interview: amp fiddler on bringing the funk back & upcoming tour

October 29, 2014

Singer-songwriter, keyboardist, bandleader, producer, and sound designer Amp Fiddler has spent a 30 year career working with some of the biggest names in music. Starting as a member of Parliament / Funkadelic, and then as a collaborator with Jamiroquai, the Brand New Heavies, Maxwell, and a mentor to the late J Dilla, Amp Fiddler kicked off his solo career with the acclaimed album Waltz of a Ghetto Fly in 2006. After a break from music following the 2009 death of his son, Amp Fiddler returned with his Basementality EP series. This week, he kicks off a new tour in support of the forthcoming Basementality 3.

Interview by Nathan Leigh, AFROPUNK Contributor

Tell me a little about this tour and the new EP.

I have a new EP, Basementality 3 and basically I’m kind of reinventing myself around the new songs from Basementality 2 and Basementality 3. I suppose in a week or two Ill release Basementality 3 while we’re touring and support that with the tour. It’s just five of us, guitar, bass, drums, keyboards. I wish I had background vocals and horns, but I don’t. But it’s gonna be a funky good time.

So does the new record have a lot of full horn sections and stuff?

It’s some stuff that’s live, and some stuff that’s more electronic. Not more dance, but soul and funk. Some of it’s kind of alternative. This is all in preparation for me to just continuously release records. This is the first of the series. I’m gonna be putting in on vinyl as well. And then next year I have a funk album, and that’s gonna be the party for me. I feel like a funk record would represent something that’s missing in music right now.

For sure. There was that electrofunk thing a few years back, but that didn’t stick around long. It seems like real funk’s been off the map for a while.

It’s up to us, the generation that came after the funk was big with George Clinton, cause I was the new generation that was involved with that band. Some of us have the ability to carry that torch. I know George Clinton has a book coming out next year. And I’m doing a funk expansion for Native Instruments machine. So it’s a good time to bring some fun to this shit again.

I feel like for a lot of people, funk, especially that wah guitar, is so iconically of a time and place, it’s almost a shorthand for saying “70’s.” What do you think funk’s relevance is in 2014?

I think that’s interesting because when you think about it does make you think about those iconic outfits from the 70s and the guitar. And all that shit was very strong and powerful in the way that it looked and sounded. And it had a world of its own, you think about James Brown, or Bootsy Collins, or Sly and the Family Stone, or Earth Wind and Fire, any of those bands from that era. It was amazing. But now, I’m so glad that music has evolved to where it is now. I’m glad it’s electronic, and you can do shit on a computer, that we can create on our own without needing a band. So I think it’s a beautiful thing that we can mesh the two things. It’s like fashion, I love the fashion from the 70’s. But I love all the new shit. I love going to some funky shop and buying some next shit and mixing it with the old stuff. I feel the same way about the music. I’m always learning about new ways to approach things. I’m always open to where young cats are taking the music, whether it’s dubstep or whatever. You know what I’m saying? There’s always someone doing something innovative. We love to put names on shit and call it something, but it’s always been that the music has been influenced by something else. And then taking to a new level, with electronics. And I think funk has to do the same thing.

You’ve obviously been around the scene for a while, what do you do to keep yourself current?

I like to go out to clubs and hear DJs. I’m on Soundcloud and Bandcamp listening to new young talent, to hear what new cats are doing. And working for Native Instruments, they’re constantly sending me stuff. But actually the music from Basementality 2 and Basementality 3 is just music that I’ve had for years and not released. It’s just been sitting, and some stuff I added some things to. I just needed to start putting music out. I had been going through changes for years since my son passed away in 2009. I’ve still been kind of losing my mind. I’ve been hanging out with young cats. And I still feel like I’ve got a lot of growing to do. I still feel like I’m kind of old school sometimes and here I am trying to teach young cats on the tour with me to try new sounds and stop playing with the same sounds that you play with in the clubs, cause we about to go on tour. Like find some new sounds and bring that shit. I learned that from George. You can play your ass off, but if the sound isn’t that good it’s not necessarily going to be the best. But if you have some amazing sound, then whatever you play is gonna be great, because sound is everything.

