to play on the radio, and that we had to put out videos. When The Box started, videos were a new thing. Much Music was just born, around 1981, and we came to the market in 1982. It’s absolutely true that some songs were meant to be played on the radio and to be used as singles, and the rest of the album we could do what ever the hell we wanted, absolutely,” Jean-Marc Pisapia reaffirmed.

Why did The Box break-up in 1992 and why did the band reform in 2004?

“It was a typical case of the lemon being pressed too hard. We had been around since 1982, and for ten years straight that band was on the road all the time. We were always very busy doing albums, and videos, and going every where. To me the success, although very evident in Quebec and Canada, didn’t quite happen in the rest of the world, like I would have expected it. We really worked hard at it. In the end, we had a contract with our record label and they blew it like you couldn’t believe. It pissed off the band so much, I loss half of the band. They said that’s it. If we’re going to work like dogs, and these guys are going to blow everything up for bubble gum, forget it. So I loss half of the band right there, and I loss the two remaining members between 1990 and 1992,” Jean-Marc Pisapia disclosed.

After the initial break-up, Jean-Marc Pisapia continued to make music for films and he wrote jingles.

“However, I continued making music for films and jingles, and that sort of thing for about 10 years after that. At last I was making money believe it or not. Also, I was working with a bunch of other people that I met in other projects, either music for films or jingles, and I had a constant pressure from the industry to reform the band in one way or the other, and start playing again live. So I submitted the idea to the former members, who wouldn’t have anything to do with it. I thought, if I could find another way to put another version of this band together, maybe we could do it,” Jean-Marc Pisapia continued.

According to Jean-Marc Pisapia, if The Box was going to start playing shows again, he wanted to create new music to sing and play.

“I didn’t want to go back there with nothing new to sing, so I needed a new album. I formed a new band with people I had musical relationships with during those ten years. We made a record and released it as The Box. After all, I had been writing 90% of The Box material up until then, so The Box was really me. I have no qualms about it, and nobody else does by the way. We formed this new band in 2004 and we’ve been together since. The line-up has not changed since 2005. It’s not as crazy as it use to be in the 80s, but we’ve been touring consistently, and released three albums, and we’re currently writing another one which is due for March or April 2018,” Jean-Marc Pisapia stated.

The reason Jean-Marc Pisapia continues to record music and tour is simply for the fun and enjoyment of it.

“The big difference between this version of the band and the old one is that we’re doing this for fun. We’re not doing this for business. The internet has killed the record industry. You better do it for fun now, because if you’re doing it for money, you’re very much mistaken. So that’s the difference. Were hitting the road every time with a smile on our face. Instead of going there doing work to sell records, we do it for the sake of playing,” Jean-Marc Pisapia went on.

Jean-Marc Pisapia is also a visual artist. He and his wife moved to Mont Tremblant, where he later joined an artist collective.

“Yes, I paint. Nine years ago I moved from Montreal to a place north of Montreal called Mont Tremblant. It’s a ski resort and a golfing resort. My kids have grown up now, and they do their thing. I moved here with my wife and everything became really quiet all of a sudden. I thought that the surroundings lent themselves very well to painting. I started painting. I’ve been painting all my life, maybe once every six years. Believe me, whatever I painted ended up in the garbage bin pretty fast. But I found out when you practice with something, like everything else, you get better and better really quick,” Jean-Marc Pisapia surmised.

“I got picked up by a bunch of artists over here, one had a collective. They knew I was well known for the band was probably going to help, and indeed it has. On the other hand, I knew hanging out with these guys was going to improve my techniques. I have been doing this ever since. I have a bunch of painting here, and two gallaries in Mont Tremblant. Two collectives, one with 14 artists, and the other with 4 only. It’s a gas. This place is very tourist oriented. We have people from Europe, the United States, Ontario, and a constant flow of tourism, so it’s fun to be at a crossroads where all sorts of people see my stuff and buy it,” Jean-Marc Pisapia added.

Jean-Marc Pisapia will be putting down his paint brush on August 19th. That’s when The Box will be co-headlining Cornwall Musicfest. The band will be splitting their set in half.

“The show that we’re going to do is 75-80 minutes. We’re going to split it in half. First half is recent material, newer stuff, which people aren’t very aquainted with. The second half is all of the old hits. Why? If there is one thing I find really frustrating is to go and see a band that’s been around for a long time, and they refuse to play their first hits. Imagine you go see the Rolling Stones and they don’t play “Sympathy for the Devil”. I mean, I’d be pissed off. If you went to see the Police and they didn’t play “Roxanne”, I’d be pissed off. So we do all the old hits. Not only because we think it’s a must, but because they’re a lot of fun. Playing “Closer Together” live – it’s a party! So that’s what happens if you come and see The Box show, the second half is one party that never ends. The first half is newer stuff, so if you want to know what The Box has been doing lately, what it’s about these days, come and check it out! It’s worth it.

Cornwall Musicfest 2017 The Barley and Hops Tour, which is organized by Limelight Entertainment in conjunction with booking agent Alkaline Entertainment, has partnered with the NAV Centre and Corus Entertainment to deliver a celebration of music and beer.

Also playing Musicfest are The Legendary Castaways, Sean Harley, Virginia Louise Dipietro, Tommy Heatley, Paolo Stante, Spencer Roy, and Lizzie O’ Connor.

Festival VIP Tickets are only $60 each and available at the Nav Centre Cafe. Regular advanced tickets are $30 and can be purchased at the Kiosk of the Cornwall Square or the Nav Centre Cafe. Tickets can also be purchased for $30 + fees at the Civic Complex Box Office and online at admisison.com.

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