WWBW: So Matt, what was your plan when you came to New York?
MATT: Definitely not this. My plan was to come to New York and be a freelance trumpet player and follow the normal route of what people had taught me my whole life. What happens when you're a trumpet player, how you get work and things like that.
WWBW: Leo P, what was your initial vision?
LEO: I came to New York thinking I was going to be playing in a Broadway pit. That was my main goal in coming to New York City. I just wanted to work in a pit on Broadway because I just thought it was something you actually made money at and I was really worried I wouldn't be able to make money. A lot of people were discouraging about finding work in New York.
WWBW: TOOMANYZOOZ got its start busking in the subway, notably at Union Square. Was it uniquely fruitful there or did you try other stops?
LEO: We played all over. The only reason we met at Union Square was because that is one of the places where they're tolerant of music and also that was kind of centrally located to all three of us. David lives in the Bronx. I live in Brooklyn. Leo now lives in Philadelphia, but when we used to play in the subway he was in Brooklyn as well. So it was just a spot that was centrally located to all of us, and also tolerant of music being played every day.
WWBW: Now when you say tolerant, are you talking about people just, “Aw, shut up! I'm trying to wait for the train in peace.” Or is it more of a —
LEO: For whatever reason — I think the tolerance grew as we played there over the years. The police were always very respectful to us. I should note we were very respectful to the police. Never in our history have we ever given cops any grief about asking us to stop or anything like that and I think the respect we'd show to them was beneficial to us. It gave us a great relationship with the police and with also the station managers and people who work in Union Square who actually like our music now. Union Station just grew into our home.
WWBW: Anything really sketchy happen down there, Leo?
LEO: Oh yeah. The dude smoking crack one time. And … he just kept on smoking crack, listening, watching, smoking crack. There's always weird homeless people or people getting drunk randomly in the middle of the day.
WWBW: I couldn't imagine it being otherwise.
LEO: People see us getting a lot of attention and some people just want to like watch but some people just want to be part of it, you know. A normal chilled dude would just jump in right next to me and be dancing and invading the space where my horn needs to be. It's easy for people to not take it seriously, I guess because you're just busking in the street, not playing in a concert hall.
WWBW: When you first started playing in the subway, nobody wanted to give you a proper gig. And here you've got a New Year's Eve gig coming up at one of the coolest clubs in the city. That must have been pretty sweet to watch the city come to you.
MATT: The thing is it wasn't too surprising because at one point I think we realized we have a really good product and we're working day and night to get it out there in the most important city in America. And it just seemed like a matter of time. It happened faster than I thought, but I could just tell people liked it.
WWBW: Leo, I notice you get a lot of expression out of your reed articulations. When did you start to develop that part of your overall technical package?
LEO: I guess when I started listening to techno music and dubstep, like Skrillex and stuff. I just wanted to be part of that. But I wanted to play saxophone because that's my thing. So the first time I started really working on it was, do you remember the song “Sandstorm”?
LEO: I started transcribing that song. I would try my best to play it. That's when I really started being like, oh, okay. I have this thing I can kind of do. So I just started working on it and I just got better over time. I wanted to be like a singer or a rapper when I was younger. But I feel a little weird saying how I feel through words. I'll very rarely even talk into the mic. I feel like I'm saying something with my playing, but I'm not using words to do it.
WWBW: That makes a lot of sense to me, Leo, believe it or not. You must eat reeds for breakfast, though.
LEO: Oh, I do. It's absolutely a thing.
WWBW: Do you have a reed endorsement?
LEO: I don't. I really need one, though.
WWBW: It's out there for you, man. Whatever reed you use, you are the ambassador for that reed. You ought to drop them a line and try to make that happen. Matt, you've got a lot of different sounds and techniques, and the nature of your gig requires a lot of constant blowing. What kind of routine do you have to keep it all together?
MATT: Man, it's been different over the years. When I'm on the road I actually I really don't play much other than when I'm performing just because the performances with the band are just really, really taxing so I need time to let my chops rest. Maybe it's 30 minutes before a show I'll play some long tones and stuff like that, but mainly throughout the day I won't 'shed at all.
When I was younger I used to practice five, six hours a day. I was in the shed all the time. Now I really don't practice trumpet as much as I just do things that keep me in shape. In the day to day now it’s mostly writing music and giving some time off my face to let it rest and chill and get ready for the next tour or whatever. I play piano as well and I create music and keep my trumpet next to me and play things. I write ideas on trumpet and will lay trumpet parts down or something like that. But I don't practice nearly as much as I used to. I think that sort of rigorous practice can block creativity. I mean, again, I've gone years of my life practicing five hours a day and I think that is necessary. I'm not saying that someone can't practice. That is necessary and you need that 10,000 hours.
WWBW: Is there a routine about the compositional approach or does each piece kind of lumber to its feet of its own accord?
LEO: I would say our favorite way of writing music is just going in the studio and working it out while recording and rehearsing. Unfortunately that's also the most expensive way of doing it. So sometimes Matt and I will just, I'll be like, “Hey, here, boom, like this.” And Matt will be like, “Well, maybe try just a little bit... I like that part, but let's change this part.” And then we'll record that. Then we send it to David because it's a hassle for David to haul his drum around. And that’s one way.
Another way is sometimes when we’re doing a lot of tour dates, there’s a song called, “Maritza” on our album that we wrote just from — during the shows we improvise a lot and sometimes we’ll play something and kind of like it and kind of just remember it and keep on playing it and actually write a song over the course of a few tour dates. And we just kind of work it out to the point where it’s like okay, now we have to name this.
WWBW: I would think that as you’re down the subway, after you run through a piece a dozen times, it takes its shape and turns itself into something else. I would think you would be tempted to re-record the more evolved version of it. Does that ever happen or do you get it pretty well hammered down the first time through?
