Interview: Youngblood Brass Band

by Heather Wall

There’s just something magical about horns.

Last Friday I took my Dad to see Youngblood Brass Band play at Village Underground, a huge, brick East London ex-underground platform. The band started with a favourite of mine, Camouflage, from their 2003 album Center: Level: Roar and the set followed the same vibe: BIG SOUNDS. Their set included other huge tracks, Ain’t Nobody, Nuclear Summer, Elegy and finishing on Brooklyn. In their music they create a beautiful symbiosis between hip-hop, jazz and and big band brass sounds and their energy is electric.  Frontman, lyricist and percussionist David Henzie-Skogen brings an edge to Youngblood, with his nasal but nasty (in a positive sense, obvz) rapping which he brings to many of the tracks.

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Though potentially my favourite aspect to the night was their trombonist Joe Goltz, who has the best and most captivating wiggle I’ve ever seen from a brass player. At points, the wiggle becomes a shimmy and you wonder how anyone might be able to shimmy, wiggle and roll whilst carrying a strong line.

All in all? Energizing. Persevering. Pushing forward. Strong. Harmonies. AMERICAN.

They played a couple of tracks from their latest album, Pax Volumi, one of which was ‘Ê la ê’, a multi-textual, uplifting track which sounds like it should be at the end of a feel-good movie.

I had a chat with frontman, David, about the tour, the album and the band!

You’re on a huge European tour! How do you find the UK?

We’ve always had an affinity with the UK, and it seems people here are really receptive to what the band is all about. Whether that be a result of a deeply-embedded tradition of (completely different) brass band culture, or because brass-led music has been considered relevant here more so than in the States, I can’t say… but ever since our early ’00s gigs at the Jazz Cafe in London, we’ve had a lovely time… though I have to admit, I doubt I’ll ever enjoy brown sauce. Our new label (Tru Thoughts) is English, so it seems it all makes sense.

Do you feel that being American is integral to your band and your sound? Or is your identity bigger or smaller than that?

It would be hard for me to imagine it any other way… being American allowed for our exposure and relative proximity to New Orleans brass band culture, which was the driving force behind the band, even back into our teenage years. I certainly feel a deep, somewhat prideful connection to that music, and other American inventions (a la Hip-Hop), but at the same time, these musical revolutions stay geographically insular for only so long, and I’m not sure anyone is in a position to call them their own… certainly arguments about authenticity eventually run into a brick wall; the bottom line is whether something sounds good. In this day and age, what with YouTube and iTunes and the like, it really doesn’t matter where you’re from, because the music gets out there… we simply have a responsibility to be as learned and perceptive (and/or receptive) as possible, and anyone with the drive and self-awareness to create something can pretty much do anything they want. Our identity is no bigger or smaller than anyone’s, but we’re certainly the sum of a vast, weird collection of influences, many of them determined by the ways and places we grew up.

The band come from all over the US, how does that impact the band’s sound?

I guess I’d refer to the above… I’m not sure it matters all that much, as even though our members are from all over, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the guys in NYC are really big on jazz and hip-hop, and the guy in Nashville on country, and the guys in the Midwest on… Polka?!?! … i.e. it’s basically just whatever moved you, you followed. I think the best thing about us being spread out is that when we do come together to tour, it’s a reunion of sorts, every time. Though it makes recording a bear.

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Your new album is called Pax Volumi – What does that mean?

It’s loose Latin, meaning roughly ‘peace via texts’, but I also like the subtle play on ‘Vox Populi’ going on there (i.e. the voice of the people), and I also liked how, in slacker American English, it kind of sounds like a pact to play louder. All of those work. Or none of them. I’ve never put much faith in monikers. You just, you know, call it something, and move on.

What was the concept for the album?

Nothing beyond making the music that was in our heads. I wanted to take the time, finally, to engineer and produce an album whereby the sounds were exactly what I wanted. I didn’t have the know-how before this album. I think you can tell right away that the sound of the album is better than our previous albums, where usually we would show up at a studio, run out of money at some point, and call it ‘done’. People can argue about the songwriting, the merit, the relevance… but there’s no question for us that the general ‘sound’ of the album captures far more of what the band is about, and bangs out your speakers much harder than anything we’ve done.

We love the album. What is your favourite track?

That question is impossible to answer. If I had to say one song that, for me, represents the ‘new’ sound of the album, and the band, I’d probably say ‘Ê la ê’. Production-wise, it’s a big step forward for us, and tune-writing-wise, it comes from a different place than an average YBB song. I also think that the hip-hop songs sound better than they have in the past, hopefully due to the fact that I got to spend the time I wanted on the beats and vocals, and wasn’t just rushing things. But I honestly like the entire album. I feel like it goes to many different places, and I feel it represents some of what we used to hold dear, as well as where we want to go. It feels like a new beginning for us, even though we’ve been around a long time. It was a long wait, too.

In what genre do you place YBB?

I leave this completely up to critics.

What’s your favourite place in the world to perform in and why?

People ask this a lot, and I think the answer isn’t about geography, it’s about one show, on one night, and one group of people. It kind of depends how well we connect with a given crowd. There could be an amazing show in Idaho, or it could be Croatia, or London, or Copenhagen. It’s about us giving it our all, and the audience hopefully responding in kind.

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