Brown Sound 

Butcher Brown doesn’t want its music pigeonholed by the jazz label.

click to enlarge Guitarist Keith Askey,  keyboardist Devonne Harris, bassist Andrew Randazzo and drummer Corey Fonville make up the core, soul-funk unit of Butcher Brown. The local band is playing South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, this year.

Lauren Serpa

Guitarist Keith Askey, keyboardist Devonne Harris, bassist Andrew Randazzo and drummer Corey Fonville make up the core, soul-funk unit of Butcher Brown. The local band is playing South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, this year.

Stepping into the modest, one-story house shared by bandmates Devonne Harris, Andrew Randazzo and Keith Askey feels like walking directly into a huge recording studio. The kitchen, bathroom and other amenities are incidental to the enormous amount of living space that their recording studio, Jellowstone, occupies in the home.

There are the predictable posters throughout the place: tasteful musical stuff like Miles Davis at Birdland, Jimi Hendrix, Ella Fitzgerald. A large “Pulp Fiction” movie poster hangs in the kitchen.

Gathered around their kitchen table to discuss the new Butcher Brown album, as well as their upcoming headlining show at the Camel, a bespectacled Devonne Harris, aka DJ Harrison, is joined by guitarist Askey and Randazzo, who plays bass.

They’ve known each other since their days studying jazz at Virginia Commonwealth University. A fourth member, drummer Corey Fonville, maintains an apartment in Richmond but is in New Orleans working on music with Grammy-nominated jazz trumpeter Christian Scott.

Butcher Brown’s debut full-length, “All Purpose Music,” was released in October.

“It was the music that we all grew up listening to and we all liked,” Harris says in describing the album, which features contributions from Grammy-winning trumpeter Nicholas Payton, saxophonist Marcus Tenney and popular soul singer Jon Bibbs.

After several years of touring and releasing free EPs, the band began work on its first studio album around the beginning of the year. “Since we already had everything set up from the “Numbers” session (Nicholas Payton’s new album, which was recorded at Jellowstone Studios), we went in there in January and just wrote tunes on the spot.”

“We all had ideas that we brought to the table,” Harris continues. “I think vinyl records and older music played a big part in it too.” Indeed, a shared love for the analog era and the dusty records of lore connects this quartet of 20-somethings. Yet their backgrounds and musical tastes are varied. Askey, for example, wasn’t really brought up on ’70s soul music and jazz fusion, as much as he was on Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. “A lot of classic rock stuff, those are the records I grew up listening to,” he says.

One thing they have in common is their dislike of the jazz label — at least as it pertains to their music. And that’s despite all of them having jazz chops from their schooling and at the least informing much of their new music with it. But it isn’t everything.

“It’s kind of a gumbo. … We put everything in there,” Fonville says. “When we feel like it, we tap into this or that.” He eventually refers to the group’s aesthetic as “just black soul: soul funk music with a rock flavor to it.”

Whatever they call it, it’s clearly connecting with a broader public beyond the obvious people who dig the sound locally. “All Purpose Music,” through Devonne’s Jellowstone label partnership with the esteemed Philadelphia-based Ropeadope Records, has received national distribution and related attention. That buzz, especially in urban tastemaker circles, is leading to a lot more bookings in 2015, including high-profile dates at next year’s Art of Cool Fest in Durham, North Carolina, and the world-famous arts festival, South by Southwest, in Austin, Texas.

“At some points it’s surreal how much of our music gets out there now, compared to where we were a year ago,” Harris says. The success reflects the new potential in a largely digital age for artists outside of the typically identified major markets to compete. Location isn’t nearly as important as it once was. Nevertheless, they’re happy to boldly represent Virginia. Album cuts such as “Country Boys” and “Powhatan” speak directly to their local sensibilities.

“We all want to represent Virginia — it’s not like we’re waiting to get out of here and have our big break in Los Angeles or New York,” Randazzo says. “Even popular music that does well gets forgotten, so I think it would be winning if we just don’t get forgotten.” S

Butcher Brown performs with Avers and Sam Reed Syndicate on Saturday, Dec. 27, at 8 p.m. at the Camel. Tickets cost $7. thecamel.org.



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