A lot has happened since I first met NO BS! Brass co-founder Reggie Pace, so I knew this was going to be a long conversation. But it is always nice to sit down with a friend and ask them everything you ever wanted to know about their career choices and what makes them tick. From starting NO BS! Brass to the many bands he has been in (sometimes on TV) to podcasting and food shows, Reggie is a super busy guy, and we go through all of it here.
Ed. Note — Also, in full disclosure, we are including the new music video by NO BS! Brass, ‘Applause,’ which I directed alongside photographer Joey Wharton. Check it out below!
Reggie Pace: I’m a musician and composer from Richmond, Virginia. I play in and co-founded No BS! Brass back in 2006 with Lance Koehler. I also am a member of Night Idea, Piranha Rama and former member of Bon Iver. And I am a freelance composer, brass player, percussionist, and background singer.
R. Anthony Harris: Where did No BS! Brass come from, the idea of that band? And how did that form?
RP: There were a lot of players in town because of VCU, and we were all friends. So a lot of us were getting together with Gordon ‘Saxman’ Jones to play traditional New Orleans music at random places in Richmond. Eventually, I wanted to make a band in which we wrote our own music, and I liked the implementation of a brass band. Initially, Lance and I were thinking about doing a band with just trombones, and that became an obstacle more than anything else, since people wanted to join. So we started to have these rehearsals where anybody was welcome to come. Eventually, we had a lot of brass players there, and we played our first gig. I believe our first gig ever was at 1708 Gallery, back in the day at one of the old Patchwork Collective shows. Remember Patchwork Collective?
RAH: Yeah, I do. And did Lance already have a recording studio?
RP: Lance is a drummer and an engineer. Yes, he already had a recording studio.
RAH: You were part of a number of experimental groups in those beginning years, like Fight the Big Bull and Glows In The Dark. How would you describe the Richmond scene in those years? Probably 2006 to 2010ish.
RP: I thought it was very exciting. You know, there was a lot of places to play and I felt like everyone was my peers, even though a lot of them are a little bit older than me at the time. Now, I’m like an elder statesman. But at the time, I was like the young guy and everybody already knew each other. There was a lot of bands and a lot of shows to go see, and that was the cool thing to do. It was almost like a little renaissance in a way.
There was a lot of art, a lot of music videos, a lot of gallery shows, a lot of artists in general, making a lot of stuff. And this was actually kind of before it was really easy for everyone to see everything. It wasn’t like now, in which anything your band says or does is on Instagram or Facebook immediately. It definitely felt like treasure hunting. You know, like walking to Carytown to go to Chop Suey Books and it’s like, “Holy shit, there’s a huge band playing in Chop Suey.” You know when they had bands on the top floor, in the old location of Chop Suey? Stuff like that, or like, Richbrau and Tobacco Company and then every gallery in town, and it felt like every restaurant in town, had a band for a second there. [Laughs]
RAH: Yeah, it did seem that way. Even before COVID hit, did you feel like the city still had that same kind of energy — where music was everywhere?
RP: It did not have the same type of energy, but the energy is still there. As the times changed, I think certain types of bands became less interested in the capitalistic side of what you had to do to play gigs. Like, a lot of bands became less interested in “Oh, you’re here to sell beer.” And that’s your objective tonight.
And then, I felt like that the house show scene kind of had a renaissance. There were lots of different shows happening in Jackson Ward, even on the south side. You know, shows that just had nothing to do with being at a bar. Music had become tied to the idea of: you weren’t in a successful band unless you were selling X amount of alcohol at this place, which is still not an unheard of idea, even at the highest level. They want you to be able to sell booze at venues, unless you’re like, super-famous. That’s the part of the bottom line for a venue, you know?
So I felt like [shows] still happened but they just became more way more underground. So there was still a lot of shows, but you had to find them in a different way. Like the clothing stores and Jackson Ward started having hip hop shows. House show venues like The Yerb. Yeah, it just became different.
RAH: It did seem like the places that wanted to have bands were not gonna book you unless you were going to sell X amount of beer. It kind of got away from the spirit of: people are just gonna play and you’ve got to find them. They might play in some closet in the back of this random business just to have a party, you know?
RP: It definitely became a thing that needs to be searched for a lot more as a part of getting older, and just not knowing where everybody is. At some point, you can’t just think it’s gonna just come across your psyche.
I remember I had made like a pact with myself, that “I’m going to go see a show at Strange Matter and I don’t want to know the name any of the bands.” And I just started doing that, like once a week. And that became amazing. RIP Strange Matter. I feel like there’s still isn’t a place in town that does what that place was doing, as far as bringing lots of different genres of music together in this type of room, in a way that was separate from glossy pop-ness. You can be successful in different genres of music other than the most popular ones. There are huge metal bands, there are huge punk bands, huge noise bands, but it’s out of the mainstream, so it seems like there is no space for it. But that place was amazing because it had a great sound system.
The thing about DIY shows, there’s not a really awesome sound system, and it always feels very much like a garage show, even when it’s done right. Which is different than playing in a venue. Everyone always dreams of playing at rock clubs and big venues when you are a young musician. So yeah, that’s a big difference.
RAH: Off the top of your head, how many bands have you been a part of? You have a number? [Laughs]
RP: [Laughs] I don’t know, because as a horn player, you get called a lot to be a sideman. It’s play a show here, or there. It’s not the same as joining the band all the time. It’s like being an auxiliary member that gets called when, “Oh, we have a big show. We have a big CD release show, I want a horn section for it.” So lots of times I’ll end up in situations in which they know I’m good enough to step in and nail it on a show that’s a big deal for them, and I don’t know any of the music. So that is a lot of confidence they have in me and bringing people in to perform with them.
As far as being in the band, I would say the ones you named were kind of it. It was No BS! Brass, Glows In The Dark, Fight the Big Bull. The bands I’m in now, like Piranha Rama, Night Idea and I was in John Hulley’s band, Brunswick. Again, traveling as a sideman, I’ve been in lots of groups being a touring musician. Devil’s Workshop was probably the first thing I was a part of in town, that was doing original music.
RAH: And it’s interesting, you have a perspective where, when you play in all these different bands, there are different goals. Glows in the Dark and Fight the Big Bull etc., there is a distinct sound, vs. a No BS! Brass.
RP: I think that was a part of the amazing moment, or boom, that happened around 2006-2007 that you are describing, in which we were all friends, and everyone was willing to go headfirst into whatever the leader’s vision was for the project. There was way less ego.
So like, Glows in the Dark — this music is about movies, and it is in this genre, and we all played in what the vision was. As opposed to, “Alright, it’s my time to shine!” [trumpet noises] [laughs] and be something that isn’t a part of the vibe, you know what I mean? Fight The Big Bull, too. We are all doing good music. No BS! Brass, it’s like: this is a very different genre. We are all moving the music space. It has its roots in people moving and dancing, being outside. That is different than a jazz band that sits down, and stuff like that. It’s just a different motivation.
RAH: Does that help you as a composer, having experienced so many different vibes and different ways of portraying music?
RP: Yeah. Being able to put yourself in the shoes of all the stuff we like, because we all like different types of music. Every person does. If everyone’s like, “Oh, I love ‘Don’t Stop Believing,’ and I also love Erykah Badu, and I also love, you know, Nas” — I only said Nas because I am talking to you! [Laughs] All of us love different types of music. But as a musician, it’s easy to end up pigeonholed into one thing that you believe your instrument is supposed to do, or what you get known for doing. I didn’t like that.
Playing trombone — in some ways, it is the most restrictive, and in other ways, it’s the most freeing for me, because I get to make my reality however I want. It’s rare that a band is like, “You know what? We need a trombone player!” [laughs] It is not really like that. So I have to bring myself to the table as musician. Bring a vibe to the stage and a lot of different expertise. As a trombone player, there would never be an opportunity to play in a band that just sounded like Journey, or playing in a band that sounded like a hip hop band. You have to create those stakes if you really want to do it as a working musician.
