Lucky Chops are a five-piece, funky brass, woodwind, and percussion band out of New York City. You know them as the band that’s graced your Facebook feeds as often as they perform in the platforms of the New York subway. Multiple videos of Charles Sams on drums, Daro Behroozi on tenor and baritone saxophone, Josh Holcomb on trombone, Joshua Gawel on trumpet and Raphael Buyo on sousaphone have gone viral on the internet since the band’s subway debut.
On Saturday at Chicago’s Riot Fest, they were the parade of men carrying glistening brass that tossed the sun directly into your eyes and reflected the rainbow on stage later that night.
Lucky Chops is a group of romantics. They’re classically trained, friendly musicians and instrumentalists who believe in the power of music to transform one’s mood. The band talked about their growth from the subway to the Heather Owen stage at Riot Fest, and the start of their humble beginnings: the application and audition process that it takes to play in the NYC subway…
Holcomb: “Yeah, you have to audition to play in the grossest place in the entire world. It doesn’t really make much sense, but you have to. So, we did it once and didn’t make it…but we persevered, and, sure enough, we were allowed to play in the subway!”
Buyo: We tried like four or five times.
Holcomb: The competition is real down there.
Do you credit a lot of your success to people videotaping you in the subway?
Holcomb: It’s funny. When we first started getting some videos poppin’ off down there, the first guy that ever did it – I became his Facebook friend and tried to chat with him. He didn’t really speak any English at all. And he was not asking for this to happen, but it started to blow up and got a couple million views, and he kind of freaked out. And he just deleted the video completely, then he blocked me on Facebook. He did not want this at all! He did us a huge favor and then wished it never happened for him. But just because it was out there, more people started to do it, and it kind of just took off itself.
Do you ever play in the subway anymore?
Holcomb: When we have time! Believe it or not, it’s been a really nice thing to play the subway because it’s so chaotic and so horrible down there most of the time; we can try to change that a little bit and to put a positive spin on it, play healing music for people, and cause them to actually have a better experience in the subway that I guess they weren’t probably expecting to have.
Did you all start playing instruments in your grade school band?
Sams: I actually had to fight to play in my school band. I started playing when I was in elementary school, and you weren’t allowed to be in the band until you were in the third grade. My mom would always tell me stories that in kindergarten I would literally have fits during class because they would not let me play, and I would just lose my mind. It didn’t stop me from playing. All my pencils were confiscated during class because I’d be banging on everything. I couldn’t do work because they took away all my pencils, so… I didn’t stop playing.
How do you approach writing new music?
Behroozi: I get a lot of inspiration from going to the piano to write songs. Since you actually feel like the real vibrations of the instrument in the air, I feel like it’s a good way to sort of approximate the experience you’re going to get with brass instruments, as opposed to just composing on the computer where you don’t actually hear it in the air. With brass instruments, and especially with only brass instruments, it’s a very specific way that you need to write to figure out how the vibrations fit together and how those sounds are going to sound their best.
Are you excited to see anyone else here at Riot Fest?
Holcomb: Streetlight Manifesto’s going on right after us! Streetlight was a big inspiration for us as horn players growing up. They kind of showed us that there’s more to being a horn player than just jazz and classical. It can be like made relevant for today. That’s something we try to continue doing.
Lucky Chops are currently on a tour supporting Gogol Bordello across the United States through November of this year.