DAM-FUNK: DON’T STAY IN THE DARKNESS
photography by ward robinson
(Win tickets to Dam-Funk’s record release show Saturday at Teragram—email firstname.lastname@example.org subj DAM to enter!)
As appropriate to Dam-Funk’s well-known Gemini nature, the new Invite The Light is an album of two halves—the first an exploration of the light and the sky, climaxing on the Flea / Computer Jay / Dam collab “Floating On Air,” and the second a strapped-for-battle fight for survival on the dirty surface of the Earth, announced by the crushing “HowUGonFuckAroundAndChooseABusta?” (And exploded by the merciless “Hunt And Murder of Lucifer,” too.) Guests like Snoop Dogg, Jody Watley, Q-Tip, Ariel Pink, Leon Sylvers III and IV and more glide through The Light, which begins and ends with underground-radio-style stay-strong messages from funk legend Junie Morrison, and which takes everything you recognize as the sound (and soul) of Dam-Funk and reveals new vision and power. If his 2009 debut Toeachizown demonstrated everything Dam could do, The Light demonstrates everything Dam is: it’s a focused and intensely personal album as it glides from bright to night, with long moments where the bleakness and the beauty dissolve into the same fundamental thing. On Invite The Light and in this interview, too, Dam reveals himself as an artist aiming for the horizon instead of just for the hit—he’s the kind of musician who always wants to go a little further. He speaks now about freedom, healing and how there might be just one more Dam-Funk record left. He performs at the Teragram Ballroom on Sat., Sept. 5. This interview by Chris Ziegler.
So much of Invite The Light—and all your music—talks directly to the listener. If you’re talking specifically about yourself, it’s usually to communicate a larger lesson or an observation. There’s not a lot of ‘me me me’ songs. Even the title here is an instruction. Why is this kind of dialogue important to you?
Dam-Funk: It’s a maturity—to be fair, if I was ten years younger than what I am now, I probably would be thinking in a different mindset. You know when they crown someone an adult at 18 or 21? A lot of us know that you’re nowhere near an adult at 21 or 18. Nowhere near. The longer you exist and travel through the maze of our lives, through this planet that we’re on, you learn lessons, and you start to learn from different peoples. Along the way, you meet fantastic people. Along the way, as well, you’ll meet some horrible people. And whether it be naturally horrible or good, or naturally evil or whatever, maybe due to mental illness or who knows the reasons? But you’re going to meet different people and experience different things, and from those experiences, you have a choice. You can either become evil like them, or you’re going to remember your past and your memories and the way you used to be, and you’re going to try to hold on to some of those aspects that you learned along the way. What I decided to do, even while being hurt in life—after I graduated high school and jumped into the big pond—I decided to not go negative and try to give a positive energy out there but still not be Mr. Perfect. As you can see, in the middle of the album, the record gets dark. It starts off positive or optimistic, then gets dark and then ends in a positive way. That’s what I’ve been into the last five years. Invite the Light is about that. I hope that more of us can invite it. And you don’t have to hear a lot of crazy-ass B-words and N-words and shit like that. I didn’t want to give an album like that. It’s like every record that a lot of these cats are doing right now has the n-word every four and six bars. Nobody knows what they want to do as far as … do they sing the lyrics at the concert? It’s like motherfuckers is confused. I’m tired of being involved and contributing to that type of bullshit. The last couple years now, it’s becoming a gimmick to say the word in the songs. This is really weak. You got a lot of ways to be able to heal people through music, and they keep perpetuating and making up reasons why—why can’t you just do what you know you know in your heart? You don’t have to make the song like that every fucking time you’re out the gate.
What this album seems to say—what a lot of your music seems to say—is that there’s something more than what’s on Earth. ‘Something more’ is maybe the driving theme of Dam-Funk. What exactly is that something more? What happens when we go further?
Dam-Funk: I do feel like there’s something more. Further is, to me … imagine like 2,500 years from now, or maybe 500 years from now, and we got to a maturity level where we were so cool and not tripping on each other where another civilization would actually stop and land and speak with us. That’s the kind of mind pattern and frame that I’m thinking of, even though I get distracted like all of us. That’s what I’m saying: ‘Invite the Light.’ They’ll never pass by Earth and stop right now because of the idiotic ways that we operate, but also we have this immense love that I’m sure that they would love to experience. But they can’t get down here and risk it because we act so crazy still. I mean, look at Donald Trump with the idiotic comments. We’re not developed. We’re not ready yet. The vibe in that music is based on the fact that I know we can be better, and I know that there is another place out there that one day we will be as humanity. When we pass away, I do believe that there’s another place that we go that’s just a higher level, and I believe that before we’re born, we’re somewhere as well—who knows the dimension? This dimension right now is so surreal and so alive in our face right now that I think that the next level is just so beautiful—that’s why they never really come back and give us the full details. It’s really the challenge up to us to see how we’re going to end up going through this era of our lives.
You want to create something that goes beyond the human.
Dam-Funk: The chords we’re using, and some of the music that we’re doing through funk—and even the ambient record I’m going to be coming out with after this—will be delving more into that. That’s the stuff that I’ve really been trying to tap into. So that’s always been the thing, as far as reaching more—beyond where we’re at now. We have a lot of things to deal with: ‘Oh God, we have so many problems to deal with now on Earth. And we’re dealing with other things on another planet?’ I got you, but it doesn’t mean we don’t have to think about all of it from an intergalactic perspective. That’s what makes us so selfish, every day. We don’t act as if others are paying attention to us in a different galaxy. That’s probably a little too heavy, but I just think of music as beyond Earth, you know what I mean?
So again—you’re saying we can do something more?
Dam-Funk: It is all of us. It isn’t just music—it’s authors, it’s all kinds of things that you do. It’s building a building. You think on a higher level, and that’s what’s missing, I think, in this game. Everybody’s so focused on money and having a hit that they’re not thinking about something that could be around and the consciousness and the years to come. I know that even with Toeachizown … I knew that it took a while for it to catch on. Even with this album, I’m pretty sure—that’s my luck—that it’s not going to catch on right away. But I’d be proud if later on people pick it up, like ‘Now I get it.’ I’m always a little ahead of the time, even though I’m not old or as young as a lot of people in this game. I’ve never seen an artist like—a recording artist—I don’t like to say ‘artist,’ because it’s almost like self-inflammatory— I’ve never seen somebody relevant, and I say that humbly speaking, at the point that I’m in right now. They’re usually young or old-ass dudes who are relevant: Paul McCartney, and then you go down to like the young guys. I appreciate that people still think I’m cool and relevant, but what I think that maybe helped me is that: don’t jump in the game so fast. If I had jumped in the game when I started fucking with MC Eiht and the Westside Connection and put out an album then, it probably would have been over by now. I waited for a while. And also it’s about keeping your health right and taking care of yourself and looking good. You keep yourself up. You stay fly. It’s no reason that dudes younger than me are looking way older than me. You just don’t let yourself go. That’s why I consider myself timeless. I’m not about this old thing and this young thing. If anybody asks you your age, you just say, ‘I’m timeless.’
You’re in the bridge generation that grew up before the internet but then adapted to it—you’re part of the old world and the new world. How does that guide the way you make your music?