So that was one of my goals. I wanted to play and experience what it was like to be in lots of different bands. In high school, I played in all the bands that would have a horn player in it. I played every Earth, Wind & Fire song, Chicago, No Doubt. The Big Band Renaissance, I played all of it. Fucking Brian Setzer Orchestra and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, anything you can think of like that! Everybody in my entire life has been sending me clips of, like, “Have you ever heard of Chicago?” That has been happening to me since I was a kid. [Laughs]
So those types of things are prevalent, but doing the things NOT like that is what I was really interested in. And that was one of the main nuggets of inspiration for No BS! Brass. I wanted to have this project that could play any style of music, but with this particular instrumentation that’s never done it. So even when we play covers, we almost never play a cover in which the [original version] is based on horns. Never.
No one had ever heard just horns do ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World.’ There are no horns in that song. That is the complete arrangement of how we can make the songs work. We cover the guitar solo and everything. And that was something unique. I thought at the time, it feels fresh, even though it’s a classic song, a huge eighties hit. But it feels fresh, without having guitars. There’s something about not having guitars there on stage at all, and not having a keyboard on stage at all, that makes it something special. People are like, how are they going to do this? You hear all the chords going by and it’s like, “Wow, they have to create all those chords per person.” You know, like the trombone section and tuba, it’s the left hand of the piano. Like, one person will be covering that, and we would be four people covering the piano part. You might need eight people to cover the piano part, because we’re covering the melody line and the chords they’re playing and the bass player over to the right, and we got our own drummer. So for me, it feels fun, it feels like a puzzle. Like, how can I make this arrangement come to life with these people and have the things that are strong seem strong? And not make it seem like, ‘This was pretty good. It just sounds like a version of it. Without guitar.’ I didn’t want that. I want people to be like, “Holy shit.”
It’s almost the opposite with us nowadays. People think about us and they think about the covers, and we actually play like one cover a year, but it blows people’s minds that there’s no guitars. Like we get asked, ‘You guy cover this, or cover that?’ Actually, we don’t. We play these five covers, and we have a ton of original music. So that’s [what] the nugget of inspiration for that band was. Inspiration, not information.
And Lance has a really specific, amazing drumming style. He can do all kinds of stuff, he can play all kinds of genres, and he has an amount of fire and explosiveness in his playing that’s hard for anybody to see and not be impressed by. Doesn’t matter what time or place; if Lance is kicking that shit, that shit is getting kicked, you know? And Stefan, the tuba player, has, like, iron lungs. He is playing the whole time, like an electric bass player, except every note he played had a breath behind it. He can’t just look around and make faces at the audience. Or dance. You know, he does that every place he goes. The pieces are awesome. And then going on to the rest of the band, [it] was definitely put together like a basketball team. That’s how I think about it.
RAH: I’m gonna keep an eye on the tuba player next time I watch you guys play.
RP: He turns it up, then everything else is teamwork. I think about it that way. If I’m composing something, I’ll think about it almost like a basketball player. Alright, I’m going to have these two guys do this. And they’re doing it, and I’m going to have these guys do this. And we’re going to go around to this side, and we’re going to meet here. Boom! That’s the chorus, and we all come back around. I visualize it, thinking about the people as I write it. It is not generic. And as we have different personnel in the band, how I write changes.
Adding Sam Reed to the band changed the focus. Now we can write in this register, we can do these things, and now I can create an amazing space shuttle for Sam Reed to fly it. Now we’re in a Cadillac that Sam Reed is driving. Now we are in a train, we are a train conductor now. I really visualize it. It is all mixed together — the personnel, plus the creativity, plus the specific restrictions of the instrumentation. And then trying to be as creative as possible within all of those restrictions.
RAH: I think that’s fascinating. That leads me to my next question. Having been in all these bands, at one point you started Jellowstone Records, a label. Did you enjoy that process? And this is still going on?
RP: It’s not going on. Interpersonal shit kind of made it impossible. It’s like, you got too many Michael Jordans. You know what I mean? It just, like, wasn’t feasible. I don’t really want to get into all the drama. I try to keep that in-house. You know what I mean?
RAH: No, I don’t want to get into that either. I am interested in the perspective change from being a performer to trying to manage and develop talent. What was that process like?
