There are many reasons why it might be a surprise that No Regular Play (a.k.a. Greg Paulus and Nick DeBruyn) just released their debut LP on cooler-than-cool NYC dance label Wolf + Lamb, but the live trumpet is probably number one. Raised in Minnesota and best friends since grade school, Paulus and DeBruyn combine innnumerable influences into a blend of house, new jack swing, techno, and more—creating dance music that gleefully refuses categorization.
Their debut album, Endangered Species, is a perfect entrée into No Regular Play's eclectic style, with sonic elements ranging from minimal techno to electro-funk; it prominently features both Paulus' brass and his breathy vocals. "We've always made music trying not to make the trumpet be the main thing, and only use it when it makes sense and sounds good," he says—an observation that's rings true especially during their high-energy live sets, during which, combined with DeBruyn's lush programming, nothing seems the least bit out of place.
Interview caught up with the band before their imminent New Year's Eve bash at Wolf + Lamb's Crew Love event in Brooklyn. Among the topics under discussion were how the duo moved from jazz to house, their love of fellow Minnesotan Prince, and what they remember (or don't) about past New Year's parties. To get an idea of what to expect form the duo, they've also offered up their track "Won't Quit" for your streaming pleasure. "We wanted to do a slower pop track," DeBruyn says of the song, whose analog synths have a distinctly '80s vibe.
NATHAN REESE: So how'd you guys first meet?
NICK DEBRUYN: We grew up together in St. Paul, Minnesota and went to the same elementary school, same high school. I think we've known each other since we were about eight years old. It's a growing-up-together kind of story.
REESE: Was No Regular Play your first project playing music together?
GREG PAULUS: I had been in a bunch of bands prior. I was a jazz musician, but No Regular Play was the first musical thing that Nick and I had ever done together. We both got really interested in electronic music. I was sick of jazz and the jazz scene in New York. I was looking for something a little more modern, and I guess oriented with people my own age. So we decided to start messing around with some computer programs and drum machines, just for fun really. We ended up liking the music, the parties, and the scene. It was really exciting.
DEBRUYN: I moved out to New York in 2006 and Greg and I got a place together in Brooklyn. That's right around the time we got into electronic music in general and started finding all these parties going on. That's what sparked our interested, and we thought it was something we could do together.
REESE: Was that when you hooked up with the Wolf + Lamb guys?
PAULUS: It was cool, I had met Zev [Eisenberg]—the "Wolf" of Wolf + Lamb—in Montreal at an after-party. I was like, "We love what you guys are doing and the parties totally fit our vibe and aesthetic," and he mentioned that they had just started a label. We winded up sending them some stuff—it was probably really amateur and terrible sounding [laughs], but they could hear the possibilities of where it could go. I think it had a lot of jazz sensibilities and rhythmic stuff I'd learned in music school, as well as hip-hop influences. They were at a pivotal point, and wanted to reassess the direction of their label, wanting to take it into this house-oriented direction. Less dark, I guess, more party music. They asked us to come over and we started immediately becoming close friends. Then they started doing parties again with a new format and different music, and since then it's really blossomed into this whole sound that they have now.
REESE: Greg, so you studied jazz trumpet at the Manhattan School of Music. How has it been translating that into the electronic music world?
PAULUS: It's gotten a lot easier for me. At first it was really tough to not sound like you're just playing jazz riffs over house music, to make it fit, and not be corny. In the beginning I don't think we put any trumpet in the music we were making—we just didn't hear how it would work. [We wanted to avoid] being this gimmicky, "Oh, that's the guy with the trumpet," which, I mean, it has probably turned into that anyway. [laughs]
DEBRUYN: Like Greg was saying, at first it may have seemed a little gimmicky, but once we found our sound, it does make sense with a lot of the music that we're making. We also try to have a balance so there isn't like five songs with trumpet in a row. Nobody needs to hear somebody play a solo. Like, they're dancing, and then they're like, "We need a solo now!" [laughs]
REESE: Did you guys record Endangered Species as a group of singles, or more of a full album experience?
DEBRUYN: We took May and June off from touring, and just wanted to focus on making an album. We thought about the variety we wanted to have, not worrying about the opening and closing of tracks that are important for DJs. Toward the end, we had two tracks that we thought would round it out nicely. "Birdfeathers" was written specifically as the opening track. Same with the last track ["Where They Lay"]. We wanted to make a full sound.
REESE: Do you have a favorite track to play live?
DEBRUYN: You know, the one that's always surprising is "Card Game" and "Keep It Right." Those two we were playing as full tracks before the album. We always played them one into the other, and it works especially well in the live set.
PAULUS: That's another thing. Any criticism I've seen about anything is about the sound of those two tracks. This funk thing, that they say isn't our sound, or something. But live, it's really the highlight! It's the last two songs we play, and it goes over really well.
REESE: That's definitely some of the most pop-oriented stuff I've heard from you, or your label even.
PAULUS: We used to make much more DJ tool-oriented songs. But, yeah, you don't want to be hanging out in nightclubs the rest of your life. For us, we want to be much more diverse in our musical endeavors. Write pop music, music for MCs and rappers...
DEBRUYN: ...Music for a full band.
PAULUS: You know, at the end of the day, the songs that people play for years and years are tracks from Prince's catalog. People play them in clubs, they listen to them in the car. It's totally versatile music, instead of something designed for only one purpose.
REESE: So you guys are playing on New Year's Eve. Do you have a favorite past party you've played, or maybe just attended?
PAULUS: There were a couple of Wolf + Lamb parties. Last year were in Berlin, which wasn't memorable, maybe in the wrong way. [laughs]. Last year was a complete dramatic shit show with, like, all our friends. Maybe the year before that was really nice?
DEBRUYN: Yeah, that one was. Usually people just take it a little too far.
PAULUS: People just get wasted before midnight, and pass out before 1:00. New Year's is always memorable, but in an awful way. But I think this one's going to be great. Everyone's in town from the label... I think this one will be a really nice one.
ENDANGERED SPECIES IS OUT NOW. NO REGULAR PLAY WILL BE PERFORMING THIS NEW YEAR'S EVE IN NEW YORK CITY. FOR MORE ON THE BAND AND THEIR UPCOMING SHOW, VISIT WOLF + LAMB'S WEBSITE.