In Conversation: Going from the Streets of LA to Outer Space with DâM-FunK
The funk maestro tells us about the making of his sprawling new LP, Invite the Light.
The master of grooves seemingly shot straight from the streets of Pasadena up into the stratosphere. DâM-FunK laughs at the idea that his work can be easily digested—or that only a few days after the release of his sophomore album Invite the Light, critics are even trying.
He’s woven an idiosyncratic web with threads that you might not expect from a twenty-first-century funk album. Synths? Spoken word sections? (“I will continue to broadcast this message in the event that someone is listening” begins opener “Junie’s Transmission.”) Locked grooves? If anything, Invite the Light’s aesthetics—if not its execution—recalls Maggot Brain-era Funkadelic. It’s challenging, counterintuitive music. But even at its most impenetrable, the album is still, at its core, a work of style that deliciously points back to its devil-may-care creator. We called up the Los Angeles-based musician to get to the core of Invite the Light and wound up talking optimism, rebirth, and the secrets of what it means to be a Sci-G.
It seems like this album was a while in the making. Was it all a creative process or did you take some time off?
It was a project that I started in 2010 and kept going back to. I’ve just been touring a lot and doing things back and forth and going through some life experiences. That’s why it took a while.
Did any of those life experiences help to inform the album?
Oh yeah, they did. But I still wanted to make it more of a general vibe for people. I didn’t want to make it an expression of myself pouring into everybody. I wanted to make it where they could relate to certain songs. They might have been going through the same things as well. And to get some of the fantasy vibe, too. Almost like Sci-G instead of Sci-Fi.
Like Sci-Gangster. But it’s an optimistic record. I thought it would be cool for someone like myself who knows about some of the things in the big city and streets, but also knows brighter side of life. Right now it feels like music is always pumping up the ignorant side all the time.
Do you consider yourself to be an optimistic person?
Yeah, I do. I guess it just comes from my upbringing. My dad and my mom are still together. We had great Christmases. But I still lived in the hood. I was able to see both things. My dad would make me sweep the curb, that kind of thing. He taught me to take pride in my neighborhood. We had drums around. He would take me to school. Play on Fridays at the show-and-tell hour. Just stuff like that I was involved in. I was fortunate enough to have a good upbringing, so I could be around good stuff instead of bad.
I just try to keep it aligned to who I really am.
Also, it depends on the way you live your life. I know a lot of people in music that like to talk about the bad stuff. But I’m distinctly trying to share some of the good kind of thing.
Invite the Light’s title refers to that. In the beginning there’s a message from space. Someone finds a black box. [The Ohio Players’] Junie Morrison’s voice is telling you that there’s not really a time period. That’s the point of it. It’s optimistic. But it gets dark in the middle. The whole challenge of this record is to let you know that when you go through these dark times in your life, that you can choose whether you’re going to go negative or positive. That’s what this record is about: the choice.
How did this concept become so otherworldly?
When you have time and you’re working your day jobs and dreaming and things like that, and practicing your logo on a piece of paper, you just come up with stuff. I just try to keep it aligned to who I really am. The Sci-G thing is more about the fact that I love Sci-Fi and horror movies. I’ve always loved that fantasy vibe.
The G part is the fact that I do operate under the G code. That code isn’t being followed that much anymore. It basically means not stepping on people’s toes. Just trying to stay cool out here and not being so thirsty. You’ve still got to treat people with respect out here. The more you do, that’s when the other cats respect you as well. That’s the kind of combination that I’m trying to put forth in this music and this album. It feels like someone who’s not messing around.
Was there ever a danger of it becoming too silly or turning into a joke?
It didn’t matter. The whole thing I’m trying to do is stay away from the joke vibe. I don’t think I have any joke stuff on the album. “Surveillance Escape” has a couple of nudge-nudge smirks in there, as far as the agents following me in the song. But as far as the seriousness of funk, I am trying to bring that back—not doing all the cartoon characters and all that other kind of thing that was affiliated with a lot of funk prior to me. Even though I still love a lot of that which came before us. It opened up doors to what we’re doing now. This is more of a serious record, but with a little bit of my humor in there.
Musical genres like the beat scene, or house, or techno, they have this aura of intelligence all wrapped around them. I’m just trying to let people know that funk has always existed in an intelligent way, too.
Do you believe that we have forgotten the funk like you imply in the opening track?
It’s been like that for a while. Hip-hop took a lot of samples and made it into their own. Now that we have a resurgence of people releasing big [funk] hits at a commercial level, it has begun to get a bit cooler in people’s psyches. The word “funk” isn’t that bad! Musical genres like the beat scene, or house, or techno, they have this aura of intelligence all wrapped around them. I’m just trying to let people know that funk has always existed in an intelligent way, too.
Is it too soon to say anything concrete about your next record?
I’m going to be making an ambient album next. You’re the very first person I’ve told in a confirmed way. It’s going to be instrumental. That’s the next direction I want to go in. Then I’ll come back in some other ways. But I’ll always have the funk.
What’s making you the happiest right now?
I’m happy that I was able to title this record Invite the Light and that the light is coming out. When I was making the record there were a lot of challenges. I lost my drummer at the end of 2011. I met some people who took me down a rabbit hole of drama. Challenges. Betrayal. Different things I experienced that shaped my opinion on humanity. I thought I had learned all those lessons already. But I learned a lot more, and heavier ones in the past four or five years. I went into this record on a dark, beat-down level. But by the time I finished it, I decided to adopt a more positive outlook on life. I could have gone negative. I was going to change the album title—you’re the first one I’ve told this—I was going to call it Keep Going. But Invite the Light is better. It makes more sense, because at the end of the journey I’ve repaired all the weird relationships. We’ve had closure. Everyone is at peace now. FL