Interview: Busty and the Bass

BANDB

Busty and the Bass: More than Funk and Games

I’m at Divan Orange, one of the coziest local music hubs in Montreal, sipping a cider, waiting for the show to start. I’m here (officially) for the last band – I have never before seen the bands due to play tonight. People are coming in from the cold and the room quickly fills up with young and old…that Saturday-night vibe lingers above our heads in a mellow but excited buzz. Busty and the Bass are up – first three, then four, oh my, all nine of band members crowded the stage. All McGill University music students, and all mad talented, they started the night off with a bang; and funk; and some jazz; and Single Ladies; and Toxic.

Busty and the Bass was born out of small, impromptu frosh house parties decided to “write some things” and grew to steal the hearts of Montrealers at venues like l’Astral and Sala Rosa. “Busty” – the name that originated from a frosh t-shirt joke – is one of Montreal’s most vibrant and exciting collectives on the scene today. In the words of the guitar player and one of earliest members, Busty is more of an adjective. Fresh, inspired, dedicated, uninhibited, soulful and funky (and busty!), these dudes got on my music radar right away. I was lucky enough to catch them after their set at Divan Orange and set up a laugh-filled chat with Milo Johnson, Louis Stein, and Chris Vincent.

OCR: Let me start out by saying – great experience seeing you on Saturday. How did you feel after the Divan Orange show?

Milo Johnson: GOOD! It was our first show playing together, since the break. There is a lot of business that goes into the band, and everyone gets tired of scheduling rehearsals, with our respective responsibilities, but then we get on stage and play a show, and everyone’s like, “Oh, yeah, this is why this is the best band ever!”

OCR: Was there a lot of anxiety?

Louis Stein: At this point the feeling I get before the show is less, “I’m nervous” and more, “I am so excited, and these people have no idea how much fun this is going to be.” So before shows, I usually just grab Chris and say, “Do you realize what is about to happen?”

Chris Vincent: We spend about five minutes talking about what’s gonna happen, and then we play!

OCR: Nice! So what is it like for each of you to be on stage, in front of all these dancing, smiling people? What are the thoughts that pop into your head?

LS: At first, in the early days of performing, (and this group has given me a lot of experience performing), I was really occupied with “I hope I sound good, I hope people see me.” And then you realize you are one of nine, and people are really less there for you, and are really looking to have a good time. So it’s less about how well you do and more about the performer-audience energy, and so I try to give everything I can, and really, we all have fun, but  sometimes you get caught up experiencing the fun, and you forget to share it. I am always just trying to make sure I am sharing and playing off of everyone’s energy in the band, and when you see the audience joining in, it really makes the whole thing fantastic.

MJ: It’s definitely one of the, if not the biggest, idea behind the band – getting people who come to our shows to experience an energy exchange between an energetic and involved band and an even more energetic, dancing audience. This is the first band that has instilled that in me, as a performer. I’ve played in groups that people danced to before, but it has never been with the same amount of energy, of pure joy. I can go up on stage, completely sober, and I am stage-high in five minutes. I think this is an experience a lot of the band members share as well, being in that position and connecting with that many  people in intimate ways is just really, really special.

CV: I learned so much from this band, so far, probably everything I know about music – performing, writing, arranging, logistics; I mean, I love you guys, but everything up ’til this point has been a nightmare – a perfect nightmare. And when it comes to being on stage, and playing for people, and trying to build a connection with the audience, I think it’s something that we talk about, and we’re very conscious of, and we make a deliberate  effort to really engage the people, which I think is the most important thing. It’s the fact that, yes, you’re presenting music, but you really have to make sure everyone’s on the same page, audience included, so we can all enjoy it together.

MJ: And I think that’s definitely a founding idea behind our repertoire choice – unfortunately, you didn’t get to hear our Disney suite…

OCR: Oh my gosh, that sounds amazing!

MJ: Yeah, and people hear “Single Ladies” and “Let’s Get It On”, and they go, “Oh, I know and I love these songs,” and then you look at the kids born in the early 90s and late 80, and they hear us coming with Hakuna Matata, and they’re like, “Whoa, what are these guys doing?” So, it’s really just getting people to realize that instrumental live music has such a different performance experience, then if you were to go an electronic music show, or a dubstep show. [This connection] is really something we are trying to differentiate ourselves with.

CV: The most special part of our music is that it’s in English and French and Spanish and Korean, and so it’s very accessible. You don’t have the language barrier, and the market is huge.

OCR: There are nine of you in the band – how do you keep everyone happy and organized?

MJ: Well, you’re looking at part of it. I’ve dealt a lot with trying to figure out how to motivate people without taking on the role of the boss – I think that’s something that we’ve all been growing with. Just because we have such distinct personalities, all nine of us, and collectively can create such great things, but you’re dealing with jazz musicians, who are sometimes very irresponsible, super spacy…

CV: Incredibly lazy.

MJ: Incredibly lazy!

CV: Beyond belief!

MJ: Yeah, and navigating through all of this has really been an adventure, to put it lightly. But we’re doing our darnest to motivate everyone, and you want everyone involved, everyone contributing, keeping them happy, keeping yourself happy, so that instead of bragging or shaming, you want people to want to do these things. In the perfect world, that would be our management system.

