Going from the subway to the mainstage is every New York City busker’s dream — or better yet — fantasy. But that path was a reality for the genre-pioneering Too Many Zooz, who went from entertaining passersby in the world’s largest metro system to touring coast-to-coast to a legion of fans. The trio looks to bring their distinct sound to Union Stage in Washington, D.C. next week.
Starting out in their most famous subterranean venue of Union Square station back in 2013, the group that consists of two Manhattan School of Music graduates, Leo Pellegrino and Matt “Doe” Muirhead, along with veteran busker David “King of Sludge” Parks never foresaw their ascent in the music industry. Mainly because they weren’t really shooting for it.
“We were already succeeding at what we wanted to do in busking, so there wasn’t a plan to do something bigger. Everything else was a surprise,” Pellegrino said.
But commuters acting as pro-bono promoters had a different plan. Those who have recorded performances accrued anywhere from tens of thousands views to a few million on YouTube, such as the March 2014 video that helped turn Too Many Zooz into a national sensation. Suddenly, a band that was already content living its life underground had been cast into the sunlight.
A year later the group was touring and showing off their unique “Brass House” sound that had come to define them. Combining elements from Doe’s blaring trumpet, King of Sludge’s eclectic percussion kit (a mix of cowbells and cymbals attached to a shoulder-strapped bass drum) and Pellegrino’s saucy baritone saxophone, the sets they played in the subways often had a higher-rate of rubbernecking due to its originality. Intrigue was always there, but the band also spent time refining that sound.
“It was mostly experimentation,” Pellegrino added. “Basically we just found what people liked, what they didn’t like, and changed our music based on that.”
Soon enough admirers went from being casual observers to big names in the music industry. Too Many Zooz played backup for Beyonce at the 2016 Country Music Association Awards as well as had their song “Warriors” featured on a phone commercial. They even put out their inaugural EP, “Subway Gawdz,” in 2017, putting them on the conventional path that so many artists had followed before them.
What proved to be a bit more challenging was linking together fans. Too Many Zooz’s viral fame had their followers far and wide, so touring became an act of choosing the best route to reach all their admirers. It’s been a tricky process that has relied on the group starting rally points for their fans.
“We had a lot of fans all spread over, so we had to create more powerful territories where a lot of people could come out. We always just wanted to make sure that people enjoy the show and the set because it’s really important that we perform well for them every night,” Pellegrino added.
Though touring is great, Pellegrino admits it’s the toughest part of the job. A cold he had during our interview was a testament to the fatigue a still-hungry band must shake off on its rise up.
Too Many Zooz will be performing at Union Stage (740 Water St. SW, Washington, D.C.) on Thursday, Jan. 23, at 8 p.m. For tickets, visit unionstage.com.