Band strives for brass appeal

No BS! group goes for a big sound that’s ‘pure, raw, dirty’

CorrespondentDecember 20, 2012 

No Brass Band comes to the Pour House on Saturday.

COURTESY OF ADAM EWING

  • More information Who: No BS! Brass Band, with Elikeh When: 10 p.m. Saturday Where: The Pour House Music Hall, 224 S. Blount St. Cost: $6 ($8 at the door) Details: 919-821-1120; www.thepourhousemusichall.com

Is there ever a bad time to see a brass band funk it up all over the place?

Drummer Lance Koehler thinks not, which may explain why he co-founded the No BS! Brass Band, a collective of musicians who are adept at tearing the roof off.

During a No BS! Brass Band set, you’ll hear some original brass ditties. But you may also hear covers of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” or A-ha’s “Take On Me” or even Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

“We really just have always done whatever songs we want to do,” says Koehler, on the phone from Richmond, Va., the band’s homebase.

“No sort of preconceived structure about, you know, what songs are cool or what genres are OK to touch and what ones aren’t. We just kind of do whatever we want, even in our original songs.”

Koehler, a Texas native who has spent most of his career as a traveling musician and recording engineer, says he got the itch to start a brass band after spending time in New Orleans.

“Basically, I was doing a lot of traveling around the country, and I ended up in New Orleans,” he says. “And I’ve always loved that flavor of music. And so I ended up learning a lot about it while I was there.”

In 2006, Koehler and trombonist Reggie Pace (who also performs with Bon Iver) rounded up a crew to make up their 10-piece collective, which features four trombonists, three trumpeters, a saxophonist and a guy on tuba.

“Most of the guys in the band are from more of a jazz/classical side,” says Koehler. “I went to school and learned that side too. But I definitely come from a more punk-rock/rock-and-roll side of things.”

By the time the band released their first album, “Where’s Stefan,” in 2007, they eventually meshed their influences and became one heavily funky, heavily experimental unit. “I can’t say it exactly turned out that way,” he says.

“You know, once we got into it, then we sort of happened onto what became our sound … We definitely had a vision for it that came across in what we are now. But, you know, it did sort of snowball into what it is.”

Koehler says it helps that they all live in Richmond, a city that has an eclectic musical community.

After all, this is the town that gave us Aimee Mann, D’Angelo and the late Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse, to name a few.

“Yeah, I think definitely a lot of people don’t know about the Richmond sound,” he says. “And even if they do know a lot of the bands that have come out of Richmond, they don’t necessarily know that they are from Richmond. It’s like really a rock-and-roll, punk-rock kind of no-frills sort of town. The music is sort of pure, raw, dirty.”

Pure, raw and dirty are some things No BS! isn’t afraid to get, especially when it comes to performing covers during live shows.

“The ones that tend to stick, I mean, are the ones that are maybe a little bit different, like ‘Tom Sawyer,’” says Koehler.

“You might not hear that done by a brass band. For one thing, it’s not the same sort of feel that most brass bands do. But it’s kind of a ballbuster. It’s pretty hard to play on the horns.”

Koehler admits there have been some numbers the band couldn’t pull off. “Just because a song is one of our favorites doesn’t mean it actually will be able to translate onto the horns probably.”

The two that immediately come to mind are Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me with Science” and Hall and Oates’ “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do).” He says with a laugh, “Those two didn’t stick.”

The No BS! Brass Band is looking forward to a happy new year once their latest album, titled “RVA All Day,” drops in January. “It’s by far the best record we’ve done – the best-sounding record,” he says. “We just put more thought into the record as a whole.”

They will continue to tour the country, setting off a party wherever they perform. As Koehler says, “There’s basically no party like a brass band party.”

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