Trombone Shorty Is Big On New Orleans, Music Education & Rap
Whether the subject is his latest project, touring, his storied hometown of New Orleans, or education, Trombone Shorty — born Troy Andrews — beams with confidence and pride. Lucky for him, his No. 1 passion threads it all: music.
Released in April 2017, Parking Lot Symphony represents arguably the GRAMMY nominee's most passionate project to date. Designed to capture the spirit and the essence of The Big Easy, Trombone Shorty looked to create a more spontaneous, live atmosphere in the studio. The organic results yielded bluesy numbers like "No Good Time," jazzy instrumental cuts like "Tripped Out Slim," and spirited covers of Allen Toussaint's "Here Come The Girls" and the Meters' "It Ain't No Use."
In an exclusive GRAMMY.com interview, Trombone Shorty goes long on the live feel on Parking Lot Symphony, touring with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, what you'd find on his rider, rap influences, and saving lives through music education.
You've stated you wanted to capture more of a raw feel with Parking Lot Symphony, compared to your prior albums. What led you in this direction?
When we are in the studio doing the records, sometimes we really try to be extremely tight and try to be very clean. And we've never tried to do a live take in the studio, with the energy. So we just wanted to do that, because most of my career and most of our success is because of the live element. And I just wanted to go in there and see if we could just play — to have the arrangements really tight but not hold back on the energy. And we never approached that in the studio. Whenever we go in the studio, it's always, "Oh, we need to be tight. We need to do this." So I said, "Let's learn the material; let's get it as tight as we can. And let's play like we do it during the show." And I think we captured that [on Parking Lot Symphony].
I understand that the album title Parking Lot Symphony is based on a lyric phrase from Alex Ebert from the Magnetic Zeros. Why did the title make sense for the album, and what does it represent to you?
Well, we got together and wrote the song, and he said, "It's Parking Lot Symphony," I just thought it was great because it represents what we do New Orleans. Most of the music in New Orleans is heard on the street and that's where I came up, playing in the street parades. I just thought, "It really is a parking lot symphony in New Orleans," marching through the street for four or five hours, every Sunday or every other day, and I just thought it fit perfectly with my story.
You're recently coming off a tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Back in the day, the Chili Peppers were known for some crazy antics. What's the strangest thing that happened on that tour?
(laughs) Well, you know, I think they're a little older now so they've calmed down a lot. There was nothing really crazy. Flea gets up there and Anthony takes off his shirt — I don't think that's crazy. But it was a lot of fun, we learned a lot from them. It was a great tour for us because we listened to those guys growing up. And our music is very influenced by them. We just have horns, but you can hear certain rhythms in [that are similar] because they are also influenced by the Meters, who we grew up listening to in New Orleans.
I saw some videos before we went on the road — I thought they'd do some crazy stuff so I could try and steal those antics from them. But they kept it really cool on this one.
You jammed "Give It Away" with them.
Yeah, we did "Give It Away" in New Orleans. That's one of my favorite songs, and they brought up the Rebirth Brass Band, George Porter from the Meters and Ivan Neville. We had a big jam session onstage at the Smoothie King arena in New Orleans and that was just like a monumental moment for all of us.
Speaking of touring: What are the most surprising things that would be found on Trombone Shorty's tour rider?
(laughs) On my rider? Probably ramen noodles in a cup. That's probably the craziest thing. But my band really puts some weird things on there. I just ask for coconut water. Well, I do also ask for Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Before the show, we might have cereal or something like that. They take care of the rest, so there's all types of ginger beer and M&M's. We're really cool. We haven't completely lost our minds yet.
You are a huge proponent of music education through the Trombone Shorty Foundation. Why is music education so important for our nation's youth?
Well, think about this, music education is very important because I've realized that, [through] traveling and touring, every place is not New Orleans. It's cool to play music, it's cool to play instruments, it's cool to play tuba and trombone and trumpet, or even tap dance. When we get off the plane in New Orleans, about five minutes later you'll see someone playing. So I wanted to give back to the neighborhood because a lot of great musicians in the city did that for me because they saw something in me as a kid. They'd go on tour and the would give me something to practice, and then they would come off tour and come back to my house and ask me if I had been practicing and then they'd give me another lesson.
I've had great teachers throughout my life and it's an unspoken tradition that we pass things down. In New Orleans we have a lot of kids that grow up playing by ear and some of them never get formal training but they become professional musicians. And what I wanted to do is give them the right tools to be able to come out to L.A. or wherever it may be and be onstage with anybody, and not have anything hold them back. And also, in New Orleans sometimes we know how to make music and play music, but we may be lacking in the music business side of it. So I wanted to introduce that to the kids before they get to it, so it's not a complete random thought when they actually have to do some contracts or have to manage themselves. We have a lot of great musicians and great kids down there. And I think in the bigger picture, it can be a passport for them to see the world. And maybe even save some of their lives.
From down and dirty funk to jazz, blues and hip-hop, your influences are eclectic. Staying with hip-hop: What are your top hip-hop albums of all time and who are some of your biggest influences?
Yeah, I think Juvenile 400 Degreez is one of my favorites. He's one of my favorite rappers coming from New Orleans. There's Mystikal, his albums he did with No Limit. And I have to say Lil Wayne with Tha Carter, what he does on that. Growing up in the city, we all listened to that music. And still today, we still listen it. That's where most of my hip-hop influences comes from, being in the city. I worked with Mannie Fresh when he was doing some things with Cash Money. I worked with him when I was like 14, and we still work together today. KLC, who did a bunch of stuff for No Limit, we still work together. I play some horn parts for him and make some beats for him. Those are my biggest influences in hip-hop.
You've done some voiceover work and played yourself on "Treme." Any interest in getting into method acting?
You know, I've thought about it. I've got a bunch of actor and actress friends that I hang out with. And I'm always asking them things. If I get a chance to do it, I'd like to take that challenge. It's a different type of thing to become someone else. But sometimes onstage, sometimes you get into a vibe. I don't know if it's acting or if it's a spiritual thing, but sometimes I feel like James Brown or I feel the spirit of Louis Armstrong or things like that. I feel I tap into that spirit sometimes.
What's the last show you binge-watched?
I don't get a chance to watch much TV but I have been watching Netflix. There's a show called "Wentworth" that I've been checking out. And when I'm home, my sister likes to watch the show "Power" with 50 Cent and all those guys. So I'll check that out. We'll sit at home as a family and just watch that all day. I gotta catch up because she's talking about things that I don't know about. So she makes me go back to season one and after I watch that, then we're able to talk about it.