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Beat-boxer Heatbox comes to IC

BY KRISTEN PETERS | JUNE 11, 2009 7:26 AM

Aaron “Heatbox” Heaton isn’t trying to write the instruction manual for ventriloquism or Kamasutra foreplay.

“You just force your lips not to pay attention to what the back of your mouth is doing,” he said.

He is describing how he sings while he beat-boxes.

“[It’s] probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do,” said Heaton, who performs under the moniker Heatbox. “It’s the only thing I’ve really had to practice.”

The one-man Minneapolis act will take the stage tonight at the Yacht Club, 13 S. Linn St., to celebrate the release of his sophomore album, Systems. The show will kick off at 9 p.m.; admission is $7.

Heaton says his mouth — and all of the instruments he keeps there — makes his shows “more like band shows than beat-boxing shows.”

“I don’t just go up there with a mike like some do,” he said.

Taking influences from big names in beat-boxing, such as Rahzel and Bobby McFerrin, he manages to create an entire band — kick drum and all — by using his voice and manipulating his mouth. He will perform songs from Systems tonight, including “Remembering Me” (a jazz-infused tune that slips into barbershop quartet-esque harmonies) and “Pizza Funk” (a comedic number that features an intro reminiscent of the “Seinfeld” theme song).

Heaton’s sense of humor and wide-ranging talents are evident not only in the musical content of his latest album but also in a video game included with Systems that he designed himself. The premise of Ninja Strike revolves around the boss (named Balgator) attempting “to escape the reality of the video game.”

“It’s actually the second game I’ve made,” the musician said. “The first game was called Root City Rescue. I’ve always wanted to make video games, and it’s something I really wanted to learn.”

Heaton started playing video games as a child on his uncle’s Commodore 64. Between his gaming hobby and extracurricular vocal activities (he was in a select chorus by age 10), he began to hone his beat-boxing talent in high school.

“We were just a bunch of white guys sitting in a garage making music,” he said. “[Now], I’ve played for six people and I’ve played for six thousand. Of course I would prefer not to play for six people, and all of my [high-school] friends have heard me beat-box a hundred times — they’re always like, ‘Eh, that’s cool, whatever.’ ”

Though those close in communication with Heaton may be familiar with his current act, the beat-boxer is continually expanding the definition and production of what he considers his “genre-less” music.

“I never really had a genre, and I think that’s why I can really change as an artist,” he said. “I have an R&B song and a country song on [my new album].”

A beat-boxing country song? “It’s … it’s just slower,” he said.

The now-solo traveling artist said he sometimes misses the camaraderie of touring with a troupe (“I really feed off other people on stage”), but he prefers to be his own boss.

“I don’t have to worry about fighting over money or finding some bandmates in the morning,” he said.

And when Heaton is traveling, he often brings friends along as a guest DJs (such as DJ Snuggles and Carnage, who sound like “The Odd Couple” version of up-and-coming beat-boxers), to create a performance aesthetic reminiscent of his high school roots.

Though his popularity is increasing, he said, he draws on the modesty he learned through his friends with a sense of humor to describe his expanding career.

“It’s just a bunch of guys who can make noises with their mouth,” he said.

Maybe so, but just remember to “forget” what those all those lips are doing.


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