Dumpstaphunk. The word conjures up images of steaming good times, as well as exotic — and maybe not so appetizing — smells. It's a name you can't forget once you've heard it, and a fitting title for a New Orleans band that moves funk into the 21st century with a combination of traditional grooves and modern sensibilities. "It is a provocative name," says guitarist Ian Neville with a chuckle. "My cousin Ivan (Dumpstaphunk's keyboard player and a talented multi-instrumentalist) and his brothers were sitting around thinking about the skankiest, dirtiest, nastiest things you can find to describe our sound. They got to talking about the stuff you find fermenting in the bottom of a dumpster — scraps of food, empty liquor bottles, cigarette stubs, somebody's underwear, all the leftovers of a wild night — so that's how it happened."
The band includes the double bass attack of Nick Daniels and Tony Hall, and drummer Nikki Glaspie from Beyoncé's all-female band. All five members contribute to its tightly interlocking, multilevel rhythms. They've been on the road almost constantly for the past few years and, on their new album, Dirty Word, they easily create the tight, highly charged energy of a live show.
"This is our first album with Nikki on drums. A new band member always shifts the flow of a record, but the actual recording was petty effortless," Neville says. The group builds songs from sound-check jams and spontaneous improvisations, but also structured ideas that members contribute. The material on the album has hints of Sly Stone, Funkadelic, and gospel in the mix, but nothing is ever consciously planned. "We don't say: 'Let's write a Parliament or a Meters jam,' but we have a lot of influences in common," Neville says. "If someone was listening to Funkadelic before the session, it might spark a few lightning bolts of that flavor. If we sound like our influences, we don't care. We play what we like and if it reminds people of our favorite music, that's okay."
Neville is the son of Art Neville of the legendary Funky Meters and Neville Brothers Band. He has New Orleans funk in his blood and an impressive legacy to live up to. "There's also a lot to draw on," he says. "The Meters were the first band that drew ears to what we now call funk. If we do half as much to move New Orleans music forward, we'll have succeeded."
Neville started playing drums in grammar school, inspired by the Beatles. But he later switched to guitar, honing his skills over years on the road with the Neville Brothers and the Funky Meters. "I didn't play at first, just went along with my dad, but watching them play and jamming with them after shows allowed me to pick the brains of [guitarists] Brian [Stoltz] and Leo [Nocentelli]. They never had a setlist. They'd start playing, then the show was over. When I was allowed to play, I had to listen and pay attention to keep up. It taught me to find the holes in the music I could fill and to know when not to play. If you fill every hole, the funk gets muddled up. You have to be spare."
Ian's cousin Ivan Neville started Dumpstaphunk for a one-off date at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage and Festival in 2003. "Based on how much fun we had playing and how all the parts fit without us having to force it or try too hard, we knew we had something right off," Ian says. "Ivan and I kept playing with the Meters between Dumpsta gigs, but we finally broke off after Hurricane Katrina. We've been going full-force ever since."
Dumpstaphunk is known for its powerful and unpredictable live shows, and Neville promises plenty of spontaneous fireworks for the Outside Lands Festival. "We have a selection of songs ready to roll, it just depends on who shows up and is ready to play. We already know [New Orleans pianist] Jon Cleary will be up there, along with John Oates [from Hall & Oates]. A lot of stuff going on that weekend is still under wraps. We have a handful of people scheduled to be there that we don't want to give away."