Brian: On DC Music Rocks, we're shining a spot light on the great songs, artists, and incredible people behind the DC region's local music scene.
Black Masala is Washington DC's eclectic, high energy, brass band. Ranging from gypsy music, Balkan brass and New Orleans funk to Bong-Ra and dance music. The band creates an irresistible dance grove pact with funk, gypsy punk and soul. Did you get all of that? Because that was a lot of influences there.
Black Masala has made a big impact on one of the most exciting live acts and as ... Well, they are one of the most exciting live acts in the region, they're part of new generation of go anywhere brass bands. And when they take the stage, their infectious groves result in dance ... In a dance party that leave smiling, concert goers eager for the next song.
I first came across these guys when I first started doing the show. I've been a Black Masala fan. The bassist in my band, Brandon Williams, he was like, "Hey. Listen. You're doing local music. You got to check out Black Masala." And that was about two weeks into doing this show. And I've been a fan ever since. So now I have you here. This is a treat. Thanks for being here guys.
Mike: That's so cool. Thanks for having us.
Brian: Absolutely. Now so talk about Black Masala and how did the band come together.
Mike: So, basically it happened about, we're going on five, six years now. I met a trombone player. He used to live in DC and he wanted to do just gypsy brass music. So it started off just me and him in my basement in DC just working on this music and trying to learn about it a little more and then do our own sort of spin with it.
And then the word spread. We went through about 15 bass players and 100 horn players and eventually we had a band of stable people. But it was great because all the people -
Brian: Those stable people. Mentally stable and emotionally stable and no maybe not, but they were ... They came religiously.
Mike: Yeah. I mean, everyone who was involved in with the band had such a huge impact on the group. And I'm talking about before the band was even, even had a band name. We went through like a ton of different people.
And so we just developed from there. We were playing locally like once a month in some now de-funked venues like The Getaway. There was another venue above there. I can't remember the name. Then we slowly built. I remember our first big show was at Rock and Roll Hotel, actually, with Congo Sanchez, who's the drummer from Thievery Corporation and then it just expanded. Then I started trying to get us out of town and things like that.
And so now, we pretty much have the same group. It's always the same people. Before we had to kind of mix and match quite a bit. You know? When you have a band of seven or eight people, it's kind of like that.
And the music's expanded, obviously from like just being Balkan influenced to like everything else we do, everything else we listen to. And yeah. So now we're doing about 120 shows a year. On the road a lot.
Brian: Holy smokes. Now does that mean you're doing it full time? Is this your job or is this ...
Mike: It's like ... It's not a full time job. I also teach music lessons throughout the week. Like private lessons and stuff like that.
Brian: I see.
Brian: So it's the band and then more music. It's lots of music.
Mike: Yeah. Pretty much. All music. But yeah. I mean, when you're handling a band of this size and then at the time booking and managing, it's like its own full time gig.
Brian: Oh. Absolutely.
Mike: You know? And there's many days where you're doing like ... Or many weeks where you're doing like 40 hours on the band then like 40 hours at your job. And then you're on the road all weekend. And you're just like ... And it was like for years.
Brian: Wow. Yeah.
Mike: We've been fortunate to start to build a team around us over the last couple years. So it's taken the pressure off like the one person, but ...
Brian: That's ... And you ... What kind of lessons are you teaching? You said you teach lessons on the side, too.
Mike: Yeah. I teach drums and I teach piano.
Brian: Wow. Look at that.
Mike: Yeah. Private lessons.
Brian: And Andy, you're here with us too. Talk about you and your role with the band.
Andy: Yeah. Absolutely. I'm part of that team Mike was just talking about. And you know, right after these guys started, maybe a year or so into the project, I checked them out. Went to a couple of shows. And I became a fan. And that's really how it started.
I went to see these guys live and, you know, like you were saying earlier, they have something special. You know, that unique mix of genres, that high energy that they bring to the show and it's just a lot of fun. And then, you know, if you go to enough shows, eventually you've seen it all, so to speak. But then when I would go out to see Black Masala, that was something totally new, something different, something exciting that got me out of the house. So, after going to enough shows, I just started talking to these guys. I was like, "Hey, guys. You have so much potential. I would love to work with you and take things to the next level, help out any way I can." And now, I don't even know, three or four years later, this is where we are. So it's pretty cool.
Brian: That's amazing. And talk about the name. Where did ... Black Masala.
Mike: So, it was kind of ... It was kind of tricky to [crosstalk 00:04:48] name. I just like the word masala. I remember going over it and then we wanted a color to go with it and black was like kind of like the vibe that people were kind of going for. So it was really that simple. Just take this word masala and put black in front of it. And it's kind of the signifies sort of like masala is like a spice that's comprised of a bunch of different spices, so it's like a mixture. So it kind of works in that way, too, if you wanna take some of the meaning.
Brian: By the way, is not to be confused with Marsala.
Brian: Which is ... Does that ever happen?
Mike: That happens all the time. Happens all time.
Brian: Oh, man.
Mike: Yeah. We rage in the background and try not to show it, but we're secretly very upset about that.
Brian: Oops. When they say, "This is Black Marsala." That is so wrong?
Mike: Well, I mean, I gotta tell you. We drove all the way to Pittsburgh one time for a show, which was like about seven hours that day. We got to the venue and it said, "Black Marsala" and then underneath it "Pasta Night." I lost it. I just lost it. I mean, we just like fell over. True story.
Brian: Oh no.
Mike: Yeah. Yeah. It was that awesome.
Brian: Oh man, Mike. That's crazy.
Brian: Alright so, now what about ... So you, outside of the music family ... Obviously this is a lot of your life then, but you must have some other hobbies. Talk about that.
