Song Writing

Reggie Pace of No BS! Brass Band

by Dan MacIntosh

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The leader of the 12-piece, Richmond-based No BS! Brass Band explains what the songs are saying with their music.

There was a lull between acts during the latter moments of the Music Tastes Good festival in Long Beach when the sound of music filled the air. That wasn't unusual; it was a music festival, after all. This music wasn't coming from a stage, though. Rather, it was emanating from around a big neon Music Tastes Good sign. Without microphones (the singer was actually singing out of a megaphone) the members of No BS! Brass Band were giving an impromptu performance for those waiting for the next stage performers.

Fans made a circle around the band while they played an eclectic set, including songs by a-ha and Michael Jackson. This was feel-good music, from a feel-good-music band mostly comprised of talented brass musicians. Everybody was having a good time, and that's what No BS! Brass Band is all about.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): So, Reggie, what's the process of the band? How do you write songs?

Reggie Pace: There's several ways of doing it. Sometimes a guy will come to the band with a song completely done. It will be an open paper and we can just read it and change the feel to get it done - we can do little tricks here and there. And then sometimes a person will come to the band with just a couple of ideas, and then we'll string them together because we have 12 people.

Songfacts: Right. That's a big group.

Pace: Mm Hmm. So we work in sections. Like, the trombone section will figure out how we're going to voice a chord and what our rhythmic motion is going to be, and then the trumpets with the melody stuff will kind of do the same thing. We recently got a new vocalist, but we were doing our own vocalist stuff before.

Songfacts: Yeah, I noticed that the video had a female vocalist - is she a member?

Pace: Yup. Sammy [Reed] is the newest member of our band. We're writing a record now and we're figuring out how it feels to get in and out of her way because we put in and out a lot of sound. So we get out of the way for her sound, then we bring her songwriting ability which comes to the table, and we'll work the melodies around. It's actually pretty exciting.

Songfacts: Do you have a title for the record?

Pace: I think the record is going be called "Voices." I had thought to call it "The Brassterpiece" [laughs], but that's just a thought at the moment.

Songfacts: You guys are from West Virginia?

Pace: No, regular Virginia. West Virginia is like their own country.

Songfacts: Do you guys come up with music first and then add words, or do you do both at the same time?

Pace: It depends on the song. Sometimes the song starts with the melody first and then we kind of write around it, and then there's other songs which we'll have the song and try to figure out the lyrics after that, especially with hip-hop where I have the idea of what they want the song to be about and then we just give the writer free rein after we have the music part.

Songfacts: And who writes the words?

Pace: People in the band. Bryan Hooten writes words when he's singing, Marcus [Tenney] writes when he's singing, me and Lance. On this new record, Sam I'm sure will be doing some writing for her own lyrics.

Songfacts: So, whoever does the singing generally writes the words.

Pace: Yeah, pretty much. And then we always have a collective idea of how the song ends up. We work together really well, editing things and making a song longer or shorter, or "do we want this to have a solo section or should something dynamic happen right here," you know. We take a lot of time to orchestrate things.

Songfacts: It seems like a great time to have an album called "Voices" because so many people are fighting to have their voices heard. Is that entering into the creation of the album?

Pace: Yeah. Everything about the world definitely plays into our music. We talk about concepts together all the time. We don't necessarily put it online, but we talk about it all the time. We talk about the state of our local politics together.

Songfacts: Are you on the same page politically?

Pace: Most of us are. We have some arguments about things, for sure, as a group.

I did an interview with Rachel Martin [of NPR] and she was like, "How come there's no women in the band?" This was a couple of years ago, and I was like, "We're always on the lookout," and I actually was on the lookout.

It was an idea I had to really bring it together because we're a bunch of different types of people: we have some rock n' rollers, we have some academic types in the band. One of our guys is a financial analyst - that's his day job.

Songfacts: Do you have a day job?

Pace: No, I just lead this.

Songfacts: And what do you play?

Pace: Trombone.

Songfacts: So lower brass.

Pace: Low brass and then singing.

Songfacts: Ok, you sing too.

Pace: More like background stuff. My other gigs are playing with Bon Iver, and playing with Sufjan Stephens. Mainly rockers.

Songfacts: So, what was the inspiration to form the band?

Pace: I knew a lot of great horn players. We were a legit group of friends in the city.

Core players always have to be kind of sidemen, like two or three horns here or one horn there. We were just so many and we were playing New Orleans jazz music together all the time, so it was like, "We should just be a band and write all our own music and write about our hometown and be a collective that way." And we did it. We've been together for about 12 years, and our city really embraces us because we don't pretend to be from New Orleans - we don't pretend to be something we aren't.

