If you’ve been to Sonny’s Tavern in Dover, New Hampshire on a Tuesday night, you could be forgiven for feeling like you’ve stepped into a New Orleans jazz club. The eight musicians that make up the Seacoast-based Soggy Po Boys bring the brassy music of Nawlins to Dover on Tuesday nights and to bars and other stages all over the seacoast—and sometimes, if you’re up for it, you can even join them on stage and make music with the band. The Soggy Po Poys are set to release a new album tomorrow at Book and Bar in Portsmouth. It’s called “No Worse for Wear.” Saxophonist Eric Klaxton, pianist Mike Effenberger, and Trumpet Player Zach Lange spoke with NHPR’s Peter Biello about their music.
Let’s talk about the name first—the Soggy Po Boys. The "po boy" is a sandwich that’s popular in the Gulf States, correct?
A po boy is a sandwich. And we are delving into the music of New Orleans. And if we brought that music up to New England--well, if we brought the sandwich, it's bound to get soggy.
How did this band form?
Eric Klaxton: I believe we formed in 2012. It was Mardi Gras and a bunch of the guys had a gig at what was the Barley Pub, the same room as Sonny’s, basically. And they played an electric set, the sort of funkier side of New Orleans music. And at the end of the evening, we ended up around the piano calling tunes and playing some of our traditional tunes. Mostly swing. We just had a blast doing it, so the band kinda got together again and again until it was a regular thing.
And now, in addition to those traditional tunes, you’re writing your own stuff.
EK: Yeah, exactly. Writing our own music has been a big goal if the band for about two years.
What is it about this kind of New Orleans music that draws you to it?
EK: There’s something really special about the way it allows us to interact with an audience, no matter their age. It’s timeless, in a way, and it allows us to connect with the young, the old, and everyone in between. Also, it’s a pretty community-oriented music when it comes to even performing it. So it’s always a blast to be able to make the music with seven other guys who care just as much about it as I do.
You’ve played a lot on stage in Dover, and occasionally you bring audience members up onto the stage to sort of perform with you guys. What’s that like? It sounds like an enormous risk, because, do you really know who’s going to come up and join you, and what are they going to do to your sound?
Zach Lange: Usually they’re familiar faces. But yeah, there is a risk involved, and some of it is, we just kind of lob the ball up and hope that we can hit it. Sometimes someone will ask us to play a song that we’ve never heard, so maybe on a set break, we’ll go outside and listen to it on our phones and come back and try to nail it for them. But for the most part, there is canon of music, so that when someone comes up, they can kind of join what we’re doing, and we can meet them with what they’re doing, too, so it’s usually not too much of a risk.
Well, it sounds fascinating—a real kind of audience participation, bringing them up onto the stage. Is that New Orleans tradition? Is that something that happens?
ZL: If you have a horn, you should be bringing it and playing, yeah. I think that’s in the tradition of this music, for sure.
One of my favorite tracks here is “Linguica Strut.”
Mike Effenberger: That one’s mine. That tune was sort of a start towards writing in the more brass band tradition.
EK: I think it plays to one of the band’s strengths, which is, when we’re all—especially the horn palyers across the front line—when we all have a chance to be palying with each other at the same time, it builds a really beautiful cacophonic sound, and I think we all kind of enjoy what that does for the band’s sound in general and this was a good tune to highlight that.
And then there’s “Plenty of Time,” the funkiest cut on this new album. What’s the story behind that one?
EK: That tune is my tune. I wrote a horn line and had some broad ideas about what I wanted it to be like. Vocalist and guitar-player Stu Dias collaborated with me on that and had a few ideas as well as brought some wonderful lyrics to the table. It was supposed to be sort of just a light-hearted kind of step in the funkier direction and had originally called it “Plenty of Time” because, when I was writing it, I figured I had plenty of tiem to get to the grocery store before they closed, so I kind of cranked this tune out, but Stu added many levels of meaning and depth when he wrote the lyrics for it and kind of helped arrange it, which was awesome because now, you know, it feels like it truly has some substance there. So that—that highlights Zach Lange playing trumpet. He takes an amazing solo there.
You’ve played in places as far south as Georgia. Is there a different kind of reception for this music in the south versus New Hampshire?
ZL: I would say it’s pretty universal how people accept this music. Everybody likes to have a good time, everybody likes to dance, and this music lends itself to doing this, at all times. I think, no matter where we go, we usually have a pretty good time, and people listening to us do, too.