Lovers Lane
In The Flesh

Q&A: Ivan Neville of Dumpstaphunk

| July 18, 2013

Ivan Neville‘s favorite dirty word begins with the letters F and U. It’s not a giant leap to assume that the remaining consonants complete Robin Thicke’s naughty but misguided attempt at a rhyming scheme. However, a crackling phone connection calls for clarification – spelling bee style – from the New Orleans-based multi-instrumentalist and son of sweet-voiced Aaron Neville.

“F-U-N,” Neville carefully dictates before crumpling into a ball of laughter. He can barely spit out the K before acknowledging the other word does hold a top spot in his vocabulary. “I say the other one though quite often. I’ve been trying to curb that recently,” he admits.

Neville’s all-star collective, Dumpstaphunk, marks a decade of “nasty and funky” jams with a third full-length titled Dirty Word(July 30) – hence all the attention paid to preferred off-color terms.

“When you have funk in the name of your band, it can be kinda typecasting,” he says. “We were thinking that, O.K., funk can be a dirty word. It can be misinterpreted, you know? People can misjudge us because the name of our band is Dumpstaphunk.”

While the group flavors its well-rounded mix with elements of soul, gospel, blues, and “a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll,” Neville agrees more undesirable labels exist. “It can be a good thing as well.”

Before Neville turns the House of Blues into a sweatbox on Friday, he talks about his stuffed list of contacts, Jam Cruise‘s greatest hits, and a minor snub by his good friends in the Rolling Stones.

Illinois Entertainer: Flea guests on the track “If I’m In Luck,” which brings your bassist count up to three. That’s got to be some kind of record?
Ivan Neville:
Naww, I’m sure somebody’s done something similar to that. But this is pretty cool to have three bass players on a song. It’s definitely some sort of precedent being set there, but I’m sure it’s not a record. But it is not a normal thing to do and we’re pretty cool with it.

IE: You mentioned that the first thing people identify you with is funk, but double-teaming on the bass probably comes as a close second. What was the impetus behind that in the first place?
Initially, when the band was first conceived, I had a choice of who I was gonna call to play in the band. Was it going to be Nick Daniels or was it going to be Tony Hall? And I thought to myself pretty fast, I said, “Hmm, I’ll call both of them.” And that was it [laughs]. And I know Tony also plays guitar as well and we also immediately knew some songs that we could incorporate the two bass thing in as well, so we had that in mind from the beginning. And mind you, that first gig was basically, that was a one-off. It wasn’t like we were trying to start a band. I just wanted to do a gig, and I wanted to do it as a band, so I called it Dumpstaphunk. I didn’t know it was going to turn into a thing – that it’s gonna grow legs and then have a life of its own.

IE:  This year marks the band’s 10th anniversary, and, like you said, it was just something you pulled together for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. How did you go from putting out a few phone calls to three full-length albums?
From 2003 probably to 2006, we were a side project and we became a full-time band probably in late 2006. We started playing a whole lot is what happened. Several things happened: [Hurricane] Katrina happened and that [lent] itself to us playing more, and then we just started getting more opportunities and more of a light was shined on Dumpstaphunk and people started taking notice. We realized . . . the band started just taking precedence over everything else we were doing. So we said, “What’s more important? This other gig that I’m playing where maybe I’m a side guy? What’s more important? Trying to develop this Dumpstaphunk thing that is really getting some attention?” So, we pretty much just started thinking, “O.K. let’s just have our own band. Let’s do our thing.”

IE: As a man from New Orleans, what does it mean to you that this band rose out of the ashes of an event that was so terrible in the city’s history?
It was a bittersweet time, you know? Because, basically it was a thing that happened that was a tragedy, that was really horrible and a lot of lives were lost and the whole city was changed forever, but it did shine the light on the city of New Orleans. Attention was paid to New Orleans music and a lot of us got some of that attention, and that was probably some of the good that came of a really bad thing, you know? So when something bad like that happens, if there’s any good that comes of it, you gotta cherish that.

IE: How were you able to retain the volcanic energy of your live shows in a studio setting on Dirty Word?
We listen to one another. I mean, the only thing that’s different when we play live is that we’re getting that other energy, we’re getting the energy from the audience. You know what I’m saying? And that’s what the difference is. When we’re playing together, we’re always just listening to one another play and we’re seeing where that takes it. The music kind of just goes where it wants to go and we’re just hanging in there – we’re just hanging on for the ride, and we’re just listening and that’s determining what’s the next thing we’re gonna play. So in the studio, that’s what we do. The only thing that’s missing in the studio is the audience.

IE: Do you ever attribute that to a spiritual thing, like something else is leading you?
I definitely would not speak against that concept at all [laughs]. Absolutely that’s out there, but you know, I think I attribute it as well to the fact that we all like listening to each other play.

IE: On Dirty Word, you’ve got a cast of characters: Trombone Shorty, Ani DiFranco, Rebirth Brass Band. How do you pick who to invite to the sessions?
It was all by chance to tell you the truth. It was all by chance. None of it was planned. The only thing that was somewhat planned was that Tony had a song idea, a song called “Raise The House” – it’s a traditional New Orleans second line song that incorporates a brass band and kinda feel so we figured we’d get Rebirth Brass Band to play on that song. When we did that, we had another thing, I said, “I’m gonna call Troy, we’re gonna get Trombone Shorty on.” And the rest of it is absolutely by chance. Flea ­– the Chili Peppers happened to be in New Orleans doing something, and I’ve done some playing with them before and I hit Flea up and we took him out to eat, we hung out and shit, and then we went to the studio and he played on that song.

IE: You must have some Rolodex. I think I’ll just call Flea on a whim.
Yeah, it was pretty cool [laughs]. And that’s how that happened. Ani DiFranco happened to get on the song because her husband, Mike Napolitano, mixed the majority of this record. He mixed like nine of 11 songs and they have a studio in their house, which is here in New Orelans. He was in there just mixing the Dumpstaphunk record, and from what I understand, she heard something and she went in there and took it upon herself to put some vocals on a song, which was basically an instrumental, and that’s the song called “Dirty Word.” And she went and put some shit on there. We didn’t even know! We weren’t even there! And then Mike played it for me, like Ani came and did this on this song, and I’m like, “Shit, listen to this!” So we all heard it and we were like, “Damn! This is killing!”

IE: Why do you think its important to include outsiders?
It’s not something that we were intentionally thinking about, oh let’s get a bunch of special guests. No, not really. I mean, it’s always cool when you look at people and they’re coming out with stuff and you have some names that are familiar. It always helps to get attention to your music or to your project if you have someone who’s already known, but it wasn’t like we thought of it like that. We just know a few people. Ian’s dad is my uncle Art Neville – founding member of The Meters – we brought him in the studio one day and said, “Here, play piano on this song [“Raise The House”], which is just killing. We got Art Neville, Trombone Shorty, and Rebirth Brass Band on that one song, which is killer.

IE: You sound like you’re having so much fun on Dirty Word.
We we’re having a blast and, for me, most of the fun comes with the spontaneity that happens when you’re doing this stuff. There’s a lot of spontaneity that goes on with our band.

IE: You are Jam Cruise regulars. What’s the best thing about being trapped on a boat with your biggest fans and the worst thing about being trapped on a boat with your biggest fans?
[Laughs] I like that question. You’re right there with ’em! There’s nowhere to go. It’s not like there’s a lot of separation. You’re all staying in the same place. You might be roommates with somebody, you never know. You’re walking down the hall and somebody says, “Oh heeeeyyy!” and then you’re talking for five, ten minutes. But, you know what, there is no worse thing. It’s a fun thing. I initially wasn’t a big fan of going on a boat, doing that kind of thing. I didn’t know how it would be, but I’ve been on it like seven or eight times. Since the first time I’ve been on that thing, I’ve been on it every year since then, and it is probably the most fun time. It’s up there. It’s up there. It’s like freakin’ Jazz Fest on a boat. It’s nonstop music. You usually start up at 11 or 12 o’clock with somebody playing, and there’s music all day in different venues. You gotta club; you gotta a theater; you gotta stage on the pool deck; and you gotta jam room. There’s even a disco for people who want to hear some electronica or whatever or just hear a DJ. I mean, you’ve got every kind of stuff on there that you can imagine. It’s totally crazy. You get to hear some of your friends play that you like. You get to play with some of your friends that you may not normally get to play with, and you’re all there on this boat and the people are right there. There’s not a big separation factor.

IE: Finally, the Rolling Stones had your dad, Aaron Neville, come up and sing “Under The Boardwalk” in Philadelphia with Mick Jagger. Were you jealous they didn’t call you up?
You know what, I went to the show in Boston. I was there. I mean, I was with Keith [Richards]. I was at the soundcheck; I was there. Me and Ian went out to see them in Boston. I was there and I didn’t sit in. I was kinda pissed [laughs]. I’ve played on records with them. I played in a band with Keith. I played with them before onstage, but, yeah, they didn’t invite me to come and sit in. I was a little pissed. I was like, “Damn! I could have played on a song!” They were inviting a lot of people, I don’t know. They got like Gary Clark Jr. sitting with them like what three, four times or shit, but he’s like the new hot thing right now so. It’s cool. I’ve played with them before. It’s all right.

IE: No hard feelings?
You had to ask me that shit. Goddamn! I did think of that. I was like, “Fuck, I wanted to play.” [laughs] I was fucking with Keith and I talked to all of them. It’s one of those things, it wasn’t meant to be that night. I’m sure I’ll play with them again somewhere. Whatever, you know. I wouldn’t have minded playing on a song with them. I’m glad my dad got to sing with them.

— Janine Schaults

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  1. Justin Case says:

    What an ass whole the writer is. Why would u ask IN those questions at the end and then post a video of his dad singing with the Stones? Why not put a video of who the article is about? I honestly would have rather seen him ripping then some old dudes play an old song that’s been heard a million times. Oooooo it’s the Stones. They sh*t gold. Give me a break.