Q&A: DâM-FunK Explains How A Humble Start Led Him Toward Becoming One of Today's Most Vocal Funk Champions.
Damon G. Riddick, aka DâM-FunK, is a modern funk producer and session musician from Los Angeles who stands as one of this generation's most vocal champions for funk music.
Ever the showman, his synthesizer-heavy live show and rare vinyl-heavy DJ sets have earned much acclaim from fans and critics -- pertinent information considering that he'll be gracing us us with the latter this evening at the impossibly swanky new Rio Room in uptown Dallas.
Earlier this week, I caught up with Riddick via Skype, as he revealed his heartfelt passion for funk and his philosophy toward music production, and even hinted at some future secret releases under unknown pseudonyms. Read our Q&A in full after the jump.
Is this set going to be similar to the one you played in Austin at Beauty Bar during Fun Fun Fun Fest? Like, with live keys?
Yeah, it's going to be like that, and it's going to have live keys.
I remember you playing unreleased tracks last time as well, is that going to happen here?
Yeah, I'm going to share some of the new stuff and preview some of the future album that's coming out.
When is that coming out?
I'm looking for a summer release, but I'm trying to turn it in by the end of March.
So when did you first start recording?
I started recording in high school, in like the 10th grade. But I was always playing drums my whole life. In the 10th grade, I started recording on cassette tapes at home. I'd leave school early and make these tracks before people were even doing some of the recording in the way that they do now, as far as Logic and Ableton and Pro Tools and all that stuff. It was basically bouncing stuff back and forth from cassette tape to cassette tape and it would have a lot of hiss on it, but it was still listenable. I would just make those tapes for my friends in the neighborhood, never intending to put them out and stuff, and I just started progressing from there. After high school, I started hooking up with people in the business, doing session work, and learning more about music.
You worked at a record store, didn't you?
Yeah, I worked at a record store called Poo-Bah Records, and they're pretty well-known now for being the instigators of a lot of the beat music scene now, until the owners switched. When I was working there, they were at another location, in Pasadena, and I was one of the first young guys to work at Poo-Bah. That's where I learned a lot of my record digging insights, by working at a record store like that that had a lot of used records coming in.
That helped build up the collection that you have now, right?
I did get a lot of stuff from there, but I got it from all over the place. Plus, I'd always been buying the type of music you hear me spinning now -- I didn't just jump on it, I've been really enjoying this type of sound. Not just funk, either. I like all types of different styles -- like, it'll be some Depeche Mode, Pre Fab Sprout, it'll be Frank Zappa, it'll be Todd Rundgren, mixtures of genres of what my listening taste was. But funk was always the thing that suited my appetite for good music.
When did the DâM-FunK moniker come about?
It was in the 2000s -- the early 2000s. People were calling me DâM, short for Damon, so I didn't want the "E" at the end because that's like a female, "dame." I was always very in tune to how people perceive things, so I started going by DâM, but I added the funk at the end because that's the lifeline of my musical taste that I dig and everything that I do. I want it to be funk-based and go into other areas of different music, like how I do things with Animal Collective and Nite Jewel and that kind of thing. The funk is the base, but I never want to stay entrenched in it, so I just go experiment with other things. So DâM-FunK is still going to be the moniker that I use, but there will probably be some other pseudonyms down the road. There's already a couple now, but people don't really know what it is yet.
You're keeping that on the down-low for a little bit?
Yeah, I hope people don't mind. I just want those to come out so I can kind of, like, keep spreading the sound and make it a little bit more fun and wonder who it is.
So the style that you developed under DâM-FunK is a specific style you've cultivated, and you'll be going into different styles with these different pseudonyms?
On Toeachizown, how many different instruments did you play?
Mainly just keyboards and drums. I have been dabbling with bass, but I want to save that to be the right way. I don't want to be one of these cats that starts messing around and other bass players are like, "Man what the fuck was that?" So I want it to be right when I do introduce the bass playing on my records. So far, I'm just really into synthesizers, keyboards a lot, drum machines and live drums. A track called "New Frontiers" that was only available on the wax, I played drums on that.
So in terms of synthesizers, how long have you been collecting gear?
