LouFest 2014: An Interview with Big Brother Thunder and the MasterBlasters


Last week, the IWTAS team attended a happy hour to celebrate LouFest organizers and local bands billed to play the festival. We’ve covered and even let Pretty Little Empire play at IWTAS HQ – so y’all should know them by now! But we were anxious to learn about another STL act on the bill, Big Brother Thunder and the MasterBlasters. The band’s guitarist, Matt Vianello, was kind enough to answer a few questions about BBTatMB and how they got to the LouFest stage.

Many of our readers are new to your band; how long have you been together?
The band started up in the summer of 2011. It was the brain child of our bassist, Drew Franklin, and drummer, Gabe Bonfili. They wanted to start a band that mixed their favorite types of music: Funk, Soul, Latin, and Afro-Cuban. It’s safe to say that the result of Drew and Gabe’s influence is a band unlike any other in St. Louis. The other members of the band are:

Sheri Facchin – lead vocals
Drew Franklin – bass
Gabe Bonfili – drums
Jeff Burns – percussion
Dave Muser – trumpet
Andy Stephen – keys
Jacob Johnson – tenor, alto, and baritone sax
Matt Vianello – guitar

We’ve had the pleasure of inviting many other great St. Louis musicians to play with us over the years and we wouldn’t be where we are without them. Some have been official members, some have been subs, all have been very important. I can’t mention the band members without mentioning them: Ben Moore, Chris Stevenson, Pete Lombardo, Jahi Eskridge, Jesse Gannon, Jason Torrey, Mario Pascal and Dan Mahfood, to name a few. These guys, and the band members, are part of the heart and soul of the St. Louis music scene and have been a great help to the band. There are others, but it’s hard to mention everyone.

How many albums/EPs/songs have you released? Where can fans access them?
We have released two EPs. They can be found at reverbnation.com/bbtandthembs. We also released a new song in celebration of our LouFest set that’s available for digital download via our Facebook page right now.

In your bio, you list African, Caribbean, and Brazilian styles as sound influences. Specifically, which bands have helped shape your style?
There are a ton, but some bands that have really shaped who we are include Willie Bobo, Ernest Ranglin, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Ronda and the Soul Kingdom, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix (probably applies to everyone in the band, but as a guitarist, I’m a huge Hendrix fan so he always gets a mention). There are so many more bands that have influenced us in one way or another that this becomes a somewhat impossible question to answer.

You recently played the Whittaker Festival at the Missouri Botanical Gardens – tell us how it went and if any moments were especially memorable. 
Whittaker was amazing. Everyone who works at the Botanical Gardens was great and the over 7,500 people there made it unforgettable. We played July 9. I’m pretty sure there would have been another 10,000-15,000 people but Motley Crue was also performing in St. Louis that night. The entire pit area was full of people dancing. I’m really proud of that because it says something about our music that it makes people want to get up and move. Also, we were told by the Whittaker folks that it was the most people dancing in front of the stage they had ever seen.

Tell us how the band has felt since you were asked to play LouFest. 
It has been amazing. We weren’t allowed to announce our performance until LouFest announced the lineup. It was extremely difficult to not say anything. After the announcement, it seems like non-stop emails congratulating us or asking us to play various shows. That’s directly related to LouFest. We do a pretty good job getting our name out there, but having our name on the bill of a national music festival exposes us to an audience that we wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise. We are also one of only three local bands that get to play this year and we couldn’t be more thrilled to share this experience with our friends in Pretty Little Empire and Old Salt Union. It’s been nice because we get a special mention from the local papers when they talk about LouFest.

Plus, the announcement was right after RFT named us St. Louis’ best Funk/Soul band. The combination of these two events has made for a pretty awesome summer.

What should fans expect from your performance?
We’ll make you want to get up and move your feet. Whether you can dance or not (Personally, I’m in the “not” category), you’ll be on your feet, dancing because is unavoidable. We’ll also be performing a brand new original for the first time so for those who know our repertoire, expect to hear something you haven’t before.

What are some other bands you’re looking forward to seeing at this year’s LouFest?
There are many great bands performing this year; it’s hard to narrow it down! It will be great seeing Outkast, and I’m a big Arctic Monkeys fan. Cake also puts on a great show. We are really excited for Trombone Shorty and Lettuce, and Old Salt Union and Pretty Little Empire, of course. From top to bottom, the lineup is great this year.

What’s a final thought you’d like to contribute about the St. Louis music community? 
For those who don’t know and those who do, St. Louis has an amazing, growing, and thriving local music scene. Whatever type of music you like, there is a St. Louis band making it and we at Big Brother Thunder and the MasterBlasters are just happy to be a part of it.

Big Brother Thunder and the MasterBlasters play Saturday from 12:15 to 1:00 PM at the Shade Stage.

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