Jukebox Jury: Dâm-Funk Interprets Funkadelic’s Album Art and Waxes Nostalgic About MySpace
Stones Throw's funk maestro goes deep on those who influenced his new LP, 'Invite the Light'
“Invite the light.” That’s the title of the latest record from supreme soulster Damon Riddick, a.k.a. Dâm-Funk, as well as the life philosophy he explains in the lobby of Brooklyn’s Wythe Hotel. A soulful shaman who’s collaborated with a spectrum of artists including Snoop Dogg and multi-faceted funkateer Steve Arrington, Dâm-Funk declines to go into detail about the “dark trenches” he wallowed in before Invite the Light (out September 4 via Stones Throw), preferring instead to focus on the positivity inherent in songs like the bomp-tastic “Virtuous Progression” or severely Auto-Tuned “Missing U.” “There’s some things I went through, but I took that stuff off the album,” he says in a soft and measured cadence. “I wanted to make this record about everybody and not just about my own journey to my own life; not just [to] be drowning in all the negativity that’s around musically and also personally.”
Everything Dâm-Funk touches with his instantly recognizable warped synth tones, booty-clapping beats, and fluttering vibrato turns to ’70s record-sales gold — like his extremely fresh “re-freak” of Disclosure’s “Holding On” — and Invite the Light opens its velvet-lined doors to old friends including Snoop and Ariel Pink, up-and-coming talent like Dutch producer Henning, and Los Angeles scenesters like synthmistress Nite Jewel. Since Dâm-Funk is first and foremost an appreciator (and, as SPIN learned, an obsessive cataloger) of music, we tested his knowledge by playing a selection of deep and beloved cuts from his inspirations, collaborators, and some we thought he might like. Read our chat with him below.
1. Funkadelic, “Not Just Knee Deep”
Funkadelic. Incredible song, really written and arranged by Junie Morrison, who’s on my album. He does the intro and outro. And that song right there is the best funk song that’s ever been recorded.
It’s 15 minutes long, it has a lot of different things going on, there’s like an opera-type gospel thing with the vocals. The drums, the keyboards, the engineering is top-notch; 1979 was a period where it was going into the ‘80s and crack wasn’t around yet. It’s like the credits are rolling on a certain era, especially in black life. And that song was only popular in the black experience. It’s a classic because of the tones, the chords, what they were catching in the studio at that time. I still get chills listening to that song, because for funksters, it’s like, the anthem.
2. Stevie Wonder, “Higher Ground” (Red Hot Chili Peppers cover)
Red Hot Chili Peppers. And that is… “Freaky Styley”? No, it’s the remake, it’s the remake of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.” That was the live version, right? They were funksters, people don’t realize that. Rock funksters. Flea is an incredible artist, he’s on [Invite the Light]: “Floating on Air.”
How did you link up with him?
We had each other’s number, I can’t clearly remember, but he’d let me know he was in Japan, and I was like, “I’m gonna be here.” So he came and watched [Stone’s Throw Records documentary] Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton with me and Peanut Butter Wolf. He knows Jon Theodore, who went on tour with me with the Mars Volta on drums. I just kindly asked him, “I’ve got this song, it’s called ‘Floating on Air,’ I’d love it if you checked it out.” And we knocked it out.
3. Todd Rundgren, “Hello It’s Me”
Oh yeah, “Hello It’s Me” from Todd Rundgren. I just got off a tour with him. I learned a lot from the tour bus. He’s a little aloof, but he’s a genius. I didn’t realize he was a tough guy, but he’s a sensitive guy as well, by the lyrics that he’s written. There’s a lot of positive material; a lot of cynical stuff too. It just came about because a few people invited him to Funkosphere, which is my club. He ended up saying, “You know what? I can’t make it there, but are you interested in going on tour?” Because he wants to not take a band anymore, just go for a DJ type of vibe. I’m not even DJing, I just play keyboards and background vocals.
What was the most surprising thing you learned on tour with him?
That he’s really prompt. That’s what taught me about in the future, and even now with my band, staying on time, being in the lobby at the right time, starting the soundcheck at the right time. He’s very professional. He’s very methodical. Every set each night went the same way. And it was good because every audience had the same experience. And a few other things, but I’ll keep that off the record. I can’t snitch.
4. Leon Sylvers III, “World Champion”
Oh yeah, Leon Sylvers, “World Champion.” Nice, that’s one of my favorite artists and producers, and that’s a solo track from the D.C. Cab soundtrack. That was produced by his brother, Edmund Sylvers. It’s actually underrated: There’s a lot of good drum machine programming on there, and Leon, I think, just gave the production duties to his brother thinking it was going to be a movie track, but actually it’s a good song.
