By Dana Getz
With a signature pair of oversized heart-shaped glasses and an afro rivaling that of Jimi Hendrix, Earl Scioneaux III is hard to miss. Born and bred in New Orleans, the sound engineer/producer/performer has been turning heads from an early age.
Scioneaux’s parents enrolled him in piano lessons at four-years-old after noticing his aptitude for music, later sending him to local arts school New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. While performing in miscellaneous bands throughout high school and college, he discovered a knack for operating recording equipment, eventually leading him to a career as a sound engineer. He has since recorded albums for the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz band and worked on various projects for Pretty Lights, Lenny Kravitz, Mos Def, My Morning Jacket, Andrew Bird and more, as well as put out several of his own albums under the moniker The Madd Wikkid.
His latest project, “Brassft Punk,” brings together a group of New Orleans brass musicians to perform adapted versions of Daft Punk’s greatest hits. Though the robots haven’t personally responded, the record has gained significant attention, earning them slots at several summer festivals. We sat down with Scioneaux to discuss the band’s formation, his varied career and the uniqueness of New Orleans music.
You’ve been trained in more of the classical and jazz arenas. What made you decide to start working with alternative acts such as Pretty Lights and My Morning Jacket?
Those opportunities just came up. For me, music is music. I don’t really worry about genres much. Style is kind of an inconsequential artifact, you know? I just look for good music to attach myself to.
How would you describe the difference between sound recording and producing versus composing and performing?
Oh my God, it’s very different. A lot of times when I’m engineering for an act I try to stay completely out of the way and just capture what they’re doing, but working with an act as a producer is sometimes a combination of both some degree of engineering but also trying to help the artist or the band highlight themselves. Sometimes when you’re in a band you don’t always see what the real high points are or how to bring out the best, so I feel like that’s really a producer’s job. Composing in particular is a very personal thing. I don’t even know how to describe that process, but it’s very internal, and performing is almost like letting it all out. You just externalize all these emotions and ideas. You’re putting out in the moment into the world. All of those things are pretty drastically different.
In your most recent album you brought a brass band together to perform adaptions of Daft Punk’s hits. Where did you get the idea and how did the Brassft Punk band come together?
I got the idea because I was looking at these records that I’d seen people do where they’d taken older, classic tunes and modernized them in some way. I felt like that juxtaposition of styles was cool but I wanted to go the opposite direction, so I thought, “What are the ‘modern classics?’ What are the EDM big hits?” And Daft Punk seemed like a pretty obvious choice. Living in New Orleans, I’m surrounded by brass bands—they’re just everywhere—and with Daft Punk and brass band music being very dancey, feel good, party, fun music, I felt like that would be a good fusion. So I had the idea, wrote out a chart, and some friends of mine in The Soul Rebels were kind enough to let me crash their rehearsal. I handed out the charts and they played through it, kind of like a proof concept, and it translated really well. So from that point I started to put together the rest of the project. Pretty much once I had the charts done I hired the band to make the record. That was the whole project in my mind at the time. I guess through just the exposure—we put this on Kickstarter, started getting a lot of inquires about shows and stuff—it was clear that people wanted to see this live, and the band just sort of came together naturally.
Do you plan to do this with any other popular music?
I definitely wanna take this some other places. I’m toying with a couple ideas, but I’m not sure yet. I don’t want to tease something and then not come through with it, but I’m definitely going to take it some other directions toward the end of the year.
Let’s talk about your upcoming mixtape, “Don’t Tell Nobody.”
Well, it’s a series of mashups where I’m just drawing from a very wide swath of New Orleans music. Everything from old stuff from the 1950s to the Cosimo Matassa studio through the decades into Dr. John and so forth, some early bounce rap, Lil Wayne—all kinds of very, very different types of music kind of woven together, with the common thread being that they’re all New Orleans music. As far as I know no one’s done anything like it, and it had been on my mind for a while, so I just decided it was time to sit down and make that collage.
Yeah, most of your music features New Orleans artists. I know you’re from the area, but is there a particular reason you’re so drawn to New Orleans’ talent?
I think there’s a really special thing that’s going on there. And you know, to be honest, I didn’t realize it until I moved away from New Orleans for a while. A little over a decade ago I moved to New York and lived there for a few years and then I spent some time on the road. I realized there’s a very unique feel and sound in the way that the musicians play that really doesn’t happen anywhere else, it’s almost like an accent. I don’t know, maybe because I grew up around it I’m particularly drawn to it, but it seems like people around the world have developed some kind of affinity for that character as well. I realized that no one had kind of drawn that into the electronic world at all, so that’s kind of been my thing—finding ways to bridge that gap.
Other than the mixtape, what else is in store for the future? Any definite plans?
Well, kind of tying in with this mashup record, I think I’m going to do kind of a duo or a three piece. It will be me and a drummer, or me and a drummer and one horn player, and kind of do more things that are very dance-floor-oriented. It’ll almost be like an enhanced DJ set more than a band. So hopefully October/November we’ll start rolling that out and doing some shows that way. I think a compact ensemble like that will make sense more places, and Brassft Punk will do the big festivals.
THE MADD WIKKID’S MIXTAPE, DON’T TELL NOBODY, IS OUT SEPTEMBER 24.