Renegade Brass Band
Mention of British brass bands may inspire memories of summer strolls through parks, weekend visits to the seaside, or even Ewan McGregor’s terrible attempt at a South Yorkshire accent. Well, prepare to have such notions dashed as we introduce you to Renegade Brass Band, a Sheffield based 12 piece who mix the sounds of hip-hop, funk, jazz and electronica backed with a riveting brass sound – making them one of the hottest live tickets in town. Exposed sat down with Andrew Nesbitt (Trumpet), Andrew ‘Vex’ O’Neill (Vocals/MC), Daniel Bradley (Percussion), Tom I’Ason (Trombone) and Matt Jones (Scratch DJ) after their In Session performance at Plug.
Can you tell us a bit about the tracks you’ve performed for this month’s ‘In Session’?
AN: The first track is a tune called ‘Folding Money’ – which is a song I wrote the music for and Vex provided the lyrics. I guess it’s really about missed opportunities and people not fulfilling potential due to the barriers in their life. Is that a fair interpretation of it, Vex?
AV: Pretty much! I guess it’s also kinda’ like an indirect dig at Cameron’s Britain, with the austerity measures creating this huge sense of apathy amongst everyday people.
AN: Yeah, it kind of queries why people are so apathetic with everything and not seeing the potential to change anything.
I guess you could transgress that sense of apathy to modern day music as well? People acknowledge there’s a lot of poor, recycled music in the mainstream, but continue to accept it…
AN: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, for us as a band, we’ve created something really different which could mean that a lot of people who see us live won’t have experienced a brass band like it.
AV: Especially in the traditional UK sense.
DB: Sound engineers are always quick to tell us that it’s a breath of fresh air to have a band without guitars – so we must be doing something right!
And the second track?
AV: That’s a new tune called Zealots. Again, it’s quite topical. I wrote it as the chemical attacks on Syria were going on. It also goes back to issues surrounding the Bush presidency and the legacies left by that.
AN: It’s got two halves to it really. There’s more of a hip-hop based, lyrical section to begin with – but in the second half the tension explodes and it becomes more about that big brass sound.
What specific advantages do you believe that brass backing can present musically?
AV: The dynamics are huge. Brass can obviously be really loud but it can also be quiet and really subtle – not that we do much of that!
TI: It’s something you don’t encounter much in modern music. Today’s guitar generation are used to a single block sound, whereas brass is harking back to the orchestras, with its emphasis on dynamics, timbres, layers. It’s effectively the classic formations of music being reborn in an electronic context.
How did you guys all come together?
AN: The brass band was the starting point. A lot of the players from the brass band have already played together through jazz groups or orchestras and things like that. We began as more of a funky brass band…a bit more down the New Orleans type route. We started exploring the different personalities in the band and what sound they each wanted to bring in.
AV: Me and Matt used to be in a post-rock & electronica influenced band, so we had stuff from that. I also think that after playing Soundwave festival, more members of the band were inspired by the acts that they’d seen mixing electronica and different live styles.
AN: It’s allowed to us to open up a much wider pallet of sound. Brass will always sound like brass – but having the opportunity to sample things and use that as another instrument means you can take the sound to a different level.
I caught a great cover of DJ Kool’s ‘Clear My Throat’ – which worked really well. Would you be interested in covering more songs, and applying a Renegade Brass Band slant to them?
MJ: I think we’ve got enough covers, to be honest.
AN: Yeah, If anything it will be less covers. We’ll usually throw 2 – 3 covers in a set, depending on the type of gig.
AV: But I think we definitely do bring our own sound to the covers that we do, that’s important. For example, the cover of Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Can’t Stop sounds completely different and compliments our style well.
Your ability to adapt to various styles has allowed you to play at a wide range of venues and events – from traditional style festivals such as Kendal Calling, to nights at The Tuesday Club, to Jazz Clubs. Do you have a preferred style to play live or does it differ amongst group members?
AV: If think it’s a good challenge being able to do all of them. However, if you asked me, I’d prefer to play a hip hop night. But it’s definitely a bonus being able to cater our sets depending on where we play.
AN: It differs, but we make sure that there’s something for everyone regardless. I don’t think anyone’s ever left a set of ours thinking ‘there was far too much hip hop in that’, for example.
DB: I think every member of the band will agree that we like to challenge and take people out of their comfort zones a bit, wherever we play.
Would you describe yourselves as more of a ‘live band’ – due mainly to the energy you all create on stage?
TI: I think to experience it at its most impactful, a live gig is probably best.
MJ: It’s good because people aren’t used to seeing so many people on a stage. The fact that we cram 12 people on a stage does generate a great atmosphere at live gigs. It can be hard to fit everyone on at times.
Touring must be quite problematic – I have an image of you all sardined in the back of a Ford Transit with trumpets and horns hanging out of the windows…
AN: It can be a problem! We have to arrange two vans.
AV: Just the sheer numbers can be difficult; trying to get people all together for practices and gig dates is tough.
If you could squeeze one more person on to the stage with you, who would it be?
DB: A Guitarist! *Laughter*
TI: Everyone has to have a collaboration with Slash at some point, surely?
AV: Another female vocalist would be nice. If only Nina Simone was still around…
It’s almost wrong to interview a South Yorkshire based brass band without mentioning ‘Brassed Off’. Do you ever play motivational scenes from it before you go on stage, or is that slightly presumptuous?
AN: Why not!? How about that Pete Postelthwaite speech? Oooof!