ON TOUR NOW! Check out our concert schedule and catch one of our shows this fall!
We’ve finally published a complete score for “Gospel”, based on the arrangement from our 2009 Rise Up recording, which was used in the hit film Monsters University. The PDF download includes the complete score, plus parts for Alto Sax, Tenor Sax, Baritone Sax, Trumpet in Bb 1, Trumpet in Bb 2, Trombone 1, Trombone 2, Electric Bass, Snare Drum, Shaker, Bass Drum, Cymbals, and Tri-toms.
JULY 31, 2014 / GUARDIANSOFCRAFT
Name: John Averill
Hometowns: Eugene, OR, then Los Angeles, CA, then Portland, OR
Current occupation: Bandleader and bass player for MarchFourth Marching Band
Based in Portland, Oregon, MarchFourth (nicknamed “M4″) is a marching band, but not your typical marching band. They combine musical styles from across the globe and perform high energy shows with powerful sound and dazzling visual displays, including dancers and stilt walkers. They’ve performed with No Doubt, Rebirth Brass Band, Galactic, Balkan Beat Box and more, and they’ve performed at such festivals as Burning Man. This Friday, August 1, their tour brings them to the Beer Camp Across America, New England edition, in Portland, Maine. Apart from aging with apparently remarkable grace (see above), John Averill is the band’s leader, and he generously agreed to take a break from touring and answer some questions from the Guardians of Craft blog. G-blog is lucky–and grateful.
G-blog: If funk, klezmer, New Orleans brass, and Serbian brass had an orgy one night, and a child of unknown parentage was born from them, I would say that child could be M4. That’s how I might describe your sound, in other words. But how would you describe the band’s sound?
J-Averill: I’d say that’s pretty accurate. There are some other missing genetics in the musical lineage you described, the most predominant being rock and jazz. We’re sort of like Duke Ellington meets Sgt. Pepper with influences from all over the globe. We’ll borrow elements from pretty much any genre, without having a singular genre to call our own.
G-blog: Is there something that all the styles and influences that M4 draws on have in common?
J-Averill: In terms of music, the common denominator is groove. We strive to play music that moves people and gets them dancing. In terms of the overall performance of the group, I’d say there is a thread of high-energy inclusiveness that forms the core of our ethos.
G-blog: Let’s go back to the beginning. What was “Chow Yun Fat Tuesday”?
J-Averill: It was a party we threw in 2003 on Fat Tuesday. I had been doing these “hybrid theme parties” for a couple of years in Portland that were influenced by the Burning Man festival, where the idea was to create a one-off band that learned a specific set of music for each event, and place the band within a multi-media event that included costumes, art installations, performance art, DJ’s, etc. Chow Yun Phat Tuesday was a mix of Mardi Gras and the Chinese New Year, at least stylistically. The date of Fat Tuesday in 2003 was March 4th, so we just decided to name the project after the date of the party since it seemed kind of obvious in terms of synchronicity.
G-blog: Why the mismatched band uniforms? (And isn’t “mismatched…uniform” an oxymoron?)
J-Averill: That’s clever! I never thought of that. Well, since the event was a costume party then it seemed that wearing thrift-store/vintage marching band outfits would the obvious starting point for attire. After 11 years we still kind of have that visual aesthetic as the foundation of our style, but we have no hard-core dress code so people are free to create their own variations loosely based on a marching band theme. The mismatched aspect reflects the reality that we are all individuals expressing ourselves together in a team environment, in addition to the fact that it’s more challenging to find an entire set of matching band uniforms that actually fit everyone. Plus, marching band pants are ridiculous contraptions that feature sliding zippers to accommodate a few (but not all) sizes, and they usually don’t have pockets. So, we mostly focus on finding cool jackets.
G-blog: What aspects of your own individual background prepared you to lead M4?
