If happiness has a soundtrack, it’s the new album from Lucky Chops. The band – known for their viral performances on the NYC subway — tells us EXCLUSIVELY the work that went into their new record, their tour, and more.
In a world full of chaos and strife, it’s easy for someone to forget how to smile. Thankfully, Lucky Chops, New York City’s premier brass funk band, is here to remind the world what it’s like to be happy. On Lucky Chops, the self-titled album released in September, the band weaves together a colorful tapestry, fusing together genres and influences into a vibrant cavalcade of delight. Fueled by the lead single, “Full Heart Fancy” — a brassy, sassy dance track that could make any wallflower move and groove — Lucky Chops offers eleven instrumental tracks that will leave listeners grinning from ear to ear.
The band – Josh Holcomb, Daro Behroozi, Joshua Gawel, Charles Sams IV, and Raphael Buyo — first gained viral fame in 2014 after they performed a mash-up of Lipps Inc.’s “Funkytown” and James Brown’s “I Feel Good” in the NYC subway. Since then, they’ve grown their sound to include a wide range of brass traditions, built up a loyal fanbase, and toured the globe. Ahead of their European tour, three members of Lucky Chops sat down to talk EXCLUSIVELY with HollywoodLife about the making of the album, the formation of the band, what it was like playing for NYC subway commuters, and more.
Hollywood: You all attended the LaGuardia Art High School, so are you bound by law to know every single word to Fame?
Joshua Holcomb: Bound by law, yes.
Joshua Gawel: What’s Fame?
JH: It’s more of an unwritten code, I’d say. And also it was we were dancing on the tables every day during all of our classes, burst out into a spontaneous song … no. Actually, he didn’t go to high school with us.
JG: The movie?
JH: Yeah, the movie that actually I haven’t seen to this day. Have you?
JG: I went to a public school, no.
Daro Behroozi: Actually, I think … so I was a year ahead of Josh Holcomb, and I think every year maybe up till your year, or perhaps you just skipped it or something, but they like made us sit in the auditorium in like the first week of school and watch the movie. It was fun. They’re like, “This is what it’s going to be like, everyone.” But it wasn’t quite like that, definitely has changed since like the ’80s along with the rest of the city.
JH: We met [Josh Gawel] in college.
What college did you guys meet at?
JH: We were at the Manhattan School of Music, so doing music as you could imagine.
And the band was already formed by then?
JH: In its early stages. Well, we had originally started back in 2006, so we were in high school for a couple of years doing that. And then, as we all split up into college, we managed to keep the band together. And then after college, we decided to go for it full time and just commit to it and, much to our parents’ shock, do a brass band.
[To Josh Gawel] Did you have a high school band?
JG: No, I didn’t really. I was in marching band and the concert band, didn’t really have a band with my friends though. Not until I was in college, I started doing kind of stuff like that.
Lucky Chops kind of defies the concept of like a high school band because when you think high school band, it’s guitars and angst. This is brass and sass and joy. Do you attribute to this energy as a reason why this group is thriving?
JG: Yeah, it’s a fairly I guess kind of unique little situation we have. And I think maybe part of that uniqueness is appealing to people, so perhaps that’s been one thing that’s contributed to us being able to do it for all these years. That kind of … it’s almost like a novelty appeal but with substance to back it up.
You honed your chops with one of the hardest audiences in the world: the New York City subway system. What it is like to play for half-awake commuters, lost tourists, and what I imagine are like other performers? Also, what made you guys say, “You know what, let’s go underground — literally.”
JH: A bunch of reasons. When we were in high school, we started out kind of performing in Central Park and in various parks and just on the sidewalks of New York. So before we were underground, we were kind of beginning to hone our public kind of busking chomps above ground, and so that was good like preliminary training, playing in the parks and stuff like that when you’re really young. And it was always kind of one of our goals to play in the subway, but you actually need a permit, and you have to audition to be a part of this program that allows subway performers to play.
And it’s actually kind of a competitive scene to get into, so we had tried one year and we didn’t get in when we were really young. And then after a little while, we tried again. Then finally we got accepted, and kind of all of our training above ground was good practice to then kind of really take it to the next level underground and just kind of play our music for more people and all types of people which we really love doing.
DB: Yeah, the subway was kind of like the big stage that we were like, “Wow, someday we’ll get to play in the subway.” Because we were always just like a busking band, that was our roots. Like we started by playing at the Filipino Day Parade as a marching band. There were also bands like we knew of — like Hypnotic Brass Band was playing in Union Square in the subway when we were in high school. And that was like … they were like, “Wow, Hypnotic Brass Band’s playing in the subway. Like maybe someday we’ll get to play,” you know?
It’s a different path to success. Typically, you think, ‘Oh, I start a band, I play at a club, I get a record deal.” But, you found a different platform for your music – it just happened to be next to the 6 train.
