The newest album by New Orleans funk powerhouse Dumpstaphunk is likely the most timely, powerful and politically pointed of their career.
Where Do We Go From Here is the group’s first album in seven years, and arrives at a time when recent events have drawn greater attention to inequity and injustice — making the album even more sharply relevant.
Among the record’s highlights are the title track, first released last August to commemorate the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and the single Justice 2020 — featuring Chali 2na and Trombone Shorty — which was released on the eve of the presidential election and became an unofficial anthem of the social justice movement.
Dumpstaphunk is led by the accomplished singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ivan Neville. Though he has performed often with his family in the highly revered Neville Brothers, he soon established himself as a go-to studio and touring musician. With his cousin Ian Neville, they formed this diverse jam band in the early 2000s and have now released four studio albums.
Neville joined us in the Gumbo Kitchen for a conversation.
You put Dumpstaphunk together in 2003, initially just for a jazz festival, right?
We just came together to play a one-off show at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. I didn’t plan on it being a working band. I wanted to have fun at the show doing something different. Everybody had other gigs. I was playing with the Neville Brothers at the time. It was a side project, totally. We played a couple of shows that were key inspirational moments. We played Bonnaroo in 2006; it was a late-night show under a tent, and it was one of those shows that created an early legend of Dumpstaphunk. This was the year after Hurricane Katrina. We started playing more and more during that time, out of necessity. That’s when the band took on a life of its own … and started making some noise.
Where did the concept of two bass players come from?
When I was putting the band together, I figured it was going to be either Tony Hall or Nick Daniels that’s going to be the bass player. Which one should it be? I thought to myself, why not both of them? So that’s what I did.
One of the songs Make It After All from the new album is, in your words, “throwing bricks.” I love that expression.
Yes, indeed. It comes from my uncle. He used to say that all the time, “throwing bricks.” There’s these bricks called St. Joe bricks, maybe it’s a southern thing. There’s some bricks that have “St. Joe” etched on them, and these are serious bricks. So if you’re throwing bricks, you want to throw St. Joe bricks.
One thing that’s really unique about Dumpstaphunk is there isn’t just one singer — there are three. It kind of reminds me of Sly and the Family Stone. They have to be an influence on you, don’t they?
Absolutely. I’m glad you mentioned that, because that’s a question that people do ask us often. One guy sings a line, someone else sings another. That’s the first group I saw doing that. Those guys shared verses back and forth.
You do a cover of a Sly tune on the new album. To me, In Time seems like a song that’s untouchable.
It’s funny that you say that, because that’s exactly the kind of song it is. You really don’t cover that song. There are certain songs that you just don’t want to touch. It’s unique and it does what it does. Why try to cover that? What are you going to do with it? You’re not going to make it better. But you know what, we played it live a few times. We know there are not a lot of people who could play that song and do it justice the way that we felt we could. We were making this record, and one day we just played it in the studio. We played a version of it, and we ended up building on it. We sang it, and we went, “You know what? It’s not too bad!” This is a very good version of this song, and I think we represent the essence of the song. We’re not trying to outdo it by any means. We’re trying to do it justice, and I think we did a good job on it.
What’s the timeline of this record. Did you make it before or after the world went to hell?
Most of it was recorded over the last few years. We had a lot of things we hadn’t finished that was on the shelf. For Where Do We Go From Here, the music was written a little bit before the words came about. The words came about before the pandemic, but it’s funny, because listening to the words and the things that we went through last year, it’s a timely song. It ended up being the album cut because… wow, this is perfect. Everybody wants to ask this question. Where do we go from here, in light of everything that’s been going on with the pandemic, the protests, all of the social injustices that we’ve watched every day? We’ve got to ask this question.
I wanted to ask you about the song Justice, too.
That was written in 2017 in light of all the stuff that was going on back then: the Michael Browns and Trayvon Martins of the world who were getting killed unjustly. You had this continually happen, and then you had the resurgence of this information. People can take videos of this kind of thing. We’re sure things like this have gone on a lot more than we really know about, but to see it firsthand and to witness these absolutely disgusting events — young Black men losing their lives, they’re unarmed, and they get killed. It’s not fair. We had written the song Justice about this kind of stuff, and this is still happening, so we did a remix of that song with Chali 2na of Jurassic 5 and included it on the record. This song needs to be heard anew.
You have such a variety of music in Dumpstaphunk. It really is a musical gumbo, isn’t it?
Gumbo is the signature dish of New Orleans cuisine. The gumbo that I was served when I was a kid from my mom, my grandmothers, my aunties, they put everything in it. You might hear about a chicken and sausage gumbo, or you might hear about a seafood gumbo, but when I think of it, I think of everything in the gumbo. Chicken, sausage, seafood… all of it together. And our band likes to think of our music as a gumbo. It’s a mixture of everything we like. It’s a mixture of blues, gospel, rock ‘n’ roll, everything. And it’s all funky.
This interview has been edited and condensed.