Beginning their careers in the depths of the New York subway terminals, the guys from Too Many Zooz have come a long way. The group skyrocketed to fame after a live video of them went viral, leading to a gig performing on the CMA stage with Beyonce in 2016 and features on two tracks on her album, Lemonade. They are currently in the midst of a tour across Europe and North America.
While many people think subway stations are solely a means of transportation, they could not be more wrong. There’s a whole world down there that you’re missing out on if you’re always plugged into a device or simply stuck on autopilot while on your daily commute. One of those worlds is the frenetic music of Too Many Zooz.
In a recent conversation with Too Many Zooz’ drummer, David ‘The King Of Sludge’ Parks, he elaborated on the ins and outs of subway culture. He described the subway as somewhat of a conservatory, saying, “people go there to get their chops up” and added that when they were performing there, “it was really in the way that ancient cultures would come together. People would form a circle around the musicians. It was about the community.” With that community being New York, one of the most diverse in the world, he explained how rewarding it is to create a music that each one of those people saw themselves in. “We’d have a Jewish guy swear we were playing Klezmer. Whatever the culture was, they’d find their own thing. To find something that universally speaks to people, that’s a dream.”
That dream galvanized when they established a “no rules factor.” Having come from different musical backgrounds, they decided they were all going to play however they wanted. They combined his African, Afro-Cuban, and dance background with the other two’s jazz backgrounds and their shared love for Hip-Hop and Electronic music. This gestated into the musical baby that eventually allowed them to self-coin the term ‘Brasshouse’.
Although Too Many Zooz was birthed in the depths of the New York subway and they were skyrocketed to fame through that conservatory, Parks wouldn’t suggest that as an avenue for other new and emerging artists. It was an opportunity for them, but it can also be quite humiliating, as a lot of the work you put in goes unrecognized. “You can be a very talented person, but you’re not speaking to the subway.” Emerging into the music scene is tough anywhere, but New York is a non-stop musical city and to break out of the herd is not a simple task. It’s all about seizing your opportunities. “We all have opportunities and that was an opportunity, but the opportunity is always getting up off your couch and playing. It’s not necessarily where you’re at and where you play. If you have an opportunity, take it and maximize it. Wherever you’re at and whatever you do.”
They spent a long time grinding down there before they went viral, having played in groups other than Too Many Zooz, like the Drumadics (where Leo P and Parks met) and Lucky Chops. Their video for their hit track, “Bedford”, showcases how much energy they put into their music and how they give it absolutely everything they’ve got – each time they play. You’d think that they chugged a few five-hour energy drinks before they hit wherever they’re playing, but they’ve played that way since their first note. Parks prides himself on getting everyone moving and dancing and that’s all he cares about when he’s doing what he does best. “That’s my number one role. I’m not here to try to impress people… my thing is if the crowd is moving, I’m doing my job.” He wants to relate to the crowd in that way, speaking to their feet rather than their heads. “I don’t want them to be sitting there looking [at] and thinking about what I’m doing, I want you moving… I’m all about the rhythm.”
That energy is what ended up landing them on stage with Beyonce at the CMAs in 2016 and had them featured on her tracks “Daddy Lessons” and “Formation”. Looking in from the other side of the glass, many people assume that one day they just went viral and wound up on stage with one of the highest grossing musicians of our generation, but there was a lot of work put in before that and that’s why Beyonce wanted the original Too Many Zooz – not a version of them that she’d shape herself while working with them. “She brought us in to do what we do. We went into the studio and were told to play and we just played and did our thing and left. She loves the sound. Beyonce watches Too Many Zooz on YouTube, her and [her daughter] Blue Ivy dance around to YouTube and watch us, like a lot of people do.”
Albeit totally stunning to get a phone call saying that you’re going to be sharing the stage with Beyonce, what makes Too Many Zooz the band that they are is how much they pride themselves in the fact that they’re “never going to play differently than we did in the subway.” Of course, they went in with a certain level of professionalism, but they didn’t alter their process or sound. Parks said they were still able to do things their own way. “I didn’t feel much difference, other than the initial calls of, “hey, we’re going to work with Beyonce. You’re kind of floored,” but after that, “it’s time to get to work.”
