Dumpstaphunk: Greasy Goodness

By: Dennis Cook

Dumpstaphunk by Ian Rawn
Being original at this stage in music is a tough, tough challenge. So many moves are well rehearsed and widely known, and it’s good enough for most to merely replicate well what others have done before. However, there are still artists that innovate even as they move amongst the familiar elements of a genre. Their ears and skilled hands navigate a new way forward even as the old comfortable scenery flies past. Perhaps the greatest single tribute Dumpstaphunk pays to their New Orleans funk heritage is how they’ve made this music their own, echoing the vibe AND creativity of forefathers like Louis Armstrong and Dr. John in a quest for good footin’ music.

“We know what this music is. No one can ever do what they did again, but we can take what we’ve gotten from that and go on with it and take it somewhere else,” says Ivan Neville, Dumpsta’s keyboardist, singer, occasional guitarist and general lightning rod – the man just generates energy and raw charisma each time he steps up. “We’re after it ALL THE TIME. And there’s a tension in that because we want to push ourselves. We know that a lot of groups have tried to do similar stuff to The Meters. We know that’s been done, and nobody’s gonna do that the way they did it. We are capable of doing that stuff but we try to take it to the next level. We honor tradition but, at the same time, we’re trying to push it forward. And we’ve got five voices that are all very opinionated, and that creates some tension but good tension at times. We’re a real band, a democracy, and that’s hard, but that makes the music that much more powerful because we take that little edge into the music.”

Ivan Neville & Tony Hall by Mike Chetrit
There’s no missing the heat in Dumpstaphunk, where Ivan is joined by Nick Daniels (bass, vocals), Ian Neville (guitar), Tony Hall (bass, guitar, vocals) and Raymond Weber (drums, vocals). After a promising 2007 EP, Listen Hear, anticipation was high for Dumpsta’s full-length debut. Everybody Want Sum, released last fall, is a stellar opening salvo for any band, but particularly one working in the often too-well-worn world of funk. The songs are sharply drawn, vocally rich and full of thick, muscular musicality. Unlike most funk bands, Dumpstaphunk has forged a worthy studio counterpart to their legendary live shows, something worth repeat listens and deeper scrutiny and not just a side note to the live experience. Memorable, sexy and a real good time, Everybody Want Sum gels all of Dumpsta’s various charms AND illuminates a few new ones, too.

“When people used to ask us to describe Dumpstaphunk’s music, we used to just list off our three favorite influences,” says Ian Neville, “but I don’t like doing that because it lends people to think we sound like those bands. I don’t feel like we do. If you’re a fan of the same bands, then obviously you’ll notice their influence in our music but without feeling like we’re copying anyone. Some of our influences are the greatest music that’s been made, and I feel like that’s a pretty good place to draw from and try to move forward from”

Ian Neville by Susan J. Weiand
“There’s a certain little groove – a Meters-esque thing and something you hear in those old [70s] movie scores – and a lot of bands take greatly from that. We’re obviously influenced by that stuff but we try for a bit more [laughs]. We’re from New Orleans, and my uncle is Art, so we grew up with those influences. But even though that stuff is so close to us, we’re also influenced by a lot of other stuff as well,” says Ivan. “We mix all of it and it turns out the way that it does. And with five people in the band, four of us sing. It’s about the groove and whatnot, but we tell stories as well and we sing. That definitely sets us apart from a lot of our contemporaries.”

“We don’t actually try to set ourselves apart [laughs],” says Tony Hall. “We just do what we do. Most bands are patterned after other bands, but with us you get all this wide range of music we’re all into. My range goes from Otis Redding, Wilson Picket, The Bar-Kays to Hendrix, Buddy Miles, Zeppelin, Grand Funk [Railroad] to ALL the funk bands like Ohio Players and the Isley Brothers – a band that definitely didn’t get the credit they deserve. Those guys are baaaad! And you listen to Buddy Miles and Santana Live if you want a jam band!”

Seeing Dumpstaphunk live lately, one picks up on a few more rock elements, a ballsy energy that’s not afraid to drop the whomp into the middle of a groove pocket. Things get especially raw when both Tony and Ivan are shredding alongside Ian.

“We try to harden it up on that side,” says Ivan. “We can get as funky as all get out, but we’re also easily bored [laughs]. So, we get into other areas. We’re already writing more songs for another album. We haven’t been together that long and we need more songs, more stuff to pick from when we come out to play so we can switch that shit up everytime.”

Ian Neville & Tony Hall by Sarah Kim
“We’re totally a funk band but our guitars put the rock edge on it,” says Hall. “To us, it’s all just music. Nothing is thought out. When we start playing together, it just automatically happens. It’s like a miracle.”

