At times boasting as many members as a football team, Empire Strikes Brass has evolved from their debut nearly five years ago as a classic, New Orleans-style second-line brass-band parade. Today, they’re a stage-shaking, world-class party act that stomps way beyond the standards, incorporating free-form funk and electronica (with DJ Push/Pull) into their act. Rotating a cast of between 8 and 11 players, the band features former members of Squirrel Nut Zippers and Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, and has collaborated with Warren Haynes and Beats Antique, among many other luminaries.
On the cusp of Mardi Gras, they’ve just released their first album, Theme for a Celebration. This Saturday night, they’ll stop by 185 King in Brevard for a rousing show before embarking on a major Southeastern juggernaut.
Riding the wave of the long-anticipated release, as well as the auspicious timing with NOLA’s biggest party season, “we are expecting more attendance at our shows across the whole tour,” sax player and band spokesperson Pauly Juhl recently told Bold Life. “We hope [to] reach old and new fans, sharing our more polished sound. Locking in a consistent lineup and learning how to write as a large group with so many writers has been a challenge — that’s what’s taken us this long to get our debut out. The advantage is we have found our sound, communication, and a framework to make this group last a long time.”
Flexibility of membership “makes it possible for us all to afford to be on the road,” notes Juhl. Plus, he says, “that give members space for other projects and life occurrences, and add special guests here and there to keep things interesting.” Andrew Scotchie of River Rats fame is joining the band on the tour to temporarily replace Kelly Hannah, who’s on paternity leave. Kelly’s newborn daughter is the third baby to be born to a band member in recent years, with a fourth due in the summer. “We know that being in a band and on the road is hard sometimes with family life, and we want to be flexible so our members can live happily having both,” Juhl explains.
Tenor-sax player Debrissa McKinney also plays with Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, the Grammy-nominated, Asheville-based hip-hop group for kids. “She also has a special situation with us where she can be in both groups but miss some of our events, although we all miss her a lot when she’s gone,” says Juhl. Lucky for Empire Strikes Brass fans, Debrissa will be on the spring tour.
“We really hope everyone loves our new album and can make it out to our shows,” says Juhl. “We feel truly blessed to be able to make something special to all of us and share it with the whole world.”
8:30-11:30pm. Saturday, February 4, at 185 King (185 King St., Brevard), 828-877-1850; king185st.com.