Bennie "Big Peter" Pete from Hot 8 Brass Band, the band leader and sousaphone player, spoke to us at Love Supreme Jazz Festival ahead of their performance on the main stage.
So you guys have been on the road for a while, what’s next on the schedule?
We get home around the 23rd July, so we have a few more stops, and then in the fall we have to do the Roundhouse again, and we are just trying to finish up the year on a high note and get ready to bust up in the studio. I think once we’re back home we are going to start back on the recording.
Have you got any ideas for this new album?
We’re not sure what we’re doing, we might just release a few numbers at the end of the year. It’s very early, I mean we’ve been talking about it, it’s definitely on our minds y’know. We’re definitely enjoying this tour, enjoying this year, enjoying the new release of On the Spot. But, we can’t wait to kind of get back into the city, because no matter what we do, and no matter how much we travel, I mean it’s finally a dream come true. There’s something about the city you know, it’s like we need to just go back home, with the breeze and the air of the city, it kind of rejuvenates us and gives us enough energy to come back and spread the music, the love, and our culture across the world. Just to go home and maybe catch a regular date at a local bar, a second line [parade], it just kind gives us more energy to be able to come back and travel for these long periods of time.
The album On the Spot is based on that magical ‘On the Spot’ moment where the music just comes together, and we wondered what your process is with writing, do you approach it like that all of the time?
That’s the main ingredient in what we do, it’s just the natural phase and part of what’s going on in life, the heartbeat of everything. We want to have things that artists have, structure and everything, but that part of it is just the natural life, it’s like breathing. You know breathing is just natural, you breathe just to live, so that’s how we look at it musically, so we always want to keep that element in it. We have some structure, we have some ideas and the things that we want to do to add to that, to kind of make it all well-rounded and have some versatility, when we’re recording and even when we’re performing.
If someone has an idea and you want to write a new tune, do you all come together and jam, or is there anyone that goes off and arranges, how does that work?
Well both, it goes both ways, it’s like going through a product down the chain. So the guy, or the two guys or whatever, will come with a piece to the band, they’ll have my part already, the trumpet line, have everything together, and see if everyone’s feeling it. Then at a point we will get it tight, make sure we get it exactly how they wanted it, how they imagined it, how they heard it, how they wrote it, or whatever. Then they will open it up and say “now what are you feeling?”, see if we want to change something you know, “how would you play it?”, and we could just bang it out from there. We perform it all of these different ways, so a lot of the music that we record, most of it we’ve been performing for years. We have original music, it’s new music to the listener and to the fan who actually purchases the album, it’s been around a long time.
Who would be your dream collaboration?
Well I like a lot of reggae music, but to work with someone, I’m gonna say definitely like Stevie Wonder…but Ray Charles too man.
We’re a big fan of a lot of the covers you do as well, like ‘That Girl’ by Stevie Wonder, which is not an obvious choice, so how do you go about picking those covers?
It comes from when we were younger, our mums, our parents, banging all those tunes out the boom box. It comes from older fans from that era and that age group. When they hear us, or they get a chance to meet us after a performance, or at a parade, especially in New Orleans, they’ll be like “man you guys sound great” and then they’re like “I could hear y’all playing this, why don’t you play this tune it’s my favourite tune”. So they, the fans, they come and tell us what they can hear and imagine us playing in their own mind.
The amazing thing about it, especially with us having the second lines [parade], the next time they see us we’ll be playing it, and they’re like “damn, I just talked to them last week and now they’ve learnt that tune” and they figure that we did it for them personally. They’ll be like “they learnt it, I’m the one who told them”, and we’ll just be laughing or whatever. But on the other side, when you talk about second lines, you’re talking about a lot of other brass bands in New Orleans, and also you’re talking about four hours of material, it’s hard to have four hours of original material that you’ve gotta bang out marching through the streets of New Orleans. So a cover tune here, a cover tune there, especially a favourite of the audience, it helps. It helps us, they enjoy it, it’s a win-win.