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Dumpstaphunk

Biography

When Dumpstaphunk first released their single “Justice” the month of Donald Trump’s inauguration in February 2017, the group viewed the song as an important, if delicate, funk-blues anthem that spoke to their country’s turbulent times. 

“We wrote that a time when a lot of things were going on, people were getting killed by police officers,” says the group’s bandleader Ivan Neville. “Myself, Nick [Daniels] and Tony [Hall] were kids during the Sixties and Seventies, so we saw a lot of shit growing up, and we see the same stuff still going on: the systemic racism, the racial profiling, all the social injustice.”

Nearly four years later, a brand-new version of “Justice” (featuring Jurassic 5’s Chali 2na) will be anchoring In Funk We Trust, the first full-length album from the New Orleans roots-funk collective since 2013’s acclaimed Dirty Word. Slated for release the week of this year’s election, In Funk We Trust is the group’s most powerful and pointed statement of their career, with songs, like the brand-new blues-grooving “Where Do We Go From Here,” that are more sharply relevant than the group could have imagined when they first began work on the album several years ago.

Over its past 17 years, Dumpstaphunk has earned its reputation as the most well-regarded next-generation New Orleans live powerhouses, the type of band whose local live shows attract sit-in from legends like Carlos Santana, Bob Weir and Trombone Shorty. Alongside Hall, Daniels, Alex Wasily, Ryan Nyther and new drummer Devin Trusclair, cousins Ivan and Ian Neville have built upon their family’s iconic NOLA legacy as they’ve transformed Dumpstaphunk into the city’s pre-eminent 21st-century funk-fusion export, resulting in recent career highlights like their 2019 opening gig for the Rolling Stones at the Superdome. 

Modernizing and reinvigorating the NOLA Neville lineage has been one of the driving forces of Dumpstaphunk ever since the band spontaneously formed during Jazz Fest in 2003. Daniels and Hall both played with the Neville Brothers for years, but the band has never stood in the family’s shadows during its nearly two-decade career. For his part, Ian Neville never could have predicted he’d still be in the same band 17 years later, but the guitarist could sense the group’s historical weight from the onset.

“It was cool we were branching off and doing our own thing from our lineage,” Ian says today. “We thought the group should be a fluid, changing thing, just like life.”

The band crystallized its early sound on its 2007 debut Listen Hear. By that point, the group was already becoming the national funk-jam circuit, selling out headlining gigs across the country over the six years that followed until 2013’s Dirty Word. That record, which featured everyone from Flea to Ani DiFranco, was a modern funk masterpiece that reinforced the group’s well-earned reputation as the Crescent City’s freshest funk fusionists. 

Since releasing their last album seven years ago, Ivan Neville became a father for the second time, an experience that shaped his outlook on the future-facing originals on the group’s new album. “The unknown, sometimes, is scary,” he says, discussing the band’s “Where Do We Go From Here,” “but sometimes you just have to take that ride. We’re at a crossroads right now in this country, and some shit’s got to change.”

The band’s mix of classic and modern influences can be heard throughout the party-friendly mix of R&B, funk, rock, swamp-pop and blues of In Funk We Trust, from the slap-bass rave “Make It After All” to the band’s contemporary renderings of NOLA R&B rarities (the 1975 Blackmail gem “Let’s Get At It”) and early Seventies classics (Sly and the Family Stone’s “In Time”). 

“We hope people can hear the new songs and shake your ass to them, and then think about some stuff at the same time,” says Ivan, speaking to the new album’s delicate balance between topic material and dancefloor rockers. Or, as Ian describes the tone of the album, “subtle but pertinent.”

The hybrid rhythms and grooves can be attributed, in part, to the fact that the album was recorded partially with the band’s former drummer Alvin Ford Jr., and partially with Trusclair, who joined the group in 2019. “I guess you could call it an unorthodox way of putting a record together,” Ivan says of the piece-meal sessions that resulted in In Funk We Trust. “But, I mean, today, there’s really no formula.” 

The group culled material from many different sources over the past few years, working during touring stop-gaps at various studios in New Orleans: some songs began as a keyboard instrumental, others as a drum beat or a groove at sound-check. Some were simply covers that were already in the band’s live repertoire. The songwriting was similarly distributed, with band members like Hall and Daniels contributing (Daniels wrote the chorus to “Justice.”)

“The songs all have their own little process,” says Ian. “That’s the best way we work.” 

One song with an unexpected genesis is the band’s poignant cover of Buddy Miles’ 1973 chestnut “United Nations Stomp,” which features a searing guitar solo from a special guest: the rising blues guitar phenom Marcus King. “I was driving around one day and that song came up on my iPod,” says the band’s longtime bassist Tony Hall. “I was like, ‘Oh, that’s cool. What is that?’”

As with their Blackmail and Sly and the Family Stone rendition, Dumpstaphunk puts its own unmistakable stamp on the Buddy Miles cover. “We’re not biting off anybody’s material,” says Ian. “There are a lot of bands that take somebody’s song, flip it, and call it their own. We don’t do that, ever. 

Thinking about the band’s evolution over the past nearly 20 years, Ivan points to their Sly Stone cover as perhaps the best example of the band’s perpetually forward-thinking progress. 

“That’s a brave song to try to cover, an we fucking did,” he says. “And we did a damn good job on it. We all love that song, we were all influenced by that music, but we were still able to make it our own, somehow.”

“Writing songs and coming up with original material is always a beautiful thing,” Ivan continues. He’s still talking about covering “In Time,” but he may as well be outlining about the entire musical philosophy behind Dumpstaphunk: “but when you can cover a song like that, staying true to the original but still make it your own, it’s a magical thing.”

Whether its covering Sly Stone or writing urgent new originals like “Justice,” In Funk We Trust is perhaps the best evidence yet of Dumpstaphunk’s ability to strengthen and transform the singular NOLA roots on which the band is founded.

“Obviously, the New Orleans history is just embedded in us, but we manage to incorporate all the other stuff we’ve listened to over the years,” says Ivan. “We’re representing a legacy, but we’re reimagining a lot of it, too.”