photo credit: Maya Fuhr

Since bursting onto the scene in the mid-2010s as an incendiary live act, the Montreal-based eight-piece ensemble Busty and the Bass has performed countless shows, built a dedicated fanbase and released two EPs and a full-length record. During their rise, the band played everywhere from packed bars, to college shows, to opening slots for the likes of Anderson .Paak. Their first three releases, EPs GLAM (2015) and LIFT (2016) and 2017’s Uncommon Good LP, built on this live chemistry and were constructed collaboratively, with band members bringing in instrumentals over which they jammed as a group.

For their newest release, Eddie, which dropped on Aug. 14, the band switched gears; instead of the spontaneous writing process, the band took some time off the road to hunker down and write. “It was kind of this interesting mix of having individual freedom but working within a very specific song that someone brought in,” says trumpet player Scott Bevins, calling from Montreal. “You want to honor their intention while still bringing your own thing to it.” The result was just short of a concept album, centering around a character called “Eddie.” In addition, the band worked with Macy Gray on the opening track “Out Of Love,” which came after years of covering Gray’s “I Try” live.

The band was hoping to tour to promote the album, but due to coronavirus, those plans had to be pushed back. However, Bevins explains that the record’s release during the pandemic somewhat fits with the creative process and vibe of Eddie. “It almost fits the album because it’s more a product of the studio than any of our work before,” he notes. “It’s really a bedroom-producer-oriented record, as far as how we did it.”

Below, Bevins discusses the writing and producing of Eddie, working with Macy Gray, the origins of the band and keeping busy during quarantine.

Jake May: You all just released your second full length LP, Eddie. I read that the process of creating the LP was little bit different from the previous releases in terms of the writing process, plus there is a conceptual element with the “Eddie” character. What spurred the motivation to go in a more thematic songwriting direction rather than how it had gone before?

Scott Bevins: I think a motivation that comes up a lot in this group is trying to find new things and new directions, and with the first album, we were really in a zone of very band-oriented songwriting which came out of the process of playing together. It was very dynamic in that way and it was a cool thing, but we didn’t want to just re-hash that, so we emphasized a lot more individual writers in the band and individual producers in the band, and thinking about that as a starting place rather than what it sounds like when we’re all in a rehearsal space banging out tunes.

When someone would eventually bring songs in, was there still any element of collaboration once you were working out the kinks, or was it like “I’ve written out the parts, here they are”?

It took on a different form, the collaboration. It definitely still existed, but for example me and Chris [Vincent], the trombonist, we would do all our horn parts in a studio and then at the same time, Neil would be in the studio with Nick [Ferraro] and Evan [Crofton, a.k.a Alistair Blu] doing vocals. It was kind of this interesting mix of having individual freedom but working within a very specific song that someone brought in; you want to honor their intention while still bringing your own thing to it.

Considering Busty and the Bass is an 8-piece band, how do each of you see your role in the ensemble? With that many people, I would imagine it can be hard to play with spontaneity since if everyone’s being too spontaneous, it can get a little cluttered.

Yeah, I think that balance of having a structure and having careful deliberation on one side, and balancing that with the spontaneous, free-flowing energy on the other side is really a big part of the dynamic in this group. It’s a complex answer–it’s a lot of stuff that’s evolving all the time. As far as how we chose the song, at least for this album, our producer Neal [H Pogue] really was kind of an important part of the process. We came into the beginning of the album with just demos on demos on demos on demos, and we didn’t have a whole lot of time to get done what we wanted to get done. So, having that sense of leadership of like, “Okay, well, here are the songs that are far along, these have a clear direction, for this project at this time, it makes sense to be working with these,” that was how it sort of unfolded.

Speaking of Neal, I read that it was through him that you were able to connect with Macy Gray?

Yeah, that’s right!

You guys actually performed a show at my school a few years back, Amherst College, and if I recall correctly, you had covered Gray’s “I Try” during that show. I know you guys had been playing that prior to working with her, but I was curious to hear a little bit about what it was like working with Gray.

It was really cool, we’re super grateful. The idea kind of came up because we were covering that song for so long, it was really built into our set. “I Try” is such an iconic tune. When we were talking about possible features and collaborations with Neal, we sort of jokingly were like “Oh yeah, this kind of sounds like a song that Macy Gray would be good for.” And he was like, “Sure!” He knows her people, and they made it happen. It was really awesome.

Obviously you guys released [the album] at an interesting moment, to put it lightly. I’m curious if there was any discussion of pushing the release or what your eventual decision-making process was like to go ahead with it.

We definitely had to push things back. We were actually in the middle of a tour that was the beginning of the album release in mid-March. Obviously, as everything started locking down, we decided to go home and not finish the tour and postpone it. We were like “Oh, we’ll just reschedule our shows until June, and that’ll do it.”

Everyone was in that boat.

Yeah, exactly! We love playing live, and obviously I miss it, we all miss it. But it’s interesting; it almost fits the album because it’s more a product of the studio than any of our work before. It’s really a bedroom-producer-oriented record, as far as how we did it.

You guys formed back in the early 2010s at Montreal’s McGill University. Considering you’re an 8-piece, how did that many people realize they’re meant to be a band together?

Yeah, it’s funny. I think it was just like a lot of blind forward motion for a long time, kinda fostered by that school environment. Like, “Hey, we’re studying or whatever, but we play in this band on the side for fun and play bar bigs and do this and that.” That just kept us going, and before we knew it we had this foundation of like “Oh hey, people are actually coming to these shows.” When we wrote a song, people noticed. When we transitioned from being a cover band to an original band, the forward motion just kind of continued, like “Oh damn, we’re leaving school and we have a whole tour booked and we have to go to a label deal.”

How did that fun, cover band come together initially?

It started right at the beginning of school. I started in the fall of 2011, and around that time, everybody had just moved to Montreal for the first time. Our guitarist Louis [DeWolf Stein] threw a big party at his apartment and had instruments set up, so it was a really loose collective jam atmosphere while there was a party going on. It really grew out of that, we were like “Hey, there’s some instruments and some people around, let’s play some music. Let’s play some tunes.”

You guys have gone from playing informal party gigs to full tours and now two full length albums. I’m curious if you remember any pinch-me moments or big live show highlights along the way that stand out in your performance career.

We got a chance to open for Anderson .Paak at the Montreal Jazz Fest a couple years ago. That was a real pinch-me moment. Any time we’re in front of a big group of faces like that, it’s like “Oh damn, these people are here to see us play our music,” that’s always just surreal.

Wow, that’s awesome. Pivoting to quarantine: considering you have been forced to stay off the road, I’m curious what type of stuff you all have been doing during the lockdown to stay active and stay creative, or if there are any new projects brewing.

Oh, definitely. It’s a really wonderful thing about this group that I’m really thankful for; there’s just a lot of creative energy going around all the time. It’s a lot to be inspired by. All 8 of us pretty much do our own solo stuff, a lot of production and influencing stuff. We share that with each other and we inspire each other, we’re in the process of handing around some demos now, working on some various stuff. We actually just made a Christmas song. It’s really wonderful, it’s like a buzzing beehive type of ecosystem.

How is it in Montreal in terms of what stage of reopening you’re in?

The restrictions are pretty relaxed now, legally speaking. People are still really cautious, I find. I’m still just kind of isolating and walking around with a mask and that kind of stuff. There’s no gigs going on, all my favorite local venues are still mostly closed.

Have you guys gotten together in any capacity as a band?

We’ve had a bunch of meetings, and a couple of the guys in Montreal, we’ve hung out. But not yet, not yet. We’re planning to get into the studio sometime in the next month.