The Largemouth Brass Band knows the show must go on.
The band originally formed in 2017 in Athens as members of the Ohio University School of Music but have since relocated to Columbus. The eight-piece all brass band, save for one drummer, released their newest full-length album, Repilot, over quarantine — which is no small feat.
The original members still in the band are: Frankie Wantuch, Ben Baker, Ben Stingo and Seth Alexander. Since moving to Columbus, the band added four new members: Taylor Leonard, Ian Harrah, Chris Hines and Jocelyn Smallwood.
The name Largemouth Brass Band is a pun on the fish, the Largemouth bass.
“(The name) is just a stupid pun that we came up with on the first day of rehearsal when we had decided who was in the band,” Seth Alexander, who plays the drums, said. “It doesn't mean what it used to. It's now becoming the name of our entity, instead of just a dumb pun.”
The group favors references that go even further than their name. Repilot, the name of the band’s album, isn’t actually a word.
“I got it from an episode of Community. They just made it up for that episode,” Ben Baker, who plays the tenor saxophone, the baritone saxophone and the bass clarinet, said.
Much like the Community episode, the band is reintroducing themselves.
“We have restructured the way the band is: not only in personnel, but in musical style, in actual location, in our general understanding of what the band is and how we play live shows,” Alexander said. “Everything got restructured, reformalized, re-whatevered. [Repilot] kind of kicks off our new style of music.”
The band rebranded its logo and got a new website where it sends out monthly, if not biweekly, newsletters to its fans. The new logo and the album art were done by Sara Krivicich, an Ohio artist, Alexander said.
The album itself is made up of 10 tracks, five of which Baker wrote. The songs were written before the pandemic, but were recorded mid-pandemic.
“It was really important for me to get my music out there since half of it was from me,” Baker said. “This is a way that I can present myself to the world. This is my music. I hope people enjoy it and if they enjoy it, I can write more. And maybe people will want more.”
The overall album has an upbeat tone.
“I think we just have a lot of fun playing together,” Ian Harrah, who plays trumpet, said.
However, recording in the midst of the pandemic did produce some concerns.
“We were probably in the absolute worst situation we could be in because we're a band of eight people and seven of us have basically these giant tubes where we're blowing air and spit through,” Baker said. “It's like exactly what you're not supposed to do. We had to basically split the album up because we couldn't have the whole band in there all the time.”
The rhythm section would record first with a couple of horns, and then the other instruments would come in and record over top, Frankie Wantuch, who plays the alto saxophone, said. However, the entire band came in to record Spirit because, “You can't cut around that,” Baker said.
Although the album is new, the band members wrote the songs a little over a year ago.
“I'd say around last winter and last fall of 2019, we decided to make an album because we were writing a few new tunes,” Alexander said. “We set a deadline for anyone [who was going to] write a new tune…and that deadline was reached by December 2020.”
Looking back, Baker said it’s almost hard to listen to the tunes because they’re a year old.
“A year in shut-down, at home practicing,” Baker said. “I think if we had our way, we would record the album again. We've all practiced since then, we've rehearsed. We know the music better. I think that's what makes the album itself. It's a little bit sloppy, but that's kind of the idea. With brass band music in general, that's the idea, it's sloppy, a lot of it is improvised, but it's tight, meaningful, it's coming from an honest place.”
For the new band members, this is the first album that they’ve written songs for.
“This is my first album that has music that I composed on it,” Harrah said. “I've been writing music for a long time, but I've never had a whole slew of people playing it and an actual audio engineer helping us put it together. So it's really fun; I was grateful to get to do it.”
Since moving to Columbus, the band has played larger venues like Brothers Drake Meadery, Strongwater Food and Spirits, the Jazz & Rib Fest and the Cincinnati Fringe Festival.
But they didn’t start that way. In Athens, the band would play street music – literally on the street. The bandmates first started recording covers, which inspired them to write their first album.
“(Repilot) is really who we are in terms of the music we play,” Wantuch said. “Bands are ever changing over time. I'm really excited for how we sound and what we're saying, musically. I think the number one thing that our voice says is to just have fun and be carefree.”
Looking forward, the band wants to play more outside shows. If the pandemic improves, the group is planning on having a busy summer and fall season.
“Be on the lookout for possibly new music videos with these songs [and] definitely some new collaborations,” Alexander said.
Every member of Largemouth Brass Band is proud to be a part of something so special.
“We just wanna get our name out there because we are so proud of what we have put together,” Wantuch said. “It's important to be supporting your local artists, and it doesn't cost a dime to share a post. We just want everyone to be as hyped as we are.”
They also each feel so lucky that they have each other to go on this musical journey.
“When you're in a band, you're basically a small family or group of friends,” Alexander said. “And ever since then, it's worked out pretty well. So we kind of lucked out.”