By Mike Osegueda
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
When you take a traditional marching band and mix it with a little bit of punk rock spirit, the result is Mucca Pazza.
An enormous band of 20-30 musicians and cheerleaders (depending on the show), it's a bit like Band Geeks Gone Wild, the way Mucca Pazza gets on stage with mix-matched uniforms and genre-jumping sounds.
Wild and rambunctious, the band's performances have taken it to the "Late Show with Conan O'Brien," Lollapalooza and the Chicago River, where it played while floating in canoes.
We talked to band director Mark Messing to learn more about Mucca Pazza:
Q: How did Mucca Pazza get started? It seems like it was one of those crazy 2 a.m. kind of ideas.
A: It was noon on a Sunday, which is when we rehearse now. It was the time that most musicians were willing to show up _ not too early after a Saturday gig and not too late to go see a football game later in the afternoon (to watch the halftime show). All of us working in music and theater and math/waitressing/literature/physics, putting together a marching band was just the natural thing to do.
Q: How do you best describe the band's sound?
A: It's a new and improved marching band. We've included some of the musical inventions of the 20th century _ electric guitar and a way of amplifying instruments that were once too quiet to be in the marching band: violin, mandolin and accordion. So with those instruments, we can expand the sound of the marching band and totally rock your ears or be unbelievably sensuous and romantic.
Q: Musicians, cheerleaders, crazy costumes ... I have to wonder what the inspiration behind your live performance is?
A: Well, we are a marching band and the uniforms show our spirit even if they don't match and even if they're a little worn. As for the cheerleaders, when we were in marching band in school, we always thought the cheerleaders were cheering for the band. It wasn't until later we found out they were cheering for the football team. We decided to correct that.
Q: Where have you recruited the Mucca Pazza band members from? It seems like being the band requires a certain sort of musician.
A: Yes it does require a certain sort! You have to be willing to march and play at the same time, you need physical stamina and you have to be open to a lot of musical traditions. So our musicians come from rock bands, orchestras and Balkan-style brass bands.
Q: I've heard the band will often do an actual marching performance in the afternoon before your shows? True?
A: Sometimes we park too far away from the club and have to wind through the city for a while trying to find our destination. Is that what you mean?
Q: With the sheer size of the band, what are some of the complications you face? You can't just crash at somebody's house when you're touring, right?
A: Well, we do crash at somebody's house. So the complication is, if everyone takes a shower in the morning and it takes maybe five minutes to do that and there is only one bathroom, and there are say 25 of us on tour, it takes about two hours and five minutes to get clean.
Q: Finish this sentence: After seeing a Mucca Pazza show, a person will most likely ...
A: Learn a musical instrument and join the band!
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