Is this a band you’ve just assembled for this tour, or are these guys you’ve been playing with for a while?

These are guys I’ve been playing with for the past 2 or 3 years. 4 of us are older and 2 of them are younger, so everybody’s learning. If I ask someone “can you play me a drum n bass beat?” He probably wouldn’t be able to do that for me cause they don’t listen to drum n bass. So I have to educate them about what’s possible and how we can do arrangements and make it sound new.

Well there’s always that challenge when it comes to taking something you’ve created in the studio and fleshing it out with a full band.

Right now I just want to get this music out of the way and do this tour so we can move on, and then next year I can really experiment with some new shit. And you’re right because if I create some new shit that involves those elements, then they have to play it and they have to research what it’s based on. The stuff that’s most innovative that I’m doing right now is a project called The Digitarians, and that’s an electronic project, very experimental. It’s based on our relationship with the universe and extra-terrestrialism, and what’s going on with politics. Anything that’s fucked up or interesting about how we need to grow is what we’re talking about. You know, our relationship to the Dogon tribe in Africa that was connected to extra-terrestrials way back. So we’re researching and writing music more in that vein. But it’s more creative. That’s a project that me and some of my friends are working on now, but we won’t be able to release until next year. But now I’m just having fun playing this older music. The only thing is I never want people to think I’m regressing. I never want people to think “damn, he’s just playing that same old shit.” So I’m adding the new stuff to the set so that I can try to stay current in some ways. I don’t want people to categorize me. I’ve heard people say I’m neo-soul or RnB. I think I fit in a lot of different categories because I love to do different things. Having done a record with Sly and Robbie, having played with George Clinton, having done so many different things with Seal and other people, I guess it’s one person’s viewpoint, and I have to accept that for what it is. But I’m always looking for that next shit.

It’s gotta be tough when you’ve played with people like Clinton and Dilla and Raphael Saadiq, and all these people who are successful on their own terms, to get people to view you as an artist in your own right.

Well that’s OK. Because in a sense, I am all those things, and a whole lot of other shit. Because I’m performing those things that I’ve created with those other people, with Dilla, with Raphael Saadiq, George Clinton, and that’s OK. But I just want to keep being creative and learn more. I’m thankful to have all the technology available that allows me to stay current and collaborate with guys that are current. That was Dilla when I first met him. He kept that shit. And I’d always wonder “damn, I wonder how long he’ll be able to keep this shit up” when I first met him. Cause he was young and he’d just started learning the MPC, and it was like “so far he’s making some progress and this shit is sweet, let’s see if it’s natural or if he’s just getting lucky.” And that kid was just making shit dope constantly, he just got it. And he just had his own style. We all have our own rhythm, the way that we walk. It’s like I sang in “Waltz of the Ghetto Fly,” “deep in the black of the mind / lies a funk of another kind / it’s the rhythm that God give ’em.” It’s that God-given rhythm that we all have, and some people just have it in a way that’s amazing.

Amp Fiddler will be on tour in Europe through November 20th. His new EP Basementality 3 comes out in November, and will be followed by The Digitarians and Ampidelic World in February 2015.

Oct 30 Rich Mix – London (UK)
Oct 31 Jazznojazz – Zurich (CH)
Nov 01 Hare and Hound – Birmingham (UK)
Nov 02 Band On The Wall – Manchester (UK)
Nov 05 Bimhuis – Amsterdam (NL)
Nov 07 Het Depot – Leuven (BE)
Nov 08 De Warande – Turnhout (BE)
Nov 11 Wabadus – Tallinn (EE)
Nov 12 Fasching – Stockholm (SE)
Nov 14 New Morning – Paris (FR)
Nov 15 L’Ouvre Boite – Beauvais (FR)

Nov 20 Babylon – Istanbul (TR)