Headquartered in the Culver City section of L.A., DâM-Funk has spent the last decade at least cultivating a musical renaissance rooted in the early-'80s styles known as boogie, modern soul and electro-funk. As a DJ, he attracts the most discerning boogie funk aficionados to his long-running Monday-night Funkmosphere parties. But it's not just collectors at the bar toasting to the melodic sounds - anyone who grooves to the likes of Slave, Aurra, early Prince and Prelude Records will get a dose of those groups' unknown contemporaries. More obscure mind you, but equally funk-worthy.
By plugging in his arsenal of vintage synths and drum machines, DâM also channels the galactic harmonies of his inspirations into his own brand of modern funk: it comes as no surprise that Peanut Butter Wolf brought him on to the Stones Throw team to glide into the future with his unique, synth and bass-driven vibe. Here's what happened when DâM sat on the couch with Chairman Jefferson Mao at the London Academy in 2010. Catch the video of the lecture here.
You just said that you didn’t give yourself the title of the ’Ambassador of Funk’, but you are very much into the funk, is that correct?
Funk is something that I definitely am a big proponent of. Like I said, somebody gave me that name, the ’Ambassador of Boogie Funk’, I would never name myself an ambassador. That is one of the things I'm going to talk to you guys about as far as being an artist, and being in the game, but I will let you continue.
Well, I was wondering if maybe you could play a little something from your repertoire to give the folks here, who might not be completely familiar with your work, just an idea of what you do.
Sure. The genre that I represent, and I don't mind having the genre as a tag or a definition, I am not one of those musicians that does the “Oh yeah, I am into all styles of music and yadda, yadda.” I like that thing, too, when people say that, but I'm a cat that likes genres. I like names of genres, it is fun to me. I don't want to take the easy way out as an artist and say I like everything, I think it is good when somebody stands for something. Everybody in this room, when you do a style of music don't be afraid to stand up for that style that you do. Do that style and then, if you want to go and do another style, try that. But stand for something. If you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything. I stand for funk. That's what I stand for.
I am proud to say that I stand for the genre of funk and I consider it to be modern funk. I am not doing any other style right now in this particular avenue of my career, I am representing modern funk. I'm not doing chillwave, I'm not doing any of those things that are popping up right now, this is funk and I am taking it to the next level. With that being said, I just wanted to let you know that you can record the way you want to, you can use any kind of equipment that you want to, you don't have to do the state-of-the-art instruments or state-of-the-art recording processes. The way I got in the game was doing stuff on cassette tape, on a real cheap RadioShack mixer and on cassette tapes. And this is one of the first recordings I actually made in my bedroom back. I saved these from cassette tapes - it’s just a trip to be able to play them for you now. It may sound weird or funny but this is the way I started off, just making weird tracks like this, and this goes back to 1989 and that is how long I have been in the game.
I'm just getting my debut album out, so it just shows another thing that everybody in here, and bear with me as I talk to you... Everything I do I really care about, so just bear with me when I talk to you. If you have a dream, do not give up. Don't ever let your Mom or your Dad or some friends, as somebody who does not care about you, or you think they care about you, but you think they’re steering you in the wrong direction, if you feel in your heart that this is the music that you want to do, this is your life's calling, do not give up. Somebody is going to try and stop you, somebody's going to try and say: “Don't you think you ought to try plan B?” Don't do plan B, stick with the first thing in your heart. If it's the music, then stick with it. This is the kind of stuff that I started off with. This is called ‘You Can Do It If You Want To’, let's see if this thing works. 1988. Maxell cassette tapes, Casio keyboards, Linn Drum. Actually, this is an Oberheim DMX. And you can see what the influence was (music: DâM-Funk - You Can Do It If You Want To). I was still on my cassette tape era. Let's check this out, this is called ‘It's My Life’ (music: DâM-Funk - It’s My Life). 1990 or 1989, the same year. Crazy stuff. This story will make sense in a minute. Linn Drum. I used to ditch school and go home and make this type of shit. Don't give up your dreams. Hear the tape edits.
Some rare DâM-Funk demos right there.
Actually, some of them are out on Stones Throw under the title 'Adolescent Funk'.
So how old were you when you were making those tracks?
I would say I was timeless as I am now, but I will be fair, it was in the middle of high school. I have been around. When I don't shave like today you can tell. But I'm still young at heart and, like I said, I am from the Generation X. We were the generation that came before all the technology, but after everything was primitive - so I am right in between. It means I can learn from some of the younger people that I kick it with, and I can teach some of the people who came before me.
