Interview | Kung Fu Talks Tsar Bomba And More

Written By: Ryan Dembinsky

:: Kung Fu Talks Tsar Bomba And More ::

When Kung Fu, the Connecticut-based funk-fusion act featuring members of RAQ, Deep Banana Blackout and The Breakfast, began it really was not entirely clear what would be become of the band. It initially seemed like a jamband super group side project, but nobody really knew how much time and commitment Kung Fu would get from the various members. Now, almost five years since its formation, it is entirely clear that Kung Fu is a committed full-time project for all members involved, and it has perhaps even surpassed the predecessor bands in terms of popularity. Today, the band is easily one of most promising new acts in the improvisational music landscape and they are just getting started.

Unlike many bands in the jam scene, Kung Fu has a consistent fluid sound that focuses on funk and jazz fusion, which is notable because all five members of the band diplomatically share writing duties. On March 13th, the band released their sophomore LP, Tsar Bomba, which includes compositions from all five members and no single member wrote more than five of the album’s 12 songs. In listening to the album, it flows seamlessly and maintains a very consistent funk groove throughout. Usually, it’s fairly obvious in a band when different members write songs, because there tends to be stylistic differences and differing skill levels. Not Kung Fu; the members of this band fit together so well within their funk/fusion style.

We caught up with three of the five members of the band - Todd Stoops, Tim Palmieri and Chris DeAngelis - to talk about everything from the 18-month process of recording Tsar Bomba, their favorite funk albums and how Tim learned to play “You Enjoy Myself” in one hour when he was 17 years old (author’s note: I hate you).

JAMBASE: Let’s take a step back to the beginning. I know you’ve all been involved in this scene in various different bands for a long time, but I’ve never actually heard the story of how Kung Fu formed.

Todd Stoops: It was 2009. The original bass player, Dave Livolsi, had this impromptu jam one night in late October, and had talked about putting a band together. One of our friends had a bar in New Haven that he wanted to have live music at (Stella Blues), but we were sort of the litmus test for that. We ended up playing every Monday night and the band grew organically from there. So, we did that residency and it really grew and evolved from there.

We had a couple of member changes, our original sax player left and then Rob Somerville from Deep Banana Blackout joined, and then Dave the founding bassist left and Chris DeAngelis - who is on the line now - took his place. It’s been almost two years since then, right Chris?

Chris DeAngelis: Yep, I joined in August of 2012.

Todd Stoops: Those were the golden months right there [laughs].

JAMBASE: So, the other bands you guys have been involved with are quite diverse, what prompted you to really hone in on funk and fusion for the band’s sound?

Chris DeAngelis: Well, these guys were doing it before I joined, but I think it’s really the combination of members and the backgrounds and it came together with an emphasis on danceable music. It’s true though, everybody is very diverse, so it still contains a lot of elements of jazz and rock and fusion. Everyone in the band can pretty much play anything. When I came up, I just tried to keep up and contribute my influences naturally.

JAMBASE: I read that it took about 18 months from start to finish to complete Tsar Bomba. Could you discuss the process over the 18 months and touch on some of the challenges?

Todd Stoops: The process actually started before our original bass player, Dave Livolsi, left the band. We had done some preproduction work and some production work with Dave, so we put the project on hold for a few months when he left. Chris joined the band and we spent a lot of time touring right from the get go. We did two semi-national tours with Chris within his first six months. He was still getting the material under his fingers. So we ultimately went back and rerecorded a bunch of it and we added three or four more tracks.

Chris DeAngelis: We were writing too during that time when I was still learning the material. I wrote a couple tunes and Todd wrote a couple more tunes. We went back and recorded those and finished up the rest of it. So in reality, the material on the album really spans two or three years.

Todd Stoops: We took our time with it from both an artistic and a production standpoint. We really didn’t want every song on the album to sound the same. We took different production approaches under the tutelage of Tim Walsh, who was the mastermind behind the mix of the project. Tim is the drummer of the Stepkids and he’s also a good friend of ours. We tried to make sure the album moved and used sonic differences to make that happen. It was good to have the time to focus on it.

We’re not like Van Halen. We don’t have Warner Brothers knocking down our door to finish an album. In 2014, we are a do-it-yourself project as a concept, so we afforded ourselves that luxury.

You’ll probably see the opposite on the next album though. I bet we’ll record the next album in about three weeks [laughs]. That’ll be the antithesis of this last one, we’re gonna do it quick and just get it out there.

JAMBASE: What would say are each of your favorite songs to record?

Chris DeAngelis: I really liked playing “Belatone.” It’s a great song and I get a little bass feature on there, so that was one of my favorites to really spend a lot of time with on the album.

Todd Stoops: It came out so good on the album too.

Tim Palmieri: [Phone Ding, Tim joins] Tim Palmieri!

Todd Stoops and Chris DeAngelis: [singing] Tim Palmieri, Tim Palmieri, Tim Palmieri. So Tim, what was your favorite song to record on the album?

Tim Palmieri: Hmmm, what was my favorite song to record on the album? It’s tough to say, I liked them all for different reasons. My job is a little different, particularly on the overdub side. Sometimes I like the art of playing a solo right in the moment, but I also like to overdub the solos when I can say to myself, “I’m going to put down the best solo ever.” [laughs]

I think “Scrabb” was a good version of playing in the moment and then “Paragon” is a good overdub one.

