Stretch for the stars

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Stretch Lefty has always tried to cross boundaries in their music. Now they're trying to break down walls across Columbus.

The band, which has grown from a bizarre instrumental ensemble into a multihued hip-hop group with roots in reggae rhythm, recently partnered with longtime producer Austin Briggs to start an in-house promotions company called Big Bounce Boombox.

"The entire idea was born out of the desperation to just be ourselves," said Johnny Coco Williamson, who recently stepped from behind the drum kit to be Stretch Lefty's frontman after longtime vocalist Brian "Tabu" Thomas had to step aside for medical reasons.

"That's really cliche and cheesy," Williamson continued, "but where we're at now, we don't want to [compromise]. Let's just play how we've always played and just play our asses off."

Briggs and the band hope to build Stretch Lefty a large fan base through do-it-yourself touring and promotion then lift other local groups to similar success. It's an ambitious plan, and they think one big step toward it will be building a consensus in Columbus that reaches beyond genre boundaries.

"Sometimes it's nice to not have four of the same kind of band," Briggs said. "You keep it fresh and keep it interesting, and people are going to stay in the room for longer. The crowds are going to be happier. The bands are going to be happier. The venues are going to be happier."

That's the kind of show the Big Bounce Boombox crew wants to throw every Thursday during a new residency at Scarlet & Grey Cafe. Stretch Lefty and Street Corner Rockas, an offshoot band featuring Briggs and Williamson, will appear weekly alongside bands ranging from jazz to funk to indie rock.

Stretch Lefty and Street Corner Rockas have lots of other regional gigs lined up, including a show Friday at The Basement also featuring Fly.Union and The Midas Touch. The same lineup drew 600 people to Stretch Lefty's CD release show last summer.

The album they unveiled, Universe Box, was the result of two years of exhausting weekend trips to record with Briggs, who was working at studios in New York and New Jersey at the time. The disc exhibits a band that has learned to reign in its playing to suit tightly arranged pop tracks like "Radio Friendly" and "Summertime."

That kind of work ethic and maturity will be necessary if Big Box Boombox is to shoot Stretch Lefty to stardom, and certainly if they hope to lift their neighbors along with them.

"I think we all right now are realizing how much work it's really going to take to do something on this scale," Williamson said. "We're really pushing the concept of being proud of Columbus. ... We need to get everybody together and say this is where we're from, and we're proud of it."

Stretch Lefty and Street Corner Rockas

When: Thursday, Jan. 8

Where: Scarlet & Grey Cafe, Campus

When: Friday, Jan. 9

Where: The Basement, Arena District