J-Averill: The first thing that comes to mind is playing team sports. I was a soccer freak growing up, and one of my favorite teams was a coed team that my dad coached when I was 12 years old. We had more girls on our team than any other team in the league, and the other teams would laugh at us before games. Then we’d kick their ass, and it wasn’t because we were more skilled; it was because we had chemistry and a team-first attitude. We were like brothers and sisters. That experience in particular reminds me the most of M4. In terms of musical background: I don’t have any credentials other than growing up listening to a lot of music and then deciding to learn the bass at age 19. I don’t have any formal training of any kind, and am the first to confess that in many ways I really don’t know what I am doing or how I’m able to do it.
G-blog: The first song of yours that I shared with my friend who’s coming to Beer Camp with me was Simplon Cocek. Since coceks are made for dancing, I was pleased that she promised to dance with me to it, but she confessed she wasn’t sure she knew how to dance to it. I suspect it’s because of its irregular meter (it feels like 9/8 to me), which a lot of Eastern European brass songs have. What advice, if any, would you give to someone unsure how to dance to such songs?
J-Averill: That’s funny. Whenever we play that song, or another song called Snake Five (which also has an odd time signature), I always scan the audience to see if anyone is dancing. Usually, at best, there’s one or two people grooving to it. In general, the types of people who can naturally move to odd meter songs are as follows: children, the elderly sun-baked blissed-out Colorado native, the random transient that stumbles into the free concert, or the person who has obviously taken acid before. My advice would be to literally close your eyes and let your body sort of shimmy about; there is a rhythm there for sure. The way I move to it is to stay (literally) on my toes and bounce around. If you try to use your linear brain you’ll just fall down, especially in this day and age where people are trained to move to a clock of some kind.
G-blog: Can you tell me a bit about the process (or processes) by which most of your songs get composed and arranged? Is it one or two members who do most of that heavy lifting, or is it more broadly collaborative?
J-Averill: This band has many composers, and the biggest gift that former members have given us are great songs. Currently, there are about five or six of us active band members writing for the band. One in particular is really proficient right now. Basically, how we work is: people write songs, work out the arrangement, create a demo, produce charts, and then we learn the song as a group. Usually we accumulate a handful of new songs a couple times a year and then learn them in batches. The drummers have to work as a section to create the grooves, and the horn players work on the melodic lines. On bass I just try to glue it all together. We’re starting to collaborate more these days, but haven’t had the time to work on new stuff because we’re constantly touring.
G-blog: Two of your songs that I personally love are (the award-winning) Space Hole and also Crack Haus. (Maybe Crack Haus is also award-winning, but I just didn’t see that.) How did you choose those titles?
J-Averill: Space Hole was written by Robin Jackson (our original tenor sax player) who submitted it to a songwriting contest and won an award with it; he told me he wanted the song to sound like the soundtrack for a science-fiction action blockbuster. Crackhaus was written by Jason Wells (one of our original trumpet players), and is intended to be a tongue-in-cheek attempt at European techno. Both of those songs are off our first album, which is 10 years old.
G-blog: You’ve played with some other great bands, including Pink Martini, Budos Band, Balkan Beat Box, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Who are one or two bands with whom you’ve not played yet, that you think it would be really fun to jam with, and why?
J-Averill: For sheer party madness, I think it would be fun to play with Gogol Bordello, but they have it in their rider that they won’t play with bands that have more members than they do, I suppose because size and spectacle are something we both have in common. I recently stumbled on this band called Zongo Junction (from Brooklyn, NY) who were really great. I bought their CD and it’s really trancy Afro-beat stuff. One of the first bands we ever opened for years ago was Antibalas (also from NYC area). I’d love to open for David Byrne or Peter Gabriel someday, just because I think they and their audience would appreciate what we’re trying to do.
G-blog: What’s your favorite story from the band’s history that you can tell in brief?
J-Averill: That’s tough. We’ve had some fun, improbable, and borderline insane adventures so far. Right now the most interesting story to me is the one that we’re in the middle of right now, which is: band goes on full-on summer tour wherein our bus breaks down in San Diego, we fly to Colorado and rent vans, four days later bus picks us up in Colorado and immediately breaks down again, then we hustle to Denver, rent three mini-vans and a box truck, and continue across country. We are now in NYC, and in two days our (presumably fixed) bus is picking us up in Philadelphia to continue the tour to North Carolina. Then we drive west to Salt Lake City and then home. So far, miraculously, we have not missed a show on this tour (knock on wood).
G-blog: Finally, since you’re coming to play at an event centered around beer, I have an alcohol-related question. If there were a beer or cocktail called the March Fourth, what kind of a beer would it be, or if it was a cocktail, what would its ingredients be?
J-Averill: In terms of beer I’ll take a crisp German-brewed MarchFourth pilsner any day. The M4 cocktail would probably be: two shots determination, one shot gratitude, and a jigger of audacity. Stirred, shaken, then stirred again. Served with a Jameson’s back.
G-blog is deeply grateful to John for taking the time to answer these questions. And I’m super excited to see the band perform at Beer Camp. If you’re there in Portland for the event, and you see a 6’1 Black man grooving to the odd meter of Simplon Cocek, that’ll be me. And even though I’m usually an IPA man, maybe I’ll have a pilsner in John’s honor.
We’re proud to present our first-ever professionally produced music video for our new single, Shindig (written by Cameron DePalma).
Get the track and video from iTunes and add it to your favorite playlist!
This band was originally founded to play a Mardi Gras party in Portland, OR on Fat Tuesday March 4, 2003. The party was put on by a loosely organized group of artists who found each other in the early days of the Alberta Arts District. Following the huge success of their original Chow Yun Fat Tuesday party in 2002 (a Mardi Gras/Chinese New Year theme), the 2003 event (dubbed Chow Yun Fat Twosday) was to feature a marching band, complete with stilt walkers and fire dancers. Named after the date of the first show, MarchFourth Marching Band was born. So in many ways, this year’s 11th anniversary is a very special birthday. March 4th won’t fall on Fat Tuesday again until 2025!
FAT TUESDAY: MARCHFOURTH MARCHING BAND’S 11TH ANNIVERSARY SPECTACULAR
We’re also offering a VIP ticket that includes entry to both shows and a meet & greet in Lola’s room 8-9 PM.
WATCH THE LIVE BROADCAST, STARTING 7:00 PM PST 3/4/14
|Thu. Oct 10 Asheville, NC The Orange Peel (Share the Facebook Event)
Mon. Oct 21 Portland, OR Mondays at the Mall
We need your help to make a film about our trip to China. Visit our Kickstarter campaign to pledge your support before Aug 5, 2013!
MarchFourth spent two weeks in Henan,China as cultural ambassadors of the United States. Help us make the film and tell the story.
In April, 2013, MarchFourth Marching Band was honored to receive an invitation to do a US State Department cultural exchange tour in China, sponsored jointly by the United States Embassy in Beijing, Sias International University, Sias Foundation, and the Government of Henan China Cultural Affairs. We had only one month to prepare for the tour, and did not even receive the full itinerary until the band landed in Beijing. We really had no idea what we were in for.
The MarchFourth in China film traces the band’s path through Henan, a relatively remote province of China. Often referred to as the “Cradle of Chinese Civilization,” Henan culture is distinctly rural and far from the flashy bling of big cities like Shanghai or Hong Kong. Located in the fertile region of the Yellow River, the area’s economy is an agricultural and resource-based one. To put it in context, we were commonly advised to “think Kansas.” The freaky and urban MarchFourth juxtaposed against Henan’s traditionally more rural reality is at the heart of this story’s magic. While the band has much experience performing for unsuspecting audiences, the contrast between style and musical aesthetic in this culture was extreme, and got to the heart of the mission of the trip.
That such a large, eclectic, outside-the-box band was chosen to represent American musical culture struck many as an odd, but strangely perfect, choice. Fans and friends expressed their feelings of pride that something so very unique, that they felt connected to, would be sent on such a mission. Now we want to tell the story. We are producing a 50-60 minute documentary, including travel footage, live performances, behind-the-scenes intrigue, and video shot on an iphone from the “bands’-eye” view. The finished film will be free to watch on youtube, not a merchandise item. In order to give it away, and share it far and wide, we need your help. We are asking for just what we need to finance the completion, duplication, and release of the film. Please help us get this amazing story out to the world!
