CULTURE:A Conversation with Ivan Neville of Dumpstaphunk
Earlier this month we talked with frontman and creator of the New Orleans funk band "Dumpstaphunk" shortly before they came to The Fillmore in San Francisco for the Sing Out for Seva benefit concert.
The Seva foundation has been around for 35 years this year and besides helping fix 3.5 million pairs of eyes over that time frame, they have been putting together some amazing musical experiences as well.
This year the foundation put together a night of blues, gospel and funk to the tune of Hot Tuna, The Blind Boys of Alabamaand one of hottest funk bands to come around in a long time.
Ivan Neville who has had a long history of musical successes took time out to speak with us a little about how Dumpstaphunkcame to be, their latest album 'Dirty Word' and what some of his proudest moments have been.
Grain Audio: Why don't you go ahead and just start off and just tell us a little bit about how Dumpstaphunk came to be?
Ivan: I had a gig at the Jazz Fest in '03, and basically, I wanted to do something different. I wanted to do more of a band thing than what I had previously done with my solo kind of stuff, so I called a few people. I called Ian, my cousin. I called Raymond Webber. I wanted to either get Nick Daniels or Tony Hall on bass, so I decided to call both of them, 'cause I knew Tony also played a little bit of guitar and I knew both of them sang their asses off, so I was like …. We did a one-off gig at the Jazz Festival in '03 and then …. There was a few other people that maybe was on that first gig, but that became the core members of Dumpstaphunk, the five of us . Raymond left the band later on and Nikki Glaspie's now our drummer, but basically the band started off as a side project, a one-off thing, and then it gradually just took on a life of its own and became a full-time band. We played our first show in '03, but we were by no means a full-time band. Not until maybe '06 or '07, when we really started,that became our main project. 'Cause everybody had other gigs. I was playing with the Neville Brothers at the time, so was Nick, so was Ian, playing with the Nevilles and in the Funky Meters here and there. Tony and Raymond, Tony was playing with the Trey Anastasio's Band and the Dave Matthews Solo Project and things of that nature. We were basically doing Dumpstaphunk as a side project.
A few things happened, Hurricane Katrina happened, and then by '06 we were pretty much playing a whole lot, and we kind of officially became a full-time band around that time. I think first ... We played Bonnaroo in '06 and that was a big deal for us and it turned out to be a great and memorable night. There was a lot of talk and a lot of buzz about the band from that performance and it was just kind of ... at that point we knew, it was like okay this is something we could spend all our time on and so that's what we've been doing ever since. Then a little over maybe two years and some change, ago Nikki Glaspie joined the band. It's now myself, my cousin Ian, Tony Hall, Nick Daniels, and Nikki Glaspie.
Grain Audio: Great! You guys have been playing Jazz Fest pretty much ever since, right?
Ivan: We play Jazz Fest every year, you understand? We play in numerous other festivals as well. We play a lot of the other festivals, like I said, Bonnaroo we played that a couple times; two, three times. We've played Bear Creek, since it started, every year. We've played Jam Cruise probably four times. We've played High Sierra, to name a few. All Good Festival, Wakarusa; we played a lot of the festivals.
Grain Audio: Obviously you grew up in New Orleans, but you play all over the place too. What's kind of your favorite place to play besides New Orleans?
Ivan: My favorite place to play besides New Orleans? I don't know. Oh I love playing San Francisco. San Francisco is absolutely a favorite place to play. In the Bay Area, just because of the music lovers that hang out in that region. I would say there are a lot of music lovers in the Bay area and we love playing there. Some of our heroes kind of cut their teeth up in the Bay Area. Sly and the Family Stone and a bunch of those characters. There's a vibe going on up there. Bill Graham doing all the things he did out there and promoting all the cool shows that they had. There's a history out there... I like playing in New York as well. I like playing playing pretty much anywhere, just depends on what night, what day it is; you never know.
It could be in some bar in Kalamazoo, Michigan; you never know. You never know the night. Everything's aligned, everything's right, and the shit's working and people that are there are into it and you just have a phenomenal night. It could be anywhere.
Grain Audio: How did you guys get hooked up with the Seva Foundation?
Ivan: You know what? I really don't know how we got hooked up with it. I know someone there contacted our people and they were interested in having us on it. Obviously we're fans of doing things for good reason and good causes, so it seemed like a cool thing to be a part of.
Grain Audio: You got a good lineup around you and a good cause. Can't go wrong with that.
Ivan: Yes, we do.
Grain Audio: Let's talk about Dirty Word. That's your new album. Tell us a little bit about how that's kind of different from any other album you guys have done. It seems like there's a little bit of a different vibe to it.
