A black and white photo of Claire Givens and Jeremy Phipps, members of the band People Museum. They are walking next to each other and the levee is visible behind them. Claire is on the left; she’s light-skinned and has dark brown hair. She’s wearing a long black jackets, black tights, and long, dark boots, and there are tattoos on her legs visible through her tights. She’s looking behind her. Jeremy is on the right; he’s dark-skinned and has short hair and a beard. He’s wearing a long-sleeved black and white striped shirt and black pants. He’s looking ahead of him. Photo by Katie Sikora.

In their newest release, I Could Only See Night, People Museum explores a new chapter of collaboration and experimentation. As a group, the band is extremely hands-on and DIY when it comes to constructing every aspect of their music: from songwriting to producing, mixing, on-stage visuals, and music videos. On this particular EP, it’s clear that they now feel comfortable enough to open the doors wide for both internal and external collaboration, as they funnel their energy into a more cohesive vision. With masks on and social distance between us, I sat down with bandleaders Claire Givens and Jeremy Phipps in my courtyard on a recent afternoon. Though the three of us are arguably rather soft-spoken, we fell easily into immersive conversation. In talking with them, it became clear to me why Phipps and Givens work so well together. The two both have formal musical training, but in different ways: Givens, who was only in one band prior to People Museum, studied classical music in college; Phipps, a St. Augustine graduate with a background in traditional brass band music, has toured all over the world with big-name acts like Solange, GRiZ, and Rubblebucket, to name a few. It’s almost as if the two started out on opposite ends of a spectrum and just happened to meet symbiotically somewhere in the middle. Joining forces alongside drummer Aaron Boudreaux and bassist/sousaphonist Charles Lumar II (who was Phipps’ bandmate while on tour with Solange), they have merged together to forge a new, exceptionally innovative sound.

When did you guys form? How did that happen?

Claire Givens: Technically we started in 2015.

Jeremy Phipps: Oh, shit.

CG: Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. We don’t often talk about this part… I had this punk-pop thing that I was doing. And it ended just tragically. The guy that I made the music with kicked my keyboard over, and it was a big dramatic thing. And I was like, “Oh, all this great music that I had is just now gone, and I’m never going to do music again.” And then I met Jeremy, and we started writing music the day that we met. We were writing with other people and it wasn’t going in the direction that we wanted to go in. So we decided that we were going to write everything together, just Jeremy and I. That was when, in 2016, we just wrote a ton of music. And that’s all we did. We didn’t perform it—we just wrote music together.

JP: For that whole year. And some of the songs off of this album were from that [time]. So we’ve been dipping into the older [stuff]. I mean, we write new songs, but every album dips back into the first [year of writing]. After this album, we’ve completely depleted our 2016 resources! [all laugh]

CG: Which is exciting and scary.

What are everyone’s roles as band members? Claire, you’re doing the vocals, and the keyboard—

CG: I suppose I often play keyboard, but so does Jeremy. But all that is in this little machine called an [Roland] SPD-SX [sampling pad]. Is that correct? 

JP: S… P… D… 

CG: [laughs] We always call it “P90X.”

Oh, yes! Oh my God, P90X. I remember that.

CG: We always just make up funny names for it. It’s the bane of our existence, but also the reason we are who we are.

JP: Yeah, it’s the fifth band member.

Ha, cool. And Jeremy: trombone, backup vocals, and keyboard?

JP: Every now and then background vocals. I’m mostly producing. We all produce sort of, but I guess I’m “The Producer.” But Aaron [Boudreaux] also. It’s become more universal. But yeah, and trombone, obviously… And Gingeroo bottle, too.

Yes, I was going to ask you about that.

JP: It’s become an instrument of mine now. It started off as a fun thing to do because I needed more stuff to do [live]. Horns in pop, it’s like icing on a cake. You come in, but then you have a lot of time to just sit there.

CG: Yeah, I think people don’t realize how much of Jeremy is actually in the track. That so much of what he’s done is in the track, so [on stage] he’s just kind of like, “I’m here to perform, I’m a trombone player. I did do all of this stuff that you can’t see, but I’m here to perform and entertain.” And the Gingeroo bottle is a way to get the crowd hyped. [both laugh]

Is it always a Gingeroo bottle?

