As the bandleader for PitchBlak Brass Band, Chanell “Tuba Fresh” Crichlow’s main goal was – and still is – to have a band that’s as original as her nickname. “When we first started, that was, like, one of our things that we’d always say and be on top of, when it came to our clothing and our haircuts and our music,” says Crichlow, 27, on the phone from New York.
Born in Manhattan and based in Brooklyn, the sousaphone-playing Crichlow got the idea for a brass band while studying music at Penn State. “I was making notes and just coming up with ideas and stuff,” she says. “And after that, when I got done with school for that summer, I started to contact all these people that I knew from school and from high school, and I just asked them, ‘Do you wanna be in this band?’ ”
Unlike other brass bands, the 3-year-old PitchBlak is a 10-piece brass band that specializes in hip-hop rather than jazz and funk. Crichlow, who shares MC duties with four other members, wanted the band to stand out in that regard.
“That was my whole point, to make a brass band that was all about hip-hop,” she says. “Because I had seen other brass bands do, like, some rapping here and there, and not in all their songs… But I really wanted kind of hardcore – kind of, like, this is the street, and not so pretty.”
Being a brass band that only traffics in hip-hop made some people (which included some of the members) a bit unsure about the band’s future. “Even our members at some point thought, ‘Oh, I wanna write a funk tune,’ ” says Crichlow. “I’m like, ‘No, I don’t wanna do funk.’ I’m tired of seeing brass bands do funk and play jazz and stuff … I really wanted to expand the thought and expand people’s expectations of what they expect when they hear a brass band. So that was really the whole concept on it. I really wanted to move forward and I wanted to be current in today’s music.”
Another thing that sets the band apart is the number of women. Along with Crichlow, the band has three women on saxophone, trombone and drums.
“I didn’t want to be the only woman in the band,” says Crichlow, who also adds that their mixed makeup has made certain brass bands do double takes. “We played a show not too long ago with a brass band – a pretty famous one – and they were surprised. They had never seen a woman play the tuba, in all their years. Maybe they’re 40-something. Maybe they’re 50-something. They’ve never seen in their entire lives a woman play the tuba, and that’s crazy to me, you know.”
Nevertheless, PitchBlak managed to get a full-length debut done and released last fall. Titled “You See Us,” the album was funded thanks to a Kickstarter campaign. They ended up not only reaching their $10,000 goal, but getting nearly another two grand to go along with it. They’re now touring around the country, making a stop this weekend at Durham Central Park’s Spring Food Truck Rodeo.
This is the first of many N.C. shows they’re doing this month. (They’ll be back next weekend for a gig at Pour House Music Hall in Raleigh.) “I feel like North Carolina – the location is prime,” says Crichlow. “It’s been really hard to kind of, for a lot of bands, to get gigs around that Triangle. And we’ve been super-blessed to do three, four shows in North Carolina this tour.”
It’ll be interesting to see how this brass-carrying rap crew will bring da ruckus to Tar Heel audiences.