Set the scene for all of us, going back, what was going on about this time when you first started getting into the music, what was happening around you? How did you come to get into specifically this type of style?
Around the time that I started this music playing and creating it, actually, it was in the midst of hip hop, the golden era. Eric B & Rakim, EPMD, Slick Rick, those cats were hitting on the hip hop scene. We had a station in LA called KDAY and it was one of the first stations ever that played hip hop 24 hours. But I'm not going to try and mix this up and make you guys feel good about this hip hop love, we were more funksters and we grew up on Prince, Egyptian Lover, LA Dream Team, Ready For The World, that was the stuff that we listened to. We liked hip hop as well but it didn't rule our lives.
L.A. was a different type of scene that way. Do you remember Uncle Jamm's Army and stuff like that? Can you explain to everybody here what that was?
You’re talking about the LA Sports Arena packed with 20,000 people, nothing but people dancing. You guys have heard about Egyptian Lover, right? Of course. This is another thing, the people who are just getting into this thing and becoming artists, or have been artists and are just learning from today and being at the Academy, you can have a great regional scene. You don't have to be popular every single place. This dude was packing arenas. They would have full-blown shows with outfits and choreographed steps and it was just a big social scene, and they even did it in Pasadena where I grew up. It was a little bit outside of Los Angeles and they would come to the Civic Center and would just have fun. Some of it was interesting, but where I grew up in LA we had a gang culture and unfortunately, sometimes those parties got out of control. Just think about it, on a Sunday we would have these big parties, not on a Saturday but Sunday in the daytime. You knew that the party was the bomb if some shots got popped off. It's a shame but that is just the way it was. If you find yourself running away on Sunday afternoon when "Knee Deep" by Funkadelic was playing, you knew it was a great party. I know it sounds silly but that is just the way it was.
Egyptian Lover and that kind of funk was part of that backdrop of the times I grew up in the early 80s and mid-80s in Pasadena in Los Angeles. Then hip hop started coming, Dr Dre and those cats, they didn't start slowing down the tempos until 89 and 90. Everybody was uptempo.
Early LA hip hop was a lot more informed by electro and it wasn't really until Dre came and maybe Ice T…
“Six In The Morning”, have you guys ever heard that track? I mean, I don't want to start quizzing everybody.
There’ll be a written quiz later on. I guess, maintaining your focus on what you are doing, how did you withstand the trends as things were changing, as far as hip hop being more dominant in LA? Did the funk stuff always have its champions such as yourself or did you catch flak from not going with the hip hop thing full throttle?
Funk to me represents the back room, if you will, of R&B and soul.
Well, not flak. I think what it was... In my neighborhood, there were athletes and there were musicians. I’m sure this is everybody's neighbourhood, there was always those categories that people were in and I was just a musician who was still a part of the clique that was cool. But I was still able to do the musician thing. I was into a lot of genres as well. I was into metal, I was into new wave, I was into all kinds of stuff, but funk just seemed to be the one that got me. When hip hop got popular in LA, some of the first demos I made were over instrumentals from “I Need A Beat” by LL Cool J. Me and my friends would play that and I would tape loop it, pause it, and we would rap on top of it. Those are my first productions - just recording stuff on wax and then I started putting those tapes out to my friends, and then after a while I was like: “Man, I am digging this Roger Troutman and Zapp stuff.”
In the neighbourhood, pick-up trucks were very popular, and a lot of the cats who were hustlers, they used to get the soundsystems in their car. So the only stuff that sounded good in their car in our neighbourhoods that bumped was “More Bounce To The Ounce”. If you came up playing that, it just sounded right, you just got the girls. You didn't really sound too cool with some of the East Coast hip hop stuff, you had to have some funk. “Atomic Dog” or that kind of thing. When I started realising that, I started looking for more funk, but it was hard to find at the record stores.
Eventually, I worked at a record store called Poo-Bah at Pasadena, they exist now but there is a new level. I was the first kid who actually worked there - this is another little side history. I was the first young guy to actually work at that place and the guy Jay Green, who originally owned it, he just showed me the ropes about how to run a business. He always kept the record prices low and beat the other record stores because they always tried to charge a lot, but you keep it low so everybody comes to your store and he started buying more funk and I got more into that. I started making tapes and compilations and started passing them out to my friends at school. That is how, after the metal thing, after being into Rush and all those kinds of groups and Kiss posters and Iron Maiden... I was just into music, man, I just love music.
Now, you did do some apprenticeships, right? You got some session work as well off of that. Can you talk a little bit about that as far as getting a foot in the door for your career?
