Interview: Reggie Pace and Bryan Hooten, NO BS! Brass Band
Longtime local favorites NO BS! Brass Band describe their signature riff on jazz and funk as the “Richmond sound” – a blend of influences that ranges from church music and Wynton Marsalis to Led Zeppelin, treasured film soundtracks, and more. Ahead of the release of their upcoming album Undying (June 22), members Reggie Pace and Bryan Hooten and I caught up about what makes Richmond unique and how the city has influenced their sound.
Note: Interview edited for clarity.
AP: I'm here with Reggie Pace and Bryan Hooten of the NO BS! Brass Band, who describe their signature “Richmond sound” as a blend between classic New Orleans brass, East Coast funk, and more. So, Reggie and Bryan, as a bit of an introduction, would you mind telling us about your individual musical backgrounds?
Reggie Pace: Yeah, I mean, I came to Richmond in around 2001 to go to VCU Music. I grew up in Hampton, so I sang in the church choir, played in marching band, and all those kinds of things. I came to Richmond to learn how to play music proper. I didn't know what to do after marching band – but I knew I wanted to write music. I knew I wanted to travel. I knew I wanted to meet other musicians. So I felt like Richmond was a good place for that.
Bryan Hooten: Yeah, I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, and my dad was the band director at a little private college there. So I grew up being around band, the jazz band and the pep band, and he was a trombone player. So of course, I became a trombone player. I went to school at Southern Miss, had a really great trombone teacher and jazz teacher there, and then came up to study jazz trombone at VCU and met all the all the players of No BS Brass and Bio Ritmo and a lot of other bands, Matthew White and Fight the Big Bull, and just have been here ever since making music.
AP: Are there any people or albums in particular who have influenced your work?
BH: My dad, and then I had that trombone teacher at Southern Miss named Marta Hofacre. And Larry Panella, who taught jazz improvisation at Southern Miss. Part of the reason I came up here was to study with Tony Garcia, who directed the jazz program at VCU was also a trombone player and really inspired a lot of my creative and entrepreneur output.
RP: The Lincoln Center Big Band -- back in the day, when I was a kid, I got really into Wynton Marsalis. And that band, of course, is like the first jazz CD anybody will put into a kid's hand sometimes. So I love that. Individually, I would say I was inspired by working with my church with my parents, Reverend Evans at our church, Dan Napl, who was my middle school band director. He was a percussionist for the Virginia Symphony for a very long time.
All the great brass players from movie soundtracks are my biggest influence, I would say. You know – the way the trombone section sounds on a John Williams orchestra while you listen to Star Wars, or to any of those big recordings, any of the cool Danny Elfman, or Hans Zimmer soundtracks, that big giant group brass sound I definitely gravitated towards. NO BS is a part of that – this big wall of brass. I love that sound, the Rocky soundtrack, of course, all of those. Bryan, which Star Wars would you say is your best for brass?
BH: Oh, I think Empire Strikes Back might be the best.
The first CD that I ever bought when CDs became a thing was the soundtrack to Jurassic Park. And it's funny because in one of our tunes on the new album, there's a little passage in there that I wrote, and somebody else in the band was like, “man, that sounds exactly like this thing in Jurassic Park.” So that's all in there.
RP: It's all in there, it gets stuck in. In middle school jazz band, that was always the coolest thing – “oh, we’re going to play Peter Gunn,” or [James] Bond, or something like that.
Growing up and learning to be a musician, especially as a brass player, a lot of the music you get is just learning how to play the horn at all. So, you're talking “Hot Cross Buns,” music that isn't music anybody's ever heard before. When you get to stage band, or jazz band, finally all these rhythms are on paper. That definitely unlocked something inside of me – “oh, the music that I hear can be made by me.”
AP: So let's talk about this “Richmond sound.” What are some of the elements of Richmond that you feel have left their mark on your music?
