Tonight! Tubaluba Brass Band from Seattle will bring a cajun big band vibe to McMenamins.
The Source caught up with Josh Wilson about the band, their influences, and what they want folks to take away form their high-energy shows.
Check them out at McMenamins TONIGHT! 7 pm, FREE.
Source Weekly: Can you give me a little background of the band? How many players do you have typically and what do they play?
Josh Wilson: The band has been around since late 2009/early 2010. Originally, it was made up of people I'd played with over the years. As time has passed, I've counted more and more on people in the band to bring in players who they think would work well. Our big rule regarding players is, "you gotta be good AND you gotta be cool. One or the other ain't enough."
A band of our size and at our level has a ton of great opportunities, but also a lot of hassles and the money can be tight. So, you have to really enjoy the company of the people in the band. Otherwise, those long trips in the van can get rather contentious. We have to have that family vibe of, "I may not always like you, but I always love you". After sleeping on a strange floor for a couple nights and not seeing a green vegetable for a few days, minor hassles can become ordeals. Having strong relationships in the band helps keep everyone's eyes on the prize, so to speak, and allows us to have conversations instead of arguments.
When we play locally, we usually roll with 9 members. We tend to take a smaller group, more like 6 or 7, when we're on the road because of financial reasons: smaller van, fewer hotel rooms, etc. We have drums, tuba, keys, vocals, tenor sax, 1-2 trumpets, and 1-2 trombones. The drummer jumps over to snare drum, the singer grabs a megaphone, and I move from the keys to bass drum when we do our tubalubradour marching bit.
SW: Tell me about the two players who have the most different musical backgrounds?
JW: Hmmm. Well, George, one of our trumpet players, went to school for classical music. And, Jon, our tuba player, also got a degree playing classical. Contrast that with most everybody else, who came from more of a jazz/rock/soul background. Kohen, the drummer, and I met a number of years ago in a country band, though I think we'd both say we're more rock n roll/R&B than anything else.
SW: How do you pull all of the diverse influences you claim into cohesive songs?
JW: I think that while the vocabulary and swing/groove of the music differs from genre to genre, the core, fundamental musical skill of being a good listener is the same no matter your background. So, the gotta be good and cool rule comes into play again.
We are all open to different styles and spend a lot of rehearsal time listening to each other play and trying to find a common ground in interpretation. Trust also plays a big role. When I bring a song into the band, I usually have a rough framework and a few specifics. And, I'll have a direction or concept, but I trust that the band is going to do something cool with it. Most likely cooler than I would have come up with. I rarely script everything out. That's why most of the tunes we write are credited to Tubaluba. The common New Orleans vocabulary helps as well. There are a lot of, "what would Shorty (or Dr. John or Fess or whomever) do?", conversations.
SW: It’s a unique sound for Seattle, are you all from there? What influence do you pull from your home city?
JW: We're not. Most of the members are from other places around the country. We've all been here for at least a decade though. The rock n roll influence of our adopted home city definitely comes into play quite a bit. Which, plays really nicely with New Orleans because of the high energy and they are both, musically speaking, based in the blues. We just happen to have a tuba instead of a bass guitar and our lead guitar is a trombone... But, the current funk/jazz/soul climate of Seattle is definitely a big influence as well. Especially on our younger players who came up in that vibrant scene. Of course, those styles also share a lot of ground with New Orleans. If you think of a musical Venn diagram of New Orleans and Seattle, we spend most of our time in the middle section.
SW: How do you incorporate the feeling of street parade? Talk to me about your live performances. What do you want to convey to people when they leave your shows?
JW: The most obvious way is when we do our tubalubradour bit where we play marching instruments and go into the crowd. Sometimes, quite literally, taking them out into the street. More generally, most of what we do on stage is about getting the audience involved and swept up with the whole scene: The sounds, the dancing, the party atmosphere.
To me, a second line is all about getting swept up and lost in the music and movement for however long your mind lets that happen. It's always celebratory, even when you are celebrating the life of someone who has passed. It's the slow walk to the grave site and the cake walk back equation.
We're always striving to make our live show a rock n roll tent revival. We try to use the energy of a rock show to inspire celebration. My hope is that when people leave our show they've had a very visceral experience. Whatever problems people have come in with are going to be there when they leave. But, like sticking your face in a bucket of ice water, dancing, singing at the top of your lungs, and just being silly for a while can have a very cathartic effect. I want people to leave feeling happy and optimistic and ready to tackle whatever it is they need to tackle.
We're not solving specific problems or expressing ennui here (both of which, I suppose, can be cathartic in their own right, in the right hands). We are trying to give the audience some unbridled joy for a while to help keep things in balance. It's the New Orleans way. Those are some strong people down there who have to deal with a lot of shit. I'm convinced their strength comes, in part, from keeping perspective by celebrating, and not forgetting, the good things.
SW: Would you say your sound is more contemporary or traditional?
JW: I would say we are more contemporary. We all definitely love the trad jazz thing and I think the vocabulary of trad jazz is central to all New Orleans music. But, bands like Rebirth or the Dirty Dozen or Trombone Shorty are our reference point most of the time.