The Chicago-based Lowdown Brass Band, like many other brass bands, often looks to contemporary music for inspiration. After three albums, two EPs, and a couple of singles (one of which is a 45), it’s clear that their influences now include hip-hop, reggae, ska, and Afrobeat music. Yet, throughout their latest, Lowdown Breaks, second line rhythms aren’t very far. A tight horn line and a commitment to fun are at the heart of their music. I had a chance to talk by phone with Lance Loiselle, founder, producer, and sousaphone player with the band, prior to their October 15 debut at The Dakota in Minneapolis. I’ve edited the interview slightly for length and clarity.
You’ve been a band around for what about fifteen or sixteen years.
It’s our 15thAnniversary this year. We had our 15thanniversary show 2 weekends ago.
Are you the founder or one of the founders?
One of the founders. There are four of us originals. For the first four or five years we had a rotating cast of characters to go through when people have moved on. We’ve had a pretty solid lineup for six or seven years.
What was it about brass band music that made you decide “I want to start a brass band?”
I played in high school band. One of my friends introduced me to the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and I was instantly in love with their music. So I listened to those guys through high school and college and fell in love with the music of New Orleans. Then when I went to DuPaul, I met all the guys that were original members (of Lowdown Brass Band). Some guys that were not original members also attended DuPaul with us.
When we graduated we were just sitting around after a rehearsal for another band and we were just talking about the music of New Orleans and just looked around – that guy plays the sousaphone, that guy plays the drums, (I play the sousaphone myself), he plays trumpet, and then you know we had all the pieces available and we all love the music of New Orleans. So we started out as a cover band with some originals and as time passed we started writing more and incorporating more styles into the music. Basically that’s it.
Besides the Dirty Dozen were there some other bands that you looked at as you were developing your sound?
You have the Rebirth Brass Band, another big New Orleans band that we’ve covered with a couple of songs over the years. And then as we became a little bit more modern, Youngblood Brass Band has always been a favorite of ours and. A lot of the guys we know personally – some of their band lived in at Chicago for a while. Then there’s like all other kind of horn bands. Chicago’s got a real rich history of horn bands. Chicago is one, Earth, Wind, & Fire is another. There’s a real deep history of horn bands.
Chicago also has a lot of other great sounds – vocal groups and of course the blues is an important part of the city’s history, as well as jazz, and hip-hop. Do you incorporate some of those sounds into your repertoire?
The last couple years we’ve been working with an MC, Billa Camp. Chicago’s got a good hip-hop scene with Common, Kanye West. So we’ve incorporated Chicago hip-hop, and New York hip-hop too, because Billa is originally from New York. We incorporate the funky sounds of Earth, Wind, & Fire in what we do. We’ve also been using some Latin flair. Chicago has a real big salsa scene, so we do a couple Latin tunes. Tower of Power is another big inspiration for us. There are so many writers and arrangers in the band, it really depends on who’s writing the song. Someone will bring in a tune, but then it becomes really collaborative. So there are all these different musical leanings, and then everybody gets to put in their own two cents to the final product.
With Billa, you’ve got hip-hop going on. You also have some reggae toasting going on as well. What is it about brass band music that helps make that kind of thing work and how do you incorporate that?
Man, that’s a good question because it seems like it wouldn’t work. You need the scratching, and the keyboard, but basically we just think anything that we transfer over, like a rhythm instrument, we just write for brass. The scratching and off-beat rhythms we would write for trumpet, and then the trombones would fill in the guitar line. Then the sousaphone becomes then becomes the bass. One thing that I’ve been incorporating a lot through the sousaphone is a lot of delay, which is another characteristic of reggae.
There are two reggae bands that have influenced us a bit. One is called The Drastics and the other one is called Akasha. They’re both Chicago reggae bands that a couple of our guys also play in, so that influence is brought to us as well, just from cross pollination of playing in other bands and absorbing influences.
On the last album, Lowdown Breaks, you’ve got some Afro Beat sounds and you’re not afraid to take on an iconic rock song – Walk on the Wild Side.
So yeah we actually kind of ripped that off from A Tribe Called Quest(Note: Can I Kick It), who ripped off the bass line from Lou Reed. We took the hook and the bass line and made our own arrangement of it. Then Billa wrote some new verses for it, and it really has a nice flavor. It was a truly collaborative effort.
In terms of future directions for the band what do you see going on?
We’ve got a lot of plans through the end of the year. We just released a single of We Just Want to Be. It was written by our sax player, then we gave it to our buddy Nick the Graduate, a reggae producer in town, and he put a dub mix on it. He also worked with another guy, an emcee and reggae toaster called Illuminati Congo. They worked with Billa, and they made this truly dub version, reminiscent of Peter Tosh and guys like that.
So we put it on a 45. There’s a reggae label in town called Happy As A Lark, and so he’s putting that out. So that was part of our release show. We have a fall tour that we’re doing. The first leg of it is this weekend. We’re going to play Minneapolis. We’re playing at Green Bay Saturday and then we play Chicago on Sunday, then we’re going out to L.A. at the end of the month for a four-day trip. and they were going to play. We’re playing at the Lagunitas Beer Circus, which is a really big thing out there. And then And then second weekend of November we’re going to play in New Orleans for three night and hitting Memphis on the way down and Nashville on the way out.
We made a video for Don’t Wait Right Now, the Afrobeat song, so we’re going to be releasing that in the middle of the tour. And then we’re going to be laying low for the next three months. We just got a new recording spot. We’ll set that up and record a new album and hopefully have it out by next summer.
Well I sure do appreciate you taking the time and look forward to seeing you.
Cool. I appreciate the call. Take care.