“When somebody brings in a song, there’s a lot of back and forth between us. And either it flows or it doesn’t, but we always try to make things a little tighter than before,” says Ian. “Me and Tony play guitar well off each other, and for me, playing guitar in this band is playing around everyone else, filling in the holes. So, it doesn’t really change for me if Tony is playing guitar or bass. We’re not confined to anything in this band. If somebody goes in a good direction, then the rest of us are gonna follow on that and build on it.”

“My claim to fame on guitar,” says Ivan, “is I was in this band with Keith Richards called the X-Pensive Winos, and I played some guitar. If I’m good enough to play a little rock ‘n’ roll with Keith then I’m probably alright to do a little something in my band [laughs].”

One of the most distinctive elements in Dumpstaphunk is the duel bass playing of Hall and Daniels, which at times recalls the heady sophistication and gut-level feel of the groundbreaking work Cecil McBee and Richard Davis did with Andrew Hill in the 1960s. Except, Nick and Tony always make sure what they’re throwing down keeps backfields in motion.

Nick Daniels by Pat Parra
“Most bands with two bass players would be in a battle, trying to outdo each other, but with Nick and I just play the holes,” says Hall. “If you aren’t paying attention it could be a mess, but as long as you pay attention and always look for the hole or the groove, it works. If I’m doing something, Nick finds a spot in there, and he plays a lick, I might answer it or vice-versa. We never think, ‘This is gonna be a two bass song.’ It just happens. And when I get on the guitar, I got to rock out. I like to make it scream [laughs].”

Besides the obvious Funkadelic feel Dumpstaphunk possesses on some tunes, there’s another even stronger influence near and dear to their hearts.

“We love Sly & The Family Stone! He was playing funk with a rock ‘n’ roll attitude, and that hit me hard,” explains Ivan. “It wasn’t just heavily guitar oriented as Funkadelic but it still had a high energy vibe. And you throw a lot of vocals into that and that’s the Sly thing.”

“Everybody in this band could be a lead singer, whereas a lot of other bands need to be instrumental,” points out Hall, identifying one element they have in common with the Family Stone. And that family vibe infuses Dumpsta as a whole. “This is a band. Sometimes people get confused because we’re often billed as Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk. It’s totally a democracy. We all make decisions. No one person dictates what happens.”

“It’s definitely a democracy, for better or worse,” laughs Ian. “It’s good that there’s five of us because if it was an even number we’d have murdered each other by now.”

Ivan Neville by Chad Smith
While there’s plenty of ass-shaking party tunes in the Dumpsta arsenal, the band works in some subtle political and social ideas.

“It’s not like we do it intentionally, but sometimes you want to say something relevant, something that means something and not just talk to be talkin’. That’s how that stuff sneaks in there,” says Ivan. “I’m glad it’s subtle because we don’t want to be preachy. We want you to have fun, but we’re just letting you know we’re aware we live in a pretty fucked up place. We can remind you of that, but at the same time, let’s have some fun.”

It’s no real surprise that there’s a heavy thread or two in the Dumpstaphunk catalogue given the band’s origins as refugees from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

“We had played our first gig in ’03 but we really didn’t become a band until ’05 after Katrina. We’d all been playing with other groups before making Dumpstaphunk our full time thing,” says Ivan. “I was playing with the [Neville] Brothers, Tony was playing with Trey and Dave Matthews & Friends, Nick had just left the Brothers, and Raymond was playing Trey as well. We’d have a couple gigs here and there but once the hurricane happened everything changed. Raymond lost everything, his house [since rebuilt], and had to vacate along with so many others. And the nation started to embrace this music again because New Orleans – this great, treasured place – might be gone. So, people embraced New Orleans music and New Orleans people in general. That created work, and it created a little bit extra attention. More people were willing to hire [New Orleans musicians] just for the nostalgia factor. I saw a lot of people working all over the place.”

Raymond Weber by Zach Mahone
“It has held up, too. New Orleans has come back some. Obviously, parts of it will never be the same but Mardi Gras is coming up and people will act the fool and enjoy themselves. Everybody’s going to parades, doing the Mardi Gras Indian thing, doing whatever people do on Mardi Gras,” chuckles Ivan. “And we’re doing what we do. We’re out playing elsewhere, bringing that vibe to other people. It’s fun and a blessing to get to do this. We’re just glad to be connected to this somehow.”

“It’s hard to keep a band together in the industry as it is today, but we’re out there doing it. We’re going for it,” says Hall. “Eventually people will get hungry for real music. They’ll get tired of drum machines and synthesizer bass and all those crazy sounds and come back for some real music.”



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[Published on: 3/21/11]

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