All different kinds of bands and acts can relay a positive vibe, but few can match what a brass band brings.
Anywhere — whether on-stage, in a public park or the middle of the street — once the horns kick in, people start dancing to the rhythms and the infectiously uplifting atmosphere.
Funky Dawgz Brass Band have been carrying this approach all over the state and beyond over the past decade, and on Friday, they’ll be putting on a party at Park City Music Hall in Bridgeport starting at 9 p.m. in celebration of their third album, Vertical, that’s coming out on the same date.
I spoke with tenor saxophonist Tommy Weeks ahead of the show about the band’s New Orleans influence, the making of the new album, what Vertical represents in the Funky Dawgz timeline, and what surprises are in store for Friday night.
RD: How did the Funky Dawgz Brass Band start? Did you guys go to school together and you decided to start this project or did it happen another way?
TW: Yeah, we all went to college together. We all went to UConn and we were all in the marching band there together. The assistant director for the marching band is Marvin McNeill. He had gone down to New Orleans recently and when he came back he wanted to start a kind of New-Orleans-style brass band just for a UConn ensemble — an academic kind of deal. He handpicked each of us and sent us all an email — we call it “the email” — and that is how we all kind of began. We met every week for rehearsal, it was actually an accredited course once we got it going.
We learned the music and we would play around campus for free at a bunch of different events. As time progressed we would learn more and more about the history and culture of New Orleans. It started out as sort of a New Orleans brass tribute band and we would play all these songs from there. We then started writing our own music in that vein so we started doing that, we went down to New Orleans for a school trip funded by a grant that we got. We did some work down there with some musicians from the city, we did a bunch of research, we learned from the musicians and we took all that back home with us. We spread the love we have for the culture of the city around, but eventually we realized that we would never be a truly authentic New Orleans brass band because we’re not from there.
We then realized that we could still kind of pay tribute to the sound and everything so that’s when we started writing our own music and creating our own sound that’s unique to us specifically. We love the music of New Orleans and the musicians down there, we’ve gotten to play with a lot of people from the city and that’s kind of like where we’re at now. We’ve developed our own sound that’s inspired by that but also inspired by a lot of our other musical tastes that we have as far as rock n’ roll, hip hop, funk and electronic music. It’s kind of like a fusion of all that, we can do the whole New Orleans vibe if we want but it’s not fully authentic.
RD: You just named all of the elements I’ve noticed in the band’s sound from listening to your recordings. When it comes to the making of Vertical, what was the experience like recording all the music and everything? Were you all in the same studio doing the record or was there anything done remotely?
TW: Most of the songs that are on this record we’ve had written for the past few years since our last release, we had just never gotten into the studio to track them, so they’ve just been kind of sitting around. We’ve played them out live but they’ve kind of been evolving over the past few years from what we started them as, now a lot of them are completely different. Some have lyrics that have never had lyrics before, some have different sections and different feels that used to not be there just from playing them live and messing around with them. I’m actually kind of glad we sat on these songs for a bit so we could develop them and test them out live. We know how they go over already, most of them, not all of them.
There are some brand new ones we just started playing since we released the singles and those ones we wrote together when we were in the studio a few months into the pandemic when we were tested negative. I’d say it’s half and half, half the songs were already written and the other half we wrote when we were in the studio all together getting ready for this album. Even the ones that were already written we added stuff to so everything is new and fresh.
RD: With Vertical being the third full-length in the band’s discography, what in your opinion does this album represent in the entire musical journey that the Funky Dawgz have taken together?
TW: Each album has shown a different evolution of the band’s sound, but this is definitely the most accurate to date. We’re even moving that farther forward now after this recording so I’m excited for the next one as well. It’s going to be a bit different than what we have now but this is the most sophisticated feeling album where we are in our 10th year together as a band and I feel like we’re just starting to settle in. We’ve been learning as we’ve been going, not only with touring, playing and how we handle our business but also with writing. We’re horn players and drummers so we have to write music differently than a traditional band would with keys, guitar, and bass.
We have to put what would be on those instruments and spread them around across five horns and a tuba. We have to spread those voices and I feel on this record there’s a couple songs that I’m extremely proud of because I’d like to say it’s not square. We got fully fleshed out songs, they’re not repetitive, they’re not cookie cutter where this section goes into another section. We’ve found a way to transition so every part has an interesting element to it where nothing is ever getting old, it’s always evolving throughout the song.
RD: What do you hope people take from the album after it comes out and they give it a listen?
TW: I will admit that it’s just high energy and we want everyone to have a good time when they’re listening to our music. Everything has positive vibes, most of the songs on this album are instrumentals so they’re meant to have people groove and dance to them either on their own or with friends and family. We’ve thrown in some new sounds that we’ve never used before and we’ve gotten into the production side of it along with the sound design side of things. There’s some really cool sounds from some really cool sessions, fantastic solos and the one song that does have vocals relays a positive message. It’s called “One Nation One Party”, everybody can make their opinions about it but it’s basically about coming together, we’re all human beings trying to live our best lives out here so we want to remind everybody of that.
There’s a lot of distractions going on now in the world and at the end of the day we’re all the same, we just look different and have different influences. That’s what’s beautiful about humanity and it’s why we like touring, we get to meet all these different people, talk to them and get all these different kinds of stories and vibes. I learn a lot just from doing that, not even just from playing, just from talking to people on our journeys in different parts of the world. I feel like that makes me a better person, just having that awareness.
RD: That’s a great message to have in a song, I look forward to hearing that. Do you have any surprises in store for the album release show at Park City Music Hall? Other than obviously performing, what can people expect when they show up?
TW: A typical Funky Dawgz show is definitely an experience in itself, a bunch of us were recently chatting about some ideas to make it a little more special than what we normally let loose. There are going to be some new little surprises, nothing major and nothing huge but definitely for people who’ve seen us before they’ll catch what we’re going to do. I always like throwing a couple covers into the set and whenever we get a chance to cover a song it’s always unique because you can take whatever song you want and when you put it on horns it sounds completely different and fresh. We’re working on stuff like that to make it a special evening, the album is only seven songs so we’re going to be playing more songs that are on the album that night for sure. People should arrive on time so they don’t miss the beginning.