Working on projects like that and having the opportunity to join forces with artists of such a high stature is something every artist strives for, but there’s really nothing like going back to where it all started. “The thing is, all of it’s great, but nothing really beats a great day at the subway,” Parks said, reminiscing. When they were down there, everything was their own and the fact that they came together and made all of the decisions that they did on the fly, became a monumental and lasting process. Never having a band leader has allowed all of them to play what they want to play, individually, which contributes to the free-of-contemporary structure vibe in their music. “No one could tell anyone in the band how to play. Those [are] types of things we all went through in other bands. That in itself was so liberating for all of us. [That] was the biggest, most surreal thing… and people enjoy it, so none of us were wrong in that instinct.”
That freedom stopped them from becoming generic, or being associated with any specific genre, and allowed them to coin their own genre – Brasshouse. “In music, there are so many rules, so when you have your own thing, you can make your own rules.” The genre and their music can be absorbed differently by each listener and allows them to have their own take on it. Some people will take the heavy horns and associate it with ska music, others may attribute the saxophone to jazz or the blues, or the drums to Afro-Cuban style, some even find their own things inside of it – as Parks said, like Klezmer – but at the end of the day, that ability to take it how you prefer keeps everyone coming out to the shows. That outstanding mix of so many genres was melted into one and dubbed Brasshouse.
The fans that saw them play their first note are still coming out to see them play live. Those high school students that used to wait for them in the subway after their day was over still reach out to them online, and the connection with the audience when playing a venue is much the same as it was in the subway. “Because of the viral videos, there are people who want that experience. Those are the people who are coming to the shows, because they’ve watched those videos and they want to hear what it sounds like in the room.” So they still have that loyal fan base and on top of that, they now have those surprise people who don’t know who they are, which Parks said is “a pleasure in itself, converting those people into fans.” They’ve had a strong impact on a wide community thanks to the internet and social media, which has helped to turn them into a band who will be appreciated much the same on a festival stage in Europe as they were in the 14th street subway station.
Right now, that’s exactly what they’re doing. On a break from their world tour, the band is in the studio recording materials, shooting videos, and recording with other artists – Leo P also recently dropped his solo work, Sax Star Suite Pt.1. At the end of April, the band embarks on the European leg of their tour before heading back over to North America to play a few shows on the west coast of Canada. Though that’s an exciting venture to take, they try not to get themselves too excited about specific dates. “Right now, because we’re doing over 90 shows a year, I have to take it one show at a time. Each show I want to give the audience of that particular night everything I have. So I try not to think too far ahead,” Parks said on getting amped up for locations or festivals on the tour. He added that after he initially agrees to do the show, he tries not to think about it until it’s coming up, as to not become overwhelmed by everything. “We’ve played a lot of festivals, so until I’m there I try not to think about it because at this point it’s like having your phone have too many apps and you’re thinking about too much and end up burnt out. We have to now think about things like our imagery and rest and peace of mind.”
With so much going for them, they now have a lot more to think about and are responsible for people other than themselves, working on a bigger team than when they started out with just the three of them. That can also become quite overwhelming and there really has to be a balance to keep that running smoothly. As fulfilling as it is, they do still romanticize about how great it would be to go back down into the tunnels. “With the subway, I left my house in the Bronx at 10 am and I was back home every day by three. That’s the kind of thing a guy can get used to.” Having a break on their tour, it would’ve been nice to have them make an appearance down under, but Parks said he doubts it’ll happen, “because we have other stuff. We have videos to shoot and other recording projects… It doesn’t stop.”
After travelling around Europe and the UK, the band will make their way from the west coast of the U.S. through the country, with a stop in New York to play the Brooklyn Bowl, and then over to play their last six currently slotted shows in Canada. Parks being a ritualistic man, who ate mentos every day for a while after having bought a pack the day their video went viral, even though he doesn’t like them, will be sitting in the same seat in the car every day they’re on the road. If all of the upcoming shows are as passionate as THIS one the rest of the tour will be something you don’t want to miss out on.
This interview was originally posted on The Spill Magazine’s website.