MATT: When we write music in the studio, we have a lot more at our fingertips. So we have the obvious advantages of being in a studio. You can overdub on yourself. I’ll produce the track and we’ll add white noise and cymbals and a synth here and there. Like very minimally, but these things we have at our fingertips where it’s like taking what we have and now on our most recent album applying or transitioning into a more modern sound of what you’re hearing on the radio and what you’re hearing in the club.
WWBW: I found it a terrific irony is that your sound approximates electronica and techno, when it is entirely acoustic. That strikes me as pretty fantastic.
MATT: Brasshouse is what we call it and when people ask me what that is I think the best way for me to describe it is acoustic dance music. It’s like we were all collectively into a lot things, mainly hip-hop but we found this lane where there’s really nobody making this style of music that you’re hearing and that's taking over the best soul circuit and everything.
There are really no or a very limited number of live acts doing this and creating a new sound. So, I think it makes sense that people would hear it and think electronic music or stuff like that. It’s where a large majority of our sound comes from.
WWBW: What do you have for a trumpet, Matt?
MATT: I play a Yamaha Xeno Artist Model. I think it’s the New York Artist model.
WWBW: Are you freaky on mouthpieces? Have you been searching high and low and finally found the Holy Grail or will you just blow on anything?
MATT: I still have the same piece since sophomore year of high school. I used to be such a gear head, but I play on a Monette B5L mouthpiece.
WWBW: And that was just a nice fit for you.
MATT: It wasn’t even that. I just, to be honest, when I got to high school like every kid in my high school that was good played a Monette mouthpiece because my high school is kind of tied, like had connections with the “Jazz at Lincoln Center” and they all played Monette mouthpieces.
MATT: If you were good at my high school, you played a Monette mouthpiece so I just wanted to get one and my friend, Corey, bought one and then didn’t use it, so I bought it from him I actually I only used it for lead trumpet stuff in big bands. Now I use it all around.
WWBW: So, Leo, what about you gear wise? What’s your bari?
LEO: I have a Yamaha YBS-52. I like it because it’s on the lighter side.
WWBW: You have a vigorous physical performance, so that would make sense.
LEO: Yeah. I get a little wild on the stage. In the subway. Whatever.
WWBW: What about mouthpieces?
LEO: I use an SR Tech mouthpiece that was the first mouthpiece I ever bought. I went to a saxophone camp when I was 15 and I was like, “I want to be loud.” And they’re like, “Get a big metal mouthpiece and this one works.” So, I haven’t actually changed my mouthpiece or horn. I have a backup horn that is just some random, I don’t even know, off brand, can’t even remember what it’s called because I just need to have two horns. But I’ve used the same horn, same mouthpiece since I started bari sax eight or nine years ago.
WWBW: What do you use for reeds?
LEO: I use Vandoren. I used to use Vandoren 4s, which are really hard and I then started using 3 1/2s once I started doing more stage shows. I needed the 4s for acoustic just to be louder so now I use 3-1/2 Vandorens. But yeah, I just blew a box. I tear through them, you know, whatever. It’s very rare that I play a show and it’s not chipped by the end.
WWBW: So you go with the ligature that came with the mouthpiece?
LEO: Yeah. I kind of play to the side. My bari, it’s strange but if you really watch me, I don’t really play with the horn in the middle. I play the bari to my side. I mean no one plays the bari in the middle, but the mouthpiece is tilted at an angle and my sax is really far out to the right. Basically, it cleared up room for my feet and that’s why I can’t use a harness because it pulls the bari in too close when I need to hold it to the side, and get distance so that I can really use my legs. But I would say the most important piece of equipment that I have is my case. And Mike Manning makes custom saxophone cases.
WWBW: I know him. San Francisco, right?
LEO: Yeah, San Francisco, yeah. He used to be in New York. That’s where I met him but he’s in San Francisco now. And his cases are the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to me.
WWBW: He makes them like custom, so if you like your thumb rest in a weird place he’ll scoop out for that.
LEO: He can do anything. Yeah, he actually added a little piece to my saxophone because I kept on bending one key because I would hit it so hard. So, he actually added a piece to my saxophone. I mean he’s just the most amazing sax repair person ever. I really beat my saxophone up and it’s very rare for my saxophone to be broken because this case is super lightweight and super strong. The problem is that most cases are one size fits all. So they err on the larger size.
LEO: And it gives them a little wiggle room.
LEO: Yeah, my bari sax is on the smaller size. So with other cases that are one size fits all, it’s just it can be really easy to damage your horn if someone, you know whatever. You just knock it over even in its case can really hurt it.
WWBW: Okay. Hey, I pretty much have everything I need, gentlemen. Is there anything you want Woodwind & Brasswind listener readers to know in particular that we might not have covered?
LEO: If you can mention Mike Manning, I would really appreciate that if that’s possible.
MATT: We have a new record out. It’s called, “Subway Gods.” It’s available on all platforms, all that sort of good stuff.
LEO: Yeah, I mean if you could, I don’t want to do too many shout outs but if you could mention also that I started playing music because of my dad who played the accordion, I don’t know, that would be cool. Give my dad a shout out.
WWBW: Yeah, we like that.
WWBW: So he’s an accordion player and he had one around the house and kind of turned you on to music through the accordion?
LEO: Yes. I started playing polkas, clarinet polkas with my dad when I was a kid. It was like a family thing. I always wanted to be close to the band.
WWBW: Well, you know, some of the greatest musicians come out of family bands in the bluegrass genre and all kinds. Jazz, certainly the Marsalis family. So having instruments around when kids’ minds are sponges is really critical.
WWBW: So you guys are awesome and I wish you the best and if I get to New York City, I’ll seek out one of your gigs. Thank you very much for your time.