Q&A: {in-boxes}'s Daniel Elijah-F on Matchbox Twenty Fandom and Psychoacoustics

Founded by Daniel Elias Fernandez, {in boxes} are multifaceted, functioning as more than a musical group. More a multimedia collective than just a band, the group evolved from its previous life as Bear Nine, a similarly structured performance project whose alumni -- Kenneth Martinson and Tristan John -- went on to form {in boxes} with Daniel. True to its goal to remain a communicative ensemble at heart, collaborative efforts from fans and fellow musicians alike are welcome, both on stage and in the studio. However, it is unlikely those willing to join will ever be able to fully unpack the concepts {in boxes} touches upon in both their music and Daniel's visual art -- it ranges from the spiritual to the philosophical to the mathematical, covering numerology, cognates, coincidences, and the existence of God. Even the squiggly brackets in the name have a story. We spoke with Daniel over the phone to get some insight.
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New Times: I wanted to ask you about your visual art, since it's such a big part of the band. You're an art teacher too. Can you tell me about when you started making work?

Daniel Elijah Fernandez: In general?

Yeah, in general. I assumed you were a visual artist before you were a musician.

Oh, what made you think that? Would you say you're an intuitive person?

Maybe a couple of people have told me that, but they're wrong.

I'm a pretty intuitive person. I think everyone has intuition, but not everyone is in touch with it. I think that has a lot to do with our state of existence right now and the way that we rely so heavily on technology. I recently read an article in Time on singularity. According to the article, singularity refers to "the moment when technological change becomes so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history." One of the concepts I'm playing with in our upcoming EP is one of frequency and time and the idea of analog versus digital. That seems to be a very important thing for recording, but it's highly relevant -- in my opinion -- to the way that our society is evolving. Most everything has converted from analog format to digital. So I'm playing with the idea that analog has a much warmer tone.

If you hear Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks on vinyl, there's a certain tonality to it that totally changes. You can't get that on an iPod. My bandmate Kenny Martinson has been studying engineering and sound and circuitry. The diagrams he studies are very evocative; the cover of our EP will be one of those diagrams, tweaked. When we hear music, the highest highs and lowest lows are easily picked up by our outer ear. But there are other frequencies that we don't pick up so easily that flesh it out. Digital pretty much cuts away those parts of the analog waves, those other frequencies, and just uses the highest highs and lowest lows.

I read that when you hear a vinyl record, because of those extra frequencies, it's just subconsciously more pleasing to the ear.

Yes! That's called psychoacoustics. I work with my music in a way that's based on association. So I might take something that can be very scientific, very linear, and try to tap into the metaphysical, intuitive side of it, so that it becomes more poetic, an analogy of something else. Digitally produced music makes things much more compact because it is much easier to work with. The inner ear no longer receives those frequencies. And in the past, people would discuss things face to face; they treated each other with a warmer quality, a warmer tone. I feel we've become enslaved to the technology we've created. I'm not naive; I appreciate these inventions, but... analog equals warmth, equals more personal. Digital equals cold tonalities, equals disassociation, desensitization. These inventions have improved our lives, sure, by making things more efficient and rapid. But as a result, we have to live more rapidly. And that's one of the first signs of singularity. But, let's talk more about me as a visual artist.

Yes, OK.

Well, {in boxes} is conceptually linked to my visual art. I started realizing I liked to draw when I was very young, like most children. By the time I was in middle school, I realized wanted to be a cartoon animator. Then in my latter high school years, I decided I wanted to be an art teacher. I didn't have a lot of friends growing up; I was kind of the black sheep in many aspects. One of my teachers, who is now actually my landlord, really believed in me. I realized the importance of being a mentor. Art helped me to see the beauty in the ugliness that often surrounded me. I wanted to do something productive with my art and give back to other people.

By the time I graduated college, I considered myself more of a mixed media/performance/installation artist. I think that aspect of me being multifaceted and touching on so many aspects of the art world is very much reminiscent of my life. and all the aspects of it are very complex. They're very separate but tie in together -- that's similar to how I approach my music. I got into music my eighth-grade year. I wasn't really aware of what music could do, in the sense of its impact. My older brother had a whole bunch of CDs, and one of the CDs that stuck out the most to me -- you're going to laugh at this -- was Matchbox Twenty's Yourself or Someone Like You.


Yeah! I felt such as much of an affinity as I could, at that age, [laughing] with Rob Thomas. He sounded hurt, but there was a certain strength in it. But he also sounds very weak. And that's exactly how I felt. That was the first rock concert I went to! Go figure. Anyway, I started a band, Kiln Theory, around that time, but I didn't know how to read or write music at all. People would compare us to Live, a Perfect Circle. And that just got really boring for me; the people I was working with didn't want to expand what we were doing musically and didn't take a lot of my ideas seriously, since I couldn't read or write music. Later, my friend Kenny joined -- who is in {in-boxes} -- and then I started a side project with my friend Yannick [Calleiro], Bear Nine.

I wanted to ask you about that. I know {in-boxes} came from Bear Nine.

Yeah, I told Yannick I had a song I was working on, sent him the melody, and we got together. Our friends used to call him "Bear" because he's kind of a hairy guy, and the "Nine" came from my obsession with the number. It's a major symbol you can find in my artwork, my writing, even sometimes in my music. Ones, threes, and nines.

