Sometime back in 2007, a smoke machine started pumping in the back of Skully’s Music-Diner. The opening melody to Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” began to weave itself through the audience. Behind the stage a projection screen looped psychedelic, quasi-Magic School Bus animations. At just the right moment, two suspects (Caucasian males, late-20s) popped out, started rapping, and brought down the house.
It was the height of Ocean Ghosts’ success—their second album, Pepperoni Lovers, had just dropped, their picture was in The Dispatch and the acclaim was coming hot and ready. Eminem meets Primus. Party-time hip-hop cruise. The Jackson Pollacks of white-boy rap.
This was Scott Shelton (Scotty Boombox) for seven years. Like many artists of his kind, Shelton has a mild-mannered alter ego. Today, the man works as the director of The Ohio Center for Broadcasting. He wears a tie, eyeglasses, and long sleeves. But that wasn’t always the way.
Born a musician, Shelton gave up the trumpet in high school to be in rock bands. His junior year he started a new band in the style of The Faces and .38 Special—the sort of Southern-stomp, rollicking rock band that you’d never believe helped spawn his later work.
That band carried on into Shelton’s college years as the roster wound up at Ohio State, but when the output started to morph into Phish-esque jam band material, Shelton took his rap and punk influences and found his way out. It was at a performance in 2001, Shelton said, where he saw his musical future unfold right in front of him.
“My buddy Dorian Ham had asked me to play percussion in this act he called B.A.S.S. Nation, and we were playing this house party with RJD2,” Shelton recalled. “There was this other DJ there spinning, working with just one turntable and a sampler. And he killed it. By himself.
“The next day, I went out and bought a turntable and a sampler and a mixer. I released my first album a year later.”
Shelton would break from the music scene not long after to complete his MFA in art and technology (also at OSU), but while fine performance art was the logical end to his academic path, there remained an itch that only music could scratch. Thus began Ocean Ghosts.
During the band’s seven-year ride, Boombox and his running mate J. Rhodes toured the land, dropping their own wonderful brand of subversive bullshit on audiences of varying levels of familiarity and preparedness. There were accolades. There was backlash, too. Above all, it was educational.
“The best thing about [it] was learning how to not care at all what people think. Or at least to care a hell of a lot less. [J. Rhodes] had an unbridled sense of self-confidence. I absorbed a lot of that.
“We were a success—I’m extremely proud of those four albums.”
Now at the age of 36, three years removed from the amicable end of Ocean Ghosts, Scotty Boombox is back with a new solo album long in the making and will debut it in a live performance at The Tree Bar (887 Chambers Rd.) on March 7.
The album, A Mime and a Thief, is the result of two years spent writing, recording, mixing, and producing. It’s a work bearing personal and professional challenges suffered and survived by both Shelton the man and Boombox the musician.
Featuring Scotty’s own hand on drums, piano, synthesizer, guitar, and his beloved turntable, A Mime and a Thief folds in spot performances from guest artists from far and wide, smoothing hard synth edges with analog instrumentation and organic sound.
“A lot of [the album] is about me proving that I can do it. I spent a lot of time co-writing and sampling—well, sampling is easy. Writing all the parts is hard.
“But the album is good. And the show, the live show, that will be even better.”
Joining Scotty Boombox will be DipSpit, a rapper cut from similar cloth from Dayton, Ohio, and Columbus’s own product, The Pools. A Mime and a Thief is available on iTunes.