Drum & Tuba refuses to play by the rules

When Brian Wolff, the tuba player in the avant-garde trio Drums & Tuba, was asked by his record company to describe his band’s music, he was unsure how to answer.

“This is one question which has plagued us,” he said. “We’ve been playing together for almost six years and I still can’t answer this question. I guess that says something in and of itself.”

Drums and Tuba is not like most bands. Most bands must strive, as their careers go on, to break out of their preconceived molds. Drums & Tuba was never in a mold in the first place.

The trio, consisting of Wolff on tuba, Tony Nozero on drums and Neal McKeeby on guitar, shows influences of jazz, funk and jam music. But thanks to the band’s unique lineup, members have managed to avoid the danger of comparison to other musicians within these genres. Rather than immerse themselves within the jam music scene, joining the ranks of such improvisational instrumental acts as Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, and Medeski, Martin and Wood, they have opted to maintain a unique sound and image.

Drums & Tuba has toured with a wide variety of bands, including indie rock pioneers Archers of Loaf and Modest Mouse. The group’s big break came when it was invited to tour as the opening act for Ani DiFranco, whose label Righteous Babe Records produced Drums & Tuba’s newest release, Vinyl Killer.

Prior to Vinyl Killer, Drums & Tuba released three full-length albums between 1997 and 1999 on the My Pal God label. Without major label support and widespread distribution, the band received little critical attention. Now, after years of exposing thousands of people to their music as an opening band, Drums & Tuba seems to be coming into its own.

The new album comes across as a deeper record than the band’s previous efforts with a less stripped-down sound. Wolff adds depth to songs by playing a variety of instruments, including the trumpet and trombone. Guest appearances by DiFranco and her husband, Andrew “Goat Boy” GilChrist, under the pseudonyms of Manny Handerson and Things Fingerton, add organs and a piano to the mix. The husband and wife duo is also credited as the album’s producer. The two are so involved in the playing, producing and distributing on this record that it gives cause to wonder how big of a role they played in songwriting.

Taken as a whole the album offers a cheery groove and flows easily from track to track. This continuity is so complete that it at first appears to be a fault. A seamless stream leaves the listener unable to discern which song is which. But after repeated listening, each track begins to reveal its finer points. With every song as energetic and quirky as the next, the band creates a singular style.

Vinyl Killer is a promising release from a band in the early stages of its development. Wolff has admitted in band press releases that this is the band’s first album not recorded in one day. If this record is only the band’s first serious attempt, then members may not find themselves as just an opening act for much longer.

Drums & Tuba’s new release, Vinyl Killer, is in stores now. The band will play at Nation (202-554-1500) Feb. 15, during the Sno-Core Icicle Ball.

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