Brasstracks, the New York-based musical duo of Ivan Jackson Conor Rayne, have had quite a year. Which is bound to happen when you produce a track like Chance the Rapper’s “No Problem,” the highlight of his excellent album Coloring Book and one of our picks for the best songs of 2016.
After touring extensively this summer, Brasstracks have just announced a two-part project titled Those Who Know, a work that will mark a significent reinvention for them. For starters, Ivan has his own vocals featured on the title track, which is making its premiere right here on Highsnobiety Music. Stream it below, and read on for our Q&A with the duo to discuss their upcoming work, their wildest tour stories and what it was like hanging in the studio with Chance.
Was playing an instrument something you were forced to do when you were younger, or did you come into it on your own?
Conor: I was born into a musical home. No one in my family played an instrument but there was always jazz and all sorts of music on in the house. How I came to play drums is a funny story. Allegedly, when I was 3 or 4, I was walking with my mom and we passed a group of conga and djembe players playing on the street. I stood there transfixed and started to move my body to their music. A stranger nudged my mom and said, “It looks like you have a drummer on your hands.” She took that as a sign and my parents bought me a drum set a year later.
Ivan: My parents had a rule in the house when I was younger – I had to play some sort of instrument, but I could choose the instrument I wanted to play. I started with piano in 1st grade, moved onto guitar, and then found the trumpet when I joined band class in about 4th grade. That was the first instrument that I think I really liked to practice.
What’s been your favorite song to cover?
C: I really love playing our cover of “U Remind Me” by Usher. We haven’t recorded it, it’s just something we play in our live set. There’s a lot of room towards the end for Ivan and I to stretch out and interact with each other. One of the best parts about a duo is how much space there is to do your thing.
I: My favorite song to cover so far has been “My Boo” by Ghost Town DJs – we haven’t released it so it’s always a surprise to the crowd when we play it live. No matter how young or old the crowd, somehow everyone always knows the lyrics. We do it with a live Jersey club-esque feel, which is a feel we don’t get to touch on too often.
What’s your go-to restaurant in New York?
C: This is a tough one because in NYC there’s an incredible restaurant on every other block… I used to go to this place called Via Tribunali on the LES. Neapolitan wood-burned brick oven pizza. A hidden gem kind of place. Unfortunately they closed a few years ago. I really like Mission Chinese these days, and Peace Food if I’m feeling vegetables!
I: Il Posto Accanto, on 2nd between Ave A and B. SO GOOD. My pops still has the best cooking in Manhattan though.
What was it like working with Chance The Rapper?
C: Chance is inspiring, kind, and one of the most talented and personable rappers we’ve worked with in the studio. There was a mutual respect of each other’s music that made it comfortable, kind of familiar. That session was the first one to open up a lot of doors for us and we’re really grateful for the opportunity.
I: We were fans to begin with, so to be able to work with the guy was pretty inspiring. Not something we thought was going to happen for us at the time. We had a great time over the course of a couple days, and we learned so much from that session. Mainly to come through prepared with lots of beats.
Most interesting place you’ve travelled thanks to music?
C: Last summer we got to do a small European tour and saw some cool cities. We had a really good time in London and Amsterdam, and Paris is beautiful. Believe it or not, I’ve found our travels through the quirky places of the Midwest to be insightful. When you are driving through small vacant towns in Wyoming or the vastness of Montana, you feel like such a foreigner. It’s a refreshing perspective.
I: Before Brasstracks was our main thing, I played in a ton of different bands as a freelancer. I played with Eli Paperboy Reed in 2014, and we did a few dates in Spain – Madrid, Barcelona, Galicia, Zaragoza. Madrid and Galicia are probably the most interesting places I’ve been.
What’s been your personal song of the summer?
C: There are two pieces I’ve been listening to all summer – “#3” by Aphex Twin and “Clare de Lune” by Claude Debussy. Both are calming and intoxicate me when I’m stressed. Festival season was busy this summer and I’ve needed music that is the opposite energy of that.
I: Cardi B – “Bodak Yellow,” JME – “Don’t @ Me.” Oh and “We Find Love” by Daniel Caesar. That’s a strange pairing, I know.
What are your pizza toppings of choice?
C: Listen, I’m an all or nothing kind of guy. Usually I go to a spot where I can enjoy a slice on it’s own and appreciate that particular sauce/cheese/crust combination because let’s not kid ourselves: you can throw 15 vegetables and a ham sandwich on bad pizza and it’s still bad pizza. I do however respect Carmines’ barbecue chicken slice… wow. So good.
I: Plain cheese please. Keep those pineapples away from me and my pizza.
Have you had any awkward backstage run-ins?
C: Can’t say that I’ve had any awkward back stage run-ins. Before shows I try to find some solitude to get into a meditative space and then afterwards I’m so drained from bashing drums for an hour that I don’t pay attention to anything going on around me. Most of my energy goes into the performance and everything else is a blur.
I: TOO MANY. Too many people trying to network and stuff backstage before a show. Conor is always being smart and practicing in the green room, and I’ll leave to walk around the venue and get sucked into conversations that are really awkward, and I’ll feel like an idiot afterwards.
What can we expect from your upcoming project ‘Those Who Know’?
I: Conor said this in an interview once, so I’m going to be the one to say it this time. Don’t expect anything. It’s better that way.
For more of our premieres, check out the surreal video for “Drug Diling” from Berlin techno-duo The/Das right here.