Why are those numbers significant to you?

Well, I got the symbolism for those numbers during certain times in my life, including times of prayer. There's one God, one love, one body. The three is reminiscent of the fact that God is a trinity, and if we're made in the image of God, then men and women are tripods themselves. We're flesh, soul, and spirit. When you add all three parts -- the trinity of God, the trinity of man, the trinity of woman -- and unite them, you get the symbolic sum of the number nine. Also, when I was studying education and psychology, I learned about the educational theorist Howard Gardner. He came up with the theory of multiple intelligences and identified eight different kinds -- writing, kinesthetic, interpersonal, etc. -- and he is considering a ninth intelligence. The ninth intelligence is one that is capable of understanding the intuitive, the spiritual, or the existential. That's why I asked at the beginning of the interview if you're an intuitive person.

Oh, that makes sense now.

Another major concept that helped form {in-boxes} is the idea of duality, extremes. Each curly bracket in our name is pointing to two different extremes. The "in-boxes" part, in between, is pretty much the idea of focusing on the middle and how the middle becomes an extreme in itself. Anyway, back to Bear Nine. Yannick and I wrote several songs together. Our first show was the final performance project for my class at FIU. My professor was a friend of Octavio Campos, and he was there at that show. He was so impressed with our sound that he and another friend, Ralph De La Portilla, asked us to play at Miami's 112th Birthday. The main artist that night was actually Blowfly!

So when did {in-boxes} happen?

Well, Bear Nine's last show was in March of 2009. Prior to that, {in-boxes} began on January 26 of 2009. It started as a project to treat myself. There were a lot of things I couldn't achieve sonically with Yannick that I didn't want to impose on him and that I felt wouldn't work in Bear Nine's favor. I really wanted to give him more freedom and not step on his toes. I may have been doing that at the time, and I just didn't want to be a burden to anyone. I went through a very dark moment in January 2009; a lot of self-reflection led to me wondering if I was being adequate and living to the best of my abilities. One of the key things here was that I was coping with the fact that someone very important to me had kind of cut ties with me. This person was the key catalyst for the birth of {in-boxes}. I eventually realized I wanted to work on songs without anyone telling me what to do. There are many different aspects to me and my work that stand on their own, but they're all united, and I think many people have a hard time trying to deal with that. People want things to be...

In boxes?

Yeah, people tend to overly compartmentalize things. I think that's both enticing and detrimental. Anyway, I needed this other outlet. I asked Kenny to join me, and what started as a form of treating myself has slowly evolved into what it is now. I wanted to just do really rough recordings on a four track -- personal recordings à la Daniel Johnston. But, because I felt like I lacked community in life, I thought it'd be really cool if people could hear this music and put their own spin on it. So I didn't want to just start another band; I wanted to start a collaborative project. People could put their two cents in, and I'd sort of have the final say. Another thing that should be noted is that I'm a lyricist before a musician. Because I can't write music, I just hear and do. I always felt the music should enforce what the lyrics are saying, but lyrics are often secondary. {in-boxes} has allowed me to really focus on the story. Some of our songs are a little long, because they're meant to act like soundtracks to that specific story.

So I've set it up so that if you want to play or record with us, you can. People can interpret the lyrics, contribute art.

People can record with you, not just play live?

Yes, they can be part of the recording process. I'm a really big fan of Mute Math and often wish I could play with them. I thought to myself, "Man, I would love if someone really liked our music and could be a part of something and be able to develop a relationship with the group." I've been blessed to work with people who can play or sing in a really specific type of way that fit very nicely.

What concepts and symbols are you focusing on with {in-boxes}?

Anyone who likes lyrics with a lot to decode, with a lot of multiple meanings, would really appreciate {in boxes}. There are certain symbols I use a lot, like a line about a plumb line in "Pagan Wave." Plumb lines are used to measure verticality. In symbolism, things that are vertical usually represent a harmonious relationship between heaven and Earth. When you buy a plumb line at Home Depot, it actually says on the package, "Used to measure the truth." I took that concept of measuring the truth and verticality and the idea of measurement and how the Bible talks about the measures one uses -- I think man's judgment is often horizontal. The plumb box measures the truth, integrity. There was this idea of putting the plumb line on my body, divvying me into two parts, just like the squiggly lines in our name point two different parts, sides, extremes.

In college, I learned about my favorite artist of all time, Joseph Cornell. Some of his works consisted of found material, which he called the ephemera of Americana, and he would put it inside of boxes. He would put them in these beautiful, poetic arrangements -- it was assemblage art -- and he put all of it inside a box behind a glass pane. There's this book, Joseph Cornell Metaphysics, that explains how he'd take certain objects from the physical realm and transverse them so they'd represent something in the spiritual realm and take on a more infinite meaning. He was very influential in the formation of the group -- of {in boxes}.

What are you guys working on right now?

Well, we're working on both our first album and the following EP. A lot of the songs we play live will be on the first album, but they don't yet fit my vision of what I want the record to sound like sonically. The first album should be complete by the end of the year.

{in-boxes}. 9 p.m. Saturday, October 1 at Green Room, 109 SW 2nd Ave., Fort Lauderdale. No cover. Click here.

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