March 3, 2011

Funky Funky Freaks talks about funk at Knox

For senior musician Tim Douglas, funk is not just a musical genre; it’s a musical lifestyle. Being a member of choir for three years, minoring in music, playing in jazz combos and starting a drum corps on campus based off beats learned during his time abroad in Buenos Aries, Argentina, Douglas’s eclectic tastes and musical interests have come to life in more ways than just through funk music. His most involved project, however, is his leadership of the pre-eminent funk band on campus, The Funky Funky Freaks.
The Funky Funky Freaks started last fall under Douglas’s leadership, and they have since played numerous venues around campus, namely Lincoln Fest last year, as well as a few places in downtown Galesburg, including the now defunct Billiards. Basically, anywhere there’s live music and dancing on campus, you’ll find the Freaks rocking the house. You may have had the privilege of catching them at the Oak Room opening for Christopher the Conquered this past Friday.
Its members have changed frequently since its inception. The roster as it currently stands is (and it’s a big one) junior Josh Garties on sax, junior Zack Lawrence on trombone, seniors Pat Dooley and Jevin Lortie on trumpet, Pier Debes ’10 on keys, sophomore Jake Hawrylak on electric guitar, junior Sam Lewis on drums and Douglas on bass.
The Knox Student (TKS) talked with Douglas last week about the band’s music, influences, origins and his goals for the band in the Knox community.

The Knox Student (TKS): So the band is the Funky Funky Freaks. I take it your genre is funk.
Douglas: Yeah … you could call it that. Funk is a very nebulous concept. There is a genre called funk, but you know, everything that is funk doesn’t fall into the genre that is funk. So I like to think that we are funky in that we make some music that is funky, but not necessarily funk music, because you know, we dabble in soul and that sort of thing here and there. It’s jazz, it’s fusion, it’s a lot of stuff, but it’s not all necessarily [breaks into song] “We want the funk!” But if you want to call it something, you can call it funk.

TKS: So who would you say are your influences? You obviously have funk influences.
Douglas: Right, totally. Been listening to George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic all day every day, doing a lot of Erykah Badu … a lot of standard funk, you know, like Curtis Mayfield. But also looking to a lot of hip hop. Doing the G-Funk thing, doing Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. I’ve also been listening to a lot of reggae recently, so I’m drawing on a lot of that. One of the new jams bites the intro off “No More Trouble” by Bob Marley. You know, it’s a mixed bag.

TKS: How long have you been playing together as what is known as the Funky Funky Freaks?
Douglas: That’s been around since fall term of last year, so a year in change.

TKS: How often have you been playing shows? Monthly? Bimonthly?
Douglas: Oh, man … like two a term. That’s about the average. But I wasn’t here fall term, so we didn’t exist during that time.

TKS: How did you guys end up forming?
Douglas: Well, I had a lot I was doing, stuff I was writing and listening to, and I just wanted to play music. I had a group in high school, and we recorded an album and stuff. So you know, I had a lot of ideas. Then I got recruited for a ska band last year called Yumi and the Meatpants.

TKS: Oh, Yumi! She’s a phenomenal trombone player.
Douglas: Yeah, so I was playing the bass for that. There were some horns playing in that, so I just talked to a couple of people. Also my sophomore year, Sean Carmichael, ‘09, and Corey Hepner, ‘10, had a group, they were playing a fusion kind of thing. So I saw them play a couple times, and I was like, Corey needs to play for me. Then Sean graduated, and it was like, he ain’t got a bass player no more. He needs something to do. So I recruited him and then we just got some people together and started doing the thing. I had no idea what I was doing because this was my first gig as director. So I was making it up, doing a bad job for the most part, but doing the best I could. I was in a couple of different groups with Pier [Debes], so I was just like, “Hey, you play the keys right? You wanna play?” So … it was a lot of that going on. No one declined, so that was pretty cool.

TKS: So playing with Yumi probably helped a lot, it sounds like.
Douglas: Well, playing with Yumi was not that important to either of us. I really dug the group and I felt like she dug the group also, but it was a low-stress atmosphere … Yumi and the Meatpants just showed me where there were some people.

