Interview with Ivan Neville
The answer is "funk" for this second-generation Neville, who's played keyboards and sung as a member of Keith Richards’ X-Pensive Winos in the 1980s and on two Stones records, also with Bonnie Raitt, Dave Matthews and Friends, and of course, remaining an active member of his dad Aaron's band of brothers. Funk the hurricane. Funk the people who say New Orleans' music scene died. Funk new digital keyboards and give me the analog originals.
It ain't cool unless it's funky, and Neville's new band, Dumpstaphunk, updates the classic '70s oeuvre with a hard urban edge, a little jam-band stretching, and of course a light sprinkling of New Orleans R&B/jazz vibe, kind of like the cayenne they sprinkle on crawfish jambalaya: a little bit to give the music a flavorful kick, but not so much that you don't want seconds.
Bullz-Eye: Describe the band to our readers who haven't yet heard the Dumpstaphunk vibe at www.dumpstaphunk.com.
Ivan Neville: We're from New Orleans, a group of New Orleans musicians ... (this question always kills me). It's kind of a mixture of things. We combine old-school funk with a fresh approach, and we incorporate little hints of the Meters, Sly and the Family Stone, and mix that up with all our other influences, which range from the Stones to Curtis Mayfield and Parliament/Funkadelic, to name a few. The chemistry in the band is just amazing, it consists of some of the finest musicians New Orleans has to offer.
Some of the guys have other gigs: Our drummer and bassist also play with [ex-Phish ringleader] Trey Anastasio's band from time to time. One of my guys, Tony Hall, plays with Dave Matthews's solo band, Dave Matthews and Friends. We have two bass players sometimes on stage, and the other bass player, Nick Daniels, played with the Neville Brothers, Etta James, and Boz Scaggs. We have a young kid, Ian Neville, who's my cousin and Art Neville's son, he's a bad-ass funk rhythm guitar player.
And that's Dumpstaphunk. We're very heavy on groove and funky rhythms and such. But yet we're a song-oriented band, we play songs with vocals because four of the guys in the band can sing their asses off, myself included.
BE: That brings up an interesting question: What is the connection between old-school funk and new jam bands such as Dave Matthews? Why is funk so well respected, the foundation for a lot of the stuff jam bands play?
IN: You gotta borrow from somewhere. A lot of musicians are influenced by some of the great music. As far as the people who were fans of funk and the good rock music that charted out in the mid to late '60s and early '70s, that's where a lot of this music comes from. We go back and listen to that stuff – it's some of my favorite music to listen to – and you can't help but be influenced by a lot of that stuff and be inspired by it...and come up with a fresh way to interpret it.
BE: Those years – and those records – are also where rap and hip-hop comes from, too.
IN: You know, it's the foundation for that. Hip-hop is always borrowing from that era, that old-school stuff. A lot of jam bands get their instrumentation from that era, too: [Keyboards like] Fender Rhodes, Clavinet, Hammond B-3 organs, Mini-Moogs and shit like that.
Myself, I normally bring a Hammond organ and a Clavinet [to gigs].
BE: Really? The heavy, sometimes technically cranky old instruments and not the lightweight digital clone keyboards that can mimic the originals fairly well?
IN: Most definitely. You gotta have someone on the case. We've got a guy who's a whiz and (can) pretty much fix any damned thing, so we're lucky and have got that covered. It does take a little maintaining when you're carrying those things around. Upkeep on that's a little more involved.
BE: Now why's that? What is it about a vintage keyboard that contributes to the vibe you're trying to achieve with Dumpstaphunk?
IN: It's part of our thing. I appreciate the sound, so we've gotta have it.
BE: I hear your debut record's in the works.
IN: We're supposed to be going into the studio later this month [late May] and we will be [recording] some new stuff so we'll see what happens. You will definitely see a Dumpstaphunk record late this year or early next year.