JP: [laughs] Yeah, no other bottle. Actually, it’s funny you say that. I tried a different bottle, and it wasn’t as good. The Gingeroo bottle is special. It’s so thick and it has such a nice tone to it. Gingeroo is an instrument. That’s not a drink. [laughs]

I did want to ask you a little bit more about Aaron. I know he has his own project, MoPodna. How does his persona of MoPodna intersect with People Museum? Are those collaborations different than how Aaron participates as the drummer of People Museum? 

CG: Persona-wise, Aaron is just Aaron when he plays with us. I do think Aaron consciously is MoPodna when he does MoPodna, and that’s a whole world that he’s tapped into, that’s genius. But when he’s with us, I think it’s musically very separate. Which is what we want. We don’t want it to be “People Museum featuring MoPodna.” He is such a good producer that he can divide up the sections of his creative brain.

A black and white photo of People Museum performing at One Eyed Jacks in 2019. Claire Givens is on the left and is singing into a microphone. She’s light-skinned and is wearing a dark jumpsuit. Jeremy Phipps is on the right with a drumstick in one hand and an instrument in the other. He’s dark-skinned and is wearing a dark jumpsuit. There’s a drummer behind them, and the “One Eyed Jacks” sign on the wall above the drummer. Photo by Katie Sikora.

One Eyed Jacks, November 2019 (photo by Katie Sikora)

Leading up to the formation of People Museum, can you tell me what projects you were both involved in independently, before you met? Jeremy, I know you had a lot of different stuff going on.

JP: Yeah, I had a solo project called Saint Bell. And that kind of died because I wanted to collaborate with people. I didn’t want to do everything myself. And then touring, I had like gig gigs. There’s an infinite amount of those people [that I toured with]. [chuckles]

CG: The only thing that I really was in before this, I guess, was the band that I had called Baby Bones, which was very short-lived. I moved here in 2014, right when I graduated from college. In college, I was studying classical music. And I was very interested in interpreting stories and characters in music. I was doing operas and musicals and stuff. And I was just like, “I love doing this, but also I hate the perfection quality of it.” Because all through college, I felt like, “I’m a fuckin’ punk. I’m studying opera music, that’s punk. I don’t care what y’all say.”

JP: Opera is punk.

CG: So then I felt like, “I want to have that energy, but I’m not allowed to do that on stage. So I’m going to see if I can write music myself.” The Baby Bones thing was the first time I ever did that.

Claire, what made you decide to move to New Orleans after college then? What brought you here?

CG: My brother [Christopher Givens, co-founder of the Mayjacks Artist Collective] moved here in 2005, and I would always come visit him. I’m from West Monroe, which is, you know… it’s Trump country. It was then, but now it’s out in the open. I was just like, “I gotta get the fuck outta here.” My brother is able to be an artist in this place, and able to create stuff. And he doesn’t seem like he’s struggling and in this crazy grind to make money. This seems like the perfect place to be an artist. And I would come visit him and we would talk about art, talk about movies, and he would take me to parties and show me what was going on. I felt like, “This is the coolest place in the world. I don’t want to go anywhere else.”

Jeremy, You’re from New Orleans, obviously. But you’ve been gone and then come back a bunch, right? You were in Minneapolis or something for a while?

JP: Oh, yeah. I had to go out there for a couple months to be in a play.

CG: Tell her about what kind of play it was!

JP: Sorry, I’m so bad at talking about stuff. It was a play about Buddy Bolden in L.A. And I had to play Buddy Bolden’s protégée. They had this theatre out there that’s a mixture between actors in the community and adult special needs actors as well. They tried to do it in New Orleans, but in Minneapolis it was much more successful. It’s an all-inclusive acting troupe. It was great. It was about Storyville and old New Orleans, and the way that jazz and prostitution used to kind of all work together.

That’s dope. I didn’t know that you had an acting streak!

JP: I guess so! [all laughing] It’s strange to say, but I just like saying yes to stuff.

How do you guys see your audience? Who are they to you? What do you think you bring them, as a band?

JP: Ooh. That’s a good question. I know at least in New Orleans, we can fulfill the niche of people that are looking for something that’s not like New Orleans, but in New Orleans. Because I feel like New Orleans has such a specific sound to it—which is amazing, but there’s so many people fulfilling that need.

