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
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
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
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
JAMBASE: I read that it took about 18 months from start to finish to complete
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
I think “Scrabb” was a good version of playing in the moment and then “Paragon” is a good
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
were you in terms of the details of each part and playing everything exactly right versus
making sure to keep the project
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
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
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
Kung Fu’s album Tsar Bomba is available now and the band is currently on tour heading
Southbound on the way to Jazzfest.