Turn of the screw

The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble are Coming to Nottingham

4 October 18 interview: Ashwin Balu

The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (HBE) are seven talented brothers originating from Chicago. Born into a life of music, they grew up under the teaching and mentorship of their father, renowned jazz trumpeter Kelan Philip Cohran. Now based in NYC, they have blazed a trail as leading artists in the industry and have shared stages with Prince, Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), Damon Albarn, Snoop Dogg and De la Soul, all while gracing the most prestigious stages and acclaimed festivals worldwide. Ahead of their show at Peggy’s Skylight, they answered a few questions about their recent tour and forthcoming album…

How is touring life treating you guys?
Tour life is harder than it looks. Each day has a new location, a new crowd challenge, a new journey each morning. But it’s great performing our ideas for music lovers on other side of the world; you know you’ve got a winner when it applies to all humankind.

What’s been the highlight of the Spain tour?
The highlight of the tour was our adventure to arrive in Malaga on the first day, in spite of sold-out trains to the south after a delayed landing. We had to rent two cars and hightail it to Marbella just in time to go on stage. The Madrid gig was also a highlight; it was a small club and the least attended concert of the run, but the crowd’s energy totally made it an experience.

How does playing in Spain compare to the UK?
Playing in Spain is different from the UK in many ways, but not entirely separate. In Spain, the crowds are mostly people that are coming out for a good time, and there is all age ranges and backgrounds; they see the instrumentation, hear the story and come out for a good time. They’re not into what is popular. In the UK, the night life goes hand in hand with the gig. Clubs and venues are more set up for this, so a Monday show might be just as live as a Saturday. You also have all kinds of genres or styles on display.

Have you been visiting the studio while touring?
We’re usually exhausted, but sometimes we’ll spend an off day in the studio recording towards our next LP, Bad Boys of Jazz, or some of our collab projects coming up.

Did you manage to catch any Spanish acts?
We didn’t get a chance to go to any gigs while over in Spain, but we are looking to produce for some dope Spanish artists in all formats of creativity, especially hip-hop.

Are there certain cities in the UK you are excited to play?
We get excited about playing each and every one of or shows, but we’ve been touring UK for near a decade now so we get excited about certain stops we know will be banging. Edinburgh was a smashout years ago, and we’ve been building up some new heat so that one will be off the chain. We’ve been prepping our latest EP Hypnotic Joints for the stage, and by the time that we hit Nottingham that will be on full display. And, of course, HAC in London is sure to be epic. We’re closing the tour in Belfast, so we think that will end up the tightest performance of the run.

You’re touring with Gorillaz after this. Are there any dates you’re particularly looking forward to?
Of course. Demon Days festival in LA has an all-star lineup, and we are looking forward to that like a farmer waiting on rain. Erykah Badu, De La Soul, Pharcyde, Damon Albarn plus several others will be there; it will be big fun with all the legends of our era.

What can fans expect to hear on your upcoming album, Bad Boys of Jazz?
We can’t let all the cats out the bag, but Snoop Dogg will be appearing, as well as Damon Albarn and some jewels from across the globe that we’re not able to announce just yet. Were in production phase now, all the writing is mostly done.

Why do you think that now is the right time to make this record?
We’ve been independently running worldwide for eleven years now, and we’ve contributed to major records and performed with heavy hitters of the business. We’ve also appeared in the film score for the blockbuster The Hunger Games. It’s all getting too big for us now, and although we are continuing our label and outside projects, we need a home for this record that is worthy of its scale. Bad Boys of Jazz is the culmination of all we’ve learnt to date.  

If there was to be another member of HBE, what instrument would they play?
Funny you ask, because we just added a saxophone to the showcase on this tour, and its been working like a gem. The crowds have responded positively and the bros are learning to make room for him. It’s good stuff.

The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble will be at Peggy’s Skylight on Friday 12 October. Tickets are available on the venue’s website.

Peggy's Skylight website

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