Lucky Chops are the kind of band that can change the atmosphere of a room in an instant.
Since starting out in the subways of New York, and now on stages all over the planet, the band has had a knack for making people dance with a brass-driven sound and a funky barrage of horns.
The proof is seeing Lucky Chops live, when the audience and performers are bound to exchange a collective mass of energy – which you have a chance to witness on Feb. 1 at the Space Ballroom in Hamden at 8 p.m.
New Haven psychedelic funk act Phat A$tronaut will be starting the night off, so show up early.
I had a chance to talk with Lucky Chops co-founder and trombonist Josh Holcomb about performing in the subways — having to win people over on their daily commute — going from performing covers to writing originals, touring with a dream collaborator, and a new album that’s on the way.
RD: Looking back on those times of playing in the subways, how would you describe the experience of cutting your teeth in a unique setting? Was it awkward at times? Did you get weird people coming up to you while you’re performing?
JH: I’ll put it this way, we got more education playing in the subway than attending the prestigious classical music conservatory college that we went to. Playing in the subway kind of forces you to win people over because they’re not there to see you and they’re not paying a ticket to see you. They’re not your fans, they’re actually probably annoyed by you more than anything else and you’re disrupting their commute so you have to really figure out how to win them over. In doing so, we became much better performers as a result and we get to play for people we might never usually play for, just everyday people of New York City. We loved that it was a very diverse audience who then we could win over eventually by honing our performing skills.
RD: It must have been cool to have a mixed crowd of people who might not even know what a horn section is but when they see you perform they enjoy it.
RD: When it comes to the band’s musical evolution, what was the turning point when you went from performing covers and mashups to writing original material?
JH: At first, we were just playing for fun and we didn’t really view it as a career path for us. When we started playing in the subway and we started seeing people’s reactions that were very positive we started to reconsider what we were doing with our careers individually and thought we would give it 100% and try it out to see what we can do as a band. I think it was only a matter of time once we started dedicating ourselves to a career as musicians and a serious band that the originals would start to be on the table. The interesting challenge for us is that as an instrumental band there’s no vocalist so we were trying to figure out a way to make instrumental compositions that still have singable melodies so people might not realize that there isn’t a vocalist while not detracting from the song itself. That’s been such a fun challenge these past several years.
RD: Do you find that horn instruments like saxophones and trombones have the ability to fill that vocal element or do you think other instruments are a better fit for that role?
JH: I think over the past several decades the public and the music world have kind of forgotten about these instruments that we play in favor of more conventional guitars and electronic sounds. However, if you go back further than that, especially in the big band era of the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s, these instruments were actually playing all the melodies and they were capable of playing with such a vocal style that kind of got lost over time. We’re trying to bring that back and show that these instruments are capable of these beautiful vocal stylings in a modern age.
RD: The band’s most recent album is a live one titled Live In L.A. that came out last March and it was recorded during a performance at the Teragram Ballroom a few weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in February 2020. Did you guys originally plan on putting this out before the show or do you record all your performances and this seemed like the best one to take out of the vault?
JH: We knew that particular show was going to be special, we just love playing in Los Angeles. Every time we play there it’s such an awesome time. We do record all of our shows but we went the extra mile of getting videographers, getting photographers and getting better recording gear than we normally use for that show specifically in the hopes that it was going to be good. Sure enough, afterwards we were really happy with it so it all worked out.
RD: Over the course of the band’s existence of 15 years, Lucky Chops has collaborated with over 50 musicians including jazz artists Grace Kelly and Sunny Jain. Who is one musician regardless of genre or style the band hasn’t worked with yet that you’d like to work with? Who is your dream collaborator?
JH: It’s funny you ask that because we recently announced that we’re going to be collaborating with our number one person we’ve wanted to work with, which is saxophonist Michael Wilbur from Moon Hooch. He’s actually a special guest on this tour we’re on and he’s going to be playing with us for the entire run of shows we’re on.
RD: Wow, that’s awesome. I’m a big fan of Moon Hooch. What are Lucky Chops’ plans for the next few months after this current tour?
JH: It’s been such a crazy past two years with the pandemic and we tried a lot of different remote online things when we were all in different places and we weren’t able to be together. Those were fine and I’m glad we were able to do something but now that we’re all back in New York City making music together. We just laid down the first couple of tracks for our next album a few weeks ago and we have our next session booked. We got a new album in the works that we’re really excited about and it feels so great to be playing together making music. It’ll be out in a couple months.
When: Feb. 1, 2022 at 8 p.m.
295 Treadwell Street
Hamden, CT, 06514
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of the Connecticut Examiner, he also writes for DigBoston, The Aquarian Weekly, The Providence Journal, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.