CG: I don’t know why, but the first thing that comes to mind is that I feel like we’re really uncool. [both laugh] And so I feel like anybody is our audience, and anybody could have a good time. And we’re going to do whatever on stage. We’re not going to posture, or pretend like we’re big giants or something, you know? Or that we’re cool. We’re just doing something that we really love, and inviting people to do whatever they feel comfortable doing. I just want it to be dark, and I want people to feel free to party in whatever way they see [fit] to take that. I don’t want to go to a show where people aren’t running around or being strange! I feel most uncomfortable in a crowd that’s got their arms crossed, or that’s just watching and not interacting with the music.

JP: The New Orleans inspiration that I see behind the band is like, music out here is for the [people]. If you go to a second line, for example, it’s not really about the musicians. It’s about everybody. And that’s something that I always try and keep with [me].

CG: I think that’s so true. And I think that’s all four of our personalities: it’s not about us; it’s never about us.

JP: Yeah, don’t even watch it! [Laughs] No, I’m joking, I’m joking.

CG: I mean, that could be to our detriment, but I don’t think we’ll ever want to change that.

I guess it depends what your goals are.

CG: I think it’s such a crazy balance between: yes, we want to keep doing this for a long, long time, and we want to be successful. But we also don’t want to be the kind of artists who are pandering to some idea of what a successful artist is. We don’t want to be slackers, we don’t want to be like “slow New Orleans,” but we [also] don’t want to be phony.

Which is maybe the challenge of pop music.

CG: I mean, it’s a huge challenge. We picked the wrong genre for our personalities! [all laugh]

How excited are you to be working with Community Records and Strange Daisy to release I Could Only See Night? The vinyl that will be released in July looks so rad. How did this collaboration come about?

CG: The collaboration is a dream come true. I’ve looked up to so many people on Community over the years—I used to listen to NOVA ONE to get myself to relax and go to sleep and GLAND was just larger-than-life cool and inspiring for me. I’ve been lightly spamming Community Records with our music since our first release in 2018, but them and Strange Daisy felt really connected to this specific EP and offered up the idea of making vinyls with us, which was another dream come true! I am always about different groups of people getting exposed to our music and getting the chance to weave in and out of all different genres. I think being with these two is opening the world up a little more for us, which is so sick.

JP:  I’ve been a Community Records fan since I was a teenager and I was put on to Strange Daisy a couple years ago. I’m excited to work with people from this area who have so much knowledge and we seem to gel well together. It’s a dream come true!

A black and white photo of People Museum performing at Gasa Gasa in 2018. Claire Givens is on the right and in focus; she’s singing into a microphone and looking upward. She’s light-skinned and is wearing a striped, long-sleeved shirt. Jeremy Phipps is on the left and out of focus. He’s dark-skinned and holding a trombone in one hand and singing into a microphone with the other hand. Photo by Bryce Ell.

Gasa Gasa, September 2018 (photo by Bryce Ell)

I think my favorite song from this EP might be “Ice.” 

JP: Yeah, that’s my favorite song too.

Can you tell me a little bit about the lyrics for that song? Especially when you say, “Shake the ice off your back.” What are you talking about?

CG: Yeah, um… I’m trying not to be too specific, but I write all the lyrics so Jeremy can’t help me. [both laugh] New Orleans has this thing with dating where you date a lot of the same kind of [people]. I don’t know, I hear this word a lot: “Peter Pan boys.” 

JP: Peter Pan???

CG: Yeah, and I felt like I was having the same kind of repetition of let-downs of people that I was emotionally involved with. And I was just like, “I don’t know that I want to continue to tell people my whole life story—this is getting exhausting.” And then I met somebody, and I felt like, “You know what? I’m going to do this one more time. I’m going to do this thing where I open up to somebody.” And that was the “shaking the ice” off of me, being like, “I’m going to close all of this up, I’m going to freeze it away.” And then I thought, “One more time?” And now, that person is someone that I believe I will be with forever. So yeah, it was a song to me about giving it one more go when you feel like you just can’t do it anymore.

I was really intrigued by the lyrics in general on this EP. One other lyric that stood out to me was on “Forever,” where you say, “Forever is a long, long time to waste with you.” Damn. That’s cold!

JP: Yeah, that’s a strong line. You get a strong line from time to time there.

