Richmond's No BS! Brass Band gear up for "off the chain" show at The National
Latest News |November 24, 2016
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By MARKUS SCHMIDT Richmond Times-Dispatch | Nov 17, 2016
In musical parlance, “woodshedding” means to lock yourself away with an instrument and practice with unwavering diligence until the groove kicks in and puts a smile on your face.
For much of the past decade, several young Richmond musicians have done just that, huddling behind the doors of their small Oregon Hill studio, armed with a hoard of wrought brass. There, they constructed dense, skull-shattering sounds, mercilessly bending D sharps to angles almost too painful for innocent eardrums, sliding slippery half notes over uncompromising rhythms that sometimes mimic the amplified beat of a pounding heart.
Meet No BS! Brass Band, the city’s most powerful, window-shattering and, in their own words, “just crazy” marching band.
Armed to their teeth with reeds and brass, the 12 jazz-mercenaries will unleash an incendiary eruption of music on Friday, Nov. 25, at a Thanksgiving weekend concert at The National — an unusual feat at a venue that rarely bills local acts as the headliner.
“It’s hard to fill that room, and it used to be really hard to play there in general,” lead trombonist Reginald Pace said of the 1,700-capacity venue on Broad Street.
For No BS! Brass Band, their concert at The National marks the culmination of a 10-year effort that has seen them rise from a local underground phenomenon to international stardom, playing clubs and festivals worldwide. But make no mistake, this is a group that has paid much more than just its bare dues.
“We were playing at a lot of different places where other bands still won’t play; we found ourselves in all kinds of different spots,” said Marcus Tenney, a man of large stature who plays a mean trumpet. “Somebody would say, ‘Come over here and stand on top of this bus and play a set.’ And we’d say, ‘OK, we’ll do that.’ ”
Of the dozen musicians in the band, five have been there since the beginning, including Pace, Tenney and drummer Lance Koehler, who lives in an apartment above Minimum Wage Studios, where the group rehearses and records.
The band was born in 2006 from the music scene centered on Virginia Commonwealth University.
“A lot of the guys were going to school there, and we met through playing jazz around town,” said Koehler, an athletic percussionist with a long, braided goatee who came to Richmond from New Orleans.
“Pace and I got together and we started calling people. We both played in another brass band, and we kind of wanted to do our own thing where we could write our own tunes. We didn’t have it mapped out, and it took a little bit, but people came to the shows,” he said.
It was Koehler who came up with the group’s no-nonsense, straight-in-your-face name.
“I just wanted to be in a band that was just about music and not about all the BS involved in it. It’s that literal and that stupid,” he said, laughing.
Playing gigs around town, the group built a loyal following, earning a reputation as a premier band for its raw, heart-pounding energy, embracing the spirit of New Orleans into its original East Coast modern funk and combining elements of James Brown, John Coltrane, Michael Jackson and Led Zeppelin into its original sound.
Besides fearlessly invading uncharted musical territories, the band quickly became a Richmond staple, known for its outrageously wild stage performances filled with rapping, shouting, jumping and out-of-control dancing.
“We just look crazy; I mean, look at this band, all these dudes up there,” Tenney said. “It’s always different, too, because it’s at different venues. But it’s always the same intensity, no matter where it’s at. We played one show and the sound went off, and we just jumped off the stage and played in the street, with no electricity. People thought it was absolutely crazy, and I think that’s what started this wildfire.”
The group has released six albums to date, including a tribute to the late jazz icon and virtuoso bass player Charles Mingus. Most of their songs are original compositions, but their unusual picks for cover songs are part of the charm that makes No BS! a huge hit.
“We’ve tried some covers that just don’t stick,” said Pace. “We always care if somebody else is playing that song already, and we avoid that. But sometimes we find some really obvious songs that people just aren’t covering, like ‘Take on Me’ (by 1980s Norwegian pop band A-ha), which is a super pop song. But people weren’t covering it. ... That has helped us grow, too, because people can relate to it.”
But the group’s recorded music rarely captures its energetic live performances.
“It’s hard to put on a record what we do; it’s more an experience,” Pace said. “On a CD, it sometimes translates, and sometimes it doesn’t. The fact is, we keep doing new stuff and it’s always different; we always try to keep going forward, and the songs sound wildly different from each other.”
No BS! did not became an internationally known act until the rise of social media, which today is the preferred engine for independent artists to promote their shows and music. Groups like this Richmond-based band benefit from the use of smartphones to rapidly upload videos to YouTube and even stream entire concerts, sending them around the globe within seconds.
“The first thing everybody does at our shows, they pull their phones out and record. People start watching the videos and they think, ‘Man, this is crazy,’ ” Tenney said.
“They see all these people on stage, and they see the videos,” he said. “All of that together, a brass band from Richmond that plays all these covers that weren’t previously thought of as a fit for what we are doing, and all that left-field craziness that works great, and people go, ‘Like, this is awesome.’ And the fact that we kept all the dudes together. That’s the perfect storm; it’s like 10 things that happened to go right.”
In the past two years, the band has traveled to Canada and Europe several times, always returning home in between national and international tours to play local shows.
“We play at The Broadberry one night and the next week we play Germany, and people here can watch that online, and it makes them feel like they are right there with us,” Tenney said.
And while abroad, group members view themselves as ambassadors for Richmond, crediting themselves with helping to shape what they call the Richmond Sound.
“We want to put this city on the map; this is not like any other city. This is Richmond, we have all these things going on and we want to be respected,” Tenney said. “We are trying to get to this level that people all over the world see and that has created this kind of Richmond Sound. And all of the musicians living here are fighting for that. I have seen very few musicians take their operations elsewhere and become insanely successful to the point that they can just forget where they came from.”
And on Friday, No BS! Brass Band will celebrate the Richmond Sound with many friends and fans, sharing the stage with the Peoples Blues of Richmond, another local group that has managed to build a large fan base.
“It’s going to be the most explosive holiday party; it’s going to be off the chain and the best show we’ve ever played,” Tenney said.
Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch
ABOVE: No BS! Brass Band will bring its big, bold Richmond Sound to The National stage Friday for a show with Peoples Blues of Richmond.