The first thing you notice about the band is their insane energy. We shopped with the band at Palladium, Chennai; two days before the shoot, and discovered super-interesting sides to most of them. What really stands out with this bunch of boys is their individual uniqueness — they’re very different from one another and maybe that’s why the sound of Funktuation is so palpably real and different.
On the day of the shoot at The Slate Hotel, Chennai; I got to sit down with the band and chat about what Funktuation and their brand new album means to them.
“Most of us knew each other from church. We were part of the same band in church and while I wasn’t initially a part of the band, I was called in later to add some percussion — which they all thought was necessary,” opens Allwyn Jeya Paul, the percussionist.
“We’re all from very different musical backgrounds, like Josh listens to a lot of Rock and Jazz, David listens to a lot of Jazz, R&B, Hip Hop… even though he’s a drummer, he listens to a lot of Hip Hop. I listen to a lot of stuff; I still listen to Metal, from back in the days,” explains Carl Fernandes, the bass guitarist. “I come from a Rock ‘n’ Roll, Alternative kind of genre… then there’s Allwyn’s Latin background and there is Gospel. There are a lot of genres that the band listens to,” adds Toby Joseph, the sound engineer. “So, it’s really interesting that Funk is the direction that we took and I think it’s really unique,” he adds.
But what can the sound of the band be described as? “Earlier it was a very 1960s/1970s-inspired Funk… then, it went into this ’80s, ’90s-2000s like Jamiroquai kind of Funk sound, and then everybody started listening to everything. Then we had conversations as to how we can make our sound unique and at the same time keep it accessible to the listener. I don’t like to make music avant garde. You can definitely take few elements from your influences, bring it together and give it a new presentation or a new outlook and that could become your new sound. The point is to evolve and at the same time, not to make our songs sound like an experimental project. It needs to sound like a song, a simple song that everybody can hum. We can be intelligent with the way we arrange our music and keep it smart so that the musicianship of each person in the band is not lost and it is not overpowered by production… and at the same time, you know, just keep it simple too,” elucidates Benny Dayal, lead vocalist.
“And if you’re talking about inspirations, well; we listen to a lot of Chromeo, Capital Cities, Tower of Power, Dirty Loops,” explains Joshua Satya, guitarist and back-up vocalist; “some Bruno Mars,” chips in Alok Merwin, the keyboardist; “and bands from the ’80s and ’90s — the Pop Synth era,” adds Carl.
With that many influences and so many genres that each one of the band mates love, my next question is an obvious one: how do you define the genre of Funktuation… is it necessarily pure Funk? “It’s an Electronic, Funk band with lots of Soul,” says Toby; “If you say genres, I’d say: Electro Funk, Pop Synth,” says Carl; “We are Electro Funk, just that we’ve added some new elements, so that it kind of sounds interesting,” agrees David Joseph, the drummer; and then Joshua intervenes, “I would define the band’s genre as first of all Funk, a lot of Soul, a little bit of Electro and a little bit of Pop… there’s really not a genre like that, but hey we just created a brand new one.”
Completely confused, very obviously, I look to Alok and he indulges me. “I think the genre of the band is hard to place. We’re basically Funk, but we have some Electronic elements also in our sound and also the original Funk sound: like the electric guitar, the electric bass and everything… we’re trying to funk it up a little bit more in a very futuristic way. The electric bass will be replaced with a synth bass and we’re also playing some ’80s disco synth sounds from the keyboards, so, yupp, synth brass and lot of synth electronic sounds.”
Their first single from the album, Ooru Paaru, is already a huge hit with over 4lakh views on YouTube, but what about the rest of the album? “This is the first time I am actually working on something like this; we have five songs and they all sound different, with Funk being the anchor. I was telling Carl about the third song I am mixing, it sounds very different. It’s a simple song; there are not too many tracks, but it took me two days to figure out a mix. I was done with polishing it, but I just couldn’t balance it. This is totally different for me,” explains Toby.
“The first track that we released, Ooru Paaru — we were really happy with the way people have accepted it. We were a little scared because a lot of things came together in that one track, and we worked on that track for about a good one/one-and-a- half-years. We sat on it, we recorded a lot of stuff, we threw a lot of stuff out and brought in new stuff. Then, it was craziness” he adds.
