Under the 195 overpass, hordes of people crammed into a caged-in corner were chanting, “What cheer! What cheer!” as a brass street band clad in black closed out the festivities of the annual marching band festival, Pronk. This was my introduction to Providence’s What Cheer? Brigade and the vibrant, weird and loud subculture of street bands that take punk rock aesthetics, social activism, brass, percussion and public displays of celebration to streets, venues and anywhere that can hold them.
What Cheer? Brigade’s new double album, You Can’t See Inside of Me – recorded at Pawtucket’s Machines With Magnets and released on Don Giovanni Records – features original arrangements and covers, as well as artist remixes of each track. It’s a powerful, energetic collection that encompasses and reimagines the What Cheer? Brigade sound, fully embracing the strengths of a studio recording while integrating a redirection into electronic and noise music.
“We decided to let go of even attempting to capture the live experience. Instead, we completely embraced the studio process and allowed ourselves to be perfectionists. We spent ten days tracking and used the studio as another creative tool; for instance, we did multiple takes and overdubs, and we separated ourselves in different rooms,” says founding What Cheer? Brigade member Daniel Schleifer. “Because we ended up with isolated tracks, we were then able to collaborate with peers in the form of remixes. That’s how we ended up with a two-CD set: one disc of new recordings and one disc of remixes by various noise and electronic musicians.”
You Can’t See Inside of Me includes three originals and eight covers of songs from a variety of sources, mostly from the Balkan musical tradition. “There’s also one cover of Rebirth Brass Band and a cover of Brian Eno’s ‘Here Come the Warm Jets,’ for which we put together a small choir,” Daniel adds.
While the band is known to be socially conscious and regularly participate in various marches and rallies, listening to them outside of a live context can make their politics unclear. However, a great deal of thought went into the packaging of the record.
“We were thinking a lot about the fact that bands often present, without context, songs from cultural traditions that they didn’t grow up in,” Daniel says. “That can be problematic because the original artists don’t get money, credit or exposure, and listeners might think that the band they are listening to invented this music. The original artists and their cultures can be erased.
“We wanted to show as much respect as possible to our sources,” he continues, “so this album also includes extensively researched liner notes on the history and cultural context for the cover songs. We also were able to track down all of the original artists and pay them royalties, even those in Serbia who aren’t represented by any of the American performing rights organizations. To be real, we are still engaging in cultural appropriation, but we are trying to be more responsible about it.”
In support of You Can’t See Inside of Me, 16 of the 20-member lineup of What Cheer? Brigade is embarking on a US tour. Still a hometown band at heart, What Cheer? Brigade will be back in Providence later this month.
What Cheer? Brigade
August 24 – Burnside Music Series, Downtown Providence