Ian Neville is the guitarist for New Orleans funk powerhouse Dumpstaphunk. The band’s forthcoming album is “Dirty Word,” dropping in June 2013. They are playing Jazz Fest 2013 in New Orleans on Saturday, April 27 at 3:35 p.m. on the Gentilly stage. Ian recently discussed the origins of Dumpstaphunk, the keys to quality funk playing and how to survive the wonderful Jazz Fest insanity. For more info, visit the Dumpstaphunk website. Also, check out our other Jazz Fest interviews with Marcia Ball, Ed Volker and Ed Williams!
McClain: What first got you interested in playing guitar?
IN: I started playing other things when I was little. I switched schools in 4th grade. A friend of mine had a guitar at his house. I started playing his guitar. I got a hold of one not long after that. That was how I first picked up guitar.
M: Who were your teachers in terms of playing and technique? You’re an insanely funky player.
IN: There are a couple of musicians that I looked up to. When I was first starting, I was probably around Brian Stoltz the most. From playing with the Funky Meters, from when I was like 14 on. Just sitting in with them and being around, I’d get to pick Brian’s brain about stuff. Every now and then, Leo would pop up and I would get to ask him some stuff. I’d have some preloaded questions ready for him.
M: What do you feel is the biggest advice you learned from Brian and Leo?
IN: I learned more about actually how they went about playing certain stuff and technique-type things. I think the advice came from just playing with so many of the badass musicians I get to play with. Know when to not play anything – that’s one of the best tips you can give to a musician.
M:That’s got to be something else, just being surrounded by quality New Orleans players all the time. That must have really shaped you as a person and a musician.
IN: It’s unavoidable, I think. It’s unavoidable being around all that. I’d have to be an idiot not to want to absorb everything from all those people.
M: Your sound is just tight all the time. I love that the live show was your first focus, but the energy still comes over to the studio stuff. I think a lot of bands don’t know how to do that properly. You guys get it. You bring the funk in any way you can.
IN: That is hard to translate, the live energy to a record. I couldn’t explain to somebody how to do that. We’re lucky enough where, most of the time, we can get our groove on in the studio and it feels right.
M: How did Dumpstaphunk come together?
IN: Ivan got a call to do a Jazz Fest gig in 2003, and started trying to figure out who he was going to call. He called Tony. He was trying to figure out if he was going to call Tony and Nick. They are both bass players, obviously. He was like, “Yeah, why not?” He called them both. I got on board. Raymond rounded it out. We had some horns and June Yamagishi played with us. We had a couple of guests. Nick had a percussion setup. It was the first conglomeration. After that, it ended up being the five of us. We just ran with it from there. At that point, it was a side-project for everyone really. Me and Ivan and Nick were all playing with the Neville Brothers. Tony was out with Dave Matthews or Trey. I forget who Ray was playing with around then. It was around after the hurricane that we all made that our focus, somewhat on accident and somewhat because that’s what we ended up falling into.
M: It’s funny how you start things on the side and then all of the sudden it becomes the main thing.
IN: We couldn’t have planned it at that point, because everyone was into their own things. That was definitely their main focus at that point.
M: What have been some of your favorite shows you’ve played with Dumpstaphunk?
IN: We’ve had some fun ones at our home court Jazz Fest gig. If we get a good crowd and slot at a festival, we tend to have a lot of fun. The first time we played High Sierra, it was like a 2 a.m. set. It was our first time out there and it was fully packed. It was a great gig. Sherik was playing with us that night. We also had a killer late-night Bonnaroo set after Dr. John. That was maybe around 2007 or 2006. Festivals, those tend to be a blast.
M: Festivals are a time when you can really win over crowds, which is always good.
IN: Ideally, it’s always people who don’t know who you are that come and say, “Let’s see what the hell Dumpstaphunk is about.” They walk away blown away and we get some new fans.
M: Once they see it, they get it. You guys just know how to bring the funk all the time. I like that you guys always do your thing. It’s modern and it’s now. It’s not just a classic throwback to stuff. It is New Orleans funk today. What have been some of your favorite memories from Jazz Fest?
IN: The day after, when I sleep for like 85 hours straight.
M: Because you’re dead.
IN: Yeah. I warn people when they are coming for the whole two weeks of Jazz Fest, because it gets deep. People that are walking in don’t know what they are getting into. We have gigs that start at 3 a.m., and the next day, we have to be at the Fair Grounds at 2 p.m. If you’re not ready for the whole long haul of it, it can catch you off guard. Overall, the raucousness of that whole vibe is something you can’t duplicate. I’m fine with the fact that I can go to my house and my own bed for a couple of hours, here and there. It makes it all come together.
M: Jazz Fest couldn’t happen any other place.
IN: The closest thing to Jazz Fest is Jam Cruise, an almost 24 hour cycle of music. We played a festival in Brazil a few years ago that was a 24 hour, city-wide festival. It was like 20 or 30 stages, from 6 p.m. to 6 p.m. the next day. It was straight-through, 24 hours. Our set was at 2 in the morning. There was probably 10,000 people out there, in this square, checking us out. That was the closest to a New Orleans Jazz Fest, Mardi Gras vibe, and not on a boat, floating in international waters.
M: It’s really interesting to hear your perspective. You are a member of one of NOLA’s most important families, and the fact that you’ve carved out your own space within it is something else.
IN: I mean, that’s what we are trying to do. It’s tough to compete with some of the influence and legacy surrounding where we come from. We want to live up to it and drag that into the future.