DAM-FUNK: FUNK IS THE REAL MUSIC
Dam-Funk grew up on “Scooby Doo” and sessioned for Westside Connection but his life’s work was and will be the stewardship of the true spirit of funk. He’s remixed Baron Zen and Animal Collective and he’s just about to release the 5XLP monster Toeachizown on Stones Throw. This interview by Chris Ziegler.
What happened when you saw your first UFO?
Dam-Funk: It was an orb—a light. It wasn’t just me who saw it. It had an orange glow and it flew across the sky—and nobody talked about it! I still don’t know what it was. But it struck my interest. I always knew better things were out there. I made a song about it—‘Brookside Park’ on Vol. 4—the one called Hood. Listen to the lyrics and you’ll get the visual and how the music sounded to me that day. It changed my life. I started listening to Art Bell’s ‘Coast To Coast.’
How does an experience like that affect what you do with music?
Dam-Funk: That’s part of my inspiration. The reason there are so many distractions on earth—like ‘social networking’ and shit—is that they want you not to concentrate on what else is going on. Because they already know! We get to muddle in Kanye and Taylor Swift but there are other things going on! Sometimes you get stories here and there—‘They found other planets!’ But there’s got to be something beyond what we’re muddling through with this bullshit. I wanna create something now and later on when we get our heads together, maybe my music will be the soundtrack—when we have clear minds and concentrate on other things. Not the petty gossip airhead experience. People are excited about the upper surface, but that’s just the busted pie crust. I wanna be the inside of the pie, not the outside crust!
What’s inside the pie?
Dam-Funk: I wanna deal with mass people thinking along the same lines. If we need change, we’ve all got to get together and make it happen. I got this thing called N.O.N.C.A.T.—it’s funny to some people but I try to practice it everyday. It stands for ‘Not One Negative Comment Action or Thought.’ Let’s at least contribute to getting rid of all this stupid shit going on here! You don’t have to be happy-go-lucky howling in peoples’ faces, but be positive—contribute to a higher level of thinking and the world will start changing. It doesn’t have to be all mystical. But this world can be better—let’s try and do something!
What’s the connection between funk and science-fiction?
Dam-Funk: Funk is the real music of the urban city. Not R&B and not soul—those are great genres of black expression. Trust me. But funk is the one that even expands it more. It was always the people who were a little bit different—people who went out and found new shit. Unfortunately, a lot of drugs in the late ’70s knocked us out of the box. Who woulda known? ‘Crack—it’s the cool new shit!’ Everybody fell for it. A lot of people never recovered. But it was definitely deeper than soul and R&B. Soul and R&B were more about hits. Funk had more real shit inside. It was more a backroom type of expression—the smell of sex! Even sadness. ‘He’s in a funk!’
Dawn Silva told us true funk is hard to control—do you agree?
Dam-Funk: I think she has a point. But one day I would hope people open up. But in a way, I don’t give a fuck if they don’t catch on. Like I talk about Gary Wilson—he doesn’t need to be on the radio. He’s cool—he has his own crowd. Funk will always have its own crowd.
You were funk’s lone defender in L.A.—what’s it like to be the guy who won’t give up?
Dam-Funk: There’s always the truth out there. It happened to Caron Wheeler. Erykah Badu came with the same concept—the headwraps, the look straight from Africa, the incense-burning. And Caron Wheeler was the first. Sometimes it’s timing and sometimes people aren’t ready … and sometimes people do your shit and do it better! But I always wondered—who was the OTHER James Brown? Maybe before him—in a city where they didn’t ever quite get it? Or the other Prince down in San Diego somewhere, but Prince happened to get signed? You can’t complain but it just happens. I thank God Peanut Butter Wolf allowed me to get my side of the story out. I know a lot of people do the ’80s-influenced thing. I guarantee when you listen to Toeachizown, it’s not even ’80s—it’s modern funk. I’m not trying to recreate. I wanna give somebody something new. It’s still the original inspiration, but I try to continue where it got broken off!
Where was it broken off?
Dam-Funk: After P-Funk was interrupted at Warner and they went to regulate on Clinton. ‘Man, you’re a little too up there.’ The concept was getting crazy and getting peoples’ minds open and they had business problems, too. They did revitalize with ‘Atomic Dog.’ But those albums were like pre-Public Enemy—The Electric Spanking of War Babies in 1981 and no one knows it because they didn’t promote it! It was right after Trombipulation—the Parliament album with the elephant nose—and they just regulated on George. ‘Hold on!’ After that, RUN-DMC dropped on Profile and that changed the game, so all the majors were like, ‘Fuck funk—too many big-ass bands! Too many horns!’ It was still made on independent labels—slicked up and geared to dance and that was boogie! Boogie took over—Prelude, Salsoul, West End—and it wasn’t called disco because they’d burn disco records.
Why do you think people felt like they had to physically destroy those records?
Dam-Funk: It could be as simple as people saying, ‘We couldn’t enjoy it.’ Or more deep—‘This is some shit that gays and people of color and whites can all come together—this is dangerous! We can’t have that happen!’ I don’t wanna say conspiracy but you wonder! Radio went nuts on disco—too much disco! Then real labels like Philadelphia International and Salsoul got lumped in with all the major labels and fake groups—fake disco! But Teddy Pendergrass and the O’Jays, they didn’t call it disco. It was black dance music! A 4/4 beat and people could dance—uptempo R&B and it was great! But it was thrown under the rug—bringing too many people together.
How do you know when it’s fake?
Dam-Funk: You can always tell. I’m gonna always be changing. I’ll always be funk-based, but I like too much other stuff to be the same cat. The next album probably won’t be the same sound. You can tell when they’re a copycat. Now everybody is into an 808/Lil Wayne sound and a blippy beat sound and trippy club music—you know, people wanna get in and get money. I can’t be mad—it’s a capitalist country—but don’t you have integrity, you fuck?
Is this why you’ll shout out the names of the musicians when you’re doing a DJ set?
Dam-Funk: I feel the people who did the work didn’t get enough props. And it’s not for the artists alone—it’s for the listening public. If I’m at a club and I play a certain song, they might be timid to come up and ask. People deserve to know who the artists are.
Is Toeachizown your life’s work?
Dam-Funk: I feel funk has never been given an opportunity to be released like this. That’s why I give it up to Stones Throw—funk was always on a major or a real small label, and this time it’s on a small label but in a new era where a small label can do something like this. The verdict is out, but I hope when the judge’s hammer slams down, people will look back and say, ‘This dude stuck to his guns and he did a funk record from beginning to end. And it wasn’t just funk—he even did new wave rock! The funk had all the influences!’ Prince—‘Let’s Pretend We’re Married’—that’s new wave! Funkadelic did rock songs—‘Cosmic Slop!’ That was killing a lot of early metal! I’m being positive but it’s definitely not gonna be a Mayer Hawthorne out-of-the-box hit. But I’d rather have the slow burn. Ten years from now—‘Man, that dude did what he believed in!’
You sessioned for Ice Cube—what did you learn from him?
Dam-Funk: That was some real shit! I learned what people respect—it’s the passion. The fact that you mean serious business about your writing. I even look at ‘Dateline NBC’ sometimes—the host is so fucking into his shit! Me and my lady will be rollin’—‘That’s what I’m talking about! Look how he pronounces his words!’ We’d laugh at first but that dude’s killing it. ‘Dateline’—that’s that shit! With the realest cats—game recognizes game! They respect you if you’re true to your shit. Once you try and fake it, that’s when your ass gets whipped. They knew I could play keys and they saw my talent. I wasn’t scared because I grew up on that shit. I’d see the guns and be like, ‘OK, cool—no big deal.’ When they see you ain’t tripping, you’re invited to the party. ‘I don’t give a fuck how you look—that motherfucker is cool!’ When I do my own thing, those cats are like, ‘Cool—I knew you were gonna do that funk stuff!’
What do the guys in Animal Collective most have in common with Ice Cube?
Dam-Funk: They stick to their guns. Cube—I definitely respected that cat. He was born the same day as me! You could tell he was serious about his business. A lot of people thought those guys were buffoons. This was the same guy who went to Priority and took a bat—he was really serious about getting his money—and busted the window! But sometimes you gotta do that. I hate to say it and I don’t wanna do it, but I’ve been in situations where you have to handle shit. You have to keep respect and integrity on your side. If people see you respect your life and work, they’ll respect you as well. ‘You can’t do that to me—I care!’ Animal Collective started on the porch and then got into drum machines and atmosphere and electronics—now look!
Where do you and Todd Rundgren overlap as musicians?
Dam-Funk: He has heart! It wasn’t about hits, even though he could make hits if he chose to. That’s the aesthetic I like to align myself with. I’m the same person as back in the day when I was riding my bike to the record store in Pasadena. Hits are hits, and they’re great! But the music I gravitate to—maybe because I’m a weirdo?—it’s not on the radio. At a certain point, you grow out of the radio. ‘I love music so much that I’m gonna look for this rare 12” that only did 500 copies!’ That independent release—that’s some of the most magical music out there. No matter how much money or accolades I might get, I always wanna do music for that person who was me. That kid who ventures off looking for music that touches their soul.
What was the first concert you ever went to where you felt that way?
Dam-Funk: Kiss and Mötley Crüe at the Universal Amphitheatre. I couldn’t believe the way Paul Stanley was cussing! ‘This is not like the records!’—I finally got it. They couldn’t put those lyrics on the record—this was before N.W.A. busted the door open. But at the concert, it was like, ‘We’re gonna party tonight, motherfuckers! Make some fucking noise!’ It was incredible, man. I thought, ‘You can really be YOU in concert!’
How do you feel when you’re on stage?
Dam-Funk: I’m on for the people. They paid their money and they’re seeing art. It’s like in an art gallery—I’m the painting they’re looking at, so I have to give them the visual and audio satisfaction to experience their night.
What do you think of L.A.’s music now? Bands like HEALTH and clubs like Low End Theory that are connecting all different kinds of music together?
Dam-Funk: I think L.A.’s got a pretty healthy scene right now. People wanna work together and cross-pollinate. The Internet has diversified things. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, it wasn’t as close-knit. Now black-white-Filipino-Asians-Middle Easterners whatever—we all hang out in the same places. We all communicate. So why not have the music come together and feed this grand experiment? I coulda took my shit straight to a major, but Stones Throw opened the door for a more experimental thing. It’s not just me—it’s about everybody! I do shows in Portland or San Francisco and there’s all colors in there. And it wasn’t lopsided—not like R&B shows where it’s only one side or ultra-rock shows where it’s only one side. It’s everybody! That’s what I hope the future is. I don’t wanna be too contrived—like, ‘Oh, God, this is kind of corny!’ But that’s the natural direction—so far, so good!
Who in L.A. would you most want to work with now?
Dam-Funk: SFV Acid. I like him a lot. I’m just trying to play my part and contribute what I can do. I’m watching everybody and working with different people. The closest thing I have solidified is me and Nite Jewel are gonna do something on Stones Throw together. She’s my buddy! And Cole who was also in Ariel Pink’s band—Ariel and Cole are chill with me. When we were in O.C., we were laughing together about Phantasm—horror movies! We’re all connected more than people think. When the time comes, everything happens naturally and people see that connection, you know what I mean?
You’re a Gemini—what’s your hidden side?
Dam-Funk: That’s one thing my lady laughs about. One side is positive and I treat people great. When I walk with my lady, I walk on the curb side! I respect my elders, even when I’m announcing songs and telling people the groups! But there’s another darker side. If somebody crosses the line, I definitely wanna whup ass, but I gotta check that! I haven’t run into any negativity. The only thing I’ve been hearing is that I better be prepared for critique. Where I’m from, if someone calls me out on my name and gets too crazy, you go looking for ‘em! Now I’m a recording artist—I can’t be out chasing every blogger.
Maybe it would be a better world if you did.
Dam-Funk: Yeah, I know! But I can’t waste my time on that. You know what cures me? I just look at Obama. I’m not saying he’s the Savior, but you know how many hate mails and threats he gets each day? And he walks those stairs looking like nothing is bothering him. This dude is taking the brunt of all types of shit and still looks as cool as possible. You gotta brush it off. I’m trying. I’m not perfect. It’s definitely more the light I try and share.
Is that why you bring Sprite and candy every time you visit Stones Throw?
Dam-Funk: You heard about that? I do it because I know they’re working hard! When I was at jobs, I woulda loved that. ‘Why doesn’t anybody do anything special for us? We’re working hard for these fools—can somebody do something?’ So that’s why I do it—thanks a lot, guys!
DAM-FUNK ON SUN., NOV. 1, AT AMOEBA RECORDS, 6400 SUNSET BLVD., HOLLYWOOD. 4 PM / FREE / ALL AGES. AMOEBARECORDS.COM. DAM-FUNK’S TOEACHIZOWN 5XLP RELEASES TUE., OCT 27, ON STONES THROW. VISIT DAM-FUNK AT STONESTHROW.COM/DAMFUNK OR MYSPACE.COM/DAMFUNK.