That's a good point. It’s nice to hook up with somebody that has more experience than you to help you get into the game and show you the ropes. My mentor was Leon Sylvers, he was a producer for SOLAR records that produced groups like Shalamar.
Does anybody know SOLAR records, ‘Sound Of Los Angeles Records’? Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt you as you drink your beverage.
That was a great Red Bull break! He produced groups like Dynasty, Midnight Star, a lot of people, but the point is he actually was the bass player and the writer of songs like “Misdemeanor”, which was heavily sampled. Of course, “Only One” he wrote, rest in peace J Dilla, he sampled that for the Donuts album. I worked with some cats that really knew what was happening. Why I’m telling you this is, if you want to make moves and strides in the game, it is good to connect with people who already know. Don't look at the elders as like: “That old dude, he doesn't know what is going on, the game has changed.” Do not ever do that because they can really share some wealth. Wisdom. I always respect elders. That is one thing I can pride myself on, I never looked at the old guys like: “Get out of here, man. My little warbly beats are better than yours. You are old school, I am doing dubstep now.” I never looked at it like that. You should never do that. These cats are walking around, they might not have the chips or connections that you do now, but they have the wisdom, so I would just suggest listen to some of the older cats, they really can help you. Just little tidbits of information.
And that goes back to my thing I was going to say before - I am working with this cat called Steve Arrington and he is the lead singer of a group called Slave, and why I went back and got him is because I respect my elders. He has still got it, he is 53-years old and still killing the game. More soulful vocals than anybody I have heard out right now and it shows. If you guys hook up with somebody and you know somebody that is good in your neighbourhood, or an older cat, or if you are a producer, give them a shot. You see home girl from American Idol, she is like destroying record sales. Don't give up on the elders, that is my point.
That is pretty cool, actually. Steve Arrington. As a side note, what has Steve been up to recently? Was he still in music doing anything?
He went on to do some stuff. He became a minister. He got away from the game for a minute and got deep into that but now he is coming back into it, which really humbled me and showed me that I am doing something right. He said he was looking at some videos on YouTube and got familiar with what I was doing. He was already aware of what I was doing. I always respected him, and me and Peanut Butter Wolf of Stones Throw, which is the guy who I owe a lot of my current exposure - I won’t say success but I will say exposure to my friends that I share music with - I owe a lot to Peanut Butter Wolf because he gave me my shot to get familiar with you folks and more people worldwide to share this music that you just heard being made in my bedroom since 1988. Me and him always liked Steve Arrington's vocals and he is going to be putting the album out on Stones Throw records and I have got the full production on it.
That is going to be pretty cool. I mentioned the session work that you did, can you talk a little bit about that? What sort of stuff were you doing? What sort of artists?
Yeah, after Leon Sylvers... And this is an interesting story, because we had gone from the cassette tape stuff in high school, making tapes with friends, posters on the wall in my bedroom of Kiss and Iron Maiden and Prince posters as well. Every Tuesday when a new record came out, I would ditch school to buy the new Prince album. I would make an excuse. I had good grades. That's another thing. This is all going to make sense everybody, I just have to explain it to you. I want everybody in here... Everybody, of course, is out of school, I think. If you are, cool, but don't let the next man make you think it is cool to do bad in school. You can still be cool but you can still pass. You can still get good grades. That is the way you do it. I got good grades so I was able to be in a program where you got off at 12 noon. Even if I wasn't off at 12 noon, I would be at the record store and I would get the new Prince album when it came out, all the way from Parade, Sign O’ The Times, everything. I would just be on my moped and I would get the album and I would sit in the chair, and my parents weren't there because I was a latch key kid, so they got off of work later. I would just open up my windows and listen to Prince and rock back and forward in the chair. This is where I got all the stuff that I had inside because music was my friend and I can tell it is your friend as well.
After that point, I fast forward to the point where I got all of this music in my head and I worked at the record store Poo-Bah’s and I did session work with Leon, learnt a lot from him, then I came back and was like: “Man, what I'm doing?” Leon had me in the studio with Milli Vanilli and I am like: “What is this?” But that is a learning experience as well, that was in Reno, Nevada. It was before one of the members unfortunately did the wrong move, but I learnt a lot from those times. Then I came back to Pasadena and thought, “What am I going to do? Get a job? Drive a truck? I want to do music”.
I met a friend by the name of Binky in a group by the name of Allfrumtha I. He was from Inglewood and he was signed with Mack 10, a popular rapper from L.A. in the 90s on Priority Records who got his start from Ice Cube. So eventually, he knew what I was doing, playing keyboards making the tapes. I started doing sessions with him, which turned into session work with Mack 10, turned into session work with WC, turned into session work with Ice Cube, and I got to know these cats and we respected each other. I got credit on the records under the name Dame, or Damon Riddick, or Damon G. Riddick. I was playing keyboards and I made some good money, but then I realised, being in the studio sometimes with 20 dudes, I was like: “OK, this is cool but I would rather be just making the music. All the people in the studio kind of distracts me a little bit.” It was fun, but like I said, I survived and nothing bad happened to me. I know there are horror stories that people have heard about with that whole West Coast rap scene, but dude, they were professional.
This is one thing I want to clear up about that whole West Coast rap scene at that time, they get a bum rep like they were animals, it wasn't like that. I got paid and everything was professional. I am saying, if you guys get a shady offer sometimes, treat people individually on a one-on-one basis. Don't listen to what a lot of people say, game recognises game. Treat somebody with respect and they will treat you with respect. If you do get a deal or offer, look at it and weigh the options, and if you feel good, that is when you go for it. It paid off for me. Those are the kind of people I did session work with.
But around this time were you able to have that support you more or less, being a session musician, or did you have to do day jobs as well?
Good question. I always kept a day job because I like to have money. I always tell people that. I never wanted to be one of the broke musicians, but I do understand that there are broke musicians. I understand that it is a part of the process and the artistic avenue of being creative. I'd just rather had wanted to keep money in my pocket.
I drove trucks and recorded music at night. And I drove across the freeway, still had my day job, had my radio on the side of my truck, listening to stuff I was doing. I was always working because I wanted to keep my apartment. I left home at 18 and I never went back. I never wanted to be that cat to go back to Pops and he be like: “I think its time to empty your trash.” If I ever went back home and inherited that, I probably would have slashed my throat. I would never do that but you know what I'm saying. I wouldn't want to give my dad the chance to say that. I always tried to keep money in my pocket while I was pursuing music, plus I wanted to prove to him - and the fellows in here know about that son and father struggle - I just wanted to prove to him that I can do this. It feels so good right now!
It is much like being on Oprah or something. Just don't start weeping.
Never. My eyes are dry, it's all good.
I like to focus on the beauty of things, I'm not afraid to be beautiful. I know that sounds hilarious...
Were you still collecting keyboards and stuff like that? I know you have a studio with a lot of different vintage equipment and stuff like that. Was that sort of something that you were able to do around this time as well?
I was collecting records and collecting keyboards. The keyboards I preferred were analogue keyboards, such as Oberheim DMX drum machines, the Juno 60, the Juno series from Roland, Moog Source. A lot of weird keyboards that I still use from then that you heard in the cassette tapes is what I used on this (holds up album). The reason why this album is interesting for myself, and I love sharing it with you guys, is because this first record I wanted to prove again all that stuff that I just talked about, tied into my Pops, tied into having a job, tied into having the radio in my truck driving and stuff, the session work, Leon Sylvers, my friends, the Kiss posters on the wall and all that stuff, it is because I used those same instruments on this album that you have right now. All the way from ’88 I had the same instruments you heard used on this, and I recorded this record just like I did with the cassette tapes. I didn't use any Logic, I didn't use ProTools, I used two CD recorders and a RadioShack mixer and a Pioneer DJ 800 mixer, that's what I used on this double CD that you hear. The mastering is what makes it sound good. Everybody in the room, all the recording you are doing, definitely get a good mastering person because they can do wonders. It is just raw, being played all the way through.
So they were more or less live takes from what you were doing?
Yes, no looping. But I love looping and I am tired of me saying this, people thinking I'm against sampling... I am never against sampling. I love all ways of creating music, seriously I do. I was just explaining to the people out there that you can actually make an album the way I recorded it and have it stand on its own legs. People should be happy for me acknowledging that because what I'm trying to show is that you can record any way you want to. I have never said I'm against sampling or looping or any of that. I was trying to let you guys know in a double entendre way, just to show that you can record any way you want to and it can stand on its own two feet and that is the way I did it. If you're recording on primitive equipment, as long as it sounds good and makes sense to the people on the other end, do it. Maybe you will have an executive producer realise that this is some cool stuff, like I did with Peanut Butter Wolf.
Can you talk about the sounds on your record? What is it about the sounds that you get from these particular instruments that appeals to you, besides the fact that they were the sounds that you grew up with?
These sounds, because they are more warm. It appeals to me because I like warm sounding pads, I like things to sound beautiful but still street. My thing, I like to focus on the beauty of things, I'm not afraid to be beautiful. I know that sounds hilarious, but I am not afraid to sound beautiful or embrace things that are beautiful. To me, there is nothing wrong with touching that part of your heart where you think of sunsets or stars - but I still like to acknowledge the beat. I try to make music that the hardest dude can get into and then the most beautiful lady can get into at the same time, that combination.