RP: The river being here allows for people to chill in some ways. No matter how bad it gets in certain parts of California, you can always just go to the beach, you know what I mean? So the river has this vibe about it – you can always just go relax at the river, you can just slow down and try to make a thing, as opposed to someone stepping on the back of your heels in New York. It’s a very different pace, if you will.
All of the influence of the bajillion churches around has a little bit of gospel flair, R&B flair, that’s unmistakable. Just being an art town opens Richmond up, I think, to all the genres. There's a lot of punk rock, a lot of heavy metal.
BH: Proximity to a lot of other cities as well. I mean, you can get to Philadelphia in a day, you can, like we used to do, drive up to New York and play and drive back in, you know, 12 hours or so – well, more than 12, probably like 24. But you're close to all these other epicenters of art and culture.
Coming from Alabama and Mississippi – and Reggie's family comes from Mississippi, right? – You know, Richmond is halfway between New England and the Deep South. So I definitely think influences from both of those places all come together. You know, when I first came to town, I joined a salsa band. There’s influences from all over.
AP: It is great, I think how many different styles of music have scenes in Richmond, you know, the variety of music you can find here.
I think you guys have mentioned being influenced by Led Zeppelin and pop and rock and all these other kinds of different spheres of music that you wouldn't necessarily connect with jazz at first glance. I'm wondering if you can talk a little more about that.
RP: We haven't really talked much about rock – our drummer Lance comes out of the rock background, even though he's extremely versatile and lived in New Orleans for a while, and you really can nail that style. The urgency, the “in your face”-ness, like, we are not a laid-back band. As far as the way the music is performed, it is upfront, you know, football game music.
Sometimes, we will pare it down for dramatic effects, in order to make sure we have lots of different sounds. With lots of different horns, we can create small groups – “two trumpets, and a trombone doing this,” you know, “a saxophone doing that.” Now that we have Sam Reed, we can have a vocalist and a trombone together.
BH: Yeah, I would just add that even beyond music, we are influenced by, just like we talked about, film and TV. Reggie has a whole suite of tunes that are inspired by Kung Fu movies, not just the music, but the plot as well. A couple of the tunes that I've written for this new record are influenced by science fiction authors that I really like. With Sam Reed in the band, she has her vocal personality and her lyricism that influence the way the band sounds as well. We try to kind of bring all of our life experience and our aesthetic experiences to bear on the sound.
RP: Pop music, too. You know, since we have a voice in the rhythm section – great Michael Jackson recordings and Curtis Mayfield recordings have horn parts, Stevie Wonder recordings have horn parts that are paramount to the song. I love Quincy Jones. I love James Brown. The horn section is a voice.
AP: And you mentioned you have new music coming out. Can you tell me more about the new album?
RP: Well, it is done. It is done-done. We have released two singles and a kind of a third song that we did a live video for. We have some really, really great videos for Bryan’s song “Undying,” which is also the title track.
The whole album will drop June 22. We're very excited about it. It has a lot of different types of sounds, a culmination of all the things that we do. And we're also about, I would say 60-some percent through another record, to be right on the heels of this one. Over quarantine, we've been pretty productive.
AP: That's about all the time we have – is there anything else that you want to add before we sign off?
RP: I just want to say thank you for all the people who have listened to us throughout these years. I mean, I started this band with Lance back in 2006, and couldn't have imagined that I would still be talking about it to anybody. So that's amazing. The city has been very supportive for us.
When I wrote “RVA All Day,” it was definitely my attempt to have our own football team of the city. You know, we’re traveling all over the world telling people about Richmond, and we're going to continue to do so. And I thank everybody for all the support. So please check out the new music – it's a lot of it, it's very cool. Please check out the old music! A lot of people don't even know that we have six albums or seven albums. All of it's on Spotify. We're going to do some small interviews, little podcast versions of each song with the composers, so look out for that through The Hustle Season Network, which is through my podcast The Hustle Season Podcast. Just look up “NO BS Brass” on Instagram and anywhere else. And, if you see us out in the streets, you can say “what's up” and we’ll tell you about the music.
BH: Yeah, thanks everyone.