Brasstracks Breakdown Their Debut Album: “What the F**k Is a Golden Ticket?”

In advance of the release of their debut album, the GRAMMY-winning duo sit down for an interview to discuss having fun, signing to a major label, and horns.
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Brasstracks has the Golden Ticket to success—their vision of it, anyway. The duo, made up of GRAMMY-winning musicians Ivan Jackson on trumpet and Conor Rayne on drums, has made a career out of having fun. Last February, before hitting the stage for a packed-in Philly show, Ivan told me: “The minute we got back to the fun of it, things started moving.” At the time, I did not know Ivan and Conor were in the throes of a gorgeous, horn-filled debut album, Golden Ticket. Across 13 inspired tracks, Golden Ticket breathes liveliness, joy, and the essence of two musicians in love with the process of creation.

Golden Ticket, releasing next Friday, August 21, does not take itself too seriously. At one point early in the album, a voice comes in to ask Ivan and Conor if every track on the album has horns. It’s a cheeky display. Neither Ivan nor Conor replies. Instead, the horns continue as if to say Brasstracks is not interested in rules or structure. Golden Ticket undulates and swirls with features from Lawrence, Robert Glasper, Col3trane, and more. The stew of voices comes together to make an audio haven. We get the impression Golden Ticket is a true musician’s mélange. Everything fits together swimmingly, each voice elevates the next, and the playing from Ivan and Conor stuns.

Ivan Jackson and Conor Rayne do not take themselves too seriously, either. The duo knows how to joke and inject lightness into every mood. Even in moments of fear and doubt, leaning on the balance of their opposing personalities, the pair come out as champions—a lot of growth for two jazz players who met back in 2014. 

Their Golden Ticket, their vision of success, is all about good music with good friends. In that regard, they’ve made it, but don’t worry; they’re not done yet. That is, unless someone chops off Ivan’s fingers and Conor gets his drumsticks taken away. Even still, the boys will always find their way back to music.

Our full conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.

DJBooth: The last time we talked, it was all about the importance of fun. How did fun play a role in the making of the debut album, Golden Ticket?

Ivan Jackson: I think making music is just fun, any way you cut it. We went a little deeper than just the fun of it. We have the most fun when we’re being the most honest and the most true to our sound and ourselves. We honed in on what that meant for us, for this album, because we felt a lot of pressure of “What does it mean to be on a major label now?” We’re a trumpet player and drummer. This is kinda weird, huh? We felt that while we were working [with] Mark Ronson on his album, watching him make this heavyweight album. At certain points in time, me and Conor were like, “Jeez, does this even matter for us?” We realized the only way we could be happy and make fun music again is by making the music that’s most authentic to us in the current moment.

Which Golden Ticket session was the most fun?

Conor Rayne: It’s hard to play favorites—every session had its own special place, or it wouldn’t have made the album. But just being in London, for me… There’s something refreshing about changing locations drastically to create. That was what we got in London. We’ve been there before, but to be there for recording, I was grateful the whole time. Like, man, 10-year-old me is freaking out right now. I get to travel the world and play music. Just gotta live in that, you know?

I love that image because we take for granted where we end up.

Conor: Yeah! We’re always looking for the next thing, and sometimes the next thing is what you’re doing at that moment—just trying to always stay in that mindset.

Ivan: Also, for the most fun time, this isn’t allowed to count because we’ve told you this story before. But… The record with Robert Glasper that wound up on the album, we made it in 2017. We’ve talked to you about that session before, but that will always remain one of the most fun we’ve ever participated in. And he made it so clear why he’s one of the most prolific musicians. One of the last real, great jazz musicians. He walked into the studio with Conor and knocked out four ideas in 15 minutes for different projects across three years. Fuck! Legend shit.

In regards to the title, to where is this album your golden ticket?

Ivan: That’s the whole thing! Who knows! What the fuck is a golden ticket, anyway? We certainly thought when we were signing to a major label, someone was gonna press a big red button and make us go! That wasn’t true. But we’ve seen it happen for other people. But when we say, “Go!” it means somewhere. I guess it’s a place of success, recognition, stuff like that. All that stuff is super secondary to us. That was the realization we had to make. We’re leaning into irony. Our version of a golden ticket is making the music that’s most authentic to us, at the highest level possible, with our friends—and maybe meeting some new people along the way. It’s not taking us anywhere, as much as it’s a hall pass. Then, we release it, and it’s not ours anymore, and we’ll move on to the next thing.

This is a much better answer than I was expecting.