CG: That’s one of the songs from way back in 2016. That song is about mental loops that we get in. And you know, people can tell you things that send you down in a spiral. I am very obsessive-compulsive, so if somebody tells me something, I will never forget it and I will let it spin around. And the idea—people will get caught in my head, I can’t stop thinking about them. So that song is just the idea of trying to break that obsessive-compulsive cycle of thinking and destructive spirals that we have as people.

I’m that way, too. I’m envious of people who can just throw things off. No, I can’t do it.

CG: Oh, I cannot. And this is so funny, Jeremy never knows—nobody ever knows what the lyrics are about. I never talk to him about what the songs are about.

JP: I didn’t know any of this ‘til just now!

CG: Sometimes they’ll have their own lyrics—like the band will have their own lyrics that they think is happening, which I think is great. I like the idea of them having a story that’s going on, and I have a story, and everybody’s bringing their own idea to the song.

JP: Yeah, now that I think about it, that is dope.

To be honest, sometimes I couldn’t really tell what you were saying. But then it would have a minute, or a second of clarity and then the song would kind of just keep going. 

CG: [with emphasis] I like that. When I’m listening to Thom Yorke or something, and I mishear his lyrics and they inspire me to write something—that’s the most fun part. I like being misinterpreted! [both laugh] I like that you don’t know what is going on, which also goes back to the opera stuff—I always knew what was happening. It’s very scary to be like, “Hi, I’m Claire, here’s what I have to say, here are my lyrics about my personal things.” So, that’s also a huge part of the vocal processor that I use—it kind of muffles what’s actually going on.

Some of the artwork that you’ve done, such as those for I Dreamt You in Technicolor, “Bible Belt,” and “Eye 2 Eye,” you’ve used really big pops of color and I’ve noticed that the dress you guys wear on stage is very color-blocked. I’ve noticed it too in the music videos you did with Camille [Lenain, director and editor of the music videos for “Bible Belt,” “Let Me Love You,” and “Clockwatcher”]. And I hear it in the sounds of the music. It’s saturated, it’s intense, and it’s very intentional sounding. So I don’t know if there’s something behind that or if it’s just the natural style you guys have created?

JP: I think it is sort of a natural style, but I know that at some point in my life or in playing music, I felt like, “it needs to be interesting to look at, too.” It should be interesting to look at just as much as it is interesting to listen to. I think Claire and I were on the same page with that since the beginning. [To Claire] you make a lot of the decisions on the colors and stuff like that. But with the album covers, we kind of got lucky in a way, with catching people at the right time and they’re just super talented. Arielle Bobb-Willis—we called her right before she moved to Brooklyn and became this huge [photographer], on our first album. And now, she works with everybody—like Lady Gaga and Lizzo.

CG: Yeah, and Billie Eilish and shit.

JP: Billie Eilish, yeah. She did a cover of Vogue. But we caught her right before [she got huge]. But, yeah, in our first show, they were like, “We have this random projection person who happens to be here, would y’all like to use him?”

CG: Oh, the lights guy, yeah.

JP: Was that Nate [Nathaniel Beckett] that time?

CG: Yeah. The guy who does the tube lights. And he was like, “I’m just here, I’m trying to work some stuff out. Would y’all just want to use my lights for your show?” It was all these accidents that led up to: “This is an aesthetic that we want to stick with.” It’s like minimalist-saturation, or something, I don’t even know. I’m very anal about how everything looks and how everything ties together from the beginning to now. With the compositions of the albums, and the colors… I’m crazy about, “Does this fit with everything we’ve done before? Does this tell a story? What’s going on here?”

I can see that even in just the album titles: I Dreamt You in Technicolor.

CG: I’ve always been obsessed with Fiona Apple—

JP: Oh yeah, she kills album titles.

CG: I want to make something where you [go] “What? Uh… OK?”

They stick with you, all of those titles.

CG: With the saturation thing, though, sound-wise, that just goes back to the thing of you want the sound to just take over, like you’re in a black, dark room and you could do whatever. You can feel free to be whatever. When I go to concerts that are really fucking loud, and I feel like I’m in space or something, it takes me to a really special place in my brain.

Yeah… I miss that.

