Contact Us
Blog

Q&A With Blues Junior - Sitting Down With Band Leader, Brian LaPann

By Brendan Walsh on May, 2 2019
Brendan Walsh

When I was recently tasked with writing an article about Blues Junior, a band that my close friend and business partner, Brian LaPann leads, I frankly didn’t know where to begin.  I had watched Brian perform with one of his earliest groups “61 North”, before I had even actually met him in person. That performance on the roof of Philadelphia’s Magee Rehab Hospital in 2009, eventually led to us starting Mole Street Artists. For me, Brian’s music has been the soundtrack to the last decade of my life, but more specifically our journey as entrepreneurs. It’s with great pride and passion that I share the interview below where I probe Brian’s love of music and drill down to the “why” behind his passion for guitar, his earliest musical influences and what keeps him stepping out on stage over 40 times a year to this day.

Interview taken from a recorded excerpt January 31st, 2019 and is redacted for content and readability.

 

Brendan:

“Brian, this is exciting man. I've been lucky enough to watch you perform for almost 10 years in various formats… from a solo acoustic set on Friday nights at the Rittenhouse Hotel’s Library Bar, to hearing you play a slow blues medley with your band at the Philadelphia Convention Center, to the Roots Picnic playing guitar for Chill Moody.  I’m as much of a friend as I am a fan of your music.

You’ve been playing the guitar since you were what, 14, 15 years old? What is it that excites you the most about this band Blues Junior after all these years of playing music?”

 

MS_Artists_Blues_Junior_Campaign_Blog_1_QA_IMAGES_1

 

Brian:

“To answer your first question, I bought my first guitar at 13 after hearing Van Halen on repeat on 93.3 WMMR. I had an urge to figure out how to rock and make sounds like the ones Eddie does on those recordings, from finger tapping to the drill bit, the whole deal. My friend and I hung out all the time and just tried to figure out how to play that stuff note for note. At the same time, I started singing and writing my own music. I had been in All South Jersey choir so I always knew that I was able to sing."

 

One of the things that excites me about playing with this band is getting a chance to collaborate with a group of musicians that have all had pretty storied pasts and been in lots of different groups themselves…

 

The opportunity I have now to play with a bigger band too, stepping out on stage with 6-10 pieces. It's just really fun to be able to get everyone on board and tap into a larger, fuller sound. From a musical context it’s unique as well because it allows me to be a little more free and just let other people on stage take more space on musically. Not to mention, it’s also a lot of fun”

 

Brendan:

“You’ve experienced the energy you get from the public gigs where there's a paying crowd or the thrill of opening for a national act. Do you think having that background better prepares you for playing someone’s special event?”

 

Brian:

“Yes, there's a depth of perspective from a concert side of things where, you know, I have just as much experience playing festivals and original music at concerts as I do playing corporate events, weddings and the like, which I would call professional event gigs. We are lucky that we have those experiences to tap into and I think it shows in our performance.

There is a slight difference in the approach to corporate events and weddings where we take care to ensure the client is heard and we deliver in the proper format. At the end of the day, music is music.”

 

MS_Artists_Blues_Junior_Campaign_Blog_1_QA_IMAGES_2

 

Brendan follows up…

“That’s right you will often incorporate a few originals every now and again on request.  But beyond your specially curated song list, Blues Junior has a unique vibe on stage. Why do you think that is?

 

Brian continued…

“The majority of the time, all of our set is covers, unless some of my original music is requested, so we are playing other people's music and doing it our way. Our whole mission is to do justice to those tunes, and then bring an energy and a live performance that’s truly memorable. Those songs, from the classics to more modern pop, are written in an amazing way that make people move and feel certain emotions so we make sure to respect the song. It’s the energy we give off that excites people”

 

Brendan:

“This is a good segue into talking about your musical influences. I imagine that's something that can evolve for most musicians.  Can you talk about how you've grown as a musician because of those folks you've been watching or listening to over the years?”

 

Brian:

“I'm undoubtedly a guitar player and a guitar focused musician so I like the guitar heroes. I don't know if guitars are sexy anymore, but they used to be and to me they definitely still are.  

“When it comes to the Blues, sitting in at David Bromberg’s jam sessions in Delaware when I was in college at The University of Delaware and learning directly from him and other local guys in was my training ground.”

 

“For me it was important to learn how to play the blues properly and I was lucky to learn from guys that have done it their whole life. That was it. That was their thing.”

