They're Here, They Cheer, Get Used to It

Providence, R.I.'s 19-piece

thunders into Baltimore this evening, bringing its polyglot, anarcho take on the old-fashioned marching band to Atomic Books for a free performance at 5 p.m. and, later, to the Lo-Fi Social Club. Boasting a repertoire mixing traditional Balkan and New Orleans brass band with samba, hip-hop, and Bollywood tunes, the 3-year-old group has been invited to play--or just crash--events as diverse as its influences: from weddings and rock clubs to European festivals and the Dunkin' Donuts drive-thru. Noise caught up with chimpanzee-costumed percussionist William "Chop Chop" Schaff on the eve of the Brigade's current tour to discuss school band geeks, travel logistics, and the Mount Royal Tavern.


Why brass instruments?

We all love loud and exciting music. Not everyone loved the idea of having to either be on a stage or being stuck to electrical equipment. Even the idea of doing it with guitars and bass. Most of the people in the [Brigade] have been in other bands, but we are all big fans of this type of music and the mobility it has.

How many of the people in the Brigade were band geeks back in the day?

I get an impression that quite a few of them were, to be honest. Definitely, I'd say, a quarter of the band were in marching band. Some of them [were] in more respected college marching bands. I loved marching bands growing up. I was never in one but I loved them.

It seems like you have played an interesting range of events.

Yeah, it's run the gamut. When we were starting we would just crash whatever we wanted. Crash a supermarket and see how long it took them to kick us out. [Or] crash the Dunkin' Donuts drive-thru. A lot of times we'd crash bars to get free drinks. We've done weddings. We've done city events where they want crazy bands. All the shows that we are doing [on this tour] are just small club events.

We've held parties held in cemeteries. We just played a memorial service the other day that was moving but awkward. It felt strange to be in this little bar making a mighty ruckus. The young lady's ashes were sitting on the table in front of us.

How do you all travel?

Yeah, that's always the toughest part. We [are] sometimes able to pull it off with two vans. Right now we have a 12e-passenger van and a seven-passenger van. Definitely close quarters, but luckily everyone in the band really gets along. So, even when we've done long stretches, it just works out fine. We share the driving. We share the food. It's somehow turned into this weird, almost hippie commune thing, without the hippies.

So the music--is it mostly original compositions or a mix of covers and originals?

Not yet, sadly. Not enough original. They're coming up. We're getting more and more of them. But, at this point, we're still working off a lot of old, traditional tunes whether they be Balkan or New Orleans stuff. We are big fans of Bollywood music. We'll take it and turn it into something for a 19-piece brass band. We play some hip- hop. Anything we hear that we like, we'll turn it into something of our own.

Did you live in Baltimore before?

I did, for six years. For three of those years I lived in the Copy Cat, and for another three years I lived over on McMechen Street.

So, you're familiar with some of the troupes that do the parades here.


Yeah! Whoa!

They definitely do a modern twist on the whole marching-band thing, like with their awesome hip-hop-influenced step dancers. Is that sort of what you are doing?

It's not as organized as that even. It's rough.

Right, you seem to have a looser thing. Your players can dance around and do their own thing.

Musically, the type of stuff you are talking about [is] definitely what we are shooting for. Something that powerful and that exciting, you know? The traditional marching music is pretty boring and cheesy. So, it's fun to get something with a lot more blast to it, a lot more swing and a lot more movement to it. Especially [with] the type of [small] venues we really like playing. We don't stand on the stage. We like to be right in the middle. So, it can be a little too chaotic to get in marching formation like other bands do.

So, what do you have in store for us here? You mentioned making an appearance at the Mount Royal Tavern.

If, time permitting, I'd really like to hit the Tavern, just because when I lived in Baltimore I liked going to the Tavern. I enjoyed spending time there. That's a place I have good feelings about. I don't have good feelings about many places left in Baltimore. [But] the Tavern is one of them.