JP: [Sighs] I was talking about our dream show the other day, and man that show was just—

I was going to ask you that! I wanted to first start talking about Saturn Bar, but then I was going to ask y’all if there was one venue in New Orleans that you could play at right now—a dope, sweat-packed show. But it can’t be Saturn Bar.

CG: Definitely Saturn Bar. [all laugh]

JP: It just would be Saturn Bar.

CG: Well, that’s the most special place.

JP: It’s the closest to our dream show. I was visiting France one time—I was in Paris—and I went to this club, and it was super dark, and all you could see is just these colored lights scattered around and it’s super packed. And this music was just goin’. And it was connected to the idea of, “This is not about anybody. We all are just experiencing this.” And that’s my dream, you know?

CG: I was just going to say the same thing. I went to this place in Berlin, have y’all heard of Berghain? It’s a multi-level club… I don’t know what it used to be, some kind of factory? And it’s just a huge, concrete place with all these different rooms. And it’s dark, and there’s just saturated light, and it’s fucking loud, good, amazing music—and you have no idea what it is, but you’re like, “I feel amazing.” And all of these people are doing their own thing. That’s the ideal show.

I do want to talk with you guys about Saturn Bar, because y’all expressed some really sincere sadness about its closing. And it’s where you did your last album release [in December 2019]. That was actually my first People Museum show.

JP: First of all, I’ve just had so many fun nights at Saturn Bar. Just going to Mod Night, going to see a random band, and I think because the stage is on the floor and then the crowd is over you, it makes it sort of that vibe that we talked about where it’s the band and this crowd are all together.

CG: It’s like communal, yeah.

JP: Yeah, and people are ducking from the trombone. That’s the type of vibe that I like. And also, the owners are so nice, and they have one of the best deals for bands—I think they just let you keep the door, or something?

CG: They just give a shit about music and give a shit about taking care of musicians. I mean, why would people come to New Orleans if it weren’t for musicians? And they get that, and they’re not trying to fuck with musicians, which so many venues do. It’s so frustrating, that they don’t understand why people are coming to New Orleans. We do it for many reasons, but also, it is our job. This isn’t like a throwaway thing to us. And I don’t know, I think [Saturn Bar] just takes musicians seriously. They have a lot of respect.

JP: Every album release was going to be at Saturn Bar, no matter how… even if by some chance, we get really successful, we want to do Saturn Bar forever.

CG: It’s the people’s place.

Mhmm. As special as this place is for music, there’s also a lot of taking-advantage-of that happens here. I don’t know if you guys have any thoughts about that.

CG: I mean, fuck, I have a lot of thoughts about it.

JP: There’s no laws with the music business. There’s not a lot of governing factors in music. 

CG: Independent musicians don’t have a lot of power. And you’re subject to whatever the venue decides to do, which is pretty bleak. It can be pretty bleak, at the end of the night. [laughs] I think about it a lot. I think about what it’s gonna look like on the other side of coronavirus.

I think that conversation is starting to happen amongst bands—there’s another way to do this.  Especially in New Orleans, it’s such a communal place, and it’s such a community place. Surely we can do this in a way that benefits all of us better. I think ever since the mutual aid stuff has come about, and people have had the time to think about, “Oh, I’ve been getting fucked for the past however-long I’ve been doing this. Where’s my power, where’s my say in this?”

JP: Well, the good thing about New Orleans is that because the laws are so lax around here—which [is] bittersweet!—if you want to do a house show, you can make your own venues here. In other cities, a lot of shit is regulated. But I hope that social distancing ends at some point! Social distancing is my least favorite thing… But I think people will still be cautious, even when we’re back. But hopefully, things will be able to be to-capacity. Because I don’t think music works without capacity. Social-distance shows, there’s just no energy. And it’s just the facts. I mean, it’s for obvious reasons—to be safe—but the truth is, I’ve been to them and it’s just like throwing a grenade and it doesn’t blow up. It’s just a dud.

That’s kind of what you guys are feeling?

JP: I mean, we are doing it.

CG: We are doing one show in April.

JP: Yeah, at The Broadside.

CG: The outdoor thing.

JP: So we’re gonna do these socially distant shows… You have to do something. Hopefully by then, we’ll be in a phase where they can have, like, 50% capacity instead of the 25% that it is right now.