TKS: So you said it was a low-stress atmosphere in Yumi and the Meatpants. Would you say Funky Funky Freaks is a bigger project?
Douglas: Yeah, the Freaks are a much more organized outfit. Especially last year, it was priority number one for me. I was stressing a lot because I was new at it, I was trying to write and arrange horn parts and I had never done that before. But it was very structured, it was like we were gonna come and we’re gonna practice from two to four or whatever time the practice was, and you know, we had folders and everything. So it was a much more organized atmosphere than Yumi and the Meatpants.

TKS: What do you perceive as your goals for the group? What do you want to do for your fans through your music? Is that something you guys talked about initially?
Douglas: Well, the group is so different this year because there’s so many new members. Jake is playing guitar this year, Sam is playing the drums this year, there’s been some personnel changes, Chanel [Miller, ‘10] was singing last year, she graduated and she’s not singing no more. So we really came at it this year from a different perspective, whereas last year was very high-stress for everyone involved, and therefore not very much fun. This year, the goal now is for the people to get down. Nothing more than that. I just want them to dig it … because last year I had so much in my head, I wanted to do so much … but that’s not really in the realm of reason. So what we’re gonna do now is we want people to shake their booties. As long as booties get to shaking, what else can you ask for?

TKS: [laughter] Right, exactly. So how has Knox been nurturing or not nurturing to the band’s growth as an institution and a culture?
Douglas: Well, we were using Jay Rehearsal Hall last year, so that was helpful…you know, it’s good in some ways because everybody knows everybody. So it didn’t take long for me to find people [to play]…it was helpful, because people had already heard me play. I don’t know…Knox as opposed to what?

TKS: As opposed to a bigger school, as opposed to a bigger city…
Douglas: Well, there are no venues in Galesburg, Illi.

TKS: The Orpheum Theatre does some gigs, don’t they?
Douglas: Orpheum? You want the Freaks to play at the Orpheum Theatre? Come on. Chanticleer played at the Orpheum Theatre…the Freaks are not gonna play there. We can go play at Billiards, and like, Billiards is cool, don’t get me wrong. If there’s a good show at Billiards, I’ll go to Billiards and watch [Spondaic] Buttons get done. But outside of Billiards, there’s nothing with a stage, you know? There’s no real venue. So that’s really annoying. So Knox has been pretty good at providing venues. You remember the Lincoln Fest last year…

TKS: Yeah, that was cool.
Douglas: Yeah…for all thirty people that showed up, it was.

TKS: The concept was cool.
Douglas: The concept was cool. And the band that went on after we did, they were really good…but it was very poorly attended…I find that there’s a lot of hipster culture at Knox, so kids get too hip for sh*t.

TKS: Or they just don’t want to participate.
Douglas: For real. We played a show last year and kids just watched from the sides, just being like, ‘I don’t wanna dance really…’ and then when they did wanna dance, they left and they went to a frat party because they wanted to go get their grind on.

TKS: Do you think people have something specifically about funk that makes them uncomfortable?
Douglas: I mean, it’s unfamiliar. Most people here aren’t funky. We just have to face the reality of the situation. So you know, they get hit with something that is funky, and they don’t really know what to do with it because they don’t come from a culture that when the funk come on, their booty gets shakin’. The funk just don’t come on where they come from. Some people want to stand up against the wall and bob their head a little bit, and that’s not the kind of music that I play. If you want to bob your head, you got to bob your booty also. So people don’t value it because they don’t know what it is. You ask people on campus what they think dance music is, and you know, they’ll tell you Lil’ Wayne and Twista. That is dance music, if you wanna go get your grind on, do your thing, sure, go do that. But that’s not the only dance music that exists. You through on, even like the new Cee Lo jam, talking about “F*ck you”, for example. That song is danceable as hell, but people don’t know how to dance to it because you can’t grind to it. So it’s like dancing equals grinding here … that I think is an issue.

Sam Brownson
Sam Brownson ’12 majored in philosophy and minored in anthropology and sociology. This is his second year copy editing for TKS; he is also currently a post-baccalaureate fellow in music and theater and will be composing the music for two productions as part of Knox’s Repertory Theatre Term. A self-described grammar Nazi, Sam worked as a TKS reporter and as a writer and editor for his high school newspaper before joining the TKS editorial staff. He also manages social media for Brownson Properties in Holland, Mich.

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