A long time. I've been doing it since high school, going to pawn shops and, y'know, recycler ads. I bought my first Linn Drum machine for $200. You know those now are worth pretty much like a thousand on up, so I just got it at a good time when people weren't "hipstering" out, trying to get synths and everything. When I was using drum machines, it wasn't cool, it was like jam bands were around and stuff like that. But, now, even the jam bands are using drum machines. But, y'know. I've just always been true, Rodrigo, and I was doing stuff before it was a fad. So it just happened to be, with meeting people like Peanut Butter Wolf from Stones Throw [Records], it just connected where he was able to know what I was talking about and felt what I was feeling, and that's how this album was able to come out. Thank God it was on a label like Stones Throw that, y'know, is willing to put out stuff without all the red tape involved.
Were you surprised at the positive reaction you received from that release? Obviously, you speak like you weren't trying to appeal to a mass audience or any specific groups, but it ended up happening.
No, I really appreciate it, man. I didn't expect it to be like that. I was just doing music and if it got out, it just happened. It happened so fast because my first release was Burn Rubber. It was a 12-inch remix for Baron Zen, and Wolf offered me a 12-inch remix first because we had known each other from DJing in LA. He liked DJing some of the modern soul, modern funk and boogie tracks because he has that in his collection as well, not just hip-hop, so he would come to Funkmosphere and I would go see him spin and he just so happened to find out through Myspace that I was doing tracks of my own. But I never tried to force it on him; I was never one of those cats like trying to force my CD down people's throats or anything like that. This all happened natural. I would've been doing music still, working at my day job driving trucks, delivering things. To this day, I would have still been making music. It just happened that Stones Throw took a liking and interest in something they thought was true and heartfelt and the album just came together like that. If you listen to the record carefully... y'know, I'm making it for the loners, you know what I'm saying? The album is like, if you go to a club and you walk out of that club and go down the street to a darker club that's for, like, the different people. That's what Toeachizown is about, like some different little personal things that's entwined in there that I think if people listen, they'll catch on to it. Some of the chords, the way it's kind of like a hazy vibe -- I really wanted to make it more of a personal record for the people who are different than the regular cats. So I think that's what Toeachizown -- even the title "to each his own," -- is. You're just entitled to do your own thing. And I don't do it for critics. Now, I'm not going to lie to you, but I did want to make an album that was funk-related, but that didn't have that weird, like, comedy shit attached to it all the time. Know what I'm saying?
I didn't want it to be a comedy-laced album with rainbow attire and platform shoes and all that stuff. And bell-bottoms. That's not the kind of funk that I grew up on, but the commerciality of things made it into that over the years. So my mission, if you will, was to turn it around, to turn the perception around of funk music, man. Not to say that I'm trying to take myself seriously, but I want the music to be taken more seriously, you know what I mean? To look at where you can take funk-based music to like Zappa did, where he did jazz and rock. And like Prince -- even Prince, he got more serious with funk but later on it got misconstrued. I definitely want to bring funk to more of an urban street level where people who make records in their bedrooms can think and say feel comfortable to do funk if they want to. And get respected by their friends and peers and not laughed at.
Is that kind of what your Funkmosphere weekly is all about, too? Like you're just trying to spread the word about funk?
Yeah, and that was another mission. Like in L.A., man, if you went to a club, they would only play some of these tracks like once or twice in a hip-hop or house set. No one would be concentrated on the sound from beginning to end, so Funkmosphere is basically giving you a concentrated experience in funk, boogie, post-disco, even some Chicago House and Detroit sounds -- that kind of thing. It was to give a voice to that kind of music but also give DJs a chance to put some different records in their crates, and so far it's been great.
So this set you're going to play [at Rio Room]: Is it going to be like an extension of that?
I am going to play the Funkmosphere sound, but I'm also going to play modern funk as well. Just like how, to combat some of the hecklers out there or people that try to put me in a box, I did a mix called "The Future Sound of Modern Funk," and that's available online, even on my blog called the GFF, Galactic Funk Federation. There's a mix on it I did for a lady named Mary Anne Hobbes on the BBC radio; it was all modern funk new artists that are out doing this stuff, like B. Bravo, Devonwho, AD Bourke. There's a lot of people who are doing the new sound, but it's funk-based. It's not dubstep, it's not IDM, it's not shock rap like what's going on now. It's modern funk. And I feel that there should be a place for it in today's music.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.