CG: That one’s going to be deliberate, because they have that huge screen, we can have a certain kind of experience that you couldn’t have at, maybe, Saturn Bar. It’ll be some kind of immersive thing, ‘cause we’ll have the visuals up on that huge screen with us. It’ll be cool; it’ll be special.A black and white photo of Jeremy Phipps playing a trombone at Gasa Gasa in 2018. He is dark-skinned and is wearing a light t-shirt and light pants. There’s a drum skit next to him and a screen with visuals projected onto it on the wall behind him. Photo by Bryce Ell.

Gasa Gasa, September 2018 (photo by Bryce Ell)

The other thing I wanted to ask you about is the music video aspect of what you guys do. I really liked the three-paneled “home video” that you made for “Rush.” Did you have a specific vision for that, or did it just come together?

CG: Well, I at first had a vision of getting a bunch of musician friends I know in a space, and capturing them not being able to play their instruments. But then realistically this is COVID, and I don’t want to make art that could endanger people. I’m not trying to see a bunch of people for the sake of making a music video. The music is just not as important as people’s safety. So then we [the band] all had a little pod together at that point. I just wanted to capture what was going on, with all of us, that we were all just not doing anything. We weren’t playing our instruments. I wanted it to be a home movie feel about where we were at that point. Because that song was made during quarantine. The whole thing about that was just slowing down… just listening to people and reflecting on stuff.

On that note, you guys have done a whole lot of collaborations with other musicians, but also with other artists in different fields: photographers, film directors, etc. In general, what do you guys take away from those collaborations inside and outside of the music? Did they influence your current work at all with this EP?

JP: I guess we—at least I—try and treat it the same way as making a band. It’s like an inviting-your-family sort of thing. Same thing with video. When I thought about People Museum,  I thought, “How can I find other talents, instead of looking at myself so much? How can I find other people who are more talented than me, and are so special?” I’d like to think that even just putting that intention in there invited us to get lucky with certain people. And that’s something that I hope happens for the rest of my life, really.

CG: I’m very interested in how other people articulate our vision. People that we trust— what’s their perspective on what this sounds and looks like? And then meeting around that. I think that’s just so interesting, to see how other people see us, and working with it, it’s just really fun.

JP: It informs us. ‘Cause I have to always take a line from that—it’s like: oh that’s what our vibe is! What you’re seeing—that’s who I am, actually! [laughs]

It’s hard to put yourself in other people’s hands like that, you know?

JP: Yeah. I read a Tina Fey book, believe it or not, and she says: “Find talented people, and stay out of their way.” And that’s stuck with me forever. It’s basically like finding artistic people that you trust, and then not trying to control it.

CG: I definitely see you do that. ‘Cause I am very bossy [Jeremy laughs] when it comes to when we’re producing. I’m like: ”This is what I think is right.” And then Jeremy will be like, “Ah, no.” And I’ll go, “I HARD think that this is right.” And he’ll be like, “OK! That’s it.” [all laugh]

CG: We’re going to have two music videos for this EP that are going to be really amazing. 

JP: We have this woman Riley Teahan, and she’s doing the video for “Forever” that’s gonna come out with the single.

CG: And then my partner [Nicholas Ashe Bateman], who the song is about—“Ice”—he’s doing the video for that. And his story is insane. He made this movie that has 500 or something visual effects shots in it that he made on a green screen. He made this whole world. So, during quarantine we made a green screen music video, just me and Jeremy. It’s gonna be wild! That was another one where we were trying to fit into what the times have given us.

Jeremy, what was your time with Solange like?

JP: Hmmm… It taught me how to make (or to watch) a show go from a small rehearsal space to a crowd of 20,000 people. That’s the thing I took the most from it. And also, I got to travel the world, which was dope. And you’re kind of living on the coattails of somebody who has a #1 album, and what’s that like? Just the fast-pacedness of it, I think that’s what I took the most from it. And the way that she treats her live shows, with the outfits, and the aesthetic, and stuff like that. I’ve taken so much from that. But yeah, like “How do the big dogs do it?” I feel ready, if that moment ever showed itself. And I know there’s a lot of people who want this thing, but there’s a lot of skills to learn. And it’s very different from performing small clubs and stuff like that, as far as dealing with all of these different people. The operation becomes SO huge. And I was, the whole time, just taking notes. I would be talking to the tour manager: “What does your job entail?” And the light dude: “What’s your job entail?” And what’s the responsibility of this assistant or that assistant?

