Stomptown Brass are an eight-piece, sometimes-conceptual brass band famed for their live performances. The Dubliners, in short, are a bit nuts, a lot of fun, and probably far enough from the conventions of popular music that theirs will be a slow but intensely rewarding journey around the fringes. They always look like they’re having an absolute blast.
If I were to start a band, they’d be a bit like this. I caught up with them to see how it’s all going; here’s what Brian Ryan of Stomptown Brass said of their journey so far…
Hi lads, thanks for taking the time to talk to me. How is life in Stomptown Brass right now?
We’re getting a couple of laughs together for our new tour that’s kicking of this month. Having spent the summer practicing new music and getting some recording sessions down we’re looking forward to sharing with your eardrums.
Can you tell me how all this started out for you, and what you thought might come of the idea back when you started?
During the end of our college days, our pal James O’Leary (aka Mr. Music Man) brought a few of us together for Murphy’s ice-cream on Wicklow Street to tell us he wanted to first learn how to play the trombone and second, start a brass band to play his compositions. One of our first tunes was called Rutland Blues in honour of our first practice studio that suffered a collapsed roof causing us to move out fairly lively.
Obviously you’re very much focused on producing a really strong live show. What are the key elements of that, in your views?
We don’t set out to produce or engineer a strong live show. We just aim to incorporate new elements to our shows that we’re interested in and we put a good bit of welly in to try to get it the best we can. Requiem for the Truth show was our first attempt at this, incorporating theatre or something entirely new for a brass band performance. A Show Curious Eyes & Ears was an attempt to make our music more accessible to children (and parents!), and with this new upcoming tour we’re trying something entirely new for us. So hopefully at least two people out there will like it; then bingo, hello international stardom.
You’ve taken your time getting an EP out. How did you decide what to include?
Yea our first EP was over 3 years ago now and it was very much a first for some of us in the recording studio. We picked some of our more interesting songs from the handful we had at the time and looking back now, I think our sound and performance has changed a lot.
Was it difficult to condense and capture the atmosphere of the live band in recorded form?
Yea it’s really tricky to get this one right we’ve found. The recording constraints are from everything like the room you’re playing in to the stamina for playing brass instruments. We’ve tried tracking each instrument (recording each line separately) to more recently playing together in a live room set-up. We’ve been working more with Dr. Alex Borwick, a sound man and sound engineer, lately and we’re really happy with the results. Technology these days, some craic!
I’m sure you’re aware of the success of Hypnotic Brass Ensemble in a similar area to you, even on our own shores. Do performers like them influence the way you play?
I remember Gabriel Hubert (trumpet player for HBE) once asked me before their gig that we supported, if he could have a go of my pretty baby. I was quite curfuzzled at that remark so I just asked if I could play his baby too. We ended up swapping instruments and he took mine up on stage with him for his gig. I haven’t been able to rid “my baby” of the spells he cast on my trumpet.
What’s been your favourite moment as a band so far?
Bergen, September 2018. We took the Requiem for the Truth show on tour to the Norway Fringe festival with our pals from Collapsing Horse Theatre (our pal Dan Colley was the co-director and our arch nemesis Matt Smyth got the coffees). There is a little bit of us all still in Bergen right now.
Stomptown boxers… that’s a niche product. Where did they come from, and how are they selling?
Haha, we have to give that one to Darragh’s play on our logo, Stomptown -ass. We have Stomptown Bras out next summer…not that you’ll need them.
What’s behind the ‘Fight Tour’ branding for this series of shows?
We’ve never been fans of the classic PR band photos and wanted to try out something different along the lines of the photos we had for Requiem for the Truth. One of the lads in the band, let’s call him cRob Banter, had the idea of having a fight to see who’ll win. We took the idea to our main photographer Prof. Ste Murray who took on the idea, and he managed to convince David MaCartney at the National Stadium on the South Circular Road to let us into the ring for a few hours. The photos you see today online and on our posters are his masterpiece.
Can you tell me a bit about the Requiem for a Truth project, and what it involved for you?
Bit of an audacious task looking back, but we wanted to host a funeral for the Truth. We took the Haitian Voodoo-inspired New Orleans jazz funeral and smashed it up against the mournful, solemn ceremony of Roman Catholicism. Ruth McGill and Margaret Mc Auliffe really stole the show in their role as the preacher. We played in churches around Ireland, sourced a coffin and the pallbearers led the audience out on the streets after the show for the burial.
I understand you have a ‘tighter line up’ for this tour – what’s that involve?
Collectively we’ve lost 4.3kg since our last tour if that counts? We’re down from 10 players to 8 and we’ve incorporate lots of new effects and also visuals by the uber talented Kate Hurley (she’ll be doing her think for our Dublin, Cork and Wexford shows)
What are you plans for the future?
We’ve added London to the tour this year to celebrate BREXIT on Nov 1st, so we’re excited to see if we’ll make it back. But aside from that, we’re not too sure just yet. We’ve got some very interesting projects that we want to work with (think a popular yet not-so-classic-electro album from the past decade arranged for brass and computers) but in short, we want to keep doing what we’re doing; couple more laughs and then we’ll all go home.
Stomptown Brass play The Academy Green Room on November 9, as part of the Fight Tour.