 

“Even the earliest days when I was a kid I was listening to Philadelphia rock radio like 93.3 WMMR with Pierre Robert or 102.9, MGK…groups like Van Halen come to mind right away, Weezer,  Soundgarden, Alice in Chains but at the same time Dave Matthews Band, love Dave or Trey Anastasio, guitarist from Phish.”

A few others like Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and even some of the classic blues guys you know like Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy.  I just like the way the guitar sounds and it’s the river that runs through my veins, it’s the core instrumentation wise for me”

 

MS_Artists_Blues_Junior_Campaign_Blog_1_QA_IMAGES_3

 

Brendan:

“So are guitarists the only ones that influence your musical style?  Any other greats worth mentioning that inspire you?”

 

Brian:

“So listening to Stevie Wonder has taught me a lot, just learning a lot of his repertoire. Getting a handle on how to how to bring that out in my voice and then even some of the pop stuff that we do, Justin Timberlake or someone like Bruno Mars. There's lots to be said about truly appreciating classic soul and having a keen awareness of what a good pop song sounds like these days. So much to learn from the greats. Michael Jackson is another example.”

 

Brendan:

“From a vocalist perspective, I know Chris Cornell is someone you really enjoy listening to. How did he and others impact you by way of their vocal style or perhaps how they wrote songs?

 

Brian:

“It’s a bit all over the place, I certainly like rock singers, but I found that my voice is sort of in between a rock vocal and a soul vocal. Chris Cornell for sure though. I never try to emulate someone's vocals, but when you start out learning how to sing you have to start from somewhere.  It's impossible to emulate someone like him who is a once in a generation vocalist, you don't get that kind of person often, but it’s just something about the depth of his vocals and how he can sing really sweet ballads and then really rock and really open it up. He had incredible range and that really resonates with me. I was really upset when he died.”

 

Brendan:

“Anyone else?”

 

Brian:

“Jeff Buckley's another guy who I would put in a similar canvas as Chris Cornell actually, but has a bit different style and super wide ranging.”  

“One of the quotes that I read from Chris was “if you want to learn how to sing, just get to a room by yourself with your acoustic guitar and keep trying to try to figure out what your vocals want to say or how they want to sound versus trying to force your vocals to sound a certain way.”

 

“That's something I'm always trying to do, find that space. You really have to get into a place where you can just experiment with your vocal sound and figure out what resonates and what feels good.”

 

“The key is to determine where your vocals are supposed to really live and frankly it's just a lifelong pursuit. Trying to tap into what great vocalists are doing and always looking for and developing that. It’s what inspires me to keep close my door and try to discover what I have to offer.”

 

Brendan:

“From a management and client perspective, you’ve been a member in or leader of, lots of different bands over the years, (even other event bands) what has that taught you about what matters most when interacting with either your bandmates or clients?”

 

Brian:

“I’d say number one, being professional and listening is the most important. Being in business for myself, I understand more and more what that means and how to do that. So, just constantly try to be as professional and listening to anyone you deal with, whether it's the client or your band mates.  

 

MS_Artists_Blues_Junior_Campaign_Blog_1_QA_IMAGES_5

 

The other main thing that I try to do with Blues Junior the band is to keep it light hearted for everyone involved because, at the end of the day, it's a job tied to a passion.  So trying to balance that by making it fun and enjoyable for people to play and prepare for the gigs. We always want the performance itself to be authentic. If we're playing a pop song we’ve played 50 times, you need to practice a lot in order to do that….”

 

Brendan:

“Can the guests at a wedding or event tell when a particular band isn’t into the music or if they are just going through the motions?”

 

Brian:

“Absolutely. We make the song an enjoyable experience for ourselves, you know, so that we can make sure that the audience is feeling that enjoyment as well. That's what it's all about at the end of the day, you know, trying to be fresh to try to switch up the repertoire as much as possible is key and just making it about the music as much as possible. I’ve been at weddings where the band just wasn’t inspiring, and others where it was AWESOME. Everyone pretty much can feel that right away.

 

“As we go through this journey, and we play more and more gigs, I don’t ever want to get jaded and so making sure that my band is fired up about doing every gig is so important to us being able to deliver and making people feel good. We want folks in the audience to be like, hey look, they are having a blast on stage.”

 

MS_Artists_Blues_Junior_Campaign_Blog_1_QA_IMAGES_4

 

Brendan:

“Brian can you think of a specific anecdote via the event side, playing experiences where you've really felt appreciated by a client, whether it be a bride or corporate side, like where you're, you're like, man, if I could play 20-30 nights a year, just like this”

 

Brian:

“Yeah, totally. First of all, when people are listening to us perform and fully activated that’s always good. That's always going to make the game fun. There’s other times we have to work harder if it's an atmosphere that is maybe a corporate event where we're not necessarily the biggest piece of the puzzle compared to what else is happening, but I think what I really get excited about is when have the opportunity to create an atmosphere where everyone's rushing to the dance floor and we’re keeping them on the dance floor. From there we can move and iterate as we go.”

