Double Interview: The Brass Messengers & Tree Party

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Co-headliners The Brass Messengers and Tree Party celebrate not one, not two, but THREE new album releases at The Cedar this Thursday, August 25th. Tree Party will be releasing their new album Shelterbelt along with a 7″ titled Weight Off//Drones, while The Brass Messengers will release their newest record, Thigmonasty.

These two Minnesotan groups pull inspiration from the Midwest. Tree Party’s second release Iced Over: Thawing Minnesota’s Local Lore, is an album built entirely around research done on Minnesotan small towns, supported by the 2013 Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board received by member Joey Ford. The Brass Messengers originally came from a more global perspective born out of the Mayday Parade, but later settled into their own sound.

Since it’s a co-headlined bill, we decided to interview both bands in advance of the show. Tickets ($12 Advance/$15 Day of show) are still available online, by phone, ​and at Depth of Field, Electric Fetus, and The Cedar during shows.

We spoke to Tony Randazzo of The Brass Messengers about the band’s conception, growth, and activism.

Q: How did The Brass Messengers form?

A: Randazzo: The Brass Messengers are an offshoot of the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater‘s Mayday Celebration. We formed from members of a number of the parade bands who wanted to dig deeper into brass band music from around the world that was making it into our ears.  It was the music of the Les Miserables Brass Band and their global mix, the Balkan Brass of Fanfare Ciocarlia (who played The Cedar on April 26th) and Boban Markovic, and brass bands from Europe (France in particular), Africa and Latin America that really formed the inspiration of those first years.  A few years into the group, some of our members realized we could write our own music for brass, also knowing that we weren’t brought up in any of the traditions we were inspired by.   We were never going to become ace Balkan players.  Since then, we’ve move toward creating our own sound.  Initially it was sort of derivative, but has, at this point, become a sound all it’s own.

Q: How would you describe your music?
A: Randazzo: Our music is really it’s own thing.  It’s made to move the listener, both physically and emotionally.  We’ve got a few songwriters that are bringing new sounds to the table, bringing oddball time signatures, epic western movie score songs, remembrance music and songs to move to.   Fundamentally the music is about celebration.   It’s appropriate to whatever space it comes to occupy.  Celebrating street life, remembering lives of lost loved ones, bring folks together on a dance floor or for the long haul or just taking it in however it moves the soul.  We’re still inspired by so many sounds from around the globe, and give learn songs we like, but we do it in our own Minnesota way.

Q: What are the challenges of working with such a large group of musicians?

A: Randazzo: Haha. Good one. Egos, pathos, herding cats, ridiculous jokes, ya know. The better question would be “what are the joys……” To that, I’d say 12 musical minds that each come to this from a different direction.  At times, the parts fit so nicely, and at other times ideas fester for months, even years. But being a tight group of friends, ideas do come around, and we keep doing it because we know they do. Having so many talented people in the room together for so many years if really a bit of a miracle.

Q: You’re a part of HONK, a group of activist street bands. What drew you to this group?

A: Randazzo: We joined up with the HONK movement on the second year in Sommerville, MA. We’ve been to HONK! as a band or individuals at this point all over the globe and it’s such a joy to be a part of what is truly a profound movement of street band music. We ended up in the HONK! community through our puppet connections as HONK! at the beginning came from those same activist theater band beginnings.  HONK! has opened up so many possibilities for performers on so many levels. Over the past decade it’s seen ragtag musicians from all over the globe become truly accomplished touring ensembles, and spawned the growth of ideas like the School Of HONK that gives anyone who shows up an instrument, they learn a few songs, and hit the streets parading. The real beauty of HONK! is that it is bringing music to the street in a joyful and celebratory way and it brings people to the street to engage with each other.

Q: What’s inspiring you right now?

A: Randazzo: Each of the Brass Messengers find inspiration from so many directions so to name names would leave out too many. But you hear it in the playing from members steeped in Jazz to those from the heavy metal side of the ledger and those who still get the most out of the enormous possibilities in music from every corner of the planet, and really from any instrumentation.  Since we each come to it from our own angle, and none of us are deeply ingrained in any one tradition of our ancestors, it means that inspiration can come from anywhere.   In our case, I suppose it makes our sound uniquely Midwestern.

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We spoke to Joey Ford of Tree Party about the group’s formation and ever-changing inspirations.

Q: How did Tree Party form?

A: Ford: In 2009,  Andy and I met and started writing music together in North Dakota. We had the whole summer to learn Hank Williams songs out in the Badlands and when we got back to the city, we just kept writing. Andy brought his friend Travis on board, who was from his hometown of Park Rapids, and I invited Jenna, my then-roommate-now-wife, to play with us too. Hank Williams and the Badlands stuck with us for a while as we kept writing old-time country music and traveled around to small town bars and town festivals. Our original music started taking over the set until we weren’t really a cover band anymore.

Q: How would you describe your music?

A: Ford: In short, Americana. Our instrumentation always keeps us in that Americana wheelhouse with acoustic guitar, bass, electric guitar, violin, accordion, mandolin, and drums. We still draw from those country roots we started with in the beginning, but our writing has wandered in and out of blues and rock. We don’t really stick to one thing. With all four of us writing songs for the band, there’s bound to be a lot of crossover within genres.

Q: Each of your three albums have had their own overarching concepts, how does the process of writing music change when you have a specific goal in mind?

A: Ford: We’ve found that when working on a project with a specific goal in mind, one person usually steps into the role of composer/writer/director and the rest of the band comes in a bit later and is more supportive. Andy wrote most of the music for 7-Shot Symphony and Joey took the reins with Iced Over. The rest of the band added their parts on each of these projects, really filling out the ideas set forth by the writers. That’s how we’re able to still keep a “Tree Party Sound.” The exciting thing about these two albums that we’re releasing on Aug 25th (“Shelterbelt” and a 7″ vinyl “Weight Off/ Drones”) is that everyone in the band collaborated on the same level and the songs’ formation happened more organically.

Q: Can you speak more in depth about the process of your last album, Iced Over, as well as your upcoming releases, Shelterbelt and Weight Off/Drones?

A: Ford: After receiving an Artist Initiative Grant from The Minnesota State Arts Board I traveled to small towns all over Minnesota and researched local legends that were, for the most part, completely unknown to the rest of the state.  I brought that stories that spoke to me in song form to the band and we all rounded out the songs with each of our parts.  We also brought some of the Brass Messengers on board for the project on a few songs.  It was a great way to learn about the state and share the history that I learned through our music.

“Shelterbelt” is a collection of songs we recorded over 3 years ago and for various reasons (a fire at the recording studio, etc.) we were unable to finish the project until now.  We are very excited to finally release this material.  When you listen to the tracks on the album you can hear who we were as artists back then and get a good feeling of where we are headed with our music now.

“Weight Off/ Drones” is a 7″ vinyl put out by Hymie’s Vintage Records and is made up of two of our most current and exciting tracks that we have produced.  The material that we will be releasing at The Cedar on Aug. 25th represents an artistic process that we began with when we recorded our first album “Hot Iron Branded”.  Although there is not a specific theme throughout the new albums, you can feel a cohesive style unique to each project.

Q: What’s inspiring you right now?

A: Ford: Inspiration lately has been showing itself through playing new instruments that we are less familiar with. Each of us have other projects that we’re involved in and you can hear some of those influences and experiences coming through each new song. Having a specific concept or idea with a deadline helps with productivity, but right now we’re just curious to see where we each end up musically and how that will shape the next stage of Tree Party.

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