Sifting Through the Dumpstaphunk with Ivan Neville
As an heir to New Orleans’ most famous family, Ivan Neville has been playing music professionally almost as long as he’s been digesting po’ boys. Between gigs as the Neville Brothers’ keyboardist and chief ambassador to the improvisational music community, the younger Neville has also carved out a respectable solo career, releasing a series of studio albums and clocking in time with everyone from the Rolling Stones to Bonnie Raitt. In 2003, Neville put together a new ensemble, Dumpstaphunk, featuring an all-star selection of Big Easy stalwarts: Tony Hall (bass), Ian Neville (guitar), Raymond Weber (drums) and Nick Daniels (bass). After gigging around the French Quarter for a number of years, Dumpstaphunk began touring nationally in mid-2005, around the same time Trey Anastasio tapped both Hall and Weber for the latest edition of 70 Volt Parade. While gearing up for Dumpstaphunk’s current cross-country tour, Ivan Neville sat-down with Jambands.com, shedding some light on his band’s future recording plans, potential collaborations with Keith Richards and hurricane Katrina’s effect on Nevilleland.
MG- Describe Dumpstaphunk’s initial genesis.
IN- I first put Dumpstaphunk together for a JazzFest gig at the fairgrounds in 2003. It was the same band I play with today, plus a few more guys—-Big Sam, the Dirty Dozen Horns and some others guys. I wanted to create the funkiest band ever and play some songs no one else was playing. We played Meters songs that the Meters don’t even play, like “Getting Funky All the Time.” I had also just put out my record Scrape, so we played a lot off that album too, but, since then, I have started to write specifically for Dumpstaphunk. We played around New Orleans between tours and this summer had the opportunity to play a few festivals around the country.
MG- Dumpstaphunk also has a rather unique rhythm section. Was it a conscious decision to bring two bass players onboard?
IN- It was definitely a conscious decision, because, when we were putting together Dumpstaphunk, I was like damn, I want Tony Hall in the band and Nick Daniels in this band—-I wanted both of those mother fuckers.” I knew it would work [given the players], but having two bass players in a band is not the easiest thing in the world. But, with this band, the chemistry is fucking amazing. We have two of the baddest mother fucking bass players New Orleans has ever seen.
MG- How would you describe your role as bandleader in Dumpstaphunk?
IN- Basically it is kind of like we take turns driving. I drive a lot, but we follow each other from time to time. It is really a no-brainer because the guys in the band listen so well—- we listen to each other and know where to go That is what is really fun about this band—- we can play songs that we played a million times but they can sound slightly different every night. There is something about a song on any given night that is going to be different.
MG- How do you plan to separate Dumpstaphunk from your work with the Neville Brothers?
IN- I want to get into the studio and make a record with Dumpstaphunk. I want to keep playing with this band and build up a good following because this is the funkiest band I know. This is the funkiest fucking band we all know, and we have all played with many people and in many different configurations in the funk world. I want to get it out there and get people exposed to this Dumpstaphunk brand of funk. Eventually, I want to get to the point where we can tour with Dumpstaphunk full-time.
MG- What are some of the original songs that you would like to lay down in the studio?
IN- Well, we got a song that we have been playing for a while and it has evolved. It is called “Living in a World Gone Mad” and, obviously, it has taken on several different meanings since its first conception. After all these events, the world has gone crazya lot of different things have gone on since we first wrote the song. We have another song we are developing that we haven’t played at all yet. I’m not going to tell you the name of it, because somebody might hear that shit, because I’m surprised the song has never been written with this title. Being from New Orleans, I thought somebody would have written the fucking song. It’s too simple. We got a couple of grooves that we developed from live gigs and shit that came out of nowhere and turned into songs.
MG- Have any of the other members of Dumpstaphunk written original material for the group?
IN- Nah, but Nick has something he has been working on and playing during sound check, and I think we are going to start playing it tonight [laughs].
MG- Currently both Tony and Raymond are pulling double-duty as 70 Volt Parade’s rhythm section. How has their time with Trey changed Dumpstaphunk’s sound?
IN- You can tell those guys have been playing with Trey, yeah. It is cool, because we lend ourselves to that psychedelic style, and Trey’s music, it lends itself to lots of spontaneity and shit like that. He’s got hard grooves and strong grooves going on, but there are certain things that can be extended any given night. The guys bring a piece of that spontaneity back to Dumpstaphunk when they come off the road with Trey.
MG- Over the summer, Trey also stopped by Dumpstaphunk’s gig at New York’s BB King’s Blues Club after playing his own show in Philadelphia. Tell us how that gig came to be.
IN- Well, we had scheduled that gig and then Tony [Hall] started touring with Trey. We couldn’t play without him—-it’s as much Tony’s band as mine. So he flew from Philadelphia to New York in time for our midnight gig. It worked out. They showed up and Trey came with him and sat in with us. I heard somebody downloaded that gig, but I don’t even have a copy [laughs].
MG- Speaking of late-night shows at BB King Blues Club, what can you tell us about your next New York appearance, which happens to be a post-show for the Rolling Stones.
IN- We are playing in New York the same night the Stones are playing Madison Square Garden and my friend Bernard Fowler, who sings back up with the Stones, is going to come sit-in with us. Bernard sang on a lot of my stuff, and I have sung on a lot of Bernard’s stuff, and we have both done stuff on Stones records and on Keith Richards Records. I was a member of Keith’s band the X-Pensive Winos and Bernard played on one of those records. Me and Bernard have done a lot of stuff in Los Angeles, we know how to collaborate’—- so to speak. Me and Bernard are tight—-he’s my boy—-and we figured it has got to be a cool thing with the Stones playing at Madison Square Garden and we got a late night gig at B.B. King’s. It could be fun, who knows what can happen on a night like that [laughs]. Bernard is going to come by and Skerik is playing that gig with us as well. You never know what it could turn intoit is the type of thing where everybody is invited—-musicians that we know and love and who love us.
MG- How did you first meet Keith Richards?
IN- I actually first met Keith through the Neville Brothers when we opened for the Stones in 1981. The connection was initially made when the Meters opened up for the Stones on a European tour back in ’76, but I actually met them playing with the Neville’s. Over the years we crossed paths here and there. So when the Stones decided to do a record called Dirty Work—-the record that had “Harlem Shuffle” on it—-they asked me to play on it. I had just finished a tour with Bonnie Raitt and I ended up in New York and the Stones were making the Dirty Work record. I knew the guys by this point and I ended up going to the studio where they were recording and I ended up playing bass guitar on a fucking Stones song, which is funny. There is some bio, an old bio, of mine up on Amazon or one of those sites that describes me as a bass player. I played bass on this one song on a Stones record—-which is kind of cool since it was the first record I ever played bass on—-and now I am a bassist. Then Keith decided to put together a band called the X-Pensive Winos in the late 80s and I got a call to play with that band.
MG- Have you played in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina?
IN- No, we have not, but I really hope to play down there soon if opportunity presents itself. I’m sure we would all love to play in New Orleans—- it is our fucking home. People can say what they want—-there is mixed feelings involved with the whole New Orleans tragedy and the rebuilding process and what not. Me personally, I hope for the best and hope everything can flourish again. But, the New Orleans where I grew up in, and the place that I know and love, is not quite there yet again. I absolutely want to play there again and I just hope they can do the right thing with the money and stuff like thatthe powers that be.
MG- Where were you when the Hurricane hit?
IN- We were all away—- well most of us were away. I know Nick was out playing with the Brothers in New York. The rest of the guys were in Brazil. There was a Dumpstaphunk gig, but Nick was playing with the Brothers. So it was myself, Tony, Raymond and Ian. There were a bunch of New Orleans cats down in Brazil doing a New Orleans type gig. We got stranded down there, which wasn’t the worst place to be stranded for a couple days [laughs]. But that’s when it happened—-Raymond and lot of people lost their fucking homes and shit. We have already heard that story. It is sad and all we can do is go out there and play our fucking music and do what we do.
MG- Dumpstaphunk’s also features another second-generation Neville, Ian. How long have you played professionally with your cousin?
IN- Ian is our young gun and he is a fucking little kid. He is a good looking motherfucker who can play some funky-ass guitar. Ian is like 23 or 24, and I have watched the cat come up from a little kid playing the guitar, sitting in with the funky Meters when he was like fucking 14 or 15 years old. He continued to play and, when we were putting together this group, I was like, “Ian you want to play in the band? You want to play in the funkiest fucking band you ever played in besides the Meters?”
MG- How would you describe your current role in the Neville Brothers?
IN- Right now it has kind of toned down a little bit. The Nevilles are not playing as much as we were playing pre-Katrina. Right after the hurricane there were a bunch of benefit gigs that the Nevilles were involved in because the Nevilles are synonymous with New Orleans. So they were getting calls to play a bunch of great events that were benefiting New Orleans and the Katrina victims. My role has been pretty muchI’m kind of the auxiliary guy in the background. trying to keep it together and keep the continuity in the band. I try to keep it as funky as I possibly can. Obviously, Art Neville is Papa Funk. I come up underneath Art and I stole all his licks, now he is trying to steal them back [laughs]. He wonders what I did with them and is like, “Damn he took my shit, but I took his shit and turned it around a little bit.” I’m just kind of in there trying to keep the fire going as much as I can. And my dad is an amazing man—- a whole other thing. The voice of Aaron Neville has a whole other level, another genre. It is a beautiful thing and I’m just trying to keep the fire going and keep it as funky as possible and keep it fun.
MG- The night of New York’s From the Big Apple to the Big Easy benefit was particularly busy for the Neville Brothers.
IN- We played at Radio City first and then ran over and played again at Madison Square Garden with the Meters. Then I actually went back over after the Madison Square Garden and sat in with Trey and Dave Matthews [laughs].
MG- After three years of gigs, why go full-force with Dumpstaphunk now?
IN- We figured the time is right and we like to have enough work with that band where we didn’t have to have other side gigs. We wanted to make a little noise and get people to get the word out about Dumpstaphunk. We are not just a local seasonal band that plays during JazzFest, though it started out like that. We want to get the word out because this band is a good fucking band, and it is funky. It inspires me every time I get up on the stage and play with those guys, and I’m sure they feel the same way. We got to share this shit and get the word out so we are able to go out and go around the country a few times, a couple times a year. Maybe we can also get overseas at some point. We just want to go out and do what bands do—— make a fucking living playing music. If we can do that with this band that we love to play with —-it would be amazing!