I feel like there is some overlap between how you guys dress on stage and what Solange has done with the one-tone, or tonal dressing, you know what I mean?

JP: Yeah, and the power of simple things. Just everybody wearing the same color can be [makes mind-blowing motion]. Everybody turning their heads slightly to the side at the same time can be immersive. And also, choreography. I had never thought about choreography at all, because I thought choreography was cheesy. But then, her and this other band Rubblebucket that I was in, they showed me how horns can be used in an interesting way. Because my whole career, I was like, man… horns. They do the same thing; they ask you to do the same things. But those were two touring situations where I was like, “Finally, somebody’s asking me to do something different. And I’m learning how horns fit in pop music.”

People Museum’s mix of traditional brass instruments like the trombone and the sousaphone, with the electronic pop sounds: from my perspective, that’s one of the biggest draws to your music. That’s what your fans are attracted to. Do you think that’s where the future of New Orleans music is going?

JP: I do. Because even though the musical difference is pretty drastic—like when you look at Stooges Brass Band turn into just The Stooges, they’re a band with a guitar and all of that now. You have people like Trombone Shorty [who] went from trying to reinvent New Orleans music to what he brought it. And then Shamarr Allen, same thing. A lot of people are moving forward and I feel like, in some way, even though the music is very different, we, or me, personally, are trying to take this concept of New Orleans and bring it to a different place. 

CG: I agree. I would love to see people younger than us mess around with brass instruments and get excited about them. ‘Cause I want to be inspired by young people who are doing weird shit… I feel as though a lot of people are leaving New Orleans because they’re like, we can’t get anywhere in New Orleans. And then there goes a chunk of the youth culture that makes New Orleans exciting and relevant. And I would love for people to fuck around with tradition and stay here and collaborate, you know?

JP: It’s kind of inevitable. Because people just feel boxed in by this concept of tradition. That’s probably always been the case, and it will continue to be the case, I think.

CG: I always think about this Mark Rothko thing where he says, “Respect the father, but kill him,” or something. I love that there’s traditional jazz music around New Orleans. I think it’s awesome. I think it should stick. But I also think that those people also should be allowed to go and plug in some pedals, and [take] their horn and do weiiirrrd stuff. I see people doing that at SideBar—or I did. And it’s so exciting! And I think it should be amplified. There’s this old guard of people who say, don’t pay attention to that. We’re going to pay attention to this person at The Spotted Cat, and keep playing their stuff over and over again. But then that person also is going to SideBar, and is doing something weird. I think that should be respected just as much by the whole musical community, and the world, you know? But if they don’t respect it here at home, then it’s not going to grow.

I think that’s something that Preservation Hall was trying to do. They were struggling to find their place in how to make traditional New Orleans jazz relevant.

JP: That’s a hard thing to do. [laughs]

CG: One of my favorite shows I’ve ever seen I actually saw at Preservation Hall, and it was not jazz! It was Mountain Man.

Yeah, yeah! I worked those shows!

CG: It was incredible, I like that idea of taking this sacred old space, and introducing something new into it… I love the idea of a bill being like, “Here’s folk artist Julie Odell, and then here’s People Museum, and then we’re gonna end the night with DJ Chinua playing house music.” That is so exciting.

JP: Also, back in those days, when they were popular, jazz at the time—

CG: —Was the subversive music. I think people forget, ‘cause they’re so academic-minded about it now, that this music was wild. You need to let something wild come in there, too.A black and white photo of Claire Givens and Jeremy Phipps, members of the band People Museum, walking away from the camera and looking behind them. Jeremy is on the left; he’s dark-skinned and has short hair. He’s wearing wearing a long-sleeved black and white striped shirt and black pants and a checkered mask. Claire is on the right; she’s light-skinned and has dark brown hair. She’s wearing a long black jackets, black tights, and long, dark boots, and a black mask. They’re both looking over their shoulders, directly at the camera. Photo by Katie Sikora.

I Could Only See Night will be co-released by Strange Daisy and Community Records on April 9. You can preorder it as a double EP on vinyl with People Museum’s I Made a Madman Out of Me and You Laughed on People Museum will be appearing with Big Freedia at the Broadside Theater on April 9.

Top and bottom photos by Katie Sikora

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