Getting the Funk Up

Even though it seems like it would make sense that Los Angeles bedroom-recording beat maestro Dâm Funk’s moniker would be pronounced ‘Damn Funk,’ it’s not. It’s ‘Dame.’ And that’s because the man behind the music was born Damon Riddick. But don’t be fooled, the emphasis in his title is on the FUNK. The Producer, DJ, and singer spent a long time as a session keyboardist before parlaying that experience into a regular spot running the tables at a club on Venice Boulevard.

The popularity of that night helped shed some light on a 5-part series of EPs Riddick home recorded and labeled a new breed of ‘modern funk.’ Those recordings caught the eye of Stones Throw records, and the five EPs were distilled into a 2 and 1/2 hour double CD collection by the name of Toeachizown. The lengthy debut could have been overkill, or simply too ambitious for an introduction, but the DIY composer incorporates so many influences, from styles to eras to instrumentation, it ends up playing more like a mixtape companion to the history of funk.

Now Riddick’s taking his act on the road, and I spoke with the easy-going and eminently likeable funk dignitary from a recent tour stop in Cleveland.

Scott McDonald: How are things going?
Damon Riddick: Good. We just left Pittsburgh, and the tour’s been really good. We’ve been able to play for a lot of different people and play in a lot of different kinds of places. The music’s been great, and the reception at all the shows has been great, so it’s been a really good one so far.

SM: What is the live set-up?
DR: There are three of us. It’s me, Computer Jay on keyboards, and Jay-1 on drums. What we do is the power trio thing like Rush or The Police. It’s that kind of vibe. It’s very different than the solo shows, because that’s mostly DJing the modern funk that I make in my bedroom. This show is still electronic, but has much more of a live thing going on.

SM: It’s cool you can do both.
DR: It is. But when it’s the three of us, I have to watch what’s going on like tripping on cords and that kind of thing. You don’t ever want to fall on your face when you’re on stage. Those are the kind of things you have to worry about when you’re dealing with a bigger kind of presentation. But it’s raw, and definitely enjoyable.

SM: How long have you been doing this?
DR: I did my first bedroom recording in Pasadena about 1988 on cassette tape. But I’ve been playing drums since I was six years old. Now it’s progressed into something that’s getting released on record for a label like Stones Throw. It took over 20 years for it to first drop.

SM: How did you hook up with (Stone’s Throw founder) Peanut Butter Wolf?
DR: We hooked up just by running into each other at different parties in L.A. Then it evolved into email stuff where we would talk about all kinds of rare artists – and that was long before the Internet got really, really big. We formed a connection and I’d see him all the time at shows. There was a lot of common interest there. Eventually, he just heard and liked all of my music on MySpace. And that’s how it all went down. A lot of people can give demos, but unless there’s that heartfelt connection there, it just isn’t the same, you know what I’m saying? And that’s why we entered into our creative relationship. It just wasn’t something that got thrown across a desk. We like the same kind of things, we knew each other, and it was a relatable situation. He lives it, and I live it, and that was what the difference was in all of this going down.

SM: What influences you, artists or otherwise?
DR: Certain artists like Todd Rundgren, Prince, and Slave were the kind of people that shaped my imagination and made me feel like everything was cool. They helped me to progress and not just remain static. I had those posters on my wall growing up and it helped me stay on track.

SM: At what point did you decide to make the jump from session guy to being front and center?
DR: I always had the dream of doing this in a professional manner. When I was working odd jobs, I just never gave up on that dream. No matter what I was doing, I was always recording music. You just have to keep plugging. The guy from Guided By Voices got his first deal when he was 38. Age is nothing but a number. You have to never let go of those dreams and believe that it can happen. But more than anything, I’m just excited that I have the chance to share this music with people. There’s nothing more important than that.

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