STORY WRITTEN BY FERN BRODKIN
For Digital First Media
Recently I had the opportunity to speak by phone to guitarist Ian Neville from his home in New Orleans. He is, of course, from one of the most famous musical families in modern music. His father Art “Poppa Funk” Neville performed with the legendary Neville Brothers and before that The Meters. Ian’s cousin and bandmate, keyboardist Ivan Neville, is the son of Aaron Neville of The Neville Brothers. This second generation of Nevilles has layed down the funk since they first performed at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2003. The following are excerpts from my interview with Ian Neville.
Brodkin: When you did that first gig, was the intention to keep the band together or was it just supposed to be a one-off?
Neville: No, it was just to have fun that day at the jazz fest and crush the music and do what we do. It ended up being … ‘Damn, we’d be stupid to not do this again.’ It started like that and once we all decided to make it (our) primary focus (we) started recording some music together and then hit the road.
Brodkin: Is there a leader of the band?
Neville: I’d say that even to our own detriment as a band, we are a democracy, which is tough sometimes. Sometimes having a band it’s easier to have 1 or 2 guys that are the focus and the shot callers and whatnot, but that’s not really the deal with us and it’s not always a good thing. We make it work and we argue like family, which me and Ivan actually are, and the rest of the cats in the band, Nick Daniels [bass] and Tony Hall [drums] have been playing with family members of ours. I’ve known those guys since I was small, so they’re like family. We play together like family, we argue together like family, the whole deal. Then we have Alvin Ford Jr. playing drums with us. He’s also from New Orleans, but he’s the youngest guy in the band right now. He’s definitely part of the New Orleans family already, so he fell right into the flow of it.
Brodkin: Are all of you involved in the songwriting?
Neville: Yes. We’ve just been in the studio, actually, over the past month-and-a-half or so. There’s various ways that songs come up. Sometimes someone comes in to the studio with an almost fully fleshed out song idea and other times it’s like somebody walks in (and says) ‘I just thought of this riff on the way over here.’ Then we all check it out and put our own spins and vibes on it. Then, another lately tactic we were doing, any of us could make up something that’s cool to build off of, at any moment, which a lot of times happens at sound checks and times like that. We’ll record little snippets of things here and there and then go review all of our little unfinished catalog and build off of some of that.
Brodkin: What is it like being part of the Neville family and having such a significant name in music? I’m sure that all your relatives have been an inspiration to you, but is it also kind of a pressure having that name and the legacy to live up to?
Neville: Yes, it’s all of the above on that one. It’s definitely part of a great legacy and when you look at The Meters, that’s my dad’s band — the Meters and the Neville Brothers — The Meters were first. The Meters are up there … in my Mount Rushmore of top funk bands, for lack of a better term. Through the uniqueness of their music and what they were creating and building (they) ended up transferring to so many other genres of music and influencing all music since all that stuff was out. (It’s) a pretty lofty goal to say that ideally I would hope that Dumpstaphunk music lives on that long and has that kind of influence. That’s basically what I would say I would like to live up to, as far the legacy part of the Neville name. Which is a tall order, but it starts 1 groove, 1 song at a time. We just try to have fun writing the music we like to play and listen to. It definitely draws off of all of our past influences, which happen to be our family.
Brodkin: Do you and Ivan in particular feel that there’s a pressure to stay artistically in line with what the Nevilles are noted for? Or do you feel like you’re able to branch out?
Neville: There’s no box for where you can go creatively. They’ve been all over the place themselves, in recording this stuff, if you go back and really dig through catalogs. For Dumpstaphunk, no, there’s no cap or blinders on what we look to create. It’s just whatever feels good at that moment or that day in the studio, or whatever it may be. It’s not, oh we can’t do that because it’s this kind of song and it’s not a true, traditional New Orleans thing, or anything. No, there’s none of that. We just try to create newness that builds on where we came from.
Brodkin: How do you feel your music had evolved from when you first formed 12 years ago? Are there any things that you’re looking to add as you continue in the future?
Neville: How I’ve changed as a person, I guess, influences how I feel about certain songs and input we have together when we’re writing and creating. I think that goes for all of us. Actually for the Ardmore gig, we’re going to have a horn section with us that we’ve been playing with a lot lately, these guys from Pittsburgh [the Steel Town Horns]. I’m pretty sure we’ve never had a horn section in Philly or the Philly area before with us. It’s been good for us as a band, just to add that element and keep it fresh, (to) give us a lot of other options of stuff to play. Overall it adds a fuller vibe to the show, which is good for us to keep it fresh on our end as well. They crush all of our stuff and also expand our songbook, our song options of stuff we get to call and play and jam on. That’s fun for us — (doing songs) that you can’t pull off without horns. It’s just good to have all those extra options. All those guys are awesome players, they’re just fun to play with, which adds to the vibe of the whole night for us and for the crowd.
Dumpstaphunk will share the night with Royal Southern Brotherhood, featuring yet another Neville — vocalist and percussionist Cyril — of The Meters, the Neville Brothers and Galactic.
IF YOU GO
What: Dumpstaphunk with the Steel Town Horns and Royal Southern Brotherhood
When: Thursday, Sept. 10. Showtime 8:30 p.m.; doors open at 8.
Where: The Ardmore Music Hall, 23 E. Lancaster Ave., Ardmore.
Tickets: $22 in advance, $25 day of show; VIP $45 (in advance only).
Info.: Check www.ardmoremusic.com or call (610) 649-8389.
Artists’ websites: www.dumpstaphunk.com and www.royalsouthernbrotherhood.com