By Kelly Dearmore
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For a few recent years, Drums & Tuba even had a booking agent who specialized in the burgeoning jam-band movement. For a group whose initial tactic was "to open up for as many bands as possible" (as they still do), it was still an odd fit. "We do a lot of hippie festivals and stuff. But I think we're kinda too far out there for that crowd. We get people dancing and doing their hippie thing. But we also get people who are really scared and freaked out by us." Don't fear the reaper indeed, especially one that scythes across so many fields and crops.
It obviously takes a certain hardheaded determination for these three musicians to strive so hard to put over something that could be racked any number of places in the CD store. Nozero believes it's because "I think we all are people that work really hard, and none of us likes to give up. That's definitely part of it. The other part of it is that we have this thing that we do, and it's just what we do. The music just comes from the three of us. It's not wine and roses all the time, but it's pretty special. And I think we all realize that. And it's so open. Musically we're able to do whatever we want to do."
Self-managed and for many years self-booked, Drums & Tuba simply don't consider "no" as a possibility. "It's like you get so deep into something that you just do it. You just don't really even consider if it's not going to work. You just bully through everything."
Eight years on, "we've been at it for so long that at this point we're able to write songs pretty easily and do our thing and make an OK amount of money." Which indicates that there may be other more intrinsic rewards to being the only rocking tuba band on the U.S. club circuit. "I think the rewards come from, first of all, just playing music, and playing music that you like, that you love," Nozero says. He also cites "the freedom we have. A lot of people in bands probably don't have the freedom we have. It's also performing for people and just rocking and kicking ass every night. Without it..." Nozero pauses as if the loss can be felt. "When I'm off tour I get really confused. Another thing, too, is just making something out of nothing is pretty cool. And just being able to pull it off. I get a little charge out of it."
Now based in New Orleans and New York, Drums & Tuba still get the sort of charge working with each other that once kept them literally playing all night for their own edification. "For us it doesn't matter where we are too much. We're always gone. And when we're there we're too busy practicing," explains Nozero. Which is why their New Orleans friends keep asking when the band will play for them. "It's like, why do a show, why don't we just practice for six hours today?"
As Drums & Tuba is an instrumental outfit, it naturally raises the question of whether they've ever considered working with... "A singer?" Nozero yelps. "A saxophone player? There's been a couple of things along the way. We almost did Adrian Belew's last album with him." And they've also pondered the notion of a project with fellow former Austinite and friend and Righteous Babe labelmate Ed Hamell (a.k.a. Hamell on Trial) for the "challenge of adapting to what someone else does." But for the most part, "it's something we've never really thought about much."
The most natural place for the music of Drums & Tuba would likely be on film scores, something that has yet to befall the hardworking trio. "Goddamn, we would love to," Nozero enthuses. "But we're so busy...We'd do it in a second. It makes perfect sense. Then again, we'd have to be in one place."
As he says this, the Drums & Tuba van has hit the interstate on the way to Michigan, adding yet more miles to the 263,000 to date Nozero proudly announces. And in addition to having the secret for putting over delightfully bizarre if confounding instrumental rock, he also wants to offer some automotive advice they've learned on the road.
"The oil change. People don't understand. The car will last forever if you change the oil on time," Nozero advises. "If there's one thing you take away from this interview, it's that you have to change the oil in your car." Sort of in the same way that musicians have to keep what they play fresh and inspired to keep at it so diligently with only small remuneration? "It's the perfect metaphor for this band."