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New Sound Brass: The Instant Party.

April 10, 2015

NSBonline01Text by Tyler Horst. Images by Mina Lee.

Upstairs at the Stone House Pub in South Philly, in an empty billiard room with the blinds drawn against the midday sun, Mike Strickland Jr. hums a line to himself before trying to replicate it on a baritone horn. He and some of the other members of New Sound Brass are in the middle of arranging some Bob Marley tunes for their 10-piece ensemble. There’s no sheet music, no talk of music theory, just Strickland’s animated instructions about how to capture the vibe of the reggae standards and make them their own.

“We can play whatever you want to hear,” says Dan Demmy, who plays trombone. “We put it in our brass machine and turn those words into sounds. It changes everything.”

All told, Strickland, Demmy, Bruce Swinton Jr., Jimmy Carras, Patrick Renzi, Thomas Hagglock, Larissa Hall and three members of the Windless family – Curtis, Perry and Sharif – fill out the New Sound Brass line-up.

It’s a small wonder to find 10 people who enjoy playing together, especially when considering the diverse array of backgrounds the members represent. Some started off playing in gospel bands. Others cut their teeth with brass bands in the Mummers Parade. A church may be a far cry from the bacchanalia of the wench brigades but the band thrives on its attempts to marry these and other influences together into their own voice.

“We don’t know what the sound is,” admits Strickland about the band’s style.

“The common factor is we’re all from Philly,” says Demmy. “It’s a Philly sound.”

Strickland is the de facto leader, though he’s uncomfortable with the notion of being the man in charge.

“I thought we could be something different than any other brass band,” says Strickland. “In my opinion, we were only going to accomplish that if we were accountable to each other.”

“They’ve been together for such a short time but it’s really evident that they have a strong bond with one another,” says Amy Johnston from the Mural Arts Program. Mural Arts first hired New Sound to perform at a fundraiser in May of 2014 and then a mural dedication last June.

“They have the ability to connect with a crowd and create energy,” says Johnston about the lively dedication ceremony. “They kind of took us to church.”

Demmy believes part of the success of the band comes from the fact that they are sort of a novelty around here. Few other brass bands in Philadelphia commit full-time in the same way New Sound does. It also helps that there are few restrictions on where New Sound can bring their effusive brand of entertainment.

“We can play anywhere,” says Renzi, who handles the snare drum. “We don’t need electricity.”

And even in a packed bar or other indoor venue, Demmy says the band’s goal is to make people feel like they’re in the thick of a parade or dancing at a party.

“It blurs the lines between performer and audience,” he says about the band’s connection with the crowd. “We’re all a part of it.”

“I’m a fan of NSB,” says Strickland. “Just because I’m in the band doesn’t mean I can’t be a fan.”

One Comment
  1. April 14, 2015 12:17 pm

    Reblogged this on Humongulous.

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