Saturday Night 12.07.13 ICEHOUSE in Minneapolis was alive with what can only be described as a NEW SOUND... or perhaps a NEW SOUND UNDERGROUND. These guys are truly blazing a new musical trail and it's exciting to watch. (oh, and hear)
New Sound Underground Is:
Kevin Gastonguay ~ Keyboard/Organ/Synthesizer
Trent Jacob Baarspul ~ Electric Guitar
Christopher Ray Hunnicutt ~ Electric Bass
Kenyari Steele-Jackson ~ Drums
Sten Johnson ~ Trumpet/Flugelhorn/Trombone
Nelson Devereaux ~ Saxophones
This was their last show in Minneapolis until 2014... but you can see them in Chicago ... for the CD Release show by their opening band Saturday night... Spare Parts on January 31st.
The NSU has been described as a SUPERFUNK band... and I am here to tell you they are that and then some. They shape shift from one genre to another seamlessly... I caught up with Sten Johnson... who manages to play not one but THREE instruments in this super-group... our conversation and some photos from Saturdays gig...
ME: When did you start playing trumpet?
Sten: I started playing when I was 10. I was lucky enough to have a school band program that started in 4th grade.
ME: Why Trumpet?
Sten: I actually wanted to be a drummer. My father played the drums, and was always tapping out rhythms around the house. But, when everyone was choosing their band instruments in 4th grade, all of my least favorite classmates and none of my friends chose drums. So, being 10 years old and very shy, I decided to pick the next best thing, which in my mind was the trumpet. I remember not choosing saxophone because 'people only pick saxophone so they can play the blues' - ha! It turns out that I hated playing my cornet so much that I once threw it out in the street hoping someone would come by and steal it so I wouldn't have to fill out practice sheets anymore. No one stole it, and I still had to practice, so here I am still playing.
ME: How did you get started with NEW SOUND UNDERGROUND?
Sten: The band started in 2009 as a hip-hop open mic night under the name 'P.B. and the Jam'. Eventually, the core rhythm section coalesced around a funkier, more jazz influence sound. I had known a few of the founding members through our time at McNally Smith College of Music, and when they were looking to expand their sound with a couple horns, I jumped at it. I joined the band full time in 2012, and shortly thereafter we all decided that the group and the music were both taking on a new shape, so with new members and new musical influences we became New Sound Underground.
ME: What's your favorite song you currently perform with the band and why?
Sten: That's really tough. One that's for sure at the top of the list is Trent's tune 'The Great Escape'. I get to play all three horns on that one. It starts with a flugel cadenza, goes to the main melody on trombone, and finishes with some great high stuff on trumpet. It's a real challenge keeping the chops centered on all that switching up, but the fun of changing voices and tones is worth it.
ME: Do you play music full time?
Sten: I wish, I've being focusing a lot more on doing creative gigs, and teaching has had to pick up the slack income wise. I used to do a lot more jobbing, and I've also done a lot of arranging and orchestration, but I've found that in order to keep my sanity the music I play has to push me in a creative direction.
ME: What did your parents say when you said ... "I want to be a musician"?
Sten: They might have worried about how I was going to pay for things, they probably still do! But they have always been very supportive. I spent my first year of college as a math major, but was driving over two hours home most weekends to play shows in the Twin Cities. So when I told them that I wanted to stay in St. Paul and drop the math major, I think they understood that I was making an informed decision. I'm not really sure I was, but that's the way it worked out!
ME: What's your favorite style of music to play?
Sten: I love to be actively engaged in listening and improvising with other musicians. That's really just it. I do love salsa music though, that's what I came up in the scene playing. But to me salsa doesn't have a lot of room for exploration. It's definitely popular music with great cultural depth, but on a dance gig there's not a lot of room for exploration.
ME: Do you play any other instruments?
Sten: Right now I'm trying to get good at trombone. I picked it a few years ago after being inspired by the sound of the trombone in salsa music. Then I heard Trombone Shorty and James Morrison just destroy both horns, and I decided that's what I'm have to do too. I also play French horn and I'm proficient enough with piano to compose more or less freely.
ME: How many days a week/month do you perform?
Sten: It can vary quite a bit. When we're on the road we're playing almost every day. But the majority of the time I'm still in town, and there's enough things going on that I'm often playing 15-20 shows a month.
ME: So I am curious... what do you listen to?
Sten: As a trumpet player, Roy Hargrove and Sean Jones have been really influential lately. The underlying currents of blues and gospel music in their playing speak to me in a powerful way. As a composer, Snarky Puppy is number one for me right now. That's leaning heavily on more popular forms of music, but for more jazz-oriented stuff I'm really digging Avishai Cohen and Cuong Vu. I really get into music that takes the listener on a journey, so I've been gravitating towards music that is more through composed.
ME: Do you go to a lot of live shows? Or do you get tired of live music... and just like some peace and quiet when you're not gig-ing?
Sten: I always have this goal of getting out at least once a week, but only sometimes do I live up to that for any amount of time. There are a lot of creative people in this town, and it's so great to check out what's going on, so I'll make that my New Year's resolution yet again.
ME: Tell me about Spare Parts.... how did you team up with them?
Sten: As we try to take our music into other cities, it's really great when we can make a connection with local musicians. Spare Parts are from Chicago - we've known about there music for a while and decided it would be great to team up for a couple events in Minneapolis and Chicago. So we're playing Icehouse together tonight and then in January we'll be with them in Chicago for there CD release. I'm actually meeting them for the first time tonight, and can't wait to hear them live.
ME: What's next... for you musically...
Sten: I've been thinking a lot about how the intersection between 70's rock a la Led Zeppelin and free improvisation would pan out. I really dig what groups like Dave King Trucking company are doing - I think they find a great balance between out and in, serious improvisation around accessible tunes. If I can make time for that type of project, it'll probably be what's next.
ME: And now for the most serious question... if your trumpet was an animal... which animal would it be?
Sten: An owl. I've had some strange experiences with owls. Same with the trumpet.
I am the PR, Advertising, Marketing, Web and Social mind at Harrelson Trumpets. When I am not at work- I paint: