Who's your number one funk inspiration?
New Sound Underground: Our keys player Kevin writes a lot of the tunes, and he's saying Medeski, Martin, and Wood. I write some tunes too though and I'm saying Snarky Puppy.
PHO: James Brown.
Grolar Bears: Curtis Mayfield is a god. From his song writing to his falsetto. It's very rare when an artist has it all. I love his use of polyrhythmic undertones and angelic strings on top.
Hipshaker DJ's/Worldwide Discotheque: Rickey Calloway. He won't quit! As for DJ's, a guy called Courtland Green was the first person I ever met who played great funk records, and I still want to be like him.
Funk On First
You depict yourselves as "genre-defying." How would you describe your sound?
New Sound Underground: Haha, we do! But maybe we shouldn't - it's more of an aspiration. Our music is definitely grounded in funk and R&B, but each of us has so many other interests and influences. We incorporate our favorite elements of gospel, pop, jazz, hip-hop... even Afrobeat. Our goal is just to make you dance in the best way we know how. If people are dancing their asses off and get taken on a real journey at the same time, then we've done our job well.
Your ensemble is made up of musicians from all over the country. What drew you to Minneapolis? What keeps you here?
New Sound Underground: We all went to college in the Twin Cities. Each of us found a place in the music scene here and eventually found each other. Apart from family, loved ones, and dear friends, this band is an important reason to stay here - I can't imagine playing music all the time with a better bunch of dudes.
What's your favorite jam? Why should we check it out?
New Sound Underground: "Slow Demon" by Snarky Puppy. It was the first song of theirs that I heard and I became an instant fan. I hope it's your first too. I'm going to listen to it right now for old time's sake.
PHO: Donny Hathaway Live! REAL soul music!
Grolar Bears: Grolar Bear is about to release a 7 inch in August through Piñata Records. My favorite jam on that is a song called "Midnight Stew".
Hipshaker DJ's/Worldwide Discotheque: My favorite Funk jam is impossible to answer. Maybe it is the entire Sly & Family Stone album called There's A Riot Going On. My favorite jam is "Love Buzz" by Nirvana.
What is the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you on stage?
New Sound Underground: That's tough! A thing I can say is that I remember once throwing my trombone slide into the crowd. I don't know why, I just let go. No one got hurt, but it kind of took the momentum out of my solo.
PHO: Choked on gum mid-song and missed my part.
Grolar Bears: Having 10 members on stage is tight fit. Kjerstin, our vocalist has been struck in the head by literally every instrument that's on stage. She has even been elbowed in the face. Took it like a champ, didn't miss a beat!
Hipshaker DJ's/Worldwide Discotheque: Thankfully the most embarrassing thing to happen to me on stage is that I've taken the needle off of the record that was playing, a few times.
What's the story behind the name PHO?
PHO: PHO is a great soup, word and band name. That's pretty much it.
You have a large ensemble – how did PHO come together?
PHO: PHO came together at McNally-Smith College of music. Not every is from McNally but that's were it all started. We reached out to horn players from Morris, MN that we knew. The band has changed members a couple times and has continued to evolve.
With so many people in your band, how does everyone's influence shine through?
Grolar Bears: When we released our first album, every person who played on it was asked to play at the release show. Everyone who was able to did, and that number came to 19. Since that show two years ago, we have slimmed down to 10 people. Drums, congas, percussion, bass, guitar, piano, trumpet, 2 saxes, violin, and vocals.
Can you tell us a little bit about your unique recording process?
Grolar Bears: Last winter, we snuck into Minnehaha Falls at 5 am in the morning to shoot a music video. It was to accompany a 7 inch vinyl release for August 2014. The stairs were iced over so we had to grab our instruments and cradle them as we sled down. We used our bodies as shields. We shot the video for 5 hours until the cops shut us down.
What are your hobbies? Other than making music, of course!
New Sound Underground: This summer I've spent a lot of time raising fish and on DIY car repair. Chris is really into Batman.
PHO: Cooking and lint rolling.
Grolar Bears: There is a book series called "33 1/3" which dedicates one book per album. It gives the history of the making of that album. How something is created gives it such emotional depth. It's so inspiring and fascinating to read what was going through the artist's head when they created that specific album.
Hipshaker DJ's/Worldwide Discotheque: None currently.
What is your relationship with vinyl? Why not go digital?
Hipshaker DJ's: It's complicated. Old records are unique physical, visual and sonic artifacts. Many, many recordings only exist on records. Why not go digital? I have never owned a computer until 2 weeks ago, and I can't wait until I can DJ digitally through a computer.
For someone who has never heard Tropical Funk before, how would you describe the genre?
Worldwide Discotheque: James Brown's style of Funk music was and is an amazing sound to behold. Travelled easily around the world via records, and anyone who made dance music, wanted to incorporate Funk into their usual music. And that is how I imagine it went.
What’s your claim to fame?
New Sound Underground: Last summer in Colorado, Nelson joked onstage that we biked all the way to the Telluride Jazz Festival to save on gas. Someone believed it though, and it made it into the local paper. I would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight and say that while we are all fans of biking, we were definitely not trying to fake any environmental street cred to the wonderful people of Telluride, CO.
PHO: Opening for Jonathan Richman haha
Grolar Bears: We created a fictional blaxploitation movie then compose a score and trailer to it (see right). We also shot a music video in front of Minnehaha Falls last winter for our [song] "Midnight Stew".
Hipshaker DJ's/Worldwide Discotheque: Hipshaker
If you could turn a potential fan onto your music in one sentence, what would you say?
New Sound Underground: We want to take you someplace, but make you dance all the way there.
PHO: Don't listen to PHO.
Grolar Bears: Symphonic funk band with violin, congas, and a full horn section. And a damn good looking bass player! You get two fragment sentences.