It's 9:30 on a Wednesday night, and I'm waiting in the McDonald's parking lot to meet John "Louie" Lousteau of Sandbox for an interview. My first mistake was arriving a little early. Not only am I the center of attention for the nonstop drive-thru clientele ("Look, mom—a homeless guy!"), but I have to suffer the torture of smelling the French fry factory behind me. The 27 cents in my coat pocket mocks my grumbling stomach.
My second mistake was in assuming too much. I didn't even ask what kind of car Lousteau would be driving to our rendezvous. He is a musician; I know what kind of car he'll be driving—a beat-up old Plymouth plastered with a bumper sticker papier-mâché collage: Dead Kennedys, Smashing Pumpkins, Black Flag, New Rock 90. No doubt about it.
One or two cars that meet my requirements for "musician vehicle" drive by, but none stop. Finally, around 9:45, a rather large brown metallic mini-van whips into the space next to mine. To my surprise, a nuclear family from Ohio does not step out. In fact, it's Lousteau, ready to take me to the Sandbox HQ. This was to be just the first in a number of quirks that would leave me dumbfounded in Sandbox's rock 'n' roll world.
Lousteau, Sandbox's drummer/vocalist, sports black shaven-top hair, a muscular build, and endless hyperactivity. He's only a few tattoos away from being a miniature Henry Rollins. Todd Etheridge, vocalist/guitarist, is the thinker in the band. His every word is well thought out and enunciated with precision. Marc Inocco, guitarist, meets all the "rock god" requirements. He's got the hair, the good looks and the licks. Luckily for me, bassist Bobby Arndt couldn't make it. According to the others, he's the resident smart-ass, and would have kept me there all night to talk about nothing.
Sandbox plays self-described "velvet anvil" rock. As primary songwriter Etheridge explains, "We can be heavy, but at the same time, [we can] have cool melodies too. My favorite kind of music is when a band has a good melody, but a gut punch at the same time."
Sandbox's music is a melody-infectious concoction of Smashing Pumpkins, King's X and Hüsker Dü. Their double-edged guitars and smooth, yet biting, vocals would satisfy any alterna-head's rock 'n' roll demons.
And what's more, they're popular with their local rock band peers. "They're such nice guys!" seems to come from the mouth of every person who's ever met these guys. How is it that a super-heavy alterna-rock band has such a positive effect on all they encounter?
"We've just got so many cool friends in town," Lousteau explains. "We hang out with Hypertribe, Immortal Chorus and the Gone Dogs. It's just a big group of friends that have always hung out together and played the music scene."
Okay, so they're not snarling, nihilistic punks. What about on stage? Nope—Sandbox doesn't cop an attitude there, either.
"We can play with Immortal Chorus one week, and play with the Used or whoever the next, and everyone is cool," Lousteau insists. "Like last night, Tom and Brandon from the Used were there."
"Everyone is out to help everyone else out," Inocco adds. "You can't really have much of an attitude around here. I mean, so what [if] you play at the Mercury a lot. What kind of attitude can you develop out of that?"
The camaraderie Sandbox feels with its contemporaries comes from an admiration for music on both a local and national level. This enthusiasm is not unique among bands just starting out, but it is for Sandbox, considering that three-quarters of the band were once members of the Innocent Ones, a band that labored through five years of the local heavy-metal scene.
The weekend they played the Locals Only Showcase last month was their most successful yet. Over the course of the weekend, they gave out 600 stickers and about 100 tapes.
"I mean, if we could do that every weekend, that would be killer!" Lousteau says. "We played in town in front of 700 people, and then we went out of town to play the next night. [We made] just enough money for some gas and some food. It was great!"
Friendly, positive, optimistic… Sandbox runs counter to every precept of rock 'n' roll known to music writers far and wide.