“It sounds so corny and played out but make some good music that’s unique and people will come. It will happen,” a humbled Ivan Jackson says in hopes to inspire the next generation of cross-over musicians. Ivan and Conor Rayne make up the talented duo known as Brasstracks, which implement a wide-ranging artistry that has taken the music world by storm, blending multiple genres and a plethora of instruments.
With two EPs under their belt and a third on the way, the Grammy-winning pair is gearing up to embark on their first headlining tour to bring a unique experience to each venue, which kicks off in their hometown of New York City on Friday (March 16) at the sold-out Bowery Ballroom, and culminates nearly a month later (April 13) in Denver, CO.
Before hitting the road, Brasstracks unveils a raw performance video live from Studio G in Brooklyn to their For Those Who Know Pt. 1 opening track, “Improv #1 (Intro).” The soothing tune originally enlisted Brooklyn’s own The Underachievers and Robert Glasper, before they put their “music into the hands of other musicians to interpret” for the first time, to form a “Brasstracks big band” of sorts, as they described it — with 16 musicians playing a role in the unique ensemble.
“We become these duo conductors instead of us doing everything together, which we love — but it was really nice to open ourselves up to other possibilities and we call the shots in our respective fields,” Ivan explains over the phone to Billboard.
We caught up with the fast-rising 25 and 26-year-old musicians to discuss the creative process behind their acoustic-driven video, reflecting on creating Chance The Rapper’s beat for “No Problems,” preparing for an 18-date tour, new music on the way, staying true to their NYC roots and much more.
For more information regarding tickets, tour dates and everything Brasstracks visit the group’s official website. Check out the “Improv #1 (Intro)” visual interpretation below.
Billboard: How did you guys originally link up?
Brasstracks (Ivan Jackson): Conor and I went to Manhattan School of Music. We both were kind of yearning for more than just the jazz bubble. Jazz music is a very interesting bubble to live in… We got tired of that very quickly, and started experimenting with things while we were building this studio in Brooklyn.
It was like an audio-visual production company where we could help out other artists and make music for ourselves. That led to experimentation with live drums and horns and productions. One day Conor and I got together to make a song, and that started with just Conor recording along to a metronome.
I was like, “come up with an arrangement and we’ll write over that.” We put hundreds of trumpets over of it and we had this song “Say You Will.” We both had our respective things. Conor was a touring drummer and I was a touring trumpet player.
We put the song out and it got a lot of attention and didn’t know what that meant for us, but we needed to make more and that evolved into what it is today I guess. It just kind of happened. It sounds so corny and played out, but make some good music that’s unique, and people will come. It will happen. Whether you start small, or put out one song and it just moves. People want good music however they find it.
You are both unsigned, correct?
Ivan Jackson: That was the day [we were like], “Fuck everything else we’re doing — Brasstracks, now, forever. Let’s make some things happen and not have to worry about when the next gig is and just worry about the music.” We’re signed to Sony ATV [for publishing] and we’re super happy with that. No record deal.
How did the group’s name come about?
Ivan Jackson: When we made “Say You Will,” we didn’t even have a name for the group. I woke up and called Conor and asked him if I could make a SoundCloud account called Brasstracks, and that was the most we talked about the name, and never looked back.
What are you guys doing in preparation for your tour this week?
Ivan Jackson: At the moment, we’re putting together all of the music from our projects. So that’s Good Love, For Those Who Know Pt. 1 and For Those Who Know Pt. 2. We’re rearranging and remixing our own music into one very unique experience, that only we could present to an audience.
Who is going to be accompanying you on stage at each stop?
Conor Rayne: Various rappers, and we’ll definitely be bringing out some horn players at the end of the show. We like to do that in every city when we can because there are great horn players in every part of the United States. After jazz school in New York, everyone goes to different corners of the world, so when you go on tour you always run into someone who knows somebody who can play the shit out of a trumpet, trombone or saxophone.
Ivan Jackson: Definitely bringing out more rappers and singers. We have S’natra on tour the entire run opening and coming on stage with us to perform some things. Definitely looking forward to the special guests and band members.
What kind of artists do you guys describe yourselves as?
Conor Rayne: Both of us were musicians first and producing came next. When you start producing you inevitably get into arranging, composing and the writing side. Speaking for myself, I definitely try to consider myself all-inclusive. I learn from all aspects of music. It’s hard to say we’re one thing because we do a lot of different things.
Ivan Jackson: We didn’t expect to be producers — I guess that’s probably what people identify us with most at the moment because of our history. At the same time, we have our artist projects and put out originals all the time. We do musical direction. We were the MDs for 6LACK‘s first tour. We do a lot of shit and it’s all about being an artist.
My dad always told me if you want to be happy in the music industry, you have to perform, write and teach. Performing, producing and musical direction are very similar from the jazz mentality my pops was talking about.
What was the creative process behind the live performance of “Improv #1 (Intro)?”
Conor Rayne: We’ve been a duo in that iteration for such a long time, and this was the first time we really gave our music into the hands of other musicians to interpret. There are 16 people and a big band essentially. A big-band version of Brasstracks. We were excited to play with some other people.
