Dâm-Funk The Missionary
Published Dec 20, 2013Dâm-Funk's on a mission: to preserve and promote the funk. Though the man born Damon Riddick has an undying devotion and innovative take on the music that could have earned his alter-ego his own character in the Parliament-Funkadelic gestalt, he's been casting his flashlight on the bass thumping, synthesizer drenched, electro-clap-driven grooves of late 1970s and early 1980s underground funk and boogie scenes. While 2009's Toeachizown established Dam as the sonic lineage of the late Roger Troutman, Junie Morrison and Leroy Burgess, his own formidable instrumental skills and idiosyncratic production eschewed any sense of nostalgia. This summer's Higher saw a collaboration with unsung funk vocalist Steve Arrington and there was perhaps no better partner for Snoopzilla (aka Snoop Dogg) to return to his funk roots with than Dam, on the just released Stones Throw album 7 Days Of Funk. We spoke to Dam about his production process, his take on "modern funk" and hooking up with Snoop.
What artists did you listen to growing up?
I listened to a lot of different artists — Prince, Kiss, Rush, Todd Rundgren, P-Funk, Zapp, Change, Mtume, those kind of groups.
Can you take me through your track-making process?
I make tracks in a fashion of playing it live, all the way through. I don't sequence anything. That's what gives it a certain type of sound. It's like I'm doing it in a band way ⎯ a garage band style. But I'm just doing all the tracks myself with every sound made. Except the drum machine, I can make certain bars as long as I want to make it and that loop circulates throughout the song. All the music is laid down live.
You've been dubbed the King Of Modern Funk. How do you define the term?
Modern funk is like modern soul. It's like funk continuing from where it was. I don't really define myself the king of anything, I appreciate people saying that but I do acknowledge that before my particular entrance into the music game; around 2008 and no one was really championing this style of funk with pride: synthesizers and bass lines, it was always EDM or house or a touch of disco. But when it came to boogie or funk, as far as doing major mix tapes with that type of style, I was allowed a platform to share it. I just never backtracked. I take tags with a grain of salt and just keep going. Representing modern funk and all music. I love all music.
How did you hook up with Snoop for the new album?
We met each other at an art gallery in Los Angeles called HVW8. What happened was there was an art exhibit for Joe Cool who is the illustrator for the album Doggystyle. I was Djing that night and Snoop was about to leave and he heard some of the music that I was playing and he jumped on the mic. We really had a good time with a lot of laughs. There was a connection made that night and he connected with the music. The thing that I often get is that once people hear this style of music, it's almost like it was a missing link in their life. Everybody always gets pounded with dubstep, house, EDM or disco ⎯ four on the floor beats. When they hear that new funk sound, that came from the late '70s / early '80s to now ⎯ not the 1960s-1970s funk that has been hammered into people's heads ⎯ I'm talking about the stuff that was really played in the hood, it was almost taboo to get into. Record labels never supported it as much as it should have been, so when they hear it, it's like a breath of fresh air.
Snoop has always been funkster, so when he got a chance to return to the sound it just all made sense. When I went down to SXSW, we got talking and he looked out for me on these social networks. He left me a message on my soundcloud account, which I hadn't checked for six months due to personal issues. When I finally got a chance to pull my head out my ass and check the message, it was Snoop saying that he wanted some music. He called me up at 11 o'clock at night and we made a great song the first night called "Hit The Pavement" [which is on 7 Days of Funk]. He stopped the music and said "this is just too good, we need to do a whole album." It came out real cool and Stones Throw came aboard and now we have 7 Days of Funk.
This is your second collaboration of the year. Your first being Higher with Steve Arrington. Do you tailor your production style to suit the specific artist?
Yes. Steve Arrington had a certain type of vibe I wanted to fit to him and with Snoop I had a certain style as well. I have different variations of my music. If you pay attention there are different nuances with all of the music that I make.
To put it mildly Snoop has had a lot of commercial success. Is that something that you're aiming for with this album or is it to keep funk alive?
It's to keep the funk alive. Me and Snoop agreed that we don't care about radio. We don't care about any of that stuff. We just wanted to make good music. If it does good, it's great but if it doesn't sell one unit me and Snoop know we made an album from our heart that we can be proud of. I'm not concerned about political or commercial moves in music.
You mentioned earlier that this style of music is taboo. Why do you feel that way?
Because it's the synthesizers, it's the era that it came up in and it has a blacker feel. R&B and soul was cool but it got washed as time went on. All races, all colors, they want to hear more of the real deal. It's not like it got washed on purpose, but when major labels get attached ⎯ with all kinds of politics in back rooms, it just naturally does get watered down. Modern funk is deeper into the experience of people that are living in the city. It's taboo because on a funk track you had a certain vibe, chord or guitar solo that you wouldn't hear in a mainstream R&B track. You can talk about different things in funk. "One Nation Under A Groove" — you wouldn't hear that type of vibe on an R&B track of today. I love R&B and soul; some of my favourite groups are the Stylistics and Blue Magic. Barry White as well. But funk is more gritty yet beautiful at the same time.
I read somewhere that your hairstyle is a tribute to Ron O'Neal in the film Super Fly. Since you're into film, would you ever considering scoring a movie?
Definitely. I would like to do a movie like Super Fly. What I mean is doing a soundtrack attached to a film, where one composer does the whole movie like Curtis Mayfield or Willie Hutch with The Mack. I think that's missing in the game right now. They underestimate the audience since I think people would like to get into something conceptual like that — connected with the artist and the actual movie's plot. I have talked to some people about that but I want to be careful because so many people steal ideas. I just want to attach myself to the best projects so it can be delivered with the impact that it deserves.
Who else would you like to work with?
I would like to collaborate with Paddy McAloon from Prefab Sprout and Junie Morrison from P-Funk and the Ohio Players. He does an intro on my forthcoming album after <7 Days of Funk, but I don't want to turn my career into a bunch of collabos. I think people are waiting for me to do an official follow-up to Toeachizown. I'm looking forward to sharing that.
When can we expect that?
Sometime in 2014 after 7 Days of Funk. It's pretty much ready, you should be seeing it in the summer of 2014. But it was great to be involved with 7 Days of Funk. I think it was necessary to do this project since it helps all of the other artists doing modern funk and boogie and who really believe in it. All of the satellite people that are involved; all of the labels like Omega Supreme and PPU. People can use 7 Days of Funk as a reference point in getting into this scene, and all of the other funk artists that are coming out.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
I just want to thank my Canadian listeners. There are a lot of people that I vibe with there, who have always come out and supported the show. I just hope that they're getting a kick about everything that's going on right now. I hope that the light continues to shine on different forms of music and people don't get stuck on certain genres. I just thank people for listening and giving funk a chance; some of the artists that came before me and some of the newer artists too.
Any plans to visit us?
I think we have something coming up in Vancouver but Days of Funk takes precedence. I'll be back in Canada some time soon.