CV: We organize ourselves a lot with Facebook, we promote a lot on Facebook.

OCR: What is the biggest musical influence on the band – is there an idea, or another band that has really moved you?

MJ: I would say an idea that I have talked about with every member of the band is the fact that we’re all jazz musicians, coming from different backgrounds. And jazz, at its root, is pop music for an audience, and at its roots, jazz was dance music. So we’ve pretty much taken that idea and applied it to today, whereas a lot of jazz musicians are taking pop tunes from the 40s and 50s that would have appealed to the audience then, and playing them in new and innovative ways, but that really only appeal to other jazz musicians, or a very select group of people who know what’s going on.

LS: And definitely not dance music.

MJ: No, not danceable at all. So what we’re trying to do, is take the pop music of our generation, and put it into a context that connects with an audience of our age, and that they would be able to dance to. One of our challenges, and also one of our opportunities, in being able to navigate that. So we take a Kanye West song, where it’s all sampled and there are all these tracks that you created in a studio, and translate that to playing it on stage as something people will recognize and be able to connect to.

CV: For about two months now, I have been hooked on this Toronto group, called KC Roberts and the Live Revolution, and they are a funk band that do weird and heavy things. And I want to bring that to our group, but at the same time, I don’t want to superimpose it. So it’s the whole thing of trying to find the right balance of what you think is going to be most effective and you lay it out, or you keep some things to yourself, for another time.

OCR: Do you have any pre or post-show rituals? (Drinking doesn’t count.)

LS: There is definitely a pre-show thing of being all-together, and having everyone in the conversation, to bring everyone’s minds together before the stage, and it creates that feeling of being in-tune with each other.

MJ: One situation that came to mind, was when we had a show at the end of last semester at l’Astrale, which was our nicest and biggest venue so far. That was one of the unique times when some people were having nerves, it was a big opportunity for us, and we’ve been playing together for two and a half years, so it’s something we rarely experience. We all noticed that, and after we’ve figured out the set-list, we all got in a huddle and sort of just started rocking back and forth, and put forth he idea that Louis has brought up before, that these people have no idea what they’re about to experience. And we say that without any kind of ego, simply because we offer an experience people have never had before.

CV: After Divan Orange we sat around for at least twenty minutes afterwards, and talked a lot about what we had coming ahead – we’d like to have a tour, and we’d like to record an album, and we just have this ongoing discussion about what’s coming. We do some damage assessment too, but I know personally this is the only group that I play with, that talks before and after the show, it’s like a fucking family, and it’s so awesome.

OCR: What do you think about Montreal’s music scene – what’s it like to be a band in a city where everyone’s in a band?

LS: I’m from New York, and there are a lot of bands, and no band has all their members because it’s always subs. And there, I get a sense that it’s a little bit concentrated in terms of opportunities to play to bands. Here, I feel like people are pretty open, and the general public is pretty down with listening and experiencing new things, and they won’t just go to bands that they know. So Montreal is a good music scene for me, to go through music development as a music student, because it provides the opportunities, and there are no reasons for you not to be successful – it’s all on you, to make it good. There are not really societal limitations, and there are a lot of cool bands to play with, and nothing is really out of reach. I think as a city, it’s pretty open, and welcoming to new things, and an exciting place to be.

MJ: I think the music community in Montreal is very very tight, and very very collaborative, which is something that helps all of us. There is a lot of exchanging of services, and a lot of collaboration, whereas most people would see the music scene as, “Oh, how many followers does this band have, are we better than them, what can we do to be better than them?” That at least one things that Montreal has for me, that’s very similar to the music scene in DC (where I’m from), but talking to a lot of people, it’s not like that in most cities.

CV: This city also provides a very great environment for getting away from the ego, and really learn how to be friends in music together. There is a lot going on every given night, and you can’t go to everything, and the challenge in itself is to create music that people want to see.

MJ: And I think we have a very loyal fan base, which is something that’s really amazing. Our shows are an experience for them, as opposed to trying to choose where to go that night.

LS: I think something I’ve taken away from musicians that I respect, is that you don’t really have to concern yourself with: “How am I going to cut through everything else, and how are people going to come listen to my show and not someone else’s.” I think that if you do whatever you’re doing, really well, people will like good things, and you will attract attention, simply because you are doing it very well. I don’t think it’s very useful to think about how to get over the clutter – I have a lot of faith in good music attracting a lot of people, and that’s a very hopeful thought – I seek to retain that. 

Focused on pure sound, and staying true to themselves and their music, Busty and the Bass really do make good sound happen. Aiming to make the people who don’t dance, dance, the group provides amazing energy, great talent, and a communal vibe. You can catch them doing shows regularly in Montreal (check out their Facebook for more info), as well as on their up-coming USA tour – February 20 to March 9 – covering Burlington, Boston, Hartford, New haven, Baltimore, DC, and New York. Along the way, they will also be presenting in High Schools, showing first hand that just because they are professional jazz musicians doesn’t mean they can’t make relevant music. There is talk of an upcoming album – keep your ears open for their sound, because this is a band to watch.

Inna Bio

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