JAMBASE: What was the idea behind the title of the album, Tsar Bomba?

Tim Palmieri: You can look at it a few different ways. It’s like this album is the bomb to be dropped on the world. They have never witnessed this level of musical destruction before. It’s a metaphor. It could also be a raising awareness that man has outdone himself and gotten too smart and could potentially eradicate the human species from the planet.

Chris DeAngelis: I’m with you there, Tim, especially with the things that are happening now. It’s scary man. It’s kind of ironic in a scary kind of way.

Tim Palmieri: We should bomb each other with art and music. We’re not gonna fucking take it anymore! [laughs] Make jazz-rock fusion, not bombs.

JAMBASE: What does a typical Kung Fu practice session entail?

Todd Stoops: The last few weeks we’ve been learning some really hard new material, so I don’t know, we might be kind of boring in the practice room. What do you guys think? It’s mostly business. There might be some red wine from time to time.

Chris DeAngelis: It’s serious business. [laughs]

Tim Palmieri: It depends on the time of day really. I get jacked up on Red Bull on Wednesday mornings at 10. [laughs]

Todd Stoops: I usually bring a couple cans of seltzer water. [laughs]

JAMBASE: If you guys had to handpick a funk super group alive or dead, who would you pick?

Todd Stoops: Oh man, I always wanted to hear Jimi Hendrix play with Funkadelic or Parliament. Did that ever happen, that didn’t happen did it?

Chris DeAngelis: With James Jamerson (Motown) on the bass...

Tim Palmieri: and John Bonham (Led Zeppelin) on drums.

JAMBASE: Here‘s a question for you, Tim. I’ve seen that video of you playing “You Enjoy Myself” at a brunch on YouTube. To crush all the hopes and dreams of every other guitar player out there, how long did it take you to learn “YEM?”

Tim Palmieri: I guess I started learning it when I was about 17. All you have to do is sit down and commit to learning a tune. You just have to really put the focus in. It could take an hour, it could take two hours. It depends on the player and how difficult the tune is. I would say, when I was 17 that probably took me about one hour. It’s so automatic now though, I can deconstruct and mix in other songs with mash ups and all that.

JAMBASE: In terms of newer bands in the improvisational scene that you guys like, I know you mentioned the Stepkids, but who else would you mention these days?

Todd Stoops: I love the band Tauk from Long Island. They are freaking awesome and they are great guys. I was really blown away by them. That is really a band I have loved in the past year. I got to know them and we keep in touch. I love what they are doing.

Tim Palmieri: I like Dopapod and Stepkids. We all love Dumpstaphunk. They are about the dirtiest funk out there.

Chris DeAngelis: Of course we love Lettuce, they are our boys. Snarky Puppy. We may or may not have a show coming up with them.

JAMBASE: Speaking of shows, anything on the tour coming up that stands out as highlights?

Tim Palmieri: I’m excited for Electric Forest, Wakarusa and Gathering of the Vibes.

Chris DeAngelis: New Orleans is the anchor for me. Those late night shows are going to be epic.

Todd Stoops: Yeah, me too. That’s what I’m most excited about. We’re playing great cities all the way down too.

Tim Palmieri: I just thought of a great format when we do these interviews from now on. We should always answer in alphabetical order. That way, he will always know who is quoting what [laughs].

Chris DeAngelis: We should have code words too, like I could be Tango Blue.

JAMBASE: Back to the album, it’s obviously challenging music you play and record. How painstaking were you in terms of the details of each part and playing everything exactly right versus making sure to keep the project moving?

Tim Palmieri: This is more of a live thing. It’s really just a crystallization of our live show. There’s very little studio trickery. The parts are set and we just try to play them accurately and tight. There is a little bit of fine tuning and stuff and maybe a part added here and there, but we weren’t trying to go Radiohead or Sgt. Peppers or anything.

Chris DeAngelis: There was a few overdubs here and there, but like Tim said, it really is pretty close to how we do everything live. A lot of times after we play a song live for a few months, it evolves and parts change on the spot. We’ll try new things. For example, a new song called “Chin Music” we’ve been doing is pretty much changed with every single version. We’ll be like “let’s play version 4.5 tonight.”

JAMBASE: One last question for you guys. I looked through influences you guys have listed in different places, and was curious what each of you would point out as your favorite funk albums or maybe some albums you would point to as influences on this one?

Tim Palmieri: Bette Midler’s Greatest Hits [laughs].

Chris DeAngelis: I’d say Herbie Hancock’s Thrust.

Todd Stoops: Oh that’s a good one. What’s that live James Brown album, Love Peace Power? Whatever that one is called. And the first Funkadelic album!

Tim Palmieri: The first? You’d take that over Cosmic Slop or Maggot Brain?

Todd Stoops: Yeah, it has a special place in my heart.

Tim Palmieri: I’m going to take back my Bette Midler influence. I would like to say the Red Hot Chili Peppers’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik. The only thing about that, it’s not a source of funk, but it’s certainly our generation’s version of it.

JAMBASE: Until you guys came along [laughs]. Thank you sincerely for taking the time and great job on the album.

Kung Fu’s album Tsar Bomba is available now and the band is currently on tour heading Southbound on the way to Jazzfest.

[Published on: 4/16/14]

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