 

Brendan:

“What does a good band like Blues Junior do to keep folks on the dance floor.  That doesn’t seem easy to do?”

 

Brian:

“It really comes down to the songs and making those key decisions to keep the momentum going.  Awesome stuff happens when you listen to a bride and groom and recognize what matters most to them. If a client loves the Grateful Dead or the Stones or they're just loving the classic rock vibes then we're putting out there. If they like guitar solos, or they want to hear a little bit of the edgier sound we go there. If they want to hear more modern pop, or classic soul like Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, we go there! I always want to make sure we're catering to people's individual tastes in the moment”

 

Brendan:

“Part of your process is doing a pre-call and your being the bandleader you're talking to the brides or planners about meeting their expectations and being realistic of what they can expect. Can you think of a couple questions that a typical bride or a planner would ask you that that helps to qualify them a bit further?  Basically, what helps determine whether your band is going to be the right fit?”

 

Brian:

“I'd say that most of the time we're getting referred or reached out to by people who are music lovers, people who really care about the music for their wedding. So it's rare that we’re dealing with someone who's like, “I just want to book a band and I don't really care who it is” or “The music is not as important”

Usually, the folks are saying to me, “We're big music lovers, and we just want to make sure that our crowd is pleased that we want to hit the certain marks.”

 

Brian:

“I think there's that fine line between folks who are very into the music versus like trying to micromanage the experience here. I mean, I think one of the words I heard from good clients was that they trust us and then they gave us space do our thing versus like providing like a full and exact song list to be played in a specific order.”

 

“We offer 3 customized songs for weddings for first dances and if someone requests specific music up front and we know it or think we can learn it, we will absolutely do so. We want to make sure the client is being heard and excited at all times.”

 

MS_Artists_Blues_Junior_Campaign_Blog_1_QA_IMAGES_9

 

Brian continues…

Some other questions we get a lot are related to logistics, you know, how long can you play?

“What do you do for cocktail hour?”

“What happens during dinner?”

These are wedding related questions usually but not all the time, and so I try to walk them through our format. Cocktail hour we provide a break out trio from the band to play jazz. Dinner we play classy, low volume music that is easy for guests to talk over and enjoy their meal. It’s pretty simple and very effective actually. If the client has a more specific vision for these elements, we work with them to get it right.

 

Brendan:

“So what do you say to a bride who wants a song that is super off the wall or maybe a song that’s not really possible to play a good version of with the instrumentation in your band for example?”

 

Brian:

“Well we can learn most songs and we offer up to three customized songs that we’ll learn how to play if we don’t already know them, but if I feel for whatever reason we can't play them to the quality that you're going to need then I'll recommend that we play them on an ipod through the PA Speakers, but I'm really candid about it in advance because I want to make sure that the final experience is exactly what they picture in their head”

 

Brendan:

“What other questions come up?”

 

Brian:

“We get a lot of what's your style or, can you play this can you play that and I'll and I'll just let them know general vibes and styles and we can morph the event into what their vision is for it. Like if someone wants more rock will do more rock and they want more pop and they want more soul classics will go that direction and cater our sound around that.

 

I know where we have flexibility and I'll explain that and tell them exactly who I want on the gig and how it's going to look at how we want to make it feel. And then if they're aligned with that, you know, then I then I give them the details.”

 

MS_Artists_Blues_Junior_Campaign_Blog_1_QA_IMAGES_6

 

Brian continues…

“I like to share as many details as possible down to, you know, breaks and, and all the logistics because ultimately we're trying to help people create a night maybe the day they have once a year or once in their life and I've done a lot of this stuff so I want to make sure that I'm educating them on how it works, but at the same time giving them some flexibility.  I always give feedback, like actually that’s not best practices for the event world and this is how it should run or giving options, this is how it could look but here's how we can hit the mark still with your requests.

So you know, I'm just constantly trying to frame things for the client and ask them lots more questions then they ask me.”

 

Brendan:

“What are some of the most common misconceptions that you find as it relates to weddings specifically?

 

Brian:

“Probably the first misconception is Bigger is always better.  The minimum sized band we go out with is five pieces. My preferred size is a 6-8 piece band and we can do anything with that.”

 

Brendan:

“What would those instrumentation be like what?”