Ivan Jackson: Normally, I play the bass and I wanted to hear how another bass player would play the line I thought of, and how Conor would link up with a piano player, on some shit we came up with together. It frees me up. Conor is in charge of the rhythm section and the piano, bass, and guitar. He’s the bus driver in that area.
I get to be the horn section guy, and explain, this is how I want you to play. We become these duo conductors instead of us doing everything together, which we love, but it was really nice to open ourselves up to other possibilities and we call the shots in our respective fields. No electronics? Let’s do this.
16 musicians. One room. We’re dropping this tomorrow. Goodnight. pic.twitter.com/aJkHKIM7s1
— brasstracks (@brasstracks) March 14, 2018
I saw your tweet about Vince Staples’ GoFundMe page, which led into his latest single “Get the F**k Off My Dick.” What did you think about that strategy?
Ivan Jackson: That is the best public relations campaign that I’ve ever seen, and I liked the song. It’s not my favorite from Vince Staples, but with that being said, it doesn’t matter. That whole concept lives under one umbrella, it was so cool.
Holy shit, if this was all a campaign for a new song, this might win for my favorite PR push of a single ever. https://t.co/Znz7EVxMVu
— brasstracks (@brasstracks) March 9, 2018
How did you end up linking with Chance The Rapper for “No Problem?”
Ivan Jackson: Twitter. Every time our SoundCloud comments would say the same thing, “Get Chance the Rapper on this,” and it got to be incessant. I tweeted from our account, “We can’t put out a song without someone saying get Chance the Rapper,” I made sure to add at the end, “I’m not mad though.”
Clearly, he was okay with it, because he saw it, retweeted it and followed us. He direct messaged us something along the lines of, “Yo let’s get in the studio and work.” A couple weeks later, we’re sitting down with him in L.A., playing 40 beats in a row until we finally got to the “No Problem” beat, which was originally for S’natra.
We thought Andre 3000 was going to be on [the song]. A lot of names got thrown around. We always knew it could’ve been anybody, and we heard certain whispers about who would be on it, and Andre 3000 was one of the dudes. When we got it back and saw Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz and listened, we thought, “Woah, totally different direction, and that is the right direction.” It really worked out, and I think that’s one of the best Lil Wayne verses, period. I love that Lil Wayne verse, I don’t care what anyone tells me.
Then, the track goes on to win best rap song at the Grammy Awards, what was that experience like?
Conor Rayne: Yeah, we were there, and the whole experience was a dream I feel like didn’t happen.
Ivan Jackson: It was a crazy weekend.
Ivan Jackson: I took my mom as my date, and she went up to Macy Gray and told her she was awesome. She called Diplo, “Ziplo.” Yeah, it was lit. A year later we’re still freaking out about it. You can never take that one away from us.
With a Grammy already under your belt, what do you set as your goal for 2018?
Ivan Jackson: Just making music. Our formula for success has been pretty unplanned. Every time we try to think too hard about something that’s not just making music I feel like it doesn’t go well. When it’s just music, everything seems to fall into place. I guess my answer to that is just making more music. We never thought we’d be making money off of it.
When do you guys plan on releasing more music?
Ivan Jackson: We’re doing it all. During the tour and after the tour. We’re coming out with these live interpretations, and then we have a single with Denzel Curry coming out. After that, we have a single with Xavier Omar coming out. For Those Who Know Pt. 2 drops, and we may or may not have a couple surprises coming out.
Were you guys always big fans of hip-hop?
Ivan Jackson: Yeah, I think both of us were always huge fans of hip-hop, but didn’t totally identify with the genre as hip-hop producers until later in our lives. We didn’t fully understand what we could bring to hip-hop, which is a cool sense of musicality mixed with what’s cool to the kids, and mixing our jazz experiences. We realized that we had something cool to bring to the genre, and that made us fall in love with the genre.
Furthermore, we almost moved to L.A. when we were signing our publishing deal, and sort of almost lost our way. When we were making For Those Who Know, Pt. 1 and we made “No Problem” and started working more with people like GoldLink and 6LACK, we realized we are some of the only hip-hop producers in New York City that are putting on for the city and trying to make shit happen. We cannot leave. We got to represent New York. It’s left New York for a bit and I want it to come back up.
“For Those Who Know” Tour Dates
March 16 – New York City, NY – The Bowery Ballroom
March 17 – Philadelphia, PA – The Foundry
March 20 – Boston, MA – Great Scott
March 21 – Montreal, QC – Le Belmont
March 22 – Toronto, ON – Velvet Underground
March 23 – Detroit, MI – El Club
March 24 – Chicago, IL – Lincoln Hall
March 25 – St. Paul, MN – Turf Club
March 28 – Portland, OR – Holocene
March 29 – Bellingham, WA – Wild Buffalo House of Music
March 30 – Vancouver, BC – Fortune Sound Club
March 31 – Seattle, WA – Barboza
April 1 – Spokane, WA – Red Room Lounge
April 4 – San Francisco, CA – The Independent
April 5 – Los Angeles, CA – The Roxy
April 6 – Washington, DC – TBA
April 12 – Boulder, CO – Fox Theatre
April 13 – Denver, CO – Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom