Brass Construction: Funktion and more….
By David Nathan
December, 1976, in person interview, New York City
IT WAS with a great deal of anticipation and curiosity that everyone waited patiently for the second Brass Construction album on United Artists Records. Perhaps no one was more anxious to see the public's reaction than the group itself. Having set an enviable precedent by seeing their first album turn gold and now platinum, the nine-man aggregation were obviously out to prove that they were no one-album wonder.
"This new album represents a positive step towards fulfilling our goals," states group leader Randy Muller, the gentleman responsible for writing all the songs on the album and doing the arranging chores. "We gained the attention of the people with our first album and this second one was particularly important for us because we had to prove ourselves, show that we could maintain what we'd done with the first one and yet still expand."
Certainly, the second album differs from the first. The whole of the second side is a departure for the group. "Our first album was based on very simple lyrics, what we call high abstractions — the use of simple words repeated. And therein lies the universal appeal of the album. We left it for other people to interpret what they wanted to with songs like "Movin"' and "Changin"'.
"This album gets closer to what we want to say. The lyrics are there — I tend to write in a simple way so that we can get over to the maximum number of people with our work." After each cut on the album, you'll find one word in parentheses. Randy explained: "Those words are to define each song. 'Funktion' was one I thought up to bring out the humorous aspect of life. But the songs on that side are more serious. 'Screwed' does have a sexual connotation but the song relates more to the way we get disappointed and messed around with — the conditions we have to deal with. Like when we elect a government that says they'll do one thing and turn around and do something else. 'Now Is Tomorrow' deals with procrastination. We all put off things until tomorrow — people don't get up off their you-know-whats and do something — they're always saying tomorrow, tomorrow. The song is saying — the time is now. 'Sambo' is more or less about the black struggle and it's saying that we've come a long, long way through it all. So you see, each song has a particular message and meaning and I did that because I want Brass to be multi-dimensional. Even the music itself merges different forms, contains fusions of different styles. Like 'Blame It On Me' where we mixed reggae and country!"
Even though the second set obviously varied from the more straight disco feel of the first, Randy says that the public seems to have accepted the group regardless. The album shipped gold and already shows signs of becoming the group's second platinum set. Did the group ever anticipate the kind of success they're having? "Well, we knew it would happen some day — sooner or later. We just didn't know when. And it's a funny thing: we expected success with the first album and yet we didn't! You see, the material had been written quite some time beforehand and what with other chores that both Jeff Lane (their producer) and I had to deal with — like working with B.T. Express (Randy handles the string arrangements), there was a long gap between recording the material and its release. In fact, we thought it would be stale when we put it out and we were skeptical about releasing it. But we went ahead and it really took off — which was a more than pleasant surprise for us!"
In fact, when the album was issued last autumn, it became one of the most-played and requested albums internationally — it was an immediate smash. Brass Construction followed through by spending quite a good deal of time on the road, hence the delay in the rlease of the second set. "We had the material ready ahead of time but we just couldn't find the time to go in and cut it until September of this year. But I'm really getting into enjoying the audience reactions now wherever we go," stated Randy. "It's great to see people dig what we're doing and we will definitely be spending more time out on the road and that includes our proposed European trip in February. We feel that it's not just important for people to hear our records — they've got to see us."
Randy admits that he personally loves working in creative situations — and obviously digs the studio and the opportunities he gets to express himself creatively. "My underlying ambition is to be understood — for people to achieve a fuller understanding of what I'm doing, my aspirations. Naturally, it's wonderful to know that people understand what you're saying through your music. And I will definitely expand into other areas — movie scores and so on. As it is, I write about five songs a day!" he stated quite casually. If you tot that little lot up, you'll find the prolific Mr. Muller is writing some hundred and forty songs a month! "Yes, I really do write that much. What do I do with them? Put them away, file them — so we've always got material immediately available. But I want to get more into production and giving the material to other artists. I used to be kinda selfish about it but there is only so much that Brass itself can use. As a matter of fact, Jeff and I are co-producing [‘60s R&B hitmaker] Garnet Mimms and he's done some of the songs."
Where do the group themselves see where they're at now? "Well, we're still very much climbing the ladder. I feel that we've made some very significant strides," says Randy, "but as to how successful we are, I can't really say. That's for other people to say. People have their own definition of success. I do know that we haven't stopped — we have to carry on and be productive. I think if I ever felt that we'd achieved the ultimate, I'd be very bored. There is always so much more to do — so many areas and so many people to reach."
The future? "Our next album will be a step even closer to where we're trying to reach. It all has to come in stages. But although there will be variation, we'll come that same basic rhythmic pulse but we'll be saying different things. That good feeling of getting people up on their feet, enjoying themselves is very important. At the same time, we want Brass Construction to be different, to be unique. The market is very big out there and there is room for everyone. Nevertheless, you have to keep yourself aware of what other people are doing just so that you can come out with something new and different and distinctive each time. It's not so much a thing of competition as knowing what's going on out there. It's bound to affect what we do."
Randy accepts that people make comparisons between Brass and B.T. Express. "Naturally, that's going to happen because Jeff produces both and I do the string arrangements for both. But they have very distinctive sounds. In fact, I'm working right now on the next B.T. album and you'll find that it too is different."
Randy prides himself on that fact that he studies what he's doing. "I'm trying very hard to transcend as many cultural barriers as I can. Music has a definite underlying universal denominator. Right now, I'm studying African and Far Eastern music — I want to find out what that common factor is. I've also been studying techniques of old composers and applying what I'm learning to what's going on today. With people offering so much these days, you have to be selective about what you buy. Knowing that, I'm working hard at making sure Brass stay on top, stay different and distinctive."
There seems little doubt that the immediate acceptance of Brass Construction's newest album augers well for the group's longevity. They are obviously a very talented group of fine musicians whose music is going to be around for a long time to come.