RP: I think that was kind of the big problem. I totally underestimated the idea of, like, having to do that and not be a musician anymore. You cannot do it and be a musician; you have to hire a team. Like, Def Jam had to have mad people that worked there that were not musicians, you know what I’m saying? [Laughs] You can’t just be musicians and one guy trying to be a label alone. So I think that was the main thing I really learned from that. I feel like every problem stemmed from it. I wasn’t there enough there. There wasn’t enough Reggies to do what we need to do. But it was an idea, and sometimes you win some, you lose some.
RAH: We will just leave it at that! Now you’re on The Hustle Season Podcast with Kelli Strawbridge and James Seretis. What do you enjoy about the podcast format?
RP: I love podcasts. And I think it all still revolves around friendship. Kelli Strawbridge and I have been cool since 2001. When I met Kelli, I was a freshman. He must have been a sophomore or a junior at VCU, and we’ve been cool ever since. So being around him is always great. Having someone that has known you for so long and seen you change, seen your failures, seen your wins, seen how people act, and seen it all — it’s really refreshing.
We all know a lot about music, and it’s cool to have an outlet in which you can show a different side of your intelligence. People don’t necessarily know that musicians can really be nerds, and really know music history. I know a lot about music history in specific bands, and like, the MTV era — all of that is deep in my bones. And then Kelli knows a lot about this. And James Seretis knows a lot about this. Like these three different things, we kind of converge and make fun of each other. They make fun of me about not knowing about classic rock, which I couldn’t give two shits about, and I think it’s awesome. And I make fun of them not knowing anything about hip hop. They get really defensive. That cracks me up. [Laughs]
So I think that’s amazing. That’s Kelli. I’m happy that he asked me to be a part of that, and I want to do a lot more of that. Like, I started to do an interview show for a second there, right before COVID stopped my momentum. I do want to get back to that, because interviewing people is super-fun. And I get to make a connection with people in a way that is hard to do, especially as a musician. We rarely get to be around each other without there being something else that we’re doing, unless you’re just hanging out in the house with friends or something. You know, there’s tons of people I wish I knew better, and the interview show is going to be my excuse to do that.
RAH: I love interviewing. This is actually my sixth interview in two days.
RAH: There is something about interviewing people, being able to stop someone that you just want to talk to you and wish you had a reason to ask them questions, dig a little deeper.
So you are working on a project that combines your love of food and your music, called Eat With Pace. How did this idea come around? And what has been the response?
RP: Just trying to figure out something creative to do during quarantine, since we couldn’t do shows. And I am really interested in learning videography and filmmaking. That’s really a backburner hobby passion. I would love to have a job in the movie industry, or have a job in the film industry proper — anything really.
But that’s how it started; I built a PC, and I was learning how to do video editing. And at the time, everyone had to do takeout, everything was about takeout all of a sudden. The whole world was doing takeout, or never leaving the house again. [Laughs] That what I felt like for a second. So I wanted to showcase places that I liked, and also practice my own video editing skills. And I have all these beats I made laying around. Musicians are constantly making music, and most of it nobody will ever hear. I don’t know if people know that. I have a ton of music that I’m pretty sure nobody will hear. I was like, “Let’s use some of this music that I have.” I realized I have my own video library of music. I can do this.
So I found places that I liked and started making more of a TV show version of it. That kind of evolved to smaller snapshots of promoting local businesses; essentially, I do them when I can. So I go to a place, I get good footage… I love the idea of promoting local restaurants, because they saved our lives in a lot of ways by keeping people from going crazy. And I just wanted to do something that uplifted these restaurant folks. I just do it for fun, honestly, but I would love to make it a TV show proper and do more on camera stuff. There’s not enough hours in the day for all the projects that I want to do.
So it’s been spending most of my time getting my discipline together. I’m going to finish this NO BS! Brass record. Alright, my brass band record is finished, now it’s time to start a new record. And now let’s finish this Eat with Pace project, which is going to be an album and video series. And then I want to finish this project and I want to get all these website things together. So being a musician simply became about doing so much more stuff than just making the music. I see why you see a celebrity — like a Kim Kardashian, even though she’s not even a musician. But just look at the fact that she has a team of people doing stuff all the time. There’s so much stuff that I could get done if I had more arms.
RAH: You constantly are getting into new projects, Reggie.
RP: Yeah, I have to do it. [Laughs]
RAH: I only have two more questions for you. What do you love about Richmond?
