Interview // Hot 8 Brass Band

by AdamTait
AdamTait
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on 25 May 2016 in Features

Many a band will tell you with great fervour of the influence of their hometown. They'll tell you about their upbringing. They'll talk about the wealth or lack of a music scene, and the effect it had on their creative appetite. They'll ruminate on the first time they traveled further a field and found something to compare it to.

Few groups, though, are the consummate manifestation of the city that forged them in the way New Orleans' Hot 8 Brass Band are. From the city's vibrant sense of celebration, to it's uncanny and inimitable relationship with music, to a remarkable determination to persevere in the face of adversity and tragedy. For better or worse, it's all engrained in the band's DNA.

Over the course of an impressive 20 year career, the band have risen from their origins as high schoolers with marching band credentials to become one of the most exciting live acts to be found anywhere around the global.

We saw for ourselves at The Garage last year, and will be there at Electric Brixton to witness them in action again this week. But before all that, we threw some questions at them, and they were kind enough to sling some answers back



I first came across you via your cover of ‘Ghost Town’ and found the video particularly moving. Could you start off by telling us a bit about the impact of New Orleans on your music? 
Well, to me, the city of New Orleans is going to always represent our music. Just being that we are born and raised here, and that we all love our city and culture no matter what we go through – or what the city goes through for that matter. I look at it as every time we perform it’s an opportunity to tell our life story about our experience in New Orleans, no matter good or bad. Every musician from New Orleans has their own unique way of expressing it, and when we all come together it's in amazing thing to witness or be a part of that one would never forget.

Can you tell us a bit about how the band came together and how it’s changed over the last 20 years?
The band came together back in the early to mid ‘90s when we were in high school and to be honest it was something that we started because it was fun just playing our instruments. We were all in the high school marching band and we all loved the competition, but also we wanted to be a part of something that made us feel proud and not get caught up with the inner city streets of the city.

Twenty years is a long time by most band's standards these days. What keeps you going?  
Well the band has been through a lot of tragic situations and we’ve lost more than a few band members to senseless violence. But back when we were young we all shared the same vision and goals, and so when we lost some of the guys it made us stronger and it also made us more committed to wanting to obtain all those dreams and goals that we shared with the guys who are no longer with us anymore in the physical world, but who are still in our hearts.

The songs you chose to rework is always really interesting. What makes a song worthy of Hot 8  consideration? 
I would say as a group we got to feel it – if it ain't funky or appealing to our liking, or if the lyrics ain't saying nothing that we can relate to or sending a message the we feel is real to our hearts, then we won't be playing it I can tell you that. So what we play or record has got to be something we can relate to musically or lyrically, sending a message that we stand by, or we won't do it.



It was more than a decade between the band forming and the release of your first album. Why was that? Was the recording industry not ready for an album of the sort of brass music you make? 
The reason I would say it took that long, is really a lot of different reasons. One of them was resources – we were still in school and living with our parents and, to be honest, still learning our craft, building our fan base and trying to get recognised on the Brass Band scene. Because they had a lot of Brass Bands out at that time, young and old. So we were doing our homework, playing in the French quarters for tips and going to the other older brass bands’ gigs trying to mimic them and get noticed for ourselves earlier on in those first years of the band.  

There’s a fantastic vibrancy to your music, much like your one-time collaborators the Blind Boys of Alabama. Could you tell us a little bit about how that hook up came about and what it was like working with them? 
The work with the BBOA was amazing for us, to be so young and those guys to be older - on top of being blind - and for us to see their musicianship close up and how they got around and were successful at what they did, it just blew us away. That experience helped us in so many ways on all different levels. When their manager approached us about doing a recording we was like “yes we would love to” and it was great for us as a group to be a part of that recording.



Who would you love to collaborate with next, and why?
I myself would say Stevie Wonder, he is a musical genius that not only makes music you can feel and dance to but his lyrics are heaven sent. The reason I would like to work with him is because I truly believe when two or more people meet that have been through life changing events like what he and the Hot 8 has been through, the reward has no end, and that it would reach a wide variety of different nationalities all across the world and touch people in such a way that their life would be changed forever.

You're signed to Tru Thoughts in the UK, and are back over here on tour at the moment. Do you feel there’s a big difference in how your music’s received in the States and the UK? What should new audiences be prepared for? 
I believe that there’s a difference between the two but they are both positive for the most part, a great experience for a musician. I would say it's a very special thing when you perform in another country and the audience take to your music the way they do when we are over there. It's a very special thing that you keep close to your heart, just taking your pain and adventure of your life and putting it in a musical form and getting a response that's so overwhelming is just like a dream come true, especially when you had these same types of dreams and visions at such a early age, now being able to live them out. The audience should expect New Orleans to show up in the building the night we perform, it will be a feel good experience that they will never forget.




‘VICENNIAL’ 20TH ANNIVERSARY TOUR DATES

MAY
Thur 12th - KILKENNY, Set Theatre
Fri 13th/Sat 14th - DUBLIN, Sugar Club
Sun 15th - GALWAY, Roisin Dubh
Mon 16th - LIVERPOOL, Magnet (SOLD OUT)
Tue 17th - LEEDS, Hi-Fi
Wed 18th/Thur 19th - WHITSTABLE, Duke of Cumberland
Fri 20th - SOUTHAMPTON, Social Club
Sat 21st - WARWICK, Copper Rooms
Sun 22nd - NEWCASTLE, Riverside
Mon 23rd - GLASGOW, Oran Mor
Wed 25th - SWANSEA, Sin City
Thur 26th - LONDON, Brixton Electric (SOLD OUT)
Fri 27th - MANCHESTER, BOTW (SOLD OUT)
Sat 28th - YORK, Harambee Pasadia (3pm-4.30pm)
Sat 28th - KENDAL, Kendal Arts Centre
Sun 29th - BRISTOL, Love Saves the day (3pm-4.30pm)
Sun 29th - BIRMINGHAM, O2
Mon 30th - YORK, Duchess
Tues 31st - SHEFFIELD, O2
JUNE
Wed 1st - LONDON, Rich Mix
Thur 2nd - OXFORD, O2
Fri 3rd - BRIGHTON, Coalition
Sat 4th - NEWTON ABBOTT, Lemonfest

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