Throughout time and also space, funk permeates our universe, from the groove to the jams; funk may sometimes be invisible, but undeniable. Fake Flowers Real Dirt are the real deal, no two ways about it. This group, and the inevitable changes that come with a large band, do a splendid job of carrying on the funk tradition. Learn more about the pungent fragrance of FFRD in the interview I had with Billy D. William.
S16: So how are the other near-dozen of the members of FFRD?
Billy D: Everyone is good. It might take me an hour or two to get verbal confirmation of that but as far as I know, no complaints.
S16: How was your show on April 16, when you performed at Roanoke’s Elmwood Park for Down by Downtown?
Billy D: It was amazing. The city of Roanoke really has a vibrant music scene and it seemed like most of the town actually turned out for this festival. DXDT is their biggest yearly event and it runs in conjunction with the Blue Ridge Marathon so there were lots of people out and about. They treated us really well and their new 7 million dollar amphitheater is both visually and sonically breathtaking. Mixing it up with Galactic was definitely a career highlight for us too. You feel like you have to bring your “A” game when you share the stage with cats like that and I still tend to get a little star struck. Unfortunately, I was completely under the weather so I didn’t get to enjoy it as much as I should have but the band really well, the crowd liked us and I think we had an incredible show. This event was part of a double-header that day for us so I got to walk around a little and check the place out before our set with the Mantras (who are great guys/players btw). Roanoke is a cool little town with lots to get into and I really hope we get to come back sooner than later.
S16: You teased about an upcoming tour— have those dates been ironed out? Where can our readers catch you and your ‘funktronic’ magic?
Billy D: We’re still in the process of locking down dates for summer but we’re putting off any minor touring until the new material gets released. I can say for sure that this year, we’ll be at Baltimore’s Artscape which is literally the largest “free festival” in the country. I believe they are expecting some 350,000 people to come through that weekend and the headliners are always the greatest of the great. Last year they had George Clinton & P-Funk, Michael Franti & Trombone Shorty. I’m anxious to see who will be playing on the bill with us this year. In early September we’re making the trek to Hillsville, VA (thanks to our show in Roanoke) to play Hillfest with the Hackinsaw Boys and about 30 other bands. This is a camping festival on the site of the legendary “Stomping 76” which is known historically as the “greatest bluegrass festival ever.” It’s going to be a blast.
S16: Why funk? And what place do you think funk has in music today?
Billy D: Funk is really the foundation for all the other stuff we play. Some of my biggest musical influence came from hearing Charles Feelgood, Scott Henry and DJ Shadow spin breakbeats, trip hop and drum n’ bass with old funk, soul and jazz records. All that stuff just seems to make sense musically when you put it together. We pretty much do the same thing, just in the context of a band… Funk by definition is the emphasis of playing on the first beat or as James Brown put it, “on the one.” Without funk, there would have been no Hip-hop, no Michael Jackson, no Bob Marley, no Prince, no Beck, no Stevie Wonder, no dance music & therefore, no EDM. When I hear acts like Sharon Jones, Alabama Shakes, Galactic, New Mastersounds, even Bruno Mars… funk is alive and well. In my opinion, it’s only influenced everything.
S16: Where are we on your second EP, and can we expect more of the same groove?
Billy D: We’re getting there. The new EP is being recorded at Moosehouse studio’s in Baltimore with our musical soul-mate/producer/good buddy, Ernesto J. Ponce (Pharrell Williams/N.E.R.D, Grammy winner Gregg Curtis and Chamillionaire). The vibe started out as a mix of more R&B & jazz type stuff with some gospel & go-go thrown in there but still with all that funk and soul. Ernesto is a genius at the little touches that make your music everything it can be so we have no problem with taking the time to let him do his thing. During one of our recent songwriting sessions, we decided to try and create something a little more danceable so we started working with different house beats and the song ended up morphing into a sort of disco space odyssey. It came off so well that we decided it would be a travesty if it didn’t make it on the new EP. Now we’re working on getting that tune into the mix. We’re also re-working a song that is sort of on the trip-hop/Portishead tip and we’d really like to get that one on there too. A band of this magnitude is going to have a ton of musical influences and ideas so we’re naturally all over the place. This spring ”EP” may very well turn into a summer “LP” if we’re not careful.
