By Matt Starlight
Formed on a whim for a Jazzfest set in 2003, Dumpstaphunk’s impromptu origins didn’t follow the typical formula that leads bands to greatness. But, anyone who’s familiar with the Nevilles knows that funk is in this family’s bones. After over a decade of releasing records and touring, Dumpstaphunk’s made a nationwide name for itself as New Orleans’ premiere funk group, proving time and time again just how transcendent their live shows can be. This week, Baton Rouge’s Varsity Theatre will play host to the quintet, giving some lucky LSU students a taste of what New Orleans funk is all about.
Critics and listeners alike have lauded their most recent album Dirty Word, which they say is ‘funk’ itself. Their name carries a message that they want to world to know. “Basically it was a play on words being that ‘funk’ is a dirty word because it’s dirty and nasty, but also the fact that funk is a genre,” said keyboardist, vocalist and founder Ivan Neville. “When you go to register songs to be published or you’re looking to buy music on iTunes and you look at the genre, the kind of music you want to pick from, there is no funk genre. There is none. There’s R&B, there’s soul, there’s rock, urban, a bunch of things but there is no funk genre. You usually have to say other. ‘What genre? Other, the other genre.’ So it’s a dirty word in that way.”
It’s not just funk, though. The group pulls influences from all over the musical spectrum.
“We try to transcend and incorporate a bunch of elements whether we’re rocking out or playing a more soulful thing, but it all tends to have some nastiness to it,” said Neville. “We like to expand and go in different areas because we’re all influenced by a lot of stuff. You know, we like The Beatles, The Stones, and we like also Sly & The Family Stone, The Meters obviously, and Led Zeppelin, so there’s no telling what you might hear us play.”
When Dumpstaphunk takes the stage, it’s clear that the band has incredible chemistry. Neville attributes it to their years spent together. “We know each other pretty well. We all cut our teeth with The Meters, so we all come from that. We’re like brothers, you know,” said Neville. “A lot of things just happen naturally, there’s nothing to be said. It’s like we’re reading each other’s minds.”
Despite their success, that continuity has hit a few bumps in the road. About a year ago, drummer Nikki Glaspie left the band to pursue other projects, but that doesn’t mean the funk is stopping anytime soon. They quickly recruited a new drummer in childhood friend Alvin Ford Jr., who’s gracefully acclimating to the new gig. “We like Alvin. Alvin being from New Orleans, obviously adds some more of that New Orleans flavor to the band. It’s certain things that all the New Orleans musicians, it’s like we have a private show that nobody else knows,” said Neville. “It’s great to have him in the band. and he’s from the neighborhood that I grew up so that’s even cooler.”
With Dumpstaphunk now firing on all cylinders, the band is getting ready to perform at The Varsity, a venue they’re very fond of. “It’s a cool venue and those kids are coming back to school, it’s usually an exciting group of people that are in that place. When you’re playing a festival with a lot more people, the energy’s high,” said Neville. “But, when you’re in a small, enclosed place, I mean The Varsity holds maybe 800 people, something like that. I’m not sure what the capacity is, but when you get that place packed out, you’re in close; you’re in there. So the energy is just as intense or even more intense than at a festival, you know.”
No matter how much fame they garner on their own, one of things that keep the band in check is being so in touch with where they came from. Representing New Orleans as they tour the country can be a heavy burden, but it’s a torch they’re fully capable of bearing and bearing with style. “We hope we do the city proud when we go out and travel around and we share the New Orleans thing with everybody, you know. It’s a big responsibility. There are many bands out there doing it that are from New Orleans like us like Rebirth [Brass Band], Trombone Shorty, and Galactic and bands like that,” said Neville. “I mean, we all are fortunate and honored that we get to carry that spirit, that tradition that’s been around for a long time. The fact that people are looking at it and responding the way they do, we feel honored and privileged.”
This show in particular will carry special meaning for the group, as it commemorates the anniversary of their first show in Louisiana after Katrina devastated New Orleans. “The fact that this a reminder that we played in Baton Rouge it was the first time playing in Louisiana after Katrina, so that would be a little over ten years ago we came back to Louisiana to play our first show in Baton Rouge,” said Neville. “So, this weekend’s kind of a special remembrance of that. Obviously, it was something that was a tragedy, but it brought a lot of people together. This band was kind of born a little bit out of that tragedy, some of our work and us having to be together a little more in the midst of that was a result. So we’re commemorating that this weekend.”
The future is bright for Dumpstaphunk as they continue their quest to funk up the nation. Whether they’re at home in New Orleans or out on the road, it’s clear this group’s got the talent, chemistry, and roots to put funk back on the map where it rightfully belongs.