"The old cliche goes, 'New Orleans is a little bit of everything,'" says trumpeter Eric Belletto. "And that's definitely what we are." Formed in 1996, Egg Yolk Jubilee has always had an appreciation for the New Orleans jazz tradition, but its members aren't purists. "When we first got together," says guitarist/saxophonist Paul Grass, "we said, let's play some Dixieland, and when we get to the part where everyone starts jamming, we'll just play whatever we want." The band's early repertoire consisted of deranged versions of Dixieland standards, and the "whatever we want" part manifested itself in injections of funk, avant-garde jazz, vaudeville, metal and more -- a virtual all-purpose 20th century music revue. Five years later, the band is making its Jazz Fest debut, and they should fit right in.
If there's anything more only-in-New-Orleans than a band that fuses the noisy urgency of hard rock with the brassy kick of Dixieland jazz, it's a band that marches down the street while it does it. During Mardi Gras, Egg Yolk members trade in their electric instruments and morph into a marching band, taking their sound all over town in second lines and parades. In the club setting, too, they play multiple instruments. A guitarist becomes a saxophonist, and horn players switch from trumpets, to trombones, to tubas, and beyond (broken glass, Mardi Gras cups and a "musical saw" have all found a place in an Egg Yolk song). So whether the show is on the street, in a bar or in someone's back yard, the outcome is indefinite.
That approach served the band well in preparations for its second and latest album, Brunch With Rocco Fancypants. "We like to season our songs," says trumpet/trombonist Mike Joseph. "We play it out for a few months and get down to the meaty, juicy part of the song, then it's ready to record." Brunch's centerpiece, "Brown Noise," is essential Egg Yolk Jubilee, an instantly recognizable melange. With its funky bass line, it builds to a lackluster horn melody, lurches into all-out brass fanfare, then breaks into deliciously sloppy solos, combining laid-back New Orleans funk and forthright brass band energy. Near the end of the album, rowdy rock 'n' roll is tempered by Egg Yolk's dissonant horn lines, as arranged by Belletto, a self-proclaimed metal head. "I like brass power chords," he says. "I'm into bold statements. Nothing too slow. Big, fat notes." Belletto is also responsible for the semi-sinister raspy vocals that enhance Egg Yolk's epic, allegorical songs. "No matter how eclectic the style," adds Douville, "there's something that hammers it in musically and makes it our sound."
While recording the album, the members continually asked themselves one question: what would K-Doe do? While horn-rock bands like Austin's Brown Whorenet and defunct local outfit Lump influenced Egg Yolk's sound, the band learned most of its showmanship from Ernie K-Doe, self-proclaimed Emperor of the Universe. Their storied affiliation with the now-deceased R&B singer began when downtown punk girl-band the Rubbermaids invited them to play an event backing K-Doe at his Mother-In-Law Lounge in early 2000. Egg Yolk then spent a year and a half under the Emperor's tutelage, and he drove them to tighten up their performance, turning them from a lackluster goof-off group into a real showboat band.
"During our rehearsals, we would sound like shit," bassist Steve Calandra recalls, "but once Ernie snapped his fingers, everybody would pep up."
One night at the Mother-In-Law Lounge, K-Doe stopped the show in mid-song -- with Egg Yolk's horns outstretched and drumsticks frozen in the air -- to escort an unruly, tank-top-wearing patron out the door, informing him that the Lounge was "no honky-tonk roadhouse." When he returned to the stage, he snapped his fingers and hollered, "To the bridge! 3! 4!" And the band came back in like nothing had happened. The packed-in crowd cheered as the show resumed. "It was a definitive moment for me," says guitarist Geoff Douville, "because I felt like we were a truly professional, Vegas-style back-up band. Ernie expected nothing less."