“We kept it local and a little poetic too, because keeping it real definitely works. We wanted to give it a little purity of lyric too. We had lyrics like, Ninaivùgal Vénum Marakkadù, Maradiyum Vénum Marùkkadù (don’t forget that you need to make memories; don’t try and remember what you need to forget) — it just speaks miles about how beautifully you can keep rhyme in Tamil and at the same time, give it so much more meaning,” Benny quickly adds.
“About the rest of the album, well, it’s not going to be avant garde, it’s going to be super catchy… but at the same time, it is really well-thought-out and put together really well. We want to add Funk into many genres and give you a new take on that genre… like Trap is so big right now, everybody is listening to Trap, everybody is trying to emulate Trap… but, there hasn’t been a Funk-y take on Trap. So, we have a track like that. Caribbean sounds are also very famous right now too. There are so many international tracks like Taki Taki and Shape of You. We have done a song dedicated to all mothers in a very Tropical Funk sound… so, it’s pleasant and at the same time it’s groovy and we are celebrating the life of mothers all around the world, in Tamil. And then, we have a love song which is very ’90s R&B meets New-Age Funk — there is this new Funk which has evolved over the years and it has become borderline R&B, borderline Hip Hop. But, at the end of the day, the feeling of that sound is just so right, it sits really well together… so, that song has a nice bounce that will keep people grooving. And then, we have a very weird track, which I wrote… a completely colloquial track. Ooru Paaru has a mild semi-classical touch, but this song is colloquial-meets-bass-heavy-Dance-Hall-meets Funk… so, it’s a total katcheri,” Benny further elaborates.
With such groovy music and so many genres to be inspired from, I ask the band how they escape sounding too commercial. “We don’t actually relate ourselves a lot to the commercial side of music, and we try hard to break away from it. So, if you look at a commercial song, it will have a set pattern, which we have consciously decided to break away from. We’ve kept the elements to a minimum — there’s just one synth brass and one guitar and one type of rhythm and bass happening from the starting to the end of the song; nothing changes. There is no tone change; it’s just that the structure keeps changing. Commercial music prefers giving you a sambhar, we stay very clear of that,” Alok explains.
“We ensure that everybody is involved in the making of all the songs. If I feel odd about a song or somebody else in the band feels it’s not working, we do look at it again… everybody takes a call and therefore, it’s easy to stay away from that commercial stereotyped sound,” adds Toby.
“So, the thing is, I think our plus point is David, Benny and myself… we all work in the film music industry as well, so we know what people want, what people like, what people are leaning towards… we know what is trending right now and therefore, can choose to incorporate it, be influenced by it or ignore it. Staying away from a stereotypical commercial sound, however, is something we swear by,” Joshua further explains.
Most questions answered, I wrap up the interview with the obvious penultimate question: what next? “As soon as we finish this launch, we’re going to continue shooting a few more videos. We have five songs; we’re aiming at doing at least four videos. We will be immediately starting work on our Hindi album after this, because, we have songs written in Hindi and they sound quite awesome. Since we’ve debuted in the language that we know the most (Tamil) and we can now move to Hindi. As of now, we already have content in Tami, Hindi and English… maybe someday, Malayalam and maybe someday Bengali, we’re open to it all,” answers Benny.
And what is this beautiful obsession the band has with Tamil? “Well, it’s because we’re rooted, yet global… you know, because we were making music in English initially and then we realised that we should do something in Hindi because it could be a popular region and then I realised — where is our heart at? Like what is the language that we converse in with each other, every day and when we travel for concerts and everything — it was always Tamil and for me, personally, I started my career here in Chennai and Tamil means a lot to me. It taught me so much in terms of just the language, it taught me to respect it and I felt that when we make music eventually, when we drop our first album, it should definitely be in Tamil,” explains Benny.
With a powerful answer like that, one ought to wrap up an interview, but my curiosity gets the best of me and I quickly ask Benny: so do you think the band will continue to stick together in the years to come? “There’s no escape from this. We’ve said this to each other: you can’t escape this. We’ve all decided to do this till we die, so we’ll just keep churning it organically and definitely not like a machine,” he concludes.
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Watch the full interview on ProvokeTV
PHOTOGRAPHER: Nithin Bharath | @nithin_barath
WARDROBE: Tommy Hilfiger |@tommyhilfiger + Vimor | @vimorsarees + Rare Rabbit | @rarerabbit_in + Paul & Shark | @paulsharkofficial
STYLING: Ramolaa Krishnaraj | @ramolaakrishnaraj
HAIR & MAKE-UP: Toni&Guy | @toniandguyindia
LOCATION: The Slate Hotel, Chennai | @theslatehotels