JH: Definitely. And at that time, we were already doing actual gigs like in venues and weddings, private events, all stuff. But, playing in the subway, it was right around the time that videos on YouTube were starting to be a thing. All these social media kind of things were really started to blow up, and we could just see that there was a lot of potential by playing in the subway, viral potential, if you will.
You’re playing for thousands of people walking by. Every single time, it’s a brand new audience of thousands of people. So we look at it as like it’s the biggest business card you could have is playing in the subway for all these people.
All the songs on your 2019 release, Lucky Chops, have this vibrancy — like there’s natural uplifting energy. Your 2015 release, NYC, was delightful, but it feels like there was a ‘kick in the happy’ on this new record.
DB: A kick in the happy, that’s our new tagline. Thank you for inventing that, we’ll credit you.
With this new album, did you say, “You know what, let’s make the happiest record of 2019.”
JH: I wouldn’t say that was the specific main objective. I feel like in our music, that’s one thing that we really like to fill it with is joy, and that kind of like positive passion. And it’s kind of almost like an alternative to a lot of kind of more negative music that’s out there these days. So we like to just really inject a lot of that into our music.
DB: I think also since we recorded that 2015 album, so much changed with our band and our sound and the way that we play our instruments and our experience in recording studios. And so that was like our first time really going into the studio, well, the second time.
In 2015, we were just kind of like trying things out for the first time. And this time, we had more of an idea of what we were doing, and we also like had developed our playing a lot more after touring. Because that 2015 album was before we even toured and we had really just been playing in the subway for a little while too.
I think spending years just putting everything that you have into your instruments like every night and getting energy back from people, that really like cause transformed the way that we can just do that. On this album, we were already in a place where like everything … just give it our all, happiness, sadness, all colors of emotion and feeling.
You’ve got some EDM production on this album. The first song on the record, “Halfway to the Hudson,” it’s a dance track! Plus, the first single, “Full Heart Fancy,” – all it needs is a DJ to remix it, and it’ll be on top of the club charts.
JH: That’s the idea.
DC: Hopefully. Who wants to put our song on top of the club charts?
Did you work with any EDM people? Did you consult them on these tracks, or was this just all you guys?
JH: No, we’re fans of like all different types of music. And it’s one of the things that we like to really focus on is combining all of our different personal musical tastes and interests. But even us three here, we all have very different musical styles that we are influenced by. EDM, singer/songwriter, world musics, like tons of different styles, jazz, rock, all sorts of cool stuff.
And we didn’t consult any EDM authorities per se, but we actually did have a producer that we worked named Nick Hard for the record. He’s an awesome guy, he worked with Snarky Puppy and a bunch of other artists.
Is there like one song on this album that you guys look to and be like, “This was the time that we really challenged ourselves,” or you were like, “I never thought I would ever play a song like that before?”
DC: I think for all of us with different songs. Because we also wrote the songs individually and so we would spend more time individually working with Nick on our own songs. So I think for each of us like we had probably one or two big ones that we really took beyond what we thought we would. For me, I think it was “It’s Not Goodbye. “ Like that one turned into a totally just production-based track like so different from the original version that I imagined, which was just like a basically live drum set and a band kind of playing through the song.
JG: I had like a general idea of how I wanted my songs to sound, but Nick did add a few things like in “Traveler,” we changed the feel of the whole entire song, and that actually was for the better. So I didn’t expect that to happen and I was very happy with the outcome of that idea. But generally, yeah, for the most part, it was like pretty what I kind of expected it to sound like or wanted to sound like, and we spent a lot of time, and he helped with his … helped and stuff. I don’t know anything about the computer stuff like these guys do.
But yeah, pretty much it was kind of like what I envisioned, which was a surprise to me because I never had the opportunity to do stuff like that before, so I guess that was surprising itself then.
So, you’re on your way to Europe [note: they’re currently there now.] after a few dates in Colorado, you then are doing, what was it, like a three-month tour in North America? Yes, that sounds both insane and exciting. Are you excited and insane?
JH: Yes, to both of those, 100%. Yeah, for sure. It’s been a while since we’ve done a tour. We took a break for the summer, which was the first break that we’ve had in a couple of years. So it was good because it gave us a chance to rest, a chance to like get refocused–
JG: –Finish the album–
JH: –Finish the album, get it out there, and then make us really excited to go back out on the road. And, on this tour, we’re starting a new YouTube series called Brass Worlds where it’s kind of like a little documentary slash interview, a series where we’ll be meeting with fans from different countries who have local brass traditions. And we learn about those traditions and kind of learn about their culture a little bit and then share it on our YouTube channel. So we’re really pumped to kick that off on this tour.
Perfect. “Lucky Chops” on Youtube?
JH: That’s it, yeah. And if anybody has any suggestions of applicants, just send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lucky Chops is out now. Lucky Chops are currently on tour. Check here for the dates.