RP: I love the feeling of whatever idea that you want to do, you could feasibly save up a check or two working and get it done. There are videographers in town that are amazing, and if you save up a little bit and holler at them, you can make and create an amazing music video. You can start a band and play, if you really want to put in the time calling people. You can go to a venue and set up a little residency. There are tons of studios in town, if you wanted to make a high quality demo. Or go see some amazing art — there’s a lot of art in town, and these people are accessible. I love that.
New York is the same, but it’s so much bigger that it’s hard to feel like you are amassing people in the same way. I’m choosing New York as an example, but any much bigger place. In a way, this place is small, but the arts, music, and restaurant culture, which I kind of see as one big group of people that all hang out all the time at the same handful of bars, like Helen’s, Joe’s Inn, Sticky Rice and GWAR Bar. You go out and you see your restaurant people, artists, musicians, actors, dancers, all the time together. Which is amazing.
It’s like having an arts district, but as a city, and the city itself doesn’t seem to foster it. The city itself doesn’t really put any time or effort or money into the local scene at all. So everyone has a chip on their shoulders, of “We got this done!” Even though they won’t let us play unless there’s food in this place. They won’t let us play unless this. You can’t play hip hop in here. “Hip Hop shows are going to destroy Virginia!” [Laughs] Just a bunch of bullshit. It’s like there’s bullshit everywhere you turn. Yet, there’s tons of bands and artists! So there’s something special about that.
RAH: I love that about the city too. And last question. What are you excited about?
RP: Did you hear Marbles? Marbles is saying hi. [Laughs]
RAH: What was that? I thought that was a balloon or something.
RP: It’s a cat. Over the quarantine, I have not done a single interview without her talking. She loves talking during interviews. [Laughs] Anyway, what am I excited about?
RAH: For this year…
RP: This year. Releasing this NO BS! Brass record. The title is Undying. Getting that out and releasing way more music. It used to be like we released the music and toured to support it. And that’s kind of how it works. But now everything seems so up in the air, like my feed online is bands announcing tours and bands canceling tours on the same feed all day long. That’s all I see. Tour announcements, tour cancellations. Show announcements, show cancellations. So I think making music is something that I can control, personally.
We’re just going to focus on releasing brass band music, releasing the food series. Eat with Pace Volume 1, releasing that. I’m very excited about that. Supporting my friends, you know? Getting to the studio to record with Night Idea. Sam Koff has got a project to support. And I feel like I’m forgetting something. Oh, Piranha Rama — we made a record, and I’m assuming that’s probably going to come out this year. I would like to put out an album that just has my name on it. I’ve never done that. I’ve been working on that for years, and I need to, like I was saying earlier, get my discipline together so I can chop that down into bite-size consumable chunks for people. I don’t want to just drop off… Or maybe I should be like Kanye. “I am dropping a hard drive! 100 gigs!” The hard drive album. [Laughs]
RAH: I love that!
RP: I’m excited about right now. And of course The Hustle Season is rolling, regularly charting on the podcast charts, and we are making way more music. We’re shooting the video portion of it. Now we have a Patreon setup that has extra content. We’re doing sketches, all kinds of stuff coming soon. I have another sketch thing that I’m secretly working on that nobody knows, and we’ve written a lot of stuff.
RAH: That’s typical Reggie, you’ve got so much going on. Well, this has been great. I just I want to thank you again for taking the time and I hope you have a good rest of the day.
RP: You too, Tony. You have been a big part of keeping a lot of this rolling too. It is easy to ignore how someone found out about something, it’s easy to forget about that — oh I heard about this. RVA Magazine, and even Style Weekly when they had that calendar really going. It was such a huge deal in a town like this, because people are fiending for things that are out of the norm, and having people there to cover it. Explaining to people. “Wow, look at all this stuff that exists right in this place.” Like, walking distance from where you go all the time.
So congrats to you Tony, thanks to you for being a part of that, and having me along. We are never going to stop as artists. You don’t really retire, so I’m sure I will see you soon.
RAH: We will do another interview in ten years! [Laughs] I love doing what I can to help, Reggie. I’ll catch up with you soon.
Photos by Joey Wharton