One day in 2013, Adam tweeted at Justin Timberlake. He thought nothing would come of it, and so did his two bandmates, Matt and Scott. The next morning, they received a direct message from Justin on Twitter that said, "I've never done this before, but I felt the need to reach out to you guys." Fast forward two weeks later, and the three of them are having dinner with Justin at the Four Seasons in downtown Atlanta.
Shortly before this serendipitous brush with arguably one of the most legendary music icons of our generation, Adam Hoffman, Matt Lipkins, and Scott Tyler, who make up The Shadowboxers, had hit a wall. Although they'd just spent two rewarding years touring with the Indigo Girls and performing in front of thousands of people, the album they made in 2013 didn't make much of a splash, and they were forced to rethink their plan moving forward.
In a harebrained attempt to gain some more visibility, they decided to do a weekly cover series on YouTube. They did their own versions of hits by Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Pharrell, Frank Ocean, and, yep, Justin Timberlake. Their unique, irresistible take on "Pusher Love Girl" generated more than 200,000 views and elicited so much positive feedback that Adam figured they had nothing to lose by tweeting at Justin.
"I know you get a lot of these, but this cover of 'Pusher Love Girl' should be heard by you @jtimberlake," he wrote.
— The Shadowboxers (@theshadowboxers) December 4, 2013
Justin couldn't resist. After sitting down to dinner with the guys and offering to mentor them, he spent the next few years helping shape their sound. And this past Summer, he worked in the recording booth with them for countless hours, eventually producing their new single, "Hot Damn," which was just released on Sept. 22.
The Shadowboxers originally hail from Atlanta. Adam, Matt, and Scott have been making music and performing together for nearly 10 years, ever since they met at Emory University, where I also went to college. I knew all three of them long before they were discovered by Justin and long before they were propelled onto the road to fame — and I wasn't surprised in the least that Justin felt so compelled to get in touch with them.
"We officially met at the beginning of sophomore year, and we started playing together in Matt and Adam's dorm room," Scott told me. I lived in that same dorm, and I remember walking past their door and hearing muffled music (and laughter). "We submitted to the Emory Arts Competition and won it," he recalled.
Within a month of graduating in 2011, The Shadowboxers were on the road, performing regularly with The Indigo Girls. But that chapter had come to a close by the time Justin reached out, and they were seriously rethinking their next step.
"We would have conversations that would turn into arguments that would turn into fights," Matt told me. Three sharp minds, each with their own musical style (Scott: an "epic '80s sound," Matt: a "neo-soul world," Adam: "blues/folk"), stuck in a room together day after day trying to create hits? They were bound to disagree at some point.
But it was their variety and ability to (successfully) cross over so many different music genres that attracted Justin and elicited his support. "He saw that we liked Paul Simon and Frank Ocean, and he saw that we had all these other influences," Scott said. "He saw that we had a lot of potential to go in so many different directions."
For Justin, The Shadowboxers were more than a couple of pretty faces who could sing (although they are quite the trio of pretty faces). They were wildly talented musicians who had a lot to offer — and who had all the trappings of a universally loved band that would one day sell out countless arenas of loyal fans.
"[Justin] is at a point in his career that he's done so much and he wants to help somebody else, and help us so that we don't make the same mistakes as he did when he was coming up," Scott told me. "He was in."
I wish I could say the rest is history, and that this was their big break, but that's not the case. The Shadowboxers spent the next couple of years writing song after song, still struggling to come up with the right sound. They hustled. They argued. Although they were getting support from Justin along the way (oh, and being invited to "his home in Montana to hang with him"), Adam, Matt, and Scott weren't hitting their stride quite yet. And they were starting to think they weren't going to make it.
"We would go through intense bouts of writing together," Matt said, which were then followed by unsuccessful dry spells. Round and round they went.
When I asked why they weren't signed on with a label during this time, Adam said, "We decided that [Justin's] involvement meant something bigger than going for a traditional label route. With one phone call, he can do more than a full team on a major label." So they patiently waited for Justin as he was touring, having a baby, and starting an artistic development company, all the while sending him demos of the music they were creating.
"We had written and recorded over 120 songs. We were frustrated," Adam told me. "Without being explicit about it, Justin wanted that." Finally, with the help of a producer named K-KOV, The Shadowboxers drummed up several songs that caught Justin's ear, and they ended up in a recording studio in June of this year, where they spent all month recording their new music.
"Justin showed up pretty much every day," Scott said. Out of their combined efforts came "Hot Damn," their latest single. It's timeless yet current, and it's impossibly catchy. It also has a healthy dose of attitude and confidence, which was instilled by Justin and K-KOV.
— Justin Timberlake (@jtimberlake) September 22, 2017
Justin shared the news of their single on his Twitter, and just as he said, all it takes is one listen to "Hot Damn" to fall in love with it. Having followed The Shadowboxers for the last several years, there's no question in my mind that this is their best music yet — and it's only going to get better from here.
"We couldn't have done it without the trial," Adam said. They needed to go through hundreds of songs and demos in order to come out on the other side victorious. "Having somebody outside of the three of us to finally steer us in the direction was really what did it," Matt explained.
Some of the best advice they ever got from Justin? "Own these songs," Scott said. "Nobody else has the 10,000 hours that we do. We feel armed and ready now that we've got the product dialed in."
When I chatted with the guys, we rehashed some memories from our college years. When we were sophomores, Scott and I had a jazz improvisation class together (I'm a pianist), but Matt didn't make it past the auditions. "I f*cking sucked at the time," he joked. He and Adam performed in the all-male (read: swoon-worthy) a cappella group on campus called No Strings Attached.
When you look at The Shadowboxers from the outside, it's clear that they're heartthrobs in the making, but when I recall my memories of them from the past, I can't help but think they've been heartthrobs since long before they were discovered and groomed by Justin Timberlake. Now the whole world will finally get to see what many of their friends have seen all along.