In the Middle with Hypnotic Brass Ensemble

Over the last decade, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble have been dropping gnarly horns behind the scenes for some of the biggest names in Hip Hop and R’n’B. Rated by The Guardian as one of the top 20 acts to see live, they’re set to tear HiFi up this Saturday with punchy brass and an eclectic blend of dub, reggae and afrobeat. We caught up with the brass brothers ahead of this weekend’s gig to talk reggae, recording collaborations and running on stage in just your wellies…

For those new to you guys, can you tell us about Hypnotic Brass in a sentence or two?
You might not recognize the name, but you might be familiar with our work on Gorillaz’ Plastic Beach, Wutang Clan’s Metal Lungees, Maxwell’s Pretty Wings….and other bombastic horn lines.

As you’ve said, you’ve worked with the incredible Gorillaz, as well as giants like Snoop Dogg and even the late Prince. Is there a collaboration that really stands out?
Prince stands out, even more so after his untimely demise. We were just kids when we heard ‘Purple Rain’ and ‘Kiss’, so getting personally requested by him was no less than a medal of honour. Gotta mention Damon Albarn too; we’ve done so many projects together now, we have a creative understanding.

Your dad is a legend himself, having played trumpet with the likes of Sun Ra and Earth, Wind & Fire. How did those early days under Phil Cohran influence you?
Being around the giants of music, the early days were a different world! Massive rehearsals, community music classes with kids in our neighbourhood, plus performances from all sorts musicians and activists. We were just babies crawling round microphone cords, no clue we were playing in the shadow of masters.

This weekend’s ‘Fiesta Bombarda’ promises reggae, dub and afrobeat goodness, turning HiFi into a “tropical neon paradise”. Care to elaborate?
Imagine a band doing a DJ set, but with actual instruments. We play what we wanna hear when we’re on the dance floor: Dub, Reggae, Afrobeat. It’s gonna be a warm holiday for everyone who shows up… Dress fly but expect to sweat!

HBE is a band of seven brothers. How does that affect the group dynamic?
Being brothers helps in loads of ways and hinders in a few. But the business of creativity improves with familiarity. Most times we don’t have to pass out chord structures or parts because it’s already imbedded in us where to land within the whole. It also helps that we know no one is going anywhere. This is our father’s legacy and one day it’ll be our children’s.

As the self-described bad boys of jazz, with all your collaborations, it’s a safe bet you’ve got some wild tour stories. Any you can share with us?
Ummm, can’t let you print the bad boy stories but we do have a funny U.K. one. It was our first Glastonbury, so we didn’t know quite what we were getting into. We rolled up the Friday after a rainstorm and mud was a foot deep everywhere. Our white trainers, hoodies: all of it was mud covered in less than hour. Everyone was laughing at the Americans who came fresh to a festival out in the country. Had to go on stage 20 mins late while they gathered us some abandoned wellies and jackets, so we wouldn’t look like we’d been mud wrestling backstage. A whole gig in wet pants, wellies, and no shirts: bad boys of jazz.

You can catch Hypnotic Brass Ensemble this Saturday at HiFi’s ‘Fiesta Bombarda’.
Grab your tickets here:…/hypnotic-brass-ense…/hifi/999645

Interview by Sam Corcoran

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