Disney/Pixar’s newest release, ‘Monsters University’, is the prequel to its mega-hit ‘Monsters, Inc.’ The MarchFourth Marching Band track “Gospel” (from our 2009 album, Rise Up) is not only featured in the official ‘Monsters University’ trailer, but can also be heard twice in the film and in the closing credits. Some people even thought “Gospel” might be the movie’s theme song since it was used so many times! The rest of the ‘Monsters University’ film score was composed by Randy Newman, so there was some confusion about the mystery song in the credits, since it didn’t appear on the official soundtrack of Newman’s compositions. Now the word is getting out that an independent band from Portland, Oregon was responsible for the song, which many have called the catchiest number in the movie. We’re super proud of composer Eric Miller, and all the M4 musicians who recorded that track so many years ago, never suspecting that one day the whole world would be listening.
MarchFourth Marching Band to tour China’s Henan Province on a US State Department diplomatic cultural exchange May 21-June 3, 2013.
PORTLAND, Ore., May 21, 2013 (PRWEB) — MarchFourth Marching Band is embarking on a US State Department cultural exchange tour in China, sponsored jointly by the United States Embassy in Beijing, Sias International University, Sias Foundation, and the Government of Henan China Cultural Affairs. MarchFourth’s eighteen performers (and three crew, including a cameraman/documentarian) will tour the Henan Province of China, putting on shows at universities, arts centers and public squares from May 21-June 3, 2013.
MarchFourth Marching Band is an American music and performance ensemble. Their original music is anchored by funky electric bass, echoing the deepest grooves of American funk, rock, and jazz, framed in cinematic fashion by high-stepping stilt-aerobatics and dazzling dancers, all in fanciful costumes. This genre-busting, circus dance party is not to be missed! What began as a Fat Tuesday band in Portland, Oregon on March 4, 2003, has since become one of the nation’s best live touring acts and an experience that’s not soon forgotten.
Stiltwalker Aaron Lyon explains why MarchFourth Marching Band is a great choice for this kind of cultural exchange. “We are not a lyrically driven stage act. From the moment we start making music and moving, people begin to feel something,” he says. “It’s part of our accessibility. MarchFourth speaks two universal languages–music and dance–and we’re saying ‘Hey everybody! Let’s have a party. Right here. Right now. Just because we can.'”
Cymbal player and tour manager Dan Stauffer adds, “Every time we go abroad we’re bringing something about America that no one sees in the rest of the world. It makes every experience precious in a way that traveling around the States could never be exactly.”
Since the Cold War era, trips like this have long been part of American cultural diplomacy efforts to showcase the American arts and, by extension, our way of life. Some of the first musicians to tour the world on the US State Department dime were jazz greats like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Though they declined somewhat in the second half of the 20th century, these kinds of programs, which feature all genres of music as well as dance, theater, and fine art, were revived or reinvigorated after 9/11 in an attempt to downplay anti-US sentiments around the world.
Download a band photo here
Watch filmmaker Kevin Balmer’s trailer for “Was Ist Das?”, the short documentary made of MarchFourth’s 2009 trip to Germany here
About MarchFourth Marching Band:
MarchFourth Marching Band consists of 18 performers (or so) and features an all-star cast of percussion, saxes, trumpets, trombones, as well as bass and electric guitar and stiltwalkers, acrobats, hula hoops and dancing girls. Their most recent album ‘Magnificent Beast,’ was produced by Steve Berlin (of Los Lobos and was self-released October 2011. Their song “Gospel” will be featured in this year’s highly anticipated Disney/Pixar movie, “Monsters University.” The song will also be heard in the closing credits and the movie trailer.
“From the first note to the last, the sound was pumping and the fun never stopped.” – USA Today
MarchFourth Marching Band