We're really trying to carve something unique out, but in its uniqueness everyone kind of relates to the sound. Everyone went to high school and heard bands of the past with big horn sections like Earth, Wind & Fire, Chicago, Bruce Springsteen. The disco era had huge orchestras in them. There's always been a big horn place in everyone's ear, and I feel like we're really getting that.

Songfacts: Do you think brass is coming back?

Pace: I don't know. We're coming back [laughs]. We're bringing it back.

Songfacts: What inspired you to become a musician?

Pace: I was always doing music since church choir as a kid, and being in a band in school, I loved listening to music. I loved listening to Michael Jackson and all that cool orchestration.

I loved movie soundtracks. I would talk to my friends about it and then realize, Oh, I'm the only person really listening to movie soundtracks by himself. And then you find your people eventually in high school.

Songfacts: Right. I have a friend like that who listens differently. He watches the movie and he listens to the movie. You probably do the same thing.

Pace: I love it. Everybody knows so many melodies that don't have words to them because of John Williams and these big Star Wars sounds and Superman sounds. Even still, the new movies have amazing soundtracks and I love the way that brass sounds. That's definitely very influential on me - like how there's brass in the London Symphony Orchestra and all those great places, like the Chicago Orchestra.

Songfacts: Can you think of two or three songs that you're most proud of as a band, and explain what they are about?

Pace: That's a lot to ask - there are like six albums. OK, let me just tell you about the ones that are right on now.

"3am Bounce" is a song about having long conversations about the state of the world and politics, and really getting into it late at night. The beginning of the song has that drama in it, and then it finally unfolds into this groove. It starts huge like a movie and then it unfolds into this groove, and that's us remembering that we're friends and still talking through things. Being upset about things doesn't really change that we all have to go about our day tomorrow.

So, it's like you take a second to breathe and there's a moment in the music where everything drops out except the trombone section, and it's like that [long exhale]...

Then the song keeps going and it unfolds: We aren't going to stop fighting for what we think is right.

Songfacts: OK, what's another song?

Pace: "Brass Scene Kidz." I can't speak to all of the meanings of the lyrics - Reggie Chapman wrote that one - but it unfolds in a brassy way of, "You don't know who I am, let me tell you who I am," as opposed to you telling me what you think I am.

I'm just looking for freedom, looking for clarity and freedom, so that's what that is about. And the music again takes you on a huge journey: a big opening bass trombone solo stating the point, going into the "finding yourself" section, which has a dark, dissonant feel, exploding into a huge rock and roll party, then a solo, and then out.

Songfacts: I like how you describe it. The music is making the statement, not the words.

Pace: Exactly. So that's a great one.

"Fun Around" is about being in a relationship that you probably shouldn't be in anymore. It's like, "I thought we were on the same page... I'm running around in circles, and you're running around in circles." That's got a very Meters vibe and bounce to it.

Songfacts: Yeah, the Meters are great.

Pace: "RVA All Day" is a pep rally song for our city, Richmond, Virginia - we call it RVA. It feels like a pep rally, like cheerleaders are running around. And it's just loud, like a theme song if you will. Our team is like a football team, so it's like we're the football team.

Songfacts: How did you discover the music that you love?

Pace: New Orleans music?

Songfacts: Yeah.

Pace: Once you start studying the trombone seriously, you have the classical repertoire and then you end up in reggae and ska and then New Orleans. So, in high school, I was playing in any kind of band they would let me play in - in college too. So, you start learning salsa, you start learning all these styles - that's how I stumbled across New Orleans music.

Once you start studying jazz, you gotta talk about Louis Armstrong, and there you go, it's all right there. When you start studying the history of pop music, you have to go through what he was saying and how jazz was started, it all leads back to New Orleans.

Songfacts: I went to New Orleans one time, and right there in the airport they had this big picture of Louis Armstrong.

Pace: American culture. He was THE trumpeter.

Songfacts: Right. Before he was a vocalist.

Pace: You could go through recordings of Louis Armstrong and find something that sounds like every era of jazz. In the '30s, the '40s, you'll be hearing him through gravy, free jazz stuff. He was doing it all - he was smoking everybody.

There was nobody else getting paid, you know. There are still amazing Louis Armstrong solos that as brass players, you really have to hear to play well. Clearly, the gods - he and Duke Ellington - should be a part of American history as far as art is concerned. The greatest American composer, Duke Ellington.

November 26, 2018
Get more at nobsbrass.com

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