Too Many Zooz found success in New York's subway system, and eventually recorded with Beyoncé.
Too Many Zooz found success in New York's subway system, and eventually recorded with Beyoncé.
Photo courtesy of Too Many Zooz

Beyoncé Collaborators in Too Many Zooz Owe Their Success to "Subway Gods"

Before associates of Beyoncé Knowles recruited Too Many Zooz to perform on 2016's hit album Lemonade, the trio had established itself in New York's subways.

In that sort of underground, you have to deliver and prove yourself immediately. It was there that the band's members met each through friends and the band Drumadics, a percussion group which David “King of Sludge” Parks played in.

Parks had known baritone sax player Leo Pellegrino through the subway shows with Drumadics, and one day decided he wanted to make some money playing. The whole band wasn't available, so he asked Pellegrino to join him. “To this day, you may see videos of just Leo and I playing,” says Parks. “The subway thing is a culture in itself. It's almost ancient, if you think about it. It's almost Shakespearean, in that the village comes in a half circle to see the performance. If nothing else, it's formed around community.”

Trumpet player Matt Doe attended college with Pellegrino and was already part of the culture of subway performances, where pretty much only acoustic instruments are allowed. Forming into a group in 2014 was a natural fit, as their instruments naturally complemented one another.

The name Too Many Zooz was not generated by the band, but rather borrowed from friends.“The story goes, eight or nine people were in a room coming up with band names together, none of which are in Too Many Zooz,” says Pellegrino. “When I heard they weren't using the name, I tracked everyone down and asked if no one was using the name, if I could use it for my band. My interpretation is an apocalyptic planet where there are too many zoos and the animals are breaking out.”

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“To me, it's more about too many things in cages,” says Parks. “In that animal sense, it does reflect our sound in a way.”

The group describes its sound as "brass house," a term Doe and Parks coined.

“We were talking about music, and Matt was really into house beats, and we both agreed on being into house music,” says Parks. “Knowing the origins of music, house music comes from a literal house, and the subway would be our house. That legacy and level of creativity reflects in our style."

Pellegrino grew up in Pittsburgh; Parks had come from Indianapolis and Doe from Boston, but all found the subway to be their music's true home and a launching pad toward global success and their work with Beyoncé.

Too Many Zooz released three EPs in 2014 and a full-length, Subway Gawdz, in 2016, recorded before but released after the band's contributions to “Daddy Lessons” (and Doe's trumpet playing on “Formation”) on Lemonade. The band has played internationally, including the prestigious Sakifo festival in Réunion, a French island east of Madagascar, in June 2016. Perhaps most prominently, the trio backed Beyoncé and the Dixie Chicks at the Country Music Awards last November.

As far as the band has gone in the relatively short time it's been together, it sees the source of its success as connected to the music culture of the subway and a certain magic or chemistry born of that, as suggested by the name of its full-length album, Subway Gawdz.

“It's a recognition of our origin,” says Parks. “Many talented people play in the subway. This talent is getting out — because of the Internet — that doesn't fit in the box of what we call music now. It's more how we explain what's going on; there must be subway gods.”

Too Many Zooz with RUMTUM, 8 p.m. Saturday, March 25, Bluebird Theater, 303-733-0230, $20.75-25, 16+.

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