Ivan: Well…, I would say that what probably makes it actually different is the fact that we just ... everything that we do kind of differs to a degree from the last thing. The next thing we ... you want to hope that you evolve some kind of way, you know what I'm saying? That you don't keep doing exactly the same thing, but where I think this differs the most is that we've kind of ... More of our influences are more obvious. Or more ... I wouldn't say obvious, more of our influence kind of come out in this record. It's not just a funk record, 'cause we're influenced by all of the genres. We love the fact that everything comes from somewhere. That the blues, or gospel is where I think everything comes from. In some form we've incorporated all of the influences, pretty much. I mean, a lot of them anyway. 'Cause we got some things that are blues based. We got some things that kind of have a gospel tinge here and there. We have some things that are a little bit more Rock and Roll, but its all got the nastiness about it. It's all got some sort of, I guess you could say, somewhat of a funk element. Its kind of just a mixture of things. It's not just a strictly funk record.
We like that about the record and that's kind of why we said Dirty Word ... Dirty Word is…, I mean funk is…, we think, could be a Dirty Word. You name your band Dumpstaphunk, what do people expect? People may expect you to be pretty funky or someone may say, "What's the name of your band?" "Oh, Dumpstaphunk" "What kind of music do you play?" Wow! That's a good one. Then there's the fact that funk is really ... if you look up on iTunes and you're trying to find some music and you go into genres? There is no genre that says funk. You go to register a song to be published and you look up your genre and you want to put your song in a particular genre, there is no funk, there is no category that says funk. Where do you put it? You put it under "other"? What do you do? That being the case, we're on the first ballot for the Grammy on the thing. You know the Grammy Awards? There's a first ballot that comes out. We're on that, but our record's for Blues Album; so that's where you gotta put us and we're fine with that... That's why we named the record Dirty Word, to begin with. Dirty Word being the word "funk". Could be a dirty word, you know? Then also saying that we're not just a funk band. We play other stuff, too, but it all tends to be somewhat nasty. So, there you go.
Grain Audio: Definitely. It definitely seems like everybody kind of understands what funk is and everybody pretty much likes listening to it, but nobody really goes there automatically. If you ask them "What kind of genres are you into?" It's always kind of that underground, kind of in the back of your mind genre.
Ivan: Right, right.
Grain Audio: Obviously you've been playing around with family for years, friends. How would you say that the music has kind of transformed your life?
Ivan: I love music, I love music. I love everything about it. I love the fact that I was blessed with a little bit of talent, I can play a little bit of music. I love listening to music. If it wasn't for music, Lord knows where I would be. I could say that much, that's for sure. I'm extremely blessed that music has been a major, major part of my life. My family is great these guys are all musicians. That's kind of how I came up and it was pretty easy for me to figure out, okay, I think I want to play music as well. That's a beautiful thing, and the fact that I've played with a lot of people and I've done a lot of different stuff, which is all a blessing, and I get to still go out and play with a band that we put together several years ago and that it's guys that have known each other for a long time. We get to go out and play music. We get to create and recreate some things based on all of the music that we've been influenced by. It's an absolute wonderful thing.
Grain Audio: If you could kind of pinpoint one or two defining moments that have made your sound and kind of defined you as a musician?
Ivan: You know what? I really don't know about that one. I can't just put my finger on one thing or a couple of things that just do that. I really don't know. I tell you what, come to think of it, probably growing up in the time that I grew up listening to the radio, that probably did it for me. I don't tell a lot of people how old I am, 'cause it's none of their business, but seeing that I grew up ... I was a kid and I was coming up as a young teenager…, from like 10 or 11 years old on up to my teens was the 70's. That was, to me, I was fortunate to have lived through the time when I thought the radio and music was at a wonderful point there. There was some amazing music that came out of the late 60's and the early 70's, and the mid 70's. Being a part of that generation, I think, was probably the most profound influence on me. Just being a part of that generation to listen to music on the radio and when it came out. That great period. What a time. It was a time when it was three fucking channels on the TV. Maybe they added a fourth one. You know? You listened to the radio. It wasn't like you could fucking pick up your phone and listen to a bunch of tunes. You know what I'm saying? It was nothing like that, but you listened to the radio and you heard all this good shit. That, to me, was one of the coolest things I could think of. That may hopefully answer that question that you said.
Grain Audio: Definitely. You talk about listening to a lot of music. Obviously, you're a musician, you listen to a lot of music. What's kind of your go-to space in terms of finding out new music, and what are some new artists that you are really into right now?
Ivan: You know what? I mean there's promise, I guess there's some stuff that's out there that's good. I try ... I normally I listen to a lot of retro stations that play older stuff. When I'm in my car or listen to the radio or when I'm on my iPod I tend to go back and listen to stuff. I don't listen to a whole lot of "new" music. There is some stuff, I can't think of anything off-hand, but there is some stuff that I've heard in recent times that have piqued my interest and been pretty cool and stuff like that. It's not a whole lot of it out there right now. We're on the road a lot so I actually spend a lot of my spare time ... I'm a sports ... I love football, and now it's football season… I'm watching fucking ESPN and I'm listening to sports shows when I get in… most of the time. We're in music a lot, we're playing music, we're at sound checks, we're at gigs. During my spare time, I go into other things.
Grain Audio: I can understand that.
Grain Audio: Cool, man. Well, thanks for taking time to talk with us, Ivan: Thank you.
Grain Audio: … enjoy coming back to San Francisco.
Ivan: Yeah, I'm looking forward to it. Cool, man, thanks.