Brooklyn-based electronic jazz duo Brasstracks gained notoriety after producing the song “No Problem” on Chance the Rapper’s 2016 album “Coloring Book,” which won a Grammy for Best Rap Album. Consisting of trumpeter Ivan Jackson and drummer Conor Rayne, the duo is known for smoothly blending traditional jazz instrumentation with rhythm and blues and electronic beats.
Since its Soundcloud debut in 2015, Brasstracks has amassed 84,000 followers and has covered hit songs like R. Kelly’s “Ignition” and Kanye West’s “All of the Lights.”
The duo sat down for a phone interview with The Hoya on April 4 to discuss their musical backgrounds, the birth of Brasstracks and their creative process.
How were you both inspired to become musicians?
Conor: I’m the first person in my family to play music that I know of. Nobody in my family or extended family plays any instruments. My dad did try to play drums as a hobby for like six years, so I think I maybe got that gene from him. In terms of making it an official career and knowing that I wanted to do that — it’s, like, the only thing I really wanted to do for as long as I can remember. I just set up my entire life to work in my favor in terms of adjusting to practice all the time and willed it to happen.
Ivan: My mom’s a singer/dancer/musical theater person. She was mainly musical theater, and she started out as a ballet dancer. My dad’s a jazz musician who played guitar — plays guitar still. They kind of didn’t give me any other choice but to play music. Their house rules were I always had to play one instrument. If I got bored of it after a year or something, I would be able to put it down and start another one, but I always had to practice every day. They were strict on it, and I’m very thankful for it. That led to me playing and trying a lot of different instruments that I end up playing in Brasstracks now — trumpet being the main one, then keys and bass guitar basically. The auxiliary ones I just got to try out for a while and figured out trumpet is my main act.
You two met at the Manhattan School of Music. How did your educational experience influence your decision to form Brasstracks?
Ivan: I think it came out of a place of a little bit of rebellion, because the jazz conservatory community would not consider us jazz. That fueled us to make our music as much as we possibly could and love it even more. We were having a lot of contests pushed on us that we didn’t fully agree with. There’s lots of things that we got out of jazz school that were wonderful, but jazz school was definitely what sparked me and Conor sharing similar interests about, “I think this is right, but I think this is not the way to create music.” That’s what brought me and Conor together. That’s where we share the most similar passion.
When did you realize that Brasstracks was a full-time career possibility?
Conor: Yeah, it started as a side project. After we put our first song on Soundcloud and it got a lot of plays, it got retweeted on Soundcloud by several different key figures, and then it just got a lot of popularity. We took it really seriously after that.
Ivan: I think we put out our first song really in 2015, and during that time Conor was playing with different bands; I was playing with different bands. When the “Weight in Gold” remix came out — and that did particularly well for us and we were both really happy about that — Conor and I were both playing with freelance gigs. We barely got paid anything for that. And we were having fun with Brasstracks, and there was a certain point where lines just started to blur together. It’s really hard to say when it was.
I’d say [that moment came at the] top of 2016 or so when we went and did that session with Chance [the Rapper] the first time. We were in LA like, “Wow, this is actually our life now.” We flew out to [Los Angeles] to do a session with one of the biggest rappers in the world, and that’s all based off of him hearing our music and wanting to borrow from our sound and do something cool. That’s probably when we knew. Now, it’s been about two years of doing nothing but Brasstracks stuff.
Can you walk us through your creative process?
Ivan: Conor and I love to play music together, and we love to create music apart. We’re individuals just as much as we’re a group. A lot of times we will come together in a studio or in one of our home studios and just jam and play stuff, and see what happens. Sometimes we’ll record for like 15 minutes and like seven minutes in be like, “Ooh, that was a hot piece; that was cool; let’s go with that.” Other times, I will make a devil idea with scratch drums and be like, “Yo, Conor, I’m gonna need help with these drums — can you show me exactly what you would do?” And then sometimes Conor will make a demo, and I’m there to help Conor on the harmony side. Both of us do that very well ourselves, but we ask each other for input. We know where our strengths are, but we know where to ask each other for input when we do things on our own.
The first demo we ever did, we had Conor record along to a click-track and he would create a beat, the melody, all in his head — like three minutes of straight drums. And then it would be like I got to fill in and guess where the kick drum hits on and the snare drum hits on and where he did cool stuff, and just fill in those blanks. That’s a way we had never written music before.
Where do you get your singers?
Ivan: They’re our friends, co-collaborators, writers, rappers, singers that we wanted to reach out to. It’s both a mixture of extremely organic and us hitting people up on Twitter and being like, “Yo, sing on this beat,” and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, we f–k with you.”
What do you think the future holds for Brasstracks?
Ivan: Man. I think the only thing that we can say is we’re gonna make more music. We’re gonna make music that we like; we’re gonna make our music unapologetically. Yeah, we don’t really give a s–t about anything else. You can’t know the future, but hopefully it’s more cool s–t.
Brasstracks was set to perform at Georgetown Program Board’s spring concert on April 6, but had to cancel. A schedule of their upcoming performances is available on their website.