Dallas' New Wave of Funk Music Gets a Boost From Josey Records' Imprint

Spencer Kenney is part of a new movement of lo-fi funk coming out of Dallas.EXPAND
Spencer Kenney is part of a new movement of lo-fi funk coming out of Dallas.
Christian Vasquez

Just a few months after purchasing the only vinyl record plant in Texas, Josey Records is already making its mark on the local music scene. Two new record labels out of Josey, New Math and Dolfin, are putting out some great sounds that few are familiar with, even highlighting a local lo-fi funk scene with sounds comparable to Dâm-Funk.

One of New Math's artists is 21-year-old Spencer Kenney. Even at his young age, Kenney is an experienced musician with a diverse skill set. As a teenager he fronted a band called Howler Jr., an indie garage rock group out of Denton known for solid recordings and great live shows. But his latest project is funk recorded in a bedroom. Josey co-owner JT Donaldson was impressed enough to release the music on New Math. Josey Records will press 500 copies of Kenney’s December EP, In the Thick of It, in April.

“I walked into the store one day up at Josey,” Donaldson says. “It was being played over the speakers and I asked, ‘What is this?’” It wasn’t a sound that tried to duplicate anything; the music is unique to its genre. “I don’t know what’s in the water or what these kids are drinking nowadays, but there’s some really cool stuff coming up. It’s really a privilege to help.” Josey had already released a song from Howler Jr. for their Record Store Day compilation, which featured local artists. But this was a very different sound. Donaldson got in touch with Kenney on his birthday and arranged for it to be his label’s second release.

New Math’s third release will be an EP from Ghoulfive, another lo-fi funk collaboration with hip-hop artist Lord Byron and the elusive Felix. Through Dolfin Records, Josey Records will also distribute the EP from the artist known only as Felix on vinyl. Felix’s brand of funk may approach outsider art, and it may have been recorded straight to a cassette jukebox in the bathroom of his mother’s home.

Currently in Los Angeles, Donaldson plans to personally hand a copy of Kenney’s record to one of the buyers at Amoeba Records. He also plans to make it available to stores worldwide, sending promos so buyers will recognize releases when they show up on buy sheets. The thought of cool labels out of Dallas that put out all these interesting releases is incredibly exciting, making record stores all over the world wonder what’s next. And Josey Records — both in Dallas and Kansas City — will carry variants of these releases with colored vinyl.

Donaldson admits that he saw the need for more record labels in DFW and it was one of the things that motivated him to start New Math Records. “I want to provide a platform for emerging local talent in hopes of getting worldwide exposure,” Donaldson says. “I’m sure you’ll see a lot more local artists having accessibility to start their own imprints. I want to put some shine on the home front.”

These lo-fi funk artists are not approaching this material eclectically. Kenny, for example, is a Booker T grad. Some of the influences for his new music include obscure Dallas recordings, gems from the likes of artists like Cleo McNett — who Felix also cited as an influence — and Timothy McNealy. Kenney even says his Sunday morning gig in a church band has been tremendously influential to his sound. 

“Everyone went to school in a different place,” Kenney says. That effectively ended Howler Jr. and he struggled to write new music without collaborators, often just practicing guitar. “I stopped writing and nothing was happening,” Kenney continues. “It was pretty frustrating.”

He had taken cues from American roots rock in the past, but used the downtime as an opportunity for growth as he started creating bedroom recordings. “I think it was just born out of me just banging my head on the wall, trying to figure out what to do,” Kenney says. But he also enjoyed the Felix EP: “When I heard that record it really blew me away. I love Felix. He really inspired me.”

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Kenney also has roots in Dallas funk that are surprisingly deep. One of his guitar teachers, Roger Boykin, was part of the ‘70s funk scene in Dallas, and he is another major influence on Kenney. Now 75, Boykin just performed at The Balcony Club Sunday night and Kenney made sure to attend. “He gave me a record called Live at the South Dallas Pop Festival 1970,” Kenney says. These Dallas funk sides from the ‘70s were some of the first songs he learned to play on his guitar. But something clicked when Kenney heard Felix and it sent his music off in a different collection.

“I think those guys are going to freak some people out,” Donaldson says, and laughs. Indeed, this modern lo-fi funk movement is a breath of fresh air to the Dallas music scene. 

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