Cavoli’s music somehow feels nostalgic and futuristic at the same time

Alex Cavoli ’20 plays an electric guitar.
Courtesy of Alex Cavoli ’20

Alex Cavoli ’20 grew up in a military family, which meant he moved often. “I was born in Kansas City, then moved to upstate New York, Virginia, the DC area, North Carolina, and El Paso, Texas. I lived in a small town in Hawaii for a bit, and on a military base in Germany for my last two years of high school. Now my folks are out in Belgium,” he says. He began playing music at an early age, studying different styles as he moved around. There were school jazz bands and surf rock bands with friends. From 6th to 8th grade, he even learned mariachi guitar at his school in El Paso. His core instruments are guitar, bass, piano, and drums, but he also plays banjo and mallets.

The summer before his freshman year at Princeton, where he majored in geosciences, Cavoli started releasing music online under the name boxboys. After putting out a handful of EPs on the music platforms Bandcamp and Soundcloud, a label called College Records asked to release a selection of his songs on Spotify and Apple Music. When they did, the buzz around his work grew rapidly. Today, boxboys has a consistent base of over 130,000 monthly listeners. His top tracks have millions of streams.

Like his musical education, the music Cavoli creates can’t be boxed into any one genre. He produces digitally, using software to create synths and drum sounds, but also records much of the instrumentation live. 

“I’ve struggled with what to say when a venue wants to book me and asks what genre they should put down on the flyer,” he says, “From song to song it bounces around quite a bit. I’ve definitely made lo-fi music. I can make electronic house-music, but I’ve also made indie rock and like, straight ahead trap beats.”

The common thread is that Cavoli’s music somehow feels intensely intimate and nostalgic but futuristic at the same time. He layers electronic keyboards with warm guitars, vocal samples, and drum patterns to combine natural and synthetic soundscapes. The source feels sweeping and vast but also familiar, like a conversation with an old friend or a dream about where you grew up. He often incorporates audio samples from his everyday life, recorded with the voice memos app on his iPhone, into the music.

“It’s pretty powerful that we have these phones on us all day,” he says, “Phone microphone technology has gotten pretty solid. I’ve used little snippets of voicemails I’ve gotten from people, little conversations I’ve captured, and ambient sounds from walking around.” Cavoli calls the audio clips “Easter eggs.” “I love those little intimate captures from everyday life,” he says. “It’s definitely intended to be sort of like a sonic representation of my own experience.” 

Cavoli played his first live boxboys show in August 2021 at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. The venue gave him a 50% upfront payment, which he used to buy new equipment, as the digital elements of his solo act require extensive gear. “It was really sweet of them,” he says. Cavoli continues to perform around California, where he’s based, and has plans to play more shows on the West Coast and across the country. 

“Playing live is such an exposed and personal way to express yourself,” he says.