 

Brian:

“Five piece is myself on lead vocals and guitar, then we have Mitch Beer on bass, Andy Meyer on drums, Anam Owili-Eger on keys, and Chelsea ViaCava as our second lead vocalist, that's really a baseline where we can cover a lot of ground musically. My favorite versions usually include at least one horn player my first choice being saxophone which is our 6-piece format. If some particular players are not available, I have a lot of musicians that we can bring in, but this is the most steadily performing group of musicians in this band.”

 

Brian continues….

“We have so many great artists that support us. One of the guys who plays in Blues Junior is Jay Davidson, who I bring out with us as much as I can, he is a saxophonist but also sings a bit and plays keys as well, he's amazing.

And then you know a lot of people do want horns because horns add a lot to the to the table and they help you cover more ground from classical music and it does make it sound bigger.

 

Brian continues….

“But back to the size question, there's some validity in a bigger band makes a bigger sound. But then there's also a point where you start just getting overkill and you don't need that many people to get the sound you need. If you really want the biggest possible sound seven to 10 pieces is going to do that for you, that would consist of a three-piece horn section, maybe a couple keyboard players with different styles. I also have an additional vocalist that plays acoustic guitar as well, who can do some other, you know, kind of folky stuff, so you know, I'll try to cover lots of ground those are for longer gigs, bigger bands can be helpful.

 

MS_Artists_Blues_Junior_Campaign_Blog_1_QA_IMAGES_10

 

Brendan:

Any other misconceptions?

 

Brian:

“Performance time is another thing clients have a misconception around. It's just a lack of understanding. Sometimes people almost expect that the music will be played for four hours straight as if that’s not a long time. I then tell them there needs to be breaks in the set. I like to do 50 to 90 minute sets maximum with a 15 min break.

“If the guests are really fired up in the beginning we’ll play as long as we can keep the momentum then you start to see the dance floor people get a little tired or something where we kick a song that's a little bit or slower tempo to change it up or we'll take a break. Then we'll come back maybe we do a 60 minute set, then take a break. I like to have flexibility around the length based on what the crowds giving us. If the crowd’s rocking and we have a set break coming but people are loving it they want to keep going, we'll go for another 30 minutes the whole point is keeping the energy where the crowd wants it to go.”

 

MS_Artists_Blues_Junior_Campaign_Blog_1_QA_IMAGES_8

 

Brendan:

“For the bigger weddings I know you’ve offered VIP packages that include a DJ as part of your band.. kind of like the ultimate Blues Junior experience.  How does that change the energy level?

 

Brian:

“There’s a few ways to go with our premium DJ option for the brides that have more than five or six must have request songs. I always ask brides this because it's really important to me for me to know.  We have a bunch of DJs on our roster that play lots of different styles of music and we incorporate them into our set.”

“If they want to hear Philadelphia Soul and or they love Fela Kuti then I'm going to bring in Oluwafemi because that's what he does or if someone's like do your thing but we want this to be club DJ feel during the last hour, I would recommend DJ Royale or Pierson, someone that's really versatile that can play top 40 to house music to anything under the sun, and of course in an authentic way.”

“It really depends on what you are looking to do, Ben Arsenal is another “go to” DJ for us and his style is more Latin and world music feel but he is equally adept and creating a dance party with pop. All of these artists have their own style and it can be fun and especially when it's a long period of time up to like five hour reception, someone might say “My family wants to just danced all night and we will rock so hard that everyone's feet fall off”, then I'm like all right, well let's go with all for premium package guys and let's get a DJ in the mix, you’ll love it.”

 

Brendan:

“We got a few minutes left, Brian, I appreciate you taking the time to chat with me about this amazing group and your vision around it. In closing, who is the dream client for Mole Street Artists, Blues Junior band, what are the types of things they really value and get out of the Blues Junior Experience?



Brian:

“The ideal client would say something like this “We want a band that's a little bit different one that can play the classics but at the same time do their thing. We want to give the band a little bit of space to do what they do. We want to feel like we're at a concert and have the full band experience.”  But more than anything, Someone who says “I love music, music is really important to me”.We just want an authentic experience and we just want a really authentic band.”

 

MS_Artists_Blues_Junior_Campaign_Blog_1_QA_IMAGES_7

 

Brendan:

Thanks Brian, this has been fun.

 

Brian:

Thank you! Was great to open up. Thanks for the poignant questions!

 

Get in touch to find out if Blues Junior is the right fit for your next event! Schedule a call with band leader, Brian LaPann

Request Availability

Stay up to date