We humans store things in boxes. We take what we can’t hold onto or use at the current time and we stuff it into a box. People, places and things all fit into boxes. Ten Story Relapse titled it sixth album Boxes to illustrate this idea.
But the band’s story started earlier, sketched out of a friendship that began in college.
Ten Story Relapse formed when former college buddies John Douglas and Mark Milam re-acquainted via a chance meeting at an Atlanta bar and restaurant. The two musicians hadn’t seen each other since their days at Auburn University, where they both played in separate bands. After a cathartic 15-minute discussion about how much they missed playing music and seeing each other, they arranged a meeting for the following Saturday.
The result of this random reunion was TSR’s first release, Tug.
Bill Thomas, a long-time fan, said he got a copy of Tug in the early 2000s, when Douglas and he worked together.
“The first time I heard it was at work on my laptop, then more in depth at home on the hi-fi,” Thomas said. “For an initial effort from a couple of guys with regular day jobs, I thought it was incredibly polished and professional.”
The band’s distinctive sound, witty lyrics and insightful songs were “something that I wanted to listen to as much as anything else in my rather large record collection,” Thomas said.
In 2003, a studio meeting between Mark, John and Atlanta producer Scott Patton (Jennifer Nettles, Better Than Ezra) resulted in Patton’s taking the reins as the mix engineer for TSR’s second effort, Frequency. Patton was moved by the material, and ultimately joined the band, which cemented the core trio of songwriters. A broader base of fans took notice of TSR once the songs “Mistress and Surgeon” and “Planting Seeds” from Frequency garnered significant attention and Internet radio airplay.
While 2007 was a tough time for the band members, according to the recently published website, this was the year I got my introduction. I first heard about Atlanta-based Ten Story Relapse when Douglas reached out via SonicBids, inviting me to review Antidisestablishmentarianism ahead of a show at Smith’s Olde Bar as part of the 10th Atlantis Music Conference.
In my 2007 review, I called TSR “asshole alternative” because of the length of the album title and the puns used in the lyrics. I called the title a metaphor for “the long road of pursuing your dreams with originality through all the imperfections and evolutions of life – a sort of breaking down and building up.”
I loved it.
Antidisestablishmentarianism is still one of my favorite albums. Finding TSR released Boxes felt to me what many fans express after watching “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” That nostalgia for a period in time is often expressed in music. Instead of movie theme songs, I’ve often related to albums as chapters in history. I was thrilled to see the book open again to the chapter called Boxes.
I’m not alone. A handful of longtime Ten Story Relapse fans recently answered a handful of questions for Douglas, such as what are your favorite lyrics and where have you seen the band play live.
Marcio Sguilaro, of São Paulo, Brazil, said his favorite songs have lyrics that “seem like they were written for me to understand different periods of time in my life.”
If he were sentenced to isolation on a desert island, he would bring the song “Mars is Closer” with him, he said, “because first and foremost the song is beautiful. Also, it brings me amazing memories from a good period of my life and the melody is simply amazing.”
As with many music fans and fans of TSR, Clarke said she found the band at a difficult time in her life and as she tried to figure out who she was, the music comforted her.
Gary Budd, of Baltimore, Maryland, said he feels like he might have been one of the first to see Ten Story Relapse when a roommate of his helped throw a party where Douglas and Milam set up on the patio.
“I think from the first strum that day, I was hooked,” Budd said. “I just remember completely relating to the lyrics.”
Budd cited one of the same favorite lyrics as long-time fan Jody Clarke did: “Are we both completely incomplete.”
Clarke, of Marietta, said she first heard Ten Story Relapse at Red Light Café in 2003 or 2004. She said she remembered thinking, “Wow. I’m witnessing a beginning of something huge. These musicians are fantastic and that voice is completely unique.”
I felt the same way as a fan and as a reviewer. I’ll continue to watch Ten Story Relapse progress and am eager to hear tour dates announced.
Watch the video for “Blurring” on the recently released Boxes: