ZACKEY FORCE FUNK: DON’T DO ANYTHING EVIL
Stream: Zackey Force Funk “The Split”
Not to get all Hallmark about it, but Zackey Force Funk is proof that music can do some good in the world. This funk maestro has been through some serious shit, and now his life mission is to get you bumping to his hybrid of electronic dance music, with a little help from his brother’s Gameboy. You haven’t heard something quite like this. This interview by Daiana Feuer.
Kutmah brought you to us via Stones Throw and Peanut Butter Wolf, but how did you find Kutmah?
Zack: After I got out of prison, I spent some time trying to change my life and eventually got back into graffiti and started making music. One day I heard a podcast where Kutmah was mixing Nancy Sinatra to Bad Brains so I went to Myspace and looked him up. I didn’t know that guy knew a bunch of people. Suddenly Peanut Butter Wolf calls me from Stones Throw asking me to do something. And I’m like, ‘Who is this Kutmah kid? He knows everybody?!’ When I met him he turned me on to Brandy Flower of the Hit + Run crew and they released this mixtape of mine and a bunch of old stuff and people liked it so I got to come out there in August and did some shows at different venues and got to finally meet everyone. I can’t believe how nice and basically unselfish they are. They hooked me up so much. They made me t-shirts, stickers, CDs. I’m like, ‘Yo, I’m just a dude from South Tucson!’ You know?
Have you been in Tucson all your life?
Zack: I used to live back East with my father. My father is from NY and my mother is Mexican from South Tucson. They divorced so we used to go back and forth between Tucson and Syracuse. That’s how come my music is all over the place. Me and my brother would always go out East and be all about Egyptian Lover and Cameo and Zapp and out there it was all Grandmaster Flash and Run DMC. Out there in ‘82-‘83. It always stuck with us. The graffiti and everything was a part of our lives. Now that I’m creating stuff, it’s just pouring out big time. Thirty years of shit just trying to come out. I’m kind of spiritual so I defInitely think things are going to change. They have to.
What’s life like in Tucson?
Zack: Hot! It’s hot. It’s got a scenester thing going on. That got me involved in going out again and playing. You can go to a small bar and everyone will dance. That’s just how it is in Tucson. People want to move. When I was in L.A. at that small little place Hyperion Tavern and doing all this uptempo stuff, everyone was into it and they were studying me, but nobody was dancing. I gotta learn the L.A. thing, as far as what scenes go where and how people react to music at different locations. I’m going to play at the Echoplex now and I’ve never been there. Hopefully there will be some dancing.
When did you start singing?
Zack: I started singing two years ago. I started when I was 32! What happened is I was making beats just to stress-relieve at the end of the day. I was putting them online and then I started talking to my brother—who is an engineer and I really respect his ear—and I was like, ‘How come you’re not bumping my instrumentals or even anyone famous’s instrumental music?’ And he was like, ‘Me and my friends, we really can’t listen to just a beat. I can’t put it in my ipod and bump it all day. It’s really cool but I gotta have words—I got to have a story.’ And that really stuck with me so I decided to try writing lyrics. I tried to rap on my first song. And he was like, ‘No, you should definitely not do that! Just sing!’ So it’s been two years in the making. It was pretty nerve-wracking the first time I sang in front of people. Every set gets better. Now we jam out—no stops for at least a half hour or so. My little brother Nathan, he and his friends do 4-bit music in their band Crime. When I perform I need people to do some engineering type stuff and background vocals and my little brother does it all. They’re geniuses—tons of style.
Is Prince an influence?
Zack: Without a doubt. The whole Minneapolis—Prince, Morris Day, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis—that’s probably my favorite stuff. The stars are lining up and funk’s making a comeback and I’m glad. It’s definitely a way of life. I think it’s here to stay. You just have to tweak it out for the kids. They want the more electronic grungier feel, and that’s where my brother comes in with the Gameboy. We’re trying to do funk on a Gameboy. I don’t think too many people on the planet are doing that. There’s a whole Gameboy 4-bit scene. This one guy Covox out in Europe covered the Kraftwerk song ‘Computer Love’ and it’s unreal. It kind of gives you insight on what you can do with 4-bit and how complex it can really get.
How long have you been doing graffiti?
Zack: I spent a lot of time in prison. And that helped me get through time. I’ve always been involved in B-Boy stuff—always wanted to be like Ramos from Beat Street. When you’re locked up, you got a lot of time on your hands to draw. When I got out the first time, I ran into a bunch of graffiti writers. It really taught me a lot about being original and coming up with my own letters, and that’s helped me with music. I never did too much illegal stuff like bombing trains. Some when I was younger. I am really just into style, breaking down letters. I got to paint with some L.A. writers last year like Revok and them. But I’m telling you—it really helped me with my music. When I sit down to compose a song, I think about it as a graffiti piece. Is it original? Is anyone else doing it? Am I biting? Is anyone biting me? I gotta do something different every time. When you paint a graffiti piece, you always want to burn your last one. That’s the ultimate goal—to do better than anything you’ve done before. My next song has to be better than the one before. No matter what. It’s always a small battle. You have to come original. You have to jam out harder to open up people’s eyes.
Why were you imprisoned?
Zack: It was all these drug charges. Here in Tucson there’s an abundance of wholesale drugs. You can get wholesale marijuana here super cheap and take it out to your cousins in Syracuse and triple your money. By the time I was 19 I was making $100,000 and you figure you do it ten times you can be a millionaire. It just didn’t work out that way. It never did. The last time I got out it was 2001, and I was very very lucky. If I lived in L.A., I would be doing life in prison. You guys have that three strikes, you’re out law. Luckily we don’t have that in Arizona. It was just insane. I really changed my life in 2001. Life started getting monotonous around 2005. I was like, ‘Something’s got to change.’ I’m not used to being a dad and just settling down. Which was cool, but I started making music and painting graffiti again to get my mind off shit, and here I am—talking to you on the phone, talking to Peanut Butter Wolf and going to L.A. I can’t fucking believe it.
Do you believe in destiny or controlling your own fate?
Zack: I believe in controlling your own fate. I think you definitely co-create. You pretty much manifest everything you do. If you say you’re sick, you’re going to get sick. If you think you’re going to get cancer, you’re going to get cancer. If you know you’re better than other people at music, you’re going to be better than other people at music. Whether you can sing or not, that’s really how I feel about it. I’ve seen it happen. Definitely some crazy things have happened to me in and out of prison. It’s opened my eyes spiritually.
Lots of time sitting and thinking?
Zack: Yeah—this last time it was my third offense. I had already done a bunch of time in prison for minor offenses. And this time U.S. Customs came in and raided me and they caught me red-handed with tons of stuff and it was a major, major case. I went back in. They told me I wasn’t going to get less than 15 years. My mom kept getting me tons of different lawyers and they’d come to jail and tell me, ‘We can’t get you less than 15, take these pleas. You’ve already done prison sentences for less offenses and if you were in California, you’d be doing life.’ But I just knew—something inside me, I just knew I wasn’t going away. Things started happening. We got one of the greatest lawyers. He heard about the case and started stepping in and got like aerial photos of my house and found out the Customs agent had lied to get search warrants and other huge cases with Russian ammunitions—anyway, it was a huge deal. They ended up giving me a plea bargain for two years. And I was in tears of joy. The day I went to sentencing, I knew something else was going to happen, and, sure enough, the judge was like, ‘You know what? I’ll give you five years IPS.’ Which is house arrest—and I had took four years for a minor offense before!—so basically, I was like, ‘Ok, wow, this is it—now you got to do something with your life.’ Back to the spiritual thing—I just knew I wasn’t going away. And ever since then I could see smaller minor miracles happening. Have you heard of Dr. Masaru Emoto? He’s done all kinds of experiments with water. And I did it with my son. You can do it. Get two glasses of water and put rice in the water. On one glass, write ‘love,’ ‘life,’ ‘happiness,’ nice things. And on the other glass write ‘hate,’ ‘kill,’ just evil things. Every day pray to the good glass with love, put all your love in it, and yell at the bad glass, talk shit to it, just be evil to it. And see what happens in two weeks. For me it took two days. I could see a difference. The good glass will be fine and the bad glass, you won’t even want to keep it in the house, it’ll be so nasty. And that kind of shows you a physical proof that your thoughts and prayers do manifest—they become physical. This has helped me and my kids. They’ve seen me prosper and change my life around. My daughter is going to school, and this music thing is starting to pop off and it really wasn’t supposed to.
What’s your life motto?
Zack: When all else fails and you don’t know what’s happening, just remember love. Put yourself in a happy place and do good to others. Sacrifice. Even die. Trust me—there’s more to life out there than what you see and you’ll thank yourself later for it, even if it’s in the afterlife. Have love and show love to everybody. I should maybe show that in my music more. My spiritual friends get kinda mad and say I should make more spiritual music. But I live in South Tucson and I been locked up half my life so it’s kind of like I let my stress out in this music. My friends in NY like hardcore music that’s all about beating people up and getting crazy. I wouldn’t want anyone to listen to my song and go beat someone up after. Sometimes to get the people you live around’s attention, you gotta be street—you got to be ghetto just to wake them up and get their attention. I would hate for someone to take my music and go do something bad with it. That’s terrible. Like these Metallica songs in the ‘80s—people killing themselves over it. That wasn’t their intent maybe when they wrote it. I just want to relieve stress. Don’t do anything evil with this.
ZACKEY FORCE FUNK WITH KUTMAH, MATTHEWDAVID AND SODAPOP ON FRI., DEC. 11, AT CALLING ALL KIDS AT HYPERION TAVERN, 1941 HYPERION AVE., SILVERLAKE. 9:30 PM / FREE / 21+. AND WITH GASLAMP KILLER, CRIME, KUTMAH, DAM-FUNK, NOBODY, ABCNT AND MORE ON SAT., DEC. 12, AT REPEAT OFFENDER: THE HIT + RUN FOUR-YEAR ANNIVERSARY PARTY AT THE ECHOPLEX, 1154 GLENDALE AVE., ECHO PARK. 9 PM / $10 / FREE IF WEARING HIT + RUN T-SHIRT / 21+. THEHITANDRUN.COM. VISIT ZACKEY FORCE FUNK AT MYSPACE.COM/ZAC0NE.