When Gravy comes to town, they are sure to slather their crowds in funk goodness. This NOLA powerhouse adds modern jam sensibilities to progressive funk, which makes their sound fresh within a genre that can get stale. Gravy will be coming to the Azalea City with cuts from their upcoming release “Get Busy Living,” which is sure to be one of their biggest releases yet. When Lagniappe spoke with guitarist Steve Kelly, he was brimming with excitement and ready to share his funk testimony.
SC: Funk has always been a big part of the New Orleans music scene, but it seems that over the past five or 10 years, there’s been this increase in new, young funk bands. Why do you think that is?
SK: That’s a good question, man. I feel that a lot of it has to do with the music people are listening to. Funk really has its roots so deeply engrained in New Orleans and vice-versa. There are a lot of kids who grow up listening to The Meters and Lee Dorsey and Allen Toussaint and Dr. John. That’s their pop music. I think it’s just pretty natural for that to kind of be the next evolution. The first step is replicating what you grew up loving. The next step is taking it to the next level.
SC: George Clinton talks about finding the funk. How did you find the funk?
SK: Well, I had a friend that turned me on to George Clinton in high school. Our high school mascot was the Bulldogs. For basketball games, they pumped in “Atomic Dog” over the loudspeakers, and I was like, “This is f*cking awesome! What is this?” So, I got into George Clinton. It’s a pretty great first step, I think.
SC: I think everybody’s first step is pretty much George Clinton.
SK: I also had a band director in high school that got me hip to The Meters. In high school jazz band, we were playing “Sissy Strut.” You know I didn’t grow up in New Orleans. I didn’t get to grow up blessed to be surrounded by all those songs. I had to seek it out.
SC: You mentioned not being a New Orleans native. In fact, all of you are from around the country. How did you come together in New Orleans?
SK: Marcus (Burrell, bass guitar) and I have been playing together in projects for years and years. We actually started Gravy. For the longest time, we had a rotating cast of guys. It happens a lot in New Orleans where you’ll have two or three guys who rotate on gigs. We had a lot of fun doing that, but we got to the point where we wanted a core group of guys to work with and grow with and be inspired by. We were doing a gig in New Orleans and one of the guys couldn’t make it, so they suggested this Canadian kid that was new in town. I called him up and invited him to do a practice with us to see how it goes. He shows up knowing all the parts and killing things and making all the changes. So, we did a gig, and he killed it. He’s been with us ever since. That’s Aaron (Walker, drums). We brought Aaron in, and he immediately understood what we were going for and what we wanted. He was right there with us. We all agreed that we needed a fourth member to round things out. We wanted a vocalist and a keyboardist. One (vocalist) landed in our lap when Chris Dibenedetto moved from Baton Rouge. He came and played, and we haven’t looked back since.
SC: How does it feel to be getting “Get Busy Living” out on the streets?
SK: I tell you what. We’re really looking forward to it. It was such an educational and inspirational process to make that album. We’re really excited to get it out and get it to the people who need it.
SC: You had Robert Mercurio and Ben Ellman of Galactic in the production chairs, and they’re such a natural pick for a New Orleans funk band. How did you get them involved on this?
SK: We’ve known those guys for a long time. We’ve done shows with Rob’s side project Good Enough for Good Times. Ben, actually, played a couple of tracks with Corey Henry on our first album. With this album, we knew that we wanted to do something special. We wanted it to kind of get a master-class in how it’s really done. When you have four guys with four voices, you’ll all come in and have ideas, and everybody lays down valid ideas. It’s very helpful to have an objective third party that’s informed and has a well-educated, experienced opinion. You have that voice to guide the process. A lot of musicians get caught up in getting their part. They’re like, “This is my guitar part in this song.” It’s great to be able to take yourself out of that and have someone guide the process. It was cool. They taught us about the songwriting process and how to make choices and how to write with purpose. The whole process was pretty great.
SC: Sometimes, it’s hard to keep funk fresh, but this album delivers, especially the track “I Should Be the One.” There’s a lot going on in the song, musically speaking. Where did that one come from?
SK: We collaborated with a songwriter out of San Francisco. It’s a guy named Jim Greer. He’s just a really special person. He’s a producer and a songwriter and a chorus generator. He’s an overall inspirational kind of guy. He’s a muse, and songs just happen. “I Should Be the One” is something that he brought with him to the session. He’s like, “This might could work for you guys.” He had heard some of our demos and what we had been going for. We heard it, and thought it was awesome. He gave us the blessing and came in and showed us how to do it.
SC: Summer is a big season for a band like Gravy. What are your plans?
SK: Man, summer is the time that we go to work. We will be bouncing all around. We actually just finished up a tour of Colorado and Texas that we will be following up on in the later part of the summer. Early summer, we’re bouncing around the Southeast. I think we’re even going into Florida. We’re going to be doing more of the same. We’re going to be getting out there and getting the music out there to people and spreading the music.
Date: Friday, April 10 with doors at 9:30 p.m.
Venue: Soul Kitchen, 219 Dauphin St., www.soulkitchenmobile.com
Ticket: $10 in advance/$12 day-of available at Soul Kitchen, their website and by calling 1-866-468-7630