INTERVIEW: Brooklyn Funk Essentials
Photo by Richard Ahlstrom
Making people dance, smile and love is what Brooklyn Funk Essentials (BFE) has been doing for well over two decades. And there is no plan to stop, with the band in the works for a new album, and plenty of live dates this summer in Europe.
With Alison Limerick as new lead vocals, the band is galvanized to create more grooves and inspire a whole new generation of funk lovers. Brooklyn Funk Essentials is currently in Sweden, recording what will be their 6th full length. Lati Kronlund (bass) took a few moments to fill us in on the band, the plans for the future and, of course, a little glimpse of the past.
You’ve been active as a band since 1993. What have been your biggest challenges so far?
The challenges have changed over time:
In the nineties, everyone in the band lived in New York, so it was fairly easy for us to rehearse and have regular gigs. We used to play almost every week at one of the many New York clubs at the time. But everyone in the band was also young and hungry and played with many other bands and/or had a solo career going. It was hard to keep it together.
Since 2000 (roughly), people started to move away from NYC, and we were getting more shows outside of the US. We started having members based both in different parts of the US (New York, Chicago and the Bay Area) as well as in Europe (Paris, London, Amsterdam and Stockholm). We rarely had a chance to rehearse, except at soundcheck before a show. It was crazy work just to get everyone to the same place for a gig.
Your music is not just funk, it’s a mix of many different styles, always keeping up the groove. How’s your usual process/dynamic for composing new songs?
The mixing of styles was not an intentional goal in itself. It reflected the many cultural backgrounds of band members (New York, New Orleans, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Sweden, etc.). And we had grown up with influences from funk, soul, jazz, hip-hop, r&b, latin and reggae. But the thing that we found interesting was to mix the different styles in each song, so that an uptempo ska-groove would have a half-tempo rhumba beat, funky wah-wah guitars, seventies sci-fi series horns, a be-bop tenor solo and a hip-hop rap on top. That sort of thing… When you’re writing like that, you deliberately try to match things that normally wouldn’t have gone into the same song. The it’s about choosing what works and what doesn’t work together and primarily, looking for a good song – groove, melodies, words. But these days, we have gone back more to writing songs that stem out of melodies, lyrics and grooves. We are, perhaps, more interested in figuring out classic songs than experimenting with mixing sounds and cacophonies…
What do you want fans to take from your music, and how have your fanbase shaped, influenced or inspired you?
With the risk of sounding pretentious – I think that part of our goal has been to show that people from different backgrounds can do great stuff together. Men and women, black and white and asian, hispanic, straight and gay – if we really work at creating something together, we can find new was of interacting. Especially if we do it to a funky dance groove. Nothing inspires us more than to see the response from the people we play to. Doing the ‘BuzzBag’ album in Turkey in 1998 was a huge influence for us and something that none of us had ever expected or could possibly have dreamed of.
How do the music scenes compare in the different cities you’ve lived and played in?
There is a big difference between audiences in different parts of the world. It’s especially noticeable when you play clubs, where the audience is right up next to you. When they are warm and welcoming and want to dance, it’s a party from the first note. In other places, people want you to impress them, so they might stand around with their arms crossed for the first song or two. But by now, we usually have enough people who know our songs by heart, and they are ready to party from the get-go.
What did it feel like to play “Where Love Lives” with Alison for the first time?
It was a really amazing experience for me (Lati), because I had always wanted to do it from back when we recorded the song, but we lived in different parts of the world. Plus also, now the band was really tight and funky and we were able to do a version which would live up to the songs great reputation. Ronnie Scott’s in London felt like the perfect place to do it in too.
How do you feel the new collaboration together transformed the original single?
The new version is inspired both by Frankie Knuckles and Dave Morales’ Classic remix as well as my original “Sauna” mix, which in turn was inspired by Marshall Jefferson and the Chicago House of the late eighties and running back to Philly soul and New York disco – but all played live in the studio by the band. It was an amazing feeling to bring all of this together. We wanted to bring out the timeless aspects of black American dance music since the late seventies, especially as played by a band (not even just session musicians playing parts, but a real band, as it were…)
How have you evolved as an artists over years, and where do you all see your music going now that Alison has joined as lead vocalist?
We have had so many impressions and phases to learn from. We still play songs from all our five studio albums, as well as the stuff that will be on our new album which we are currently recording. We used to be a 14-piece band – now we are a 6-piece. But in this 6-piece, there is actually more musical interaction going on than at any time previously. It’s a bit like a dinner table – when there are six of you, it is still possible for everyone to take part in each person’s stories, but when it gets more than that, it easily turns in to separate little groupings. Alison is super professional and ambitious, which raises the bar for everyone to perform at their peak. This is very exciting. Musically, we are also opening up for jams and improvisations in way which we haven’t really done before. It’s very exciting!
If you could meet, play a gig, co-write a song, have dinner, have a drink with any band or artist (dead or alive) who would it be?
For me (Lati), it would be Sly Stone or Grace Jones. They are both alive, of course, and they have influenced me immensely. Betty Davis would also be fun – or Iggy Pop. In the younger generation – Kendrick or Anderson Paak would be great.
What’s next for Brooklyn Funk Essentials?
We are recording songs for our new album this week Monday through Wednesday. Thursday we will rehearse for the summer’s live shows and on Friday we play in Paris. Saturday is Rotterdam. Then there is a bunch of other cool shows. July 19 is London – Jazz Café. Really looking forward to that one.
Watch the video for “Where Love Lives” Here:
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