Break it down a little bit, what are the different elements involved in putting something like that together?
The different elements would be, like I said, recording it live all the way through. I would program the drum machine first, that is the only thing I usually sequence, about 16 bars. And after this session we will destroy the recording so that none of this can be heard elsewhere. Just kidding! Drum machine first, then the bassline, and the chords, and play all of this together in one take. I play the bass and the keys at the same time. After I record that on the standalone CD recorder, I'll finalise that CD tape and take the CD out, put the other CD into the other CD player and press play. Then put a blank CD player in the other recorder, the push record on there, then run that track back, press play and record stuff over and over. It is not a rocket science thing but it is something that I like to do. And I have ProTools sitting on my shelf right now collecting dust. This is just the way I like to record. One day I will put ProTools together, maybe the next album, or maybe the next album I might just go high-tech, But I like the way that I record. If it ain't broke don't fix it.
What about the vocals on there?
The vocals were vocoder and I did that on a fantastic keyboard that we all know of called the microKorg. I think it is a must-own for any musician, it is a fantastic keyboard, a coffee table piece, definitely a classic. I want to give much love to James Pants because I bought the microKorg from James Pants that I used on the Brookside Park track, so we are all in this together.
You mentioned warmth and warmth of sound, do you get a different type of warmth from the different voices that you use, and how would you describe one versus another?
I get a certain warmth from more of the analog stuff. The Korg, I've got to be honest with you, it is cool but it definitely needs some brush up on the warmth. Korg did make some earlier stuff that is really warm, it is still a great company – Korg, if you're listening - I like the older keyboards, they give the warmth. You never want to use the regular patches, please! You all know this, it would be cool to tweak the sound. Don't just use the regular patch, don't be lazy. I hope I’m not offending anybody but you should always get your own sound. It is called a synthesizer because that is what they do, they synthesize sound. I would never use the preset.
Now, you are your own band more or less, but at the same time I notice from your songs and how they are put together - they are very disciplined. I think when people think of funk they think of a lot of bass slapping, thumbs slapping on the bass, just sort of over embellishing the groove. I wonder if you could speak on that a little bit, how you feel about that, because that is in some respects one characteristic of funk, but I feel your funk is also very disciplined.
Thank you for noticing that. I do practice discipline. I was just talking to somebody about this, and it's probably again maybe my Generation X thing, I don't know, but the newer generation now, it seems to me that this A.D.D. thing is going on. It is like, that’s cool, but the Beatles were known to take seven days for one song, maybe even longer. Now cats are doing a track in like 30 minutes and that seems to be the new bragging rights, “Yeah, I made that beat in like ten minutes.” OK, cool, but is that dope? What if you spent a little bit more time on it? I’m even guilty of it, I did “Hood Pass Intact” in ten minutes, if you guys ever heard that track, but that it is because it felt right and I just said: “Let me walk away from this, I know when it is cool, don't go nuts.” But sometimes it is fun to see if you can discipline yourself to really work on a song. Sometimes I do like 21 takes before I get it right.
I am not going to be one of those guys right now to condemn a certain way of music, but there is a little difference. I have a song called “I Don't Just Do Beats, I Do Music” and I am not dissing beats, it is the “just” in the title, I don’t “just” do beats. I make beats, too, but it would be nice to acknowledge cats that still do music and beats. It’s like: “It’s that beat, that's that beat, that's hard…” What about the person that does the music too? You know what I'm saying? I'm not being funny, but what happened appreciating people who do music and not just a beat?
On a more philosophical level, funk is always so intrinsically linked with sci-fi imagery and fantasy and things like that, why do you think that it is? And what about that sort of stuff appeals to you, if there is a deeper meaning to it, what do you think all of that imagery represents?
Funk goes a long way back and it is not a fad, it is a way of life. If you study some of the Funkadelic and Parliament imagery, and even Sun Ra, Miles Davis, a lot of people came before P-Funk, but had the funk ideology, you’ll see. Funk to me represents the back room, if you will, of r&b and soul. The dark room in the back of the house. The cousin or bastard child of those genres. Just like metal and punk are the bastard child of rock, you know what I'm saying? Funk allows you to think about other things, it opens up another door. I like to incorporate different ways of thinking through funk music. It's just a tradition. I have had experiences that I attribute to funk and the way it is - and it is not a game. It is a way of life.
