On Monday night, Feb. 27, Slates in Hallowell will host a unique new group of musicians known as Bass Box. The spokesman for the band is a University of Maine, Augusta graduate, Chas Lester, who resides in Portland, where he works for a nonprofit called the Maine Academy of Modern Music. He also teaches one day a week at Musicians First Choice School of Music on Cony Circle in Augusta. He recently was reached at his Portland apartment to chat about the band and their impending central Maine gig.

Q: I guess the most important question of this interview is this one: What is Bass Box?

Lester: Well, Bass Box is a group of four guys. It’s myself on vocal percussion — there’s no drums in the band, so all the percussion you hear is in my vocals. There is a lead singer, the gentleman’s name is Mat Zarolinski, but he likes to go as Mat Zaro — and he also plays a bit of guitar. We’ve got a fellow on bass named Dylan Verner, who also does some back-up vocals; and there’s one more guy named Joel Amsden, who plays lead guitar and does a lot of different textural ideas. He’s kind of a new addition to the group. You see, we did have two female back-up singers, they’re actually on the record that we put out, but we’re trying a new format with Joel and it seems to be working pretty nicely.

Q: Do you do original material?

Lester: Pretty much of it is all original material with a few covers — we try to keep it interesting — where we (pay homage) to the folks we really enjoy like Tom Waits, “Pure Imagination” from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson. We do primarily our own material, but then occasionally, we throw a curve ball to the audience.

Q: Could you talk about that record you mentioned earlier?

Lester: Sure, it’s called “Mother Box” and it came out at the end of 2010. It’s been out a little over a year and we’ve been trying to push (it) a little more. It’s kind of hard to categorize, but there’s some kind of jazz influence along with the blues. It’s pretty highly arranged in some spots — and there’s a sort of cabaret/rock element at times, too. It’s a pretty wide swath that it covers, which is something I like.

Q: By changing it up like that it doesn’t become boring for the audience or for you guys, for that matter.

Lester: Exactly! We’re actually in the process of writing some new material. We’re trying to take it in a kind of different direction since we’ve had a slight change in personnel. But, we really like the record, it came out really well. We’re really proud of it — it’s time, though, to try something new. We’ve been just getting together and having some writing sessions and that sort of thing.

Q: Have you played at Slates before?

Lester: I have, not with Bass Box, but I’ve played there with a few different folks. I’ve played with Kenya Hall, who’s been there a few times. I have my own trio called LQH and when we released our five-song EP last year we did Slates, as well. So, I’ve kind of been a sideman for some project and then a leader for others, but yeah, I’ve played there a few times.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to have passed on to the folks reading this “What’s Happening” article?

Lester: Yeah, just that I think there will be a little something for everybody. It’s kind of, as I said before, a wide swath, but it’s very accessible, fun, it can be kind of gritty and blues-y at times and then sort of beautiful and ballad-esque at others, so it’s quite a wide swath. And if you like vocal percussion — beat box — that’s quite a big part of the act, too. So, if you’re up for a kind of new musical experience, then come on down.

Lucky Clark has spent over four decades writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] link.net if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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