The Brand New Life talk influences, one-ups

by Ryan Snyder

The Brand New Life is like the multi-ethnic food court of the Triad music scene.

Even before taking on an eighth member, the Brand New Life could create quite a commotion. The then-seven-piece world-crunk ensemble cobbled together a hyper-kinetic chimera of Afro-Cuban, funk, dub and even hints of Baltimore house influences. Now an eight-man juggernaut of polyrhythm and brass with the addition of talking-drum player Mamadou Mbengue, the band is writing new material and setting their sights on making noise on the 2011 festival circuit.

Y!W: Your EP from a couple of months ago was just a taste of what the band does live. What are your plans for recording in 2011?

Walter Fancourt (sax): Recently we’ve written two new songs with Mamadou. Aside from the EP, we have about two albums worth of unrecorded material on top of that.

Y!W: When did your musical relationship with Mamadou begin and how does he fit into the band’s already complex dynamic?

Daniel Yount (drums): We first met him through Sandy Blocker’s drum group. Since then, we hang out with him all the time and he’s played just about every show of ours since then. So it only made sense that we brought him on. He’s the only percussionist in the group that can really control his pitch, so he sort of bridges the gap between the band’s rhythmic and melodic elements. Seth Barden (bass): He’s a musician through and through, and his musical heritage goes so far back. He comes from a long line of griots all the way back past his grandfather and great-grandfather.

Y!W: Does it become difficult to wrangle all of the cues that come with having such a large, predominantly instrumental band? Does one person manage all of the live performance?

Walter: As far as who is leading, it depends on the moment. Sometimes you have to completely depend on another guy to lead you into another part, but as far as one single person kind of presiding over the entire direction of a song or a show, we don’t really have a need for it.

Y!W: Your set this weekend at Legitimate Business, are you going to be working N’DangR Species into your set?

WF: I think we should. I think it’d be awesome. We just have to work on learning their beats and staying away from stuff that’s too unpredictable. SB: We originally started studying this guy named Dean Young, which I think you can find by searching for ‘dean young rapper.’ We really want to get the word out on this guy. He’s a Polynesian rapper with Down’s Syndrome, and he is awesome. He can phrase stuff like Coltrane. We’re just trying to channel Dean Young when we play hiphop-influenced stuff.

Y!W: Who are you channeling otherwise?

DY: There’s this local musician named Devin Foust who lives near UNCG right down the street from us. That’s kind of how the whole band got together. Devin has Down’s Syndrome and couldn’t point to an F key on the piano, he’s just going on pure instinct. I was giving him drum lessons for a while, but I don’t know if you can really call them that. I would come over and put on an album and he would listen and we would try to recreate it. It was more like recreational therapy than anything. Then it started with me and Casey (Cranford), and we just kept bringing people over to Devin’s house to jam. We did this for years before the Brand New Life ever started. But he’s good, it’s really some of the damndest stuff I’ve ever heard. Seth: It turned into these really wild free-jazz explorations that, when we assessed what had happened afterwards, were pretty mind-blowing. He’s the source behind “Zack Is Back” on the EP.

Y!W: What’s the story there?

SB: One summer I came back from college and I cut off my hair. All of a sudden, Devin started calling me Zack. I said, “Devin, my name is Seth,” and he’s like “I know, now you’re Zack.”

The Brand New Life will perform at Legitimate Business this Saturday night with N’DangR Species.