Ivan: It’s funny because Masego wrote the hook of “Golden Ticket.” The first thing we had [were] the words “golden ticket,” and just like everything else on this album, it was sitting there right in front of our faces, and we didn’t realize it ‘til the last minute. Like, “Holy shit! That’s the title.” We were pondering the concept of success for us, and how funny it is we got signed to a label, after six months of being on the label, like, “Wow, we really don’t fit in here! This is strange! Downright strange.” “Golden Ticket” hit us over the head like a ton of bricks.

I love how you poke fun at yourselves with the “Are there horns on every song?” skit. How important is it for you two to not take yourselves too seriously?

Conor: For both of us, that’s everything. You have to keep it light, ‘cause it isn’t that serious. We like to think it is, but at the end of the day, life is like this chaotic, meaningless thing. You can either make it serious or make it fun. Honestly, we just get a kick out of joking around, making light out of everything. It doesn’t feel good to be too serious.

Ivan: For us, it comes off as preachy when we get too serious with our music. That’s the beauty in collaboration for us. Where we couldn’t say some things, perhaps any of the people who helped us tell stories could. Me and Conor as personalities, the minute we get too serious, it takes all the fun out of the music.

I’ve always found Conor to be the grounding member of the group. How does Conor’s calm energy impact the way Brasstracks music gets made?

Ivan: That’s about it. Conor, I’m sure you have your ways of describing… Without Conor there, I’m very manic, for sure. With Conor there, I can move at a more comfortable pace. When I’m in a session by myself, I can let things get overwhelming quickly. I’d say the same for playing shows. Me by myself is a little too much. It’s good to have that… It’s a balance thing.

Conor: It’s a balance thing. I could say the same thing but on the other end. Me alone, it could easily go into, “Are we all asleep right now?” It could go into lethargy… Call it zen, but honestly, it might just be taking a nap. With Ivan there, it is like a yin and yang balancing. We do a good job of bringing the two energies into a full picture of something.

Ivan: I don’t know if we’d be as successful if it weren’t for each other’s opposing energies. When I say successful, I’m taking a lot of things into consideration here. We’re not living in crazy mansions in Calabasas. But we get to make music with our friends for a living, and do it our way, without compromising. Put a roof over our heads and provide for the people we love. That’s everything. If this was it? I’d be straight. I don’t know if we’d have all we’ve accomplished if it weren’t for how wildly different we are.

How did COVID-19 impact this album? Meaning, how much of this album was made with the live show in mind?

Ivan: I don’t think it was created with the live show [in mind] this time around. That worked in our favor, I guess. We were just creating music. Transferring all of that [high level] stuff to our live show—you’ve seen us, it’s a trumpet player, a drummer, and a laptop—is a doozy. We were gonna wing it and figure out how to do it when we got there, so it’s almost a relief. We have a little more time to figure out how we’re gonna do our live show. That being said, we were gonna have a world tour from now, in a week, and going into November. Obviously, that’s not happening. We didn’t announce anything because we knew that. We have something on hold for the spring; hopefully, we figure that out. But I don’t know if spring is gonna be a thing, in terms of live shows.

Do you feel like this album is your statement of purpose?

Conor: Maybe one statement of purpose. I don’t believe in one true purpose. I think it ebbs and flows depending on who you’re with and who you’re making music with. You have to figure out what the purpose is at that time, too. It’s just in time. Human beings are always in flux, I think. Who we were yesterday is not who we are today. Maybe it’s a statement of our purpose in time, and the next one will be another statement of that time.

Your dynamic nature makes your music so special. Is there any fear as you guys constantly change?

Ivan: Damn, hitting us with the heavies. Yeah, I have some fear. I have less of it some days, and more on others. As you do. As we build the thing called Brasstracks, the bigger it gets, the more pressure. Also, the bigger it gets, the more experience you have. My only fear is anything stopping us from making the impact of getting a kid who plays an instrument to do what we do: making music with friends that we like. I don’t know what would necessarily [stop us], but I’m not done yet. I don’t think Conor is, either. If something, God forbid… My right three fingers got cut off? I couldn’t play trumpet? Oh, my God! I guess I have a fear of Brasstracks getting big, and I’m not able to play music before I’m done, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be done. It’s a hard one.

Conor: I have no fears, happiness, or feelings. I am a robot.

Ivan: Perfect!

Conor: Naturally, who doesn’t make stuff and wonder how it will go down in the public eye? But it doesn’t bug me as much. I’m beyond it. It’s overpowered by the amount of people who like [our music] and think it’s unique. As we get more popular, there will be more people who don’t like us. Everything works that way. I try to let go of that fear as much as possible.

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