BE: Your uncle Art founded the Meters, which was a very original funk band and beloved because it added a little something-something from the New Orleans jazz and R&B tradition. How would you describe the difference between Meters funk and, say, James Brown or Parliament, who didn't come from the Crescent City?
IN: It's all kin to one another, all connected. But the Meters will always be in my mind, less guys. There were fewer instruments. A lot of the other bands, they had a lot of other guys. The Meters were just four guys [who later formed just the rhythm section for the Nevilles]. It's like that with Dumpstaphunk, we only have four-five guys. Sometimes we incorporate horns with what we're doing, and it works well. But I think that's a big difference. Some of the rhythms in the New Orleans funk, it' a little bit skankier, has more of a greazy, skank – you know – kind of thing to it. But it's all kin. It's all cousins.
BE: Which keyboard players influenced you most as you found your way into the music world back in the day?
IN: I've been influenced by many players. My uncle Art, obviously, influenced me a lot. People like Sylvester Stewart, Sly Stone. There's been a lot of Herbie Hancock – that's the three that come to the top of my list.
BE: I read an interview with you somewhere online and I noticed you saying you'd played third keyboard part for a time when you started with the Nevilles. How did that work? I can only name a handful of bands ever that carried three keyboard players.
IN: Back in the late '70s there were three cats: My uncle Art, Gerald Tillman – a great musician who taught us all a lot – and myself. I played Clavinet. Art played piano and Rhodes, Gerald on the organ, and I was on Clavinet, learning how to not play, know what I'm saying? Knowing when not to play. When sometimes just laying out a bit becomes just as important as what you play.
BE: I know Dumpstaphunk is still new and you guys are finding your way out into the scene but where do you fit in on, say, the touring scene? Do you play on bills with jazz bands? Hip-hop groups?
IN: We're kinda trying to create our niche right now. We can play with Dave Matthews and fit right in. We got a lot of dates where we're playing small clubs, and festival things. We're on Bonnaroo this year, which is going to be a good hit for us. We had a stellar gig, an amazing gig in New Orleans the closing night of JazzFest [May 7]. We played at Tipitina's. We were the headliners with the ReBirth Brass Band and the Original Uptown All-Stars. We had a few sit-ins, Leo Nocentelli and George Porter [guitar and bassist] from the Meters come and sit in. Eric Krasno from Soulive. And sitting on the side of the stage was my Uncle Art, he felt inspired and came up and played. Dumpstaphunk meets the Meters.
BE: How was JazzFest this year, the first one after the hurricane?
IN: You know what? There was a lot of the people out at the fairgrounds, and every club gig I did during the week and during the weekend was packed, crowded with people.
BE: Were you expecting something else?
IN: I was not sure how big the crowds would be. I was not sure how many people would be in the city. I was surprised – pleasantly surprised.
BE: A lot of out-of-towners?
IN: Definitely a lot of out-of-towners.
BE: Is the music scene back in New Orleans, or still sort of being rebuilt?
IN: I wouldn't go as far as saying [it's better than before]. The city's got a lot of work to get it back to the New Orleans we know and love. It may never get back to the New Orleans I grew up in. But I have to say, the spirit of the city is alive and well, with the music and the food, and the Jazz festival happening the way it did, and the musicians being one big family. We all go to one another's gigs, do what we can, sit in, and it turned out to be a blast. I can't say it's all good. There's a lot of shit that needs to be dealt with. But the spirit of the city is alive.
BE: Were you living in the city when the hurricane hit?
IN: I was. I was staying with my dad [Aaron Neville] a lot. My dad's house got trashed. I wasn't here when it happened. He's now moved on to Nashville...a lot of people have come back, but I haven't made that move yet.
BE: Well, best of luck with the new band.
IN: We are into spreading the Dumpstaphunk Theory: Just when you think you can't get it no funkier than that, it gets a little funkier.Editor's note: Neville said that at the moment, band members including himself frequently check the fan emails generated at the Dumpstaphunk.com site and sometimes answer them personally, so go there to get that as well as tour and album-release updates, and of course song samples.