With the ability to go into any environment imaginable and instantly change the boring and mundane to the exciting and invigorating, the power of a lively brass band is poignant and emphatic — and helps make you dance like a crazed fanatic. Providence’s What Cheer? Brigade, a band that fulfills that notion in brilliant fashion, have been getting people to shake, groove, and bust a move by blowing their horns since the group’s inception at India Point Park located in the Rhode Island city’s east side back in 2005. On Monday, they’ll be creating a frenzy at the Middle East in Cambridge for an Illegally Blind and Boston Hassle-curated bash with Boston noise makers Guerilla Toss, Chicago psych-punks Toupee, and local frenetic DIY punks (New England) Patriots.
Vanyaland had a chat with founding member and tuba player Daniel Schleifer about the band celebrating their decade of existence this year, avoiding getting busted by the cops, dealing with 18 different people playing music together, and what gravitates people towards brass.
Rob Duguay: Looking back at the past 10 years of being in the What Cheer? Brigade, what’s the most satisfying feeling you have?
Daniel Schleifer: The best shows are the ones where everything comes together and we bring people something unexpected in a place where they’re not expecting it to happen. We connect, it feels like everyone from the musicians to audience is a full participant and it’s something magical. A really good example of this would be our last Boston show. We were scheduled to play at this warehouse space but it fell through at the last minute so we ended up playing in a park late at night and we had this makeshift lighting set up with a bunch of candles and stuff. Everybody showed up and danced wicked hard and it was an amazing show where people’s sense of what could happen in a park late at night was transformed for 35 minutes. Then we all disappeared. That’s the most satisfying feeling with all the things we do, the way we surprise people and all the work we do to plan on how we’re going to engage the audience.
Every time I’ve gone to a What Cheer? Brigade show the energy is infectious, you can’t really help but dance and move to the rhythms. With playing in places like a public park, a warehouse, the middle of a street and a parking garage, what’s the craziest and most unusual place the band has ever played at?
We got two, actually. There was an abandoned bowling alley on the east side of Providence where we played in once, which was pretty magical and amazing. Also on our most recent tour we played a secret outdoor show in this abandoned park in Barcelona which was pretty amazing too because the crowd wasn’t told that we were going to be playing there, they were just told to show up at this place and something awesome would happen. They trusted what they were being told, they showed up and it was a great show.
With playing these abandoned spots there’s always a risk of cops crashing the place or a neighbor calling the police to bust the party. Is it on pure luck that these shows go on without a hitch most of the time? How does it work out that when you guys play these underground shows that the fuzz isn’t coming to break it up?
Well they do sometimes for sure, it definitely happens. We were playing in Ashfield, Massachusetts, the other night that was actually at a bar and it was a promoted show and the cops still showed up. The cops often do show up but we’ve been lucky enough to know just how far we can push it, finish a song and the kind of back off. The closest we’ve ever gotten to having anybody getting arrested was when we played in Times Square during Hurricane Sandy back in 2012. A police officer actually grabbed drumsticks out of one of our drummer’s hands when we were literally 20 seconds from the end of the song so he pulled out another pair and finished the song. As soon as he was done he just dropped them and walked away, put his hands up, shrugged at the cop and the cop was really close to arresting him but it was over.
We dispersed so quickly after that so whatever crowd control problem the police thought they were experiencing was quickly resolved. It’s been a mixture of luck and caution I guess, but yeah the police have definitely shown up on occasion. Actually at that Boston show I was talking about, we left the park right after the whole thing and a couple stragglers told us later that five minutes after we left and the crowd had completely dispersed the police actually did show up. They looked and there was nobody there as with the end of every party and they just scratched their heads and went on their way. I guess one thing that’s good is that since we don’t rely on a sound system, when we finish playing we just walk away and everybody is carrying an instrument. We don’t put ourselves in a situation where something gets busted and we have to hang around packing up equipment or we have to leave and then come back to get our equipment or anything like that. The mobility is definitely very helpful.
What is the most difficult and what is the most rewarding thing about managing a band with 18 members?
All the logistics that typically go into a band of five members, just multiply that. There’s a lot of stuff to keep track of, a lot of schedules to coordinate, it’s all of the logistics that go into any bands times 18. I think the most rewarding thing is when all 18 people are all musically together and we’re doing our best to engage the crowd. Just working together and communicating non verbally over the course of a set, that’s pretty rewarding.
It must be insane managing all of these personalities but I bet you all must feel like a family at this point, especially with the more seasoned members.
Definitely, there’s absolutely a feeling of it being a family.
When you see festivals like the ones happening later this year with HONK! happening in Somerville and PRONK! taking place at India Point Park in Providence, it’s mind-blowing to see how many brass bands from all over the world come and play these things. At least 20 bands from all over the planet will come play these festivals and it’s a huge party out in the middle of the streets and parks of both cities. What do you think makes people gravitate to brass music? Do you think it’s a nostalgia thing from people being in high school marching bands?
I think it really has to do with having the opportunity to have a musical experience that feels just as loud, crazy and overwhelming as any rock show but has some of the intimacy that comes with an acoustic performance. That’s where the potential of these bands really lie in the fact that we can be just as loud and intense as any punk band but we’re able to really interact with the audience in a direct way without the need for any electricity or anything else mediating our interaction with the crowd.
The contrast does make it very original. There’s no sound system involved so everything is unplugged but you have the intensity that’ll match any rock band. After the show on Monday, what does the What Cheer? Brigade have planned for the rest of the summer?
Well, we just got back from Europe about three weeks ago. We were on tour from June 3 to the 22nd and we played in Berlin, Amsterdam, Paris, Grenoble, Barcelona, the Basque Country, we were all over and it was good. For the rest of the summer we got some good weekend trips planned. We’ll be in Maine in August and we’ll be in Quebec City at the end of July as well.
Can we expect any albums or EPs coming from you guys anytime soon?
We have such a huge batch of unrecorded material right now and we’re definitely planning on recording something in the fall so stay tuned for that.