Mike: We like to drive. A lot of driving. And when we're not driving, we like to sleep. No. Some other hobbies. We just try to stay ... And I'm gonna speak for the rest of the band, too, because they're not here, but try to stay healthy. Just enjoy like going out hiking. Doing things like that. Especially when we're on the road because we get to hit a bunch of beautiful places like West Virginia. So we'll spend the day going out hiking and go swimming, you know, whatever.
So, but it's so much ... So much of this group is working. So it's a lot of time spent writing. A lot of time spent organizing. Things like that. So ...
Brian: Wow. And is it mostly, do you a lot of the heavy lifting. Or does all the band pitch in for the writing and the organizing and all that?
Mike: Well, I think it's just kind of fallen on me. I never really wanted to be just the sole person, but people kind of like look at me that way. I do a lot of the writing, it's just 'cause I like writing music and try to get better at it.
But I definitely have help when it comes to like when we're on the road, all the guys chip in and gals chip in and, you know, help with like the daily whatever.
Brian: Got it. Do you guys car pool or does everybody get there on their own? Is it like everybody in a van or something?
Mike: Well, we almost got a van, but we decided against it. So it's two cars, usually, and put 7 people and the gear [crosstalk 00:07:14]
Brian: Holy smokes. In two cars. That's impressive.
Brian: I hope there's some pictures on social media somewhere of that because that must be an amazing ... It must be packed to the brim. Unless there are huge vans or something. Two cars and seven people and all the gear for the band. Come on, man.
Mike: Yeah. Yeah. No we do it. Of course, I have a big car. So ...
Brian: Okay. That works.
Mike: I got a drummer's car.
Brian: Yep. A drummer's car. I'm like, "Gotta have at least a hatchback and room in the back."
Brian: Alright. So, now what about ... Something in your music collection that might surprise us.
Mike: That might surprise you? That's a good question. Well ... Well, I have a lot of 90s rock and roll. That's a huge part of my music collection. So people listening to the band probably wouldn't think like, "Oh. That guys like Dinosaur Junior or like stuff like that." And I have this huge collection of like 90s rock and roll, you know. Fishbone, Rage Against the Machine, all that stuff I'm really heavy into 'cause I was like Lalapalooza kid when I was younger.
Brian: Oh. That's fun. Alright.
Mike: And more bands than that, but yeah.
Brian: Oh, god. That's funny. Now what about ... Talk about a biggest success moment for Black Masala. What comes to mind?
Mike: Well, it was pretty amazing 'cause ... Right? We were a band for six months and then we got booked at the Kennedy Center and so we kind of thought we were doing something right at that point. If you watch the video, it's really funny. We're just so like kind of nervous and kind of new. We wanted to be perfect. And people's, people using music stands and stuff like that. And there's music flying on the stage. That was like a huge moment for us as a band.
But I think anytime you book like your first tour, even if it's not successful, you're just excited because you took something that was nothing, wrote music and then someone in like North Carolina wants to book you. And so that was great.
And DC government been very supportive to our band, you know. We've gotten some nice grants from them over the years that's helped with recording and things like that. Those all nice moments for us.
Brian: Those are great moments. Holy smokes. And the DC government, I give them credit. They are very supportive. They supported me and DC Music Rocks, too. And the arts. If you're ... For the artists in town, they do good things for the artists, for sure.
Brian: Alright. Now this one's for both of you guys. This is my favorite question to ask. If you could offer one piece of advice, what would it be?
Andy: Oh. Honestly, Black Masala, I think, is a great example of the advice that I always give to people. And that's just how much hard work it takes, how much dedication. I feel like ... I've even had this conversation with you before, Brian.
Brian: If you go back and listen when Andy was on the show with Fort Knox Recording a little while ago. And still remember the advice.
Andy: It just came back to me. But honestly, like I said, I've been working with Mike here now for a few years and it's great working with him because of what he brings, like his work ethic and then the whole band. They're professionals. And that just really makes a huge difference. Even just ... So a specific advice, return your phone calls and your emails promptly when you're booking gigs and when you're making arrangements. It might seem like a small thing to do and you're busy, but just making that time to return those emails or phone calls like promptly shows people how serious you are, professional. And it really just sets the tone for everything going forward. And that kind of advice, I think, is what really makes a difference. And if you wanna know what it'll get you, it'll get you all the great success that Black Masala's had 'cause these guys just work so hard. It's incredible.
Brian: That's good advice, too. I mean, we reach out to artists for DC Music Rocks, "Hey. I wanna play you on the show." And we never hear back from them. So, I mean, it really is return those emails. I love it, Andy. What about you, Mike? What do you got?
Mike: Yeah. I mean, I think that's great. I think when you're in a band, especially if you have someone in the structure of like kind of being responsible for a lot of things, you have to learn how to be a people person with your band because you're dealing with artists. And artists, I've learned this over the years, are a little bit different. They're more ... They're gonna be sensitive about things and people are gonna be moody. You just have to kind of like work around all these issues. So, you know, you just wanna like be patient and try your best and try to keep it going forward. I guess.
Brian: Be patient. Try to be nice.
Mike: Try to be nice.
Brian: Especially via email.
Mike: I recommend ...
Brian: Mike is nodding. That's a huge nod that just happened.
Mike: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely.
Brian: It is true. I ... Absolutely. And for those who wanna find out more about Black Masala and following you guys, where do they go?
Mike: So we have a website, www.blackmasala.com. Super easy. You can just type the band's name in Google and you can find just about everything. Facebook, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, Spotify, we're everywhere.
Brian: All that stuff. Is there one social media you guys like just a little more than the others?
Mike: I've been really enjoying Instagram, recently. But our go-to has always been Facebook.