It is deep to explain but I want funk to be respected - and I think it is finally again. Commercialism made funk funny, even the word got kind of weird to say. I'm trying to bring style back to funk. I don't want to be known for a rainbow afro or diapers on stage. There is more to it, it is an ideology. It is about the chords, it is about the tempos, it is about the flow, it is about what I said earlier about the hardest gangster and the most beautiful lady can have a glass of wine with it at the same time. I want to create that connection. Class and the streets together - that is what I am trying to do with this modern funk.
I want to bring everybody in the same room together, but still don't forget about travelling to another galaxy and giving that music to another species, letting them hear the music that we are creating. Funk, I think is the genre, or one of the genres, that I think another species or lifeform could really get into because it is rooted in the motherland. It is rooted in drums, it is rooted in the first people that were ever on this planet and it is now being given to everybody in this room and all different people to take to another universe. That is what I think about the funk that I am creating, and I want to contribute into that.
I am glad you address that because I think there is some sort of kitsch or novelty stigma attached to the music to some degree. I am a huge, huge P-Funk fan and I love the outrageousness of what they were doing. It was groundbreaking to have a guy with a diaper on stage playing guitar, but maybe it is just the era that we live in, everything has to be too ironic or self-conscious, and I am kind of glad that you were able to address that. What role would you say escapism has in your creativity and in the process of how you do things?
It has a lot to do with it. The reason I'm into it is for escapism, I want to provide the listener the opportunity to get away to another place. Like I told you about that kid sitting in the room with the windows open after ditching school, listening to the records, I want to provide the music, the soundtrack to their lives, and it is escapism. People have things to go through each day in school or at work or whatever, I want to provide a double album like this so they can get in and be like, “Let me put this thing on and just close my eyes and get into this.” That is what I want to provide. Something that they can remember and hold onto and can provide the soundtrack to their lives and I hope everybody in this room that creates music and art, I hope that some of the reason that you do it, not just for self-pleasing things, but to help other people as well. Please yourself as I please myself with my music. I'm not going to lie, because it feels good when you complete a song it gets all that stuff out. Art is about expressing yourself, but still I hope you're thinking that when you do create art you are hoping that it is helping another person and it is not all self-serving.
When you do your DJ sets and you do your live sets, in light of the diaper on stage image, you also emphasize showmanship. Can you talk a little bit about that and how you incorporate showmanship into even a DJ set?
I incorporate showmanship in a way that I never want to bore people when they come to one of my shows or sets. I just don't want to be the guy that is staring at his laptop with a blank expression on his face. I hope I didn't hurt anybody's feelings. You don't have to be jumping for joy. I'll be frank, that shit had better be good if you're going to stand there and just look at a laptop with a blank expression. It better be good. For me, maybe it is a little bit easier in my particular style because it has got a bump to it, most of it, or at least I try to have a bump to it. I'd just like to make people feel good and be into it. I let myself go. I'm more of a laid-back person when I'm kicking it, but on stage I just turn to somebody else.
I hope that every artist here can remember that when you get on stage, people drove, they took the train, they went out in the cold, they bought a ticket, and they actually thought of you. They considered coming to see your ass, and then you get up there and you just act like you're mad. I’m mad sometimes, too. I have songs that address that, but I just feel that when it comes to showmanship, I like to give people a good show. In this era right now, I feel good. I used to feel weird. I was doing my thing, I like to party on stage, and I was like: “Man, nobody else is really partying.” The people that I do gigs with, all the other artists were doing some other thing, but where I come from we party, you get into it. You give showmanship. I understand there is an ironic thing out there and people kind of don't want to show that they are excited…
People are too cool for school. So what sort of things would you be doing on stage if you were doing a DJ set or something like that? How would you try to reach people?
I just take it to the natural vibe, I feed off of the crowd. For instance, in Lisbon... I’ll just keep it recent. In Lisbon it was such an incredible crowd. Everybody was just partying, everybody was into it and I was into it too. Then you will go to another gig and it will be kind of like, some people are watching curiously, but that is something I want you guys to prepare for - every gig is not going to be dynamite and don’t let that get to you. There will be people staring at you, there are always going to be some people in the audience that think they can do it better than you. That is always going to be out there, it is no big deal, all you have to do is just rock it for that one person you know that’s there. What saves me is when I can see one person enjoying it. Then I look around and see the one guy is standing there with that blank expression, it’s like: “Cool, that's all right.” But I'm just going to keep providing because I chose to do this. All of us in this room, we chose to do this. We chose to be on the stage. This is some serious shit when you think about it. We could be doing something else. Some people are actually looking at us, like: “How dare you to choose to get on stage, to live a lifestyle like that?” But it is art, we chose art, this is the way we want to live our lives. I would just say deal with all the things that come with that territory and stay strong.
Everybody here actually shared their DJ horror stories from their past, do you have one that you want to share with us? It’s like the great equalizer, everybody seems to have one.
A “great equalizer”, I feel you. I'm going to be honest, can I share it like this? I was talking to my lady just last night like: “Man, everything is going so cool I am just waiting for something to happen. I'm going to have to knock somebody out on stage or get crazy, when is that going to happen?” She was like: “Man, don't even think about that. You have always been waiting for something to happen, waiting for someone to say something bad. Just enjoy what is going on. You don't have the type of energy that invites anything bad to happen.” And I had to realise that and say: “OK, look, maybe it is OK to not have anything bad happen.” Seriously, I have not had anything weird happen yet. I want to be the great equalizer, but I just haven't had any serious problems yet, and I'm trying to look for some wood somewhere, I think this table is metal, so I'll just thank God or the universe above for anybody that is too particular in here. It is always up for debate. That is another story. I just haven't had any horror stories yet.
I just want to thank my lucky stars but I guess the only thing I can say is, like I said earlier, you will have gigs that aren’t as cool as the other one. You wonder why, what was that about? Oh OK, I got an equalizer. It was one of my own gigs, in my own home town of the Funkmosphere. It really wasn't a big deal, but it was one of my worst DJ sets. I was train wrecking, there was one time before the show, somebody passed me something and I was like: “Man, why did I do that?” I was thinking it was going to enhance me, but I was like: “Why did I do that? I don't even trip like that no more. This is one of my worst DJ sets ever at Funkmosphere in LA. I will never, ever do that again before DJing. Those kind of things happen and you have just got to move onto the next one and keep your head up. What I did was I kept it true, I got on the microphone: “Much love, y’all. This is one of my worst DJ sets,” everybody was still clapping and laughed, but I'm not going to try and play it off and act like it didn't happen. So that's how I did it and it was all good.
So you just mentioned Funkmosphere, can you explain what that is and how long you have been doing it?
Funkmosphere is the spot I founded in Los Angeles, California, Culver City area. It has been going on for almost four years in July with my DJ friends Billy Goods, DJ Randy Watson aka Ron, and DJ Laroj. We have been hosting people like Ron Trent, Chico Mann, Peanut Butter Wolf, of course, a lot of good cats have passed through there. We focus on the genre of boogie and funk.
You are a connoisseur of that stuff as well.
Thank you, I try to be, let's see. This is one that I really like, I dropped this at Plan B this weekend. This is a rare 45, this is the kind of stuff we play there, this was released in 1981 out of Los Angeles and it is a group called LS Movement it is called "Move Everything You Got". Let's see if we can get it right. 1981, 45 only. We have people coming from all around Los Angeles on a Monday night to check this club out, just getting down to stuff like this all night, uncut.
So these are the types of records that you’re playing at Funkmosphere.
We keep it gangster like that, but then we also go to tempos like this: Kevin McCord from Detroit, a track called "Never Say". This always gets the ladies partying in the club. We’ll wait ‘til the change comes up. From 1984, a label called Presents Records, Kevin McCord is from a group called One Way and then he went solo. I like that song because it’s only a hook, no verses, and that’s OK sometimes. Patrick Adams used to do that, nothing but a hook, soloing in the verses. So that’s the kind of stuff we play at Funkmosphere, we keep that type of sound alive and go deep and everybody shares their record collection.
I guess, I skipped over the part where you actually got signed to Stones Throw. Can you mention how Wolf came across your stuff and how that happened?
We started seeing each other. For instance, I would go and look at his DJ sets around LA, he was playing at a place called Star Shoes one night and he did an all 1983 set. And see, a lot of people know Wolf from the backpack hip hop stuff, but he is into all styles of music. As I said earlier, it is great to be into all types of music but you can still stand for something. But the point is that being so well-rounded in music, he had collected funk as well. Slave, the group that I was talking to you about, One Way, Prince, very into Prince, which I didn't know. So when I walked into this club he was playing this stuff and I was like: “Damn, this dude really has it. Who is the DJ?” And then: “Damn, it’s Wolf!” So we linked up and we started talking about Steve Arrington, of course. He started to come to Funkmosphere and I started inviting him to spin at my spot and he did a 7/7/7 thing and we just built up.
