NO BS! Brass Band living large with new albums, national press

This hometown favorite is getting some national attention, helping them spread the RVA music gospel.

Most brass bands don’t sound as good as you think. “There’s usually a wonky, out-of-tuneness to it, in a way,” says No BS! Brass Band drummer Lance Koehler. He said members of brass bands may be in tune among themselves when they perform–just “maybe not in tune with the rest of the world.”

Even with the deep roots in traditional American music that brass bands have, Koehler said many today have no firm grasp of what a brass band actually is. “A lot of people come up to me at shows and think ska bands are brass bands,” he said. While ska and other bands may include a horn section, a traditional brass band comprises only drums and brass instruments.

NO BS! trombonist Reggie Pace said that the phrase “brass band” often calls to mind not-so-exciting memories of high school pep bands. “Everyone is familiar with that timbre,” Pace said. “They just remember it sucking.”

But with each blow of the trumpet, sax, tuba, and trombone, NO BS! Brass Band can’t help but play melodies that seem perfectly in tune with audiences everywhere they go, and with recent write-ups in TIME and Spin, you really can’t deny their growing appeal.

This Friday and Saturday, the band will celebrate the release of its fourth album, RVA All Day with shows at Balliceaux and The Camel, respectively. In July, the 11-piece will release Fight Song: Tribute to Charles Mingus, honoring the esteemed Jazz musician.

From BS to none

Pace and Koehler started NO BS! in 2006 after each of them became dissatisfied with their respective bands at that time.

“I really wanted to start a brass band that was creative and vital and fun,” said Koehler, who moved to Richmond from New Orleans around 2002. Pace wanted the same thing.

“We were playing in bands that had potential to do things and we watched them crumble because of BS,” Pace said. The new band that Koehler and Pace would put together was so decidedly no BS it became band’s namesake.

“Our first gig was at ADA Gallery downtown,” Pace said, with a set list only two songs long. “Nobody gave a crap about the band” at first, he said. But about a year later, the group recorded a demo that, after it turned out so well, they released as their debut album, Where is Stefan?. Before long, something strange began occurring at their shows: a lot of people were showing up. “I feel like we blinked our eye and [now] every show at The Camel is packed,” Pace said.

In summer 2011, Pace toured with indie group Bon Iver. The trombonist performed on The Colbert Report, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and Saturday Night Live with the band. Pace said he was “constantly meeting people” as he toured. New York City-based PR firm Shore Fire Media–which has represented Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, and Elvis Costello–caught wind of Pace through his stint with Bon Iver and learned about NO BS! back in Richmond. The firm was so impressed, it took on the brass band as clients.

“New Yorkers can’t really be bought,” Pace said. “They either want to work with you or not.” Both the band’s talent and newly forged connections have earned them recent national press ahead of their upcoming albums, which will soon preach the gospel of RVA far and wide.

RVA All Day

Koehler said the band’s forthcoming album, RVA All Day, not only has the best sound quality of any previous album they’ve recorded, but “the tunes are more poppy, more based around pop-music than ever.” He said the new record is “pushing in a ton of different ways.”

In addition to drumming, Koehler has also recorded local musicians with national appeal. Most recently, he recorded a majority of Matthew E. White’s debut album, Big Inner, reviewed favorably in both Pitchfork and Rolling Stone, at his Minimum Wage Recording studio. He’s also recorded Tim Berry (former singer of Avail), Fight the Big Bull, and recently recorded local metal band Municipal Waste.

One of his most bizarre recording experiences came after a late night fight in a Roanoke pizza shop following a NO BS! show. A group of men came in and provoked one of the pizza shop customers. Koehler recalled seeing that customer fly across the restaurant. Koehler jumped in to defend the man. Soon thereafter, “I was being picked up off the floor while four dudes were kicking the shit out of me.”

He recorded the band’s tribute to Charles Mingus while recovering from a concussion. The group decided to call the album Fight Song to honor Koehler.1

He said the band has limited touring to the East Coast in years past, but they hope to cross the country and even travel to Europe to perform in the near future. “We’re basically trying to push the RVA music gospel out to the far corners,” Koehler said.

Pace relishes the time he’s had with the band so far, and the times ahead. “One of my dreams has been to [be] able to travel the world and play music with my friends,” he said. “Play with these RVA boys and show the world what’s up.”

NO BS! Brass Band will play Balliceaux at 10:00 PM on Friday, May 17th and The Camel at 10:00 PM on Saturday, May 18th to celebrate the release of RVA All Day. The band will release Fight Song: Tribute to Charles Mingus on July 5th.

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  1. A photo of Koehler taken after the fight is used on the album’s cover

photo by PJ Sykes

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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