S16: Has NASA been in contact with you concerning the time-travel you used to visit Soul Train?
Billy D: They did get in touch. They wanted to know our secret. We lied and told them that someone faked that video. I think they bought it.
S16: Do you think Soul Train would survive on television today? What’s the closest thing to it?
Billy D: Now that’s a pretty deep question actually. I don’t think there was anything even close to Soul Train at the time and I’m not sure there will ever be. I’m not sure people could handle all the positivity since these days our culture tends to dwell on the negative. As a kid, I watched for the dancers because I wanted to be like Mike (Michael Jackson), but as a side effect, I was introduced to all this music I probably would have never hear otherwise. Don Cornelius was a cool dude, an incredible businessman and his sense of fashion influenced me a great deal. I think as he became less visible on the show and the music video era (MTV) era started to get more popular, Soul Train started to loose some of its steam. It’s sad because even in a pseudo live setting, there’s nothing better than to see people’s natural reaction to music… especially through dance. If our audience ever decided to spontaneously bust out into a Soul Train dance line during one of our shows, I might just freak out.
S16: What is the funkiest food that you can think of?
Billy D: I’m going to have to go with scrapple. It stinks, I’m pretty sure it’s made out of eyeballs and teeth and if you cook it just right, it’s crispy on the outside and all mush on the inside. I’d take scrapple over bacon any day. My grandma used to make it, my mother-in-law makes it on the regular and I’ve yet to find anyone on Maryland’s Eastern Shore that doesn’t love it. If you travel too far from here, people have no idea what it is. It’s like our own gooey little secret and so funky!
S16: What lineup changes has FFRD seen in the past? How do you think that effects such a large musical body?
Billy D: We’ve had our share of shake ups but about half of us have been here from the start. Myself, Dave Eynck (guitar), Ethan Montgomery (bass), Gene Chapman (alto sax) and Brian Escavage (percussion) are all “OG’s”. Our most recent additions include Chris Zebal (keys/synth), Cullen Waller (trumpet), Brian Williams (drums), Maddy Waters (backing vocals) and we’ve recently been in talks with a new DJ that goes by Isaac. It can be tough getting this many people together on the regular but we’ve done a pretty good job so far.
Some notable FFRD alums that have a lot to do with helping us craft our sound are Paul Haney (keys/moog), Ernesto J. Ponce (tenor sax), Kevin Shuss (drums), Viki Nova (backing vocals), Howard Brooks (drums), DJ Elation, DJ Hooch & Dee Jay Germ. Fortunately, all of our partings have been pretty amicable. Some ex-players have even had to fill in from time to time and it’s always nice when a sub knows your music back to front. Being in a group like this is hard because it really has to be worth it for everyone. Sometimes people get busy with other projects or they have to travel pretty far to rehearse. Sometimes it’s more complicated than that but there are so many people involved in this project, money and or instant gratification can’t be your motivation. You have to do it for the love. You’re also dealing with people’s feelings and their creativity which can be a tricky thing to manage.
Believe it or not, the music hasn’t changed that much, even through major personnel changes. We started this band about four years ago with a musical vision and we’re still sticking with it. Because we all thrive on constant constructive criticism, we all get to make the kind of music we want to and it still stays within that funktronic breakbeat soul-jazz template. We have some pretty strong musical personalities and yours truly can be a “man diva” sometimes but I never have to remind myself how lucky I am to be playing music with folks of this caliber.
S16: Anything else we need to know?
Billy D: Please support local, original music in your own town! Just go see bands and buy their stuff. You’re doing more than feeding egos, you’re supporting art in its purest form and eventually there will be more button pushers than live working musicians so get it while it’s still real. You can stay up to date with all we do by visiting www.fakeflowersrealdirt.com and check out our Spotify channel. It’s a monster.
Check out more from Fake Flowers Real Dirt at the links below!