Leon is definitely part of the Solar legacy. I always tell people that Solar is like the precursor to Death Row, because Solar Records had Dick Griffey, who’s like a Suge Knight, and Leon Sylvers is like Dr. Dre. They recorded in the same building and [Death Row] took over Solar’s operation after they left. I used to see tape reels and wax from that whole era — Shalamar, Lakeside — but Leon was the main producer for all that stuff.
5. Slave, “Slide”
Slave, “Slide.” The pre-Steve Arrington Slave, who I was able to do a record [Higher] on Stones Throw with. Slave is one my favorite funk groups. They were, for instance, how the Time came out as the new version of Prince: it was a Prince production, but a newer funk. And Slave were the young kids of that era, in ‘77, who were trying to be, like, “We could be funk too,” like Ohio Players and P-Funk. Then they later on added Steve Arrington, who was a childhood friend of theirs, and he was doing stuff with Sheila E. and her family’s band before she became Sheila E., and Colton Escovedo, the band he was in. Beyond that, he ended up joining, and they really shot up with “Just a Touch of Love” and “Snapshot.” They dominated the late ‘70s pretty good until 1982.
You have such an incredibly precise knowledge. Did you study up on it as a kid?
I read the credits and I would go buy records at a record store and actually take out the liner notes. I was into TV Guides as well, so the year sitcoms would go on, I would look at the credits, look at the year. I remember details of certain things, especially records.
6. Zapp and Roger, “More Bounce to the Ounce”
I don’t know who this is. No, it’s Zapp. One of the most iconic funk joints ever. “More Bounce to the Ounce,” 1980, produced by Bootsy Collins of all people. It’s a very hugely influential funk track for G-Funk and the funk of that era. The claps were louder and the bass is synth bass; they started adding that kind of thing, not just the live bass. “More Bounce to the Ounce” is up there in the top five of my favorite funk songs of all time.
It’s funny, most people think that Bootsy Collins was the drummer on “Not Just Knee Deep.”
You’re right. There’s some confusion on there, because some people say he did play. If I can recollect it, it was Dennis Chambers, if I’m not mistaken. If you listen to Don Blackman’s stuff, Dennis Chambers is playing drums on that. You can hear the similar style of drumming, also, on the Funkadelic album [Uncle Sam Wants You].
You interviewed George Clinton for the L.A. Record. Had you met him before?
I met him before, but I never talked to him that in depth. It was a great fun interview, and I still have that on tape. That’s the thing nobody has. I still have it on my computer, us talking. I recorded it, and one day I’ll put that out.
You ever listen to it?
I haven’t listened to it since then. But the fact that I have it is reassuring, in case one day I decide to put some stuff out, or maybe add some content to my website.
7. Tyler, the Creator, “Parade”
Is that Odd Future? Or Tyler?
Tyler the Creator. Yes. The song though, I can’t remember the name of it.
It’s called “Parade.”
Tyler is a genius to me. We go back since the MySpace days. So much history in the MySpace days: if you see people out you’d high-five each other, because it was such a time that people posted songs on the player, hoping for six plays. I remember him with his John McCain shirt on. That’s what pissed me off. I didn’t realize that he was so full of irony. The only thing I had an issue with at one point was just how he was getting down on Twitter, so I talked to him a little bit sometimes, but you can’t tell people stuff, because they’re living what we live. I don’t want to be the old guy: “Hey you shouldn’t be doing this.” Eventually he’ll realize what’s going on.
I ask him about songs and we share different information about old tracks, and it’s just a great mutual bond we have. I actually did a song on his latest album, Cherry Bomb. My mind’s so full of music, I can’t remember the name of it, but it’s on there, and I played keyboards on it. He had me over to his studio in North Hollywood and had Cartoon Network on at the same time. It was on mute, but he likes to see it when he’s doing his music.
8. Mötley Crüe, “Dr. Feelgood”
It sounds very familiar… almost there… Mötley Crüe, “Dr. Feelgood.” That was one of the first bands I ever saw in concert. They opened for KISS.
How old were you?
That was in 1982, so 11. Something like that. I’m timeless. I don’t know how old I am. That’s what made me different. But they got destroyed by KISS that night. They were good, but KISS definitely whooped ass. And it shows: the veterans, you can’t underestimate them. I love all the new cats, but you still have to respect the elders. That’s what Tyler’s doing now. You still have to use other people for knowledge. Don’t shun them like we know it all.
That’s what Snoop said in an interview.
Today, it’s this whole young thing. Look at the older cats, too, because they’re there for a reason, they survived for a reason. Even our parents. No matter how gritting our teeth it makes us, and how square they seem, they just know stuff that we don’t know. Our parents — old people — know s—t that we think we know, and they just kind of watch us like, “This is hilarious.”
You’re gonna screw up, but you’re going to learn.
Some people are too protective, but some people let them just go ahead and do it and then check out things. That’s how my parents did it. They protected me but they still let me go out and venture off. And I know it probably made their heart beat a little faster sometimes, but I’m glad they did.