I left a comment during the great days of MySpace, you remember that? Much love to MySpace I owe them a lot, I am not laughing, a great, great site. So I left a comment on Baron Zen's page, the cat who was on Stones Throw, who did this great little weird oddity album. It came time for remixes to be done and I left a message on Baron Zen’s MySpace page innocently, I was like: “I like the track.” Then suddenly Wolf hit me: “I saw you left a comment on Baron Zen's page, didn't know you liked that stuff.” So I was like: “I like all music.” He said: “Man, we are doing a remix project and I heard some of the stuff on your MySpace page and I liked it.” “OK. Thanks, man.” He said: “I want to see if you want to do a remix to one of the tracks.” I tell you, after the phone call, I swear to God, I hung up the phone and I got on my knees. I went over to the other part of the room and I said: “Thank you, God! Thank you, God! I am finally putting something out on my own, no rap sessions, none of this stuff. Thank you, God!” I got up off my knees and it was like Wolf just believed in the sound from the MySpace page, so then I did "Burn Rubber".
Here is one more thing, this is very important for everybody in here, he gave me the go ahead to do this thing, because first, another incredible cat, Madlib, was doing a remix of a track, too, and I turned to him and said I would do "Shoes", this Baron Zen track. They said: “Ah, Madlib’s doing that.” So I said: “OK, damn! What am I going to do?” At the end of the CD there was "Burn Rubber", where Baron Zen is just screaming on it for about a minute. The original Burn Rubber by The Gap Band, I’ll play it in the background while I'm talking. He basically told me: “Why don't you go ahead?” I said: “I like 'Burn Rubber', I could do something with that.” He was like: “OK, go ahead, it is just a little instrumental, a short track.” So basically this is the track we are referring to, but I walked around and said: “Where am I going to record this, what am I going to do to this?” But I ended up recording this track and I had to lay Baron Zen’s voice... Wolf sent me the acappella, as you guys already know, they send you the parts and I laid his voice on top like this. The original was just his voice without vocoder but I'll tell you a story in a minute. I turned in the first version with his vocal without vocoder and check this out, this is a lesson for everybody, I turned it in and he said: “Man, I like what you did with the music but the vocal is just off key. I don't like the way Baron Zen’s vocal sound on there.” All the work I did, I was like: “Damn! He is telling me no.” Then the fear is that after getting on my knees and praying, this might fall through my fingertips.
Being the good guy that Wolf is, he was like: “Why don't you try running his voice through a machine or some kind of effects?” And we both came up with the vocoder. So I think Wolf actually came up with the vocoder idea and I said: “Cool, let’s do it.” I went back to the studio again, the remix still not approved. The reason I am telling you this is because if you ever get discouraged, don't just throw your hands up and be like: “Forget this, dude. I did all this work, forget it.” I ended up doing it. I ended up running it through the vocoder and I turned it in to Wolf and he said: “Oh man, this is the one.” I had to play the vocoder with my finger the whole time while running his voice through, because he was singing in a different key and I had to do that thing the whole way through.
So not to torture you with that, now I do that live in my sets with my synthesizer keyboard I strap on my shoulders. I don’t like to call it a keytar anymore, I just call it a synth axe. See what I’m trying to do? I’m trying to change the cornball effect of funk that it used to have, rainbow afros, everybody laughing at the keytar, this is serious business. All that synthesizers are is something for the keyboards to be able to be free on stage. Jan Hammer and all those kind of cats, it got kind of weird in the 80s. Much love to Jan Hammer, he is incredible, but during that time the instrument got stigmatized and I'm trying to bring it to our table.
So through the remix for them you got your first official solo releases?
After that, cats like J Rocc and DJs across the world started playing that track and I really appreciated it. Benji B, a great cat from your town, supported a lot of things, and it was all natural. None of this was any kind of favour or anything like that, everything I did was natural. I would suggest to everybody here, stick with the natural vibe and be careful when you do the demo submitting - there is one little thing that I need to share with you guys... When you do the demos thing just do it in a way, I can't even explain it, it has to be more natural. I'll never forget what Leon told me, he told me the industry is built on relationships. Sometimes it is not going to work, no matter how big your dream is, it won’t work with, “Here is a CD.” Somebody might listen to it, but sometimes there is so much going on in somebody's head, it might not be the right way to approach it. You might have to give it to a third party or just set up something, or at least have a genuine conversation first, instead of just your ‘yo, yo, yo, yo’. Sometimes it works and just, man, there is too many ways of doing things now to get your music heard and that way sometimes is not the way. Fortunately, you are looking at somebody who actually does listen to demos, but I'm just letting you know about other cats. That aggressiveness doesn't always work with people. It just works naturally, like with that MySpace thing, that was just all natural. I wasn't trying to get on any label.
Right place, right time.