“DUMPSTAPHUNK PLAYS SOUL MUSIC OF ALL STYLES,” SAYS TONY HALL, “BUT because of the name, some people are afraid we’re going to play all funk all night.”
|Nick Daniels (left) and Tony Hall grab some fresh air sidestage during the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
There are other reasons to fear Dumpstaphunk. Let’s face it—two bassists in one band is a bad idea 99 percent of the time, especially when it’s two 5-stringers pumping out a combined 1,600 watts. Dumpstaphunk only works because Tony Hall and Nick Daniels are truly compatible as players, singers, and as people. Their shared history growing up and gigging in New Orleans during the ’60s and ’70s has led them to a unique position bearing the torch of Southern syncopated funk, while simultaneously pioneering a unique ten-stringed trail with their own four hands.
Any band is fortunate to have either bassist, and each has serious credits to his claim. Hall’s ridiculously broad list includes the Meters, Emmylou Harris, Dave Matthews, Johnnie Taylor, and Harry Connick Jr. Daniels, who currently resides in Austin, was a session ace at Allen Toussaint’s fabled Sea-Saint Studios, and did stints with Etta James and Boz Scaggs.
They share one primary credit: the Neville Brothers. From 1979 forward, either Daniels or Hall held the bass chair much of the time until keyboardist Ivan Neville and guitarist Ian Neville formed Dumpstaphunk. Middle-generational Daniels and Hall chose to power the new vehicle. Former Beyoncé drummer Nikki Glaspie replaced Raymond Weber when he was let go in 2011; her more modern grooves, higher-octave voice, and flare for flash are the most obvious differences between Dumpsta’s previous sound and the heavenly sonic filth the band throws down on its new CD, Dirty Word.
Daniels’ and Hall’s twin bass tone (often with Daniels popping over the top of Hall’s big bottom) is still Dumpsta’s defining factor. Dirty Word boasts cameos by Flea, Ani DiFranco, and Trombone Shorty—but from the moment they kick off the album’s opening track, “Dancin’ to the Truth,” with a devastating harmonized staccato lick, Hall and Daniels are front and center, albeit in the lower register.
Take us back. How’d you get the bass bug?
NICK DANIELS I started off on drums and percussion, and eventually I started singing lead with a band called Tavasco. I finally started playing bass in the summer of 1976. Everybody but the bass player was late for rehearsal one day. I walked in, and I’d never heard anyone pump a bass like that. His name was Sylvester “Snap” Andrews—a bad cat who still plays in New Orleans to this day with a band called 4x4 Connection. He said it was called “pluckin’ & slappin,’” and he had picked it up from Larry Graham. I was instantly hooked.
In 1978, Leo Nocentelli produced some Tavasco sessions and asked me to play bass along with him on guitar and Zigaboo Modeliste on drums. Leo’s vote of confidence meant a lot to me, because I was a big fan of the original Meters until they broke up in 1977. All in the sudden I was playing bass all over the place. I left Tavasco for my first stint with the Neville Brothers in 1979.
Tony’s been playing bass way longer than me. I grew up idolizing him because he subbed for George Porter in the Meters. Not only that, he subbed for Leo on guitar and for Zig on drums and vocals!
How did that happen?
TONY HALL I started gigging on drums, too. If you were underage, the clubs back then wouldn’t let you leave the stage during set breaks, so I’d sit up there and play guitar or bass along with the jukebox. I eventually started switching back and forth on gigs.
George and I were in a band that would back various artists who came to town. When George cut his hand on a glass, he brought me along to play with the Meters, even though I was only 16 or 17. They were impressed that I could play just like him.
Did he teach you hand-to-hand?
HALL No. I’m self-taught, but I picked up on his style. I grew up around the corner from George’s house, and I spent lots of time there going all the way back to when I was five years old. He was only in his teens, and he was trying to play drums at the time. Later on, I’d spend weekends or an entire month at his house during the summer and go to all the Meters gigs and sessions. I was there when they recorded Rejuvenation [Reprise, 1974], so I heard how those tracks were done. It was funny when George cut overdubs on Robert Palmer’s Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley [Island, 1974], because we had no idea who he was—some guy from England!
After I filled in for George, whenever something went down, I was around. I filled in for Zig when he left to gig with Keith Richards, Ron Wood, and Stanley Clarke as the New Barbarians. When George left the Meters for a while near the end, he recommended that I take his place. David Torkanowsky played keys because Art had already left. We’d open for Dr. John, and then back him up. We also opened for the Rolling Stones on the Tattoo You tour in 1981.
Did you play on any studio recordings with the Meters?
HALL Yes, but George had come back to the band, so I played rhythm guitar on some unreleased tracks. When I ran into Art in 1987, he immediately hired me to play bass with the Neville Brothers.
The Nevilles have a famous name, but it can be hard to put a finger on their sound.
HALL The Brothers’ sound changed according to the lineup of the backing band, which changed quite a bit. Each bass player brought something different to the table, and it’s easy to hear the difference. I played on everything from ’87 to ’92. “Yellow Moon” is a great example of my influence; I should have a writer’s credit on that, because the bass line makes the song.
Exactly how do you play it, and how do you achieve that staccato sound?
HALL “Yellow Moon” is in the key of G, and I play it in open position using the first three frets. I get that staccato sound by muting as I play fingerstyle; that’s my thing. I play over the pickup with the first two fingers on my right hand—very hard. The muting comes from both hands—releasing notes while leaving my fretting fingers on the strings, and leaving the plucking finger on the string after striking forcefully. I really dig in on the fingerboard—you should see the wear and tear on it! I used a Peavey Dyna Bass 4-string with active pickups on the original “Yellow Moon” recording.
Did the two of you ever play bass with the Nevilles at the same time?
HALL No. Dumpstaphunk was the start of the dual bass thing.
Had you been aware of any other dual-bass bands of note?
HALL I saw Michael Henderson’s band with two bass players in the early ’80s, but I wasn’t influenced by it.
DANIELS Victor Wooten has done some special multi-bass stuff, but nothing long-term. When we did our first Dumpstaphunk rehearsal together, it was just stupid crazy because it was simply unheard of to have two bass players in a band. Now we’ve been doing it for a decade.
How has your dynamic deepened over time?
DANIELS We can practically read each other’s minds. It doesn’t matter if I’m holding down the bottom and he’s tickling the neck, or vice versa. We don’t know what parts we’re going to play, but we know how we think they should go. When we first work them out, it seems like we’ve been practicing them forever. They flow so naturally; it’s almost magical. Listening closely to each musician is key regardless of whether it’s an orchestra or a band, and that’s what we do well in Dumpstaphunk—vocally, too. We’ve learned each other’s ranges and how to blend.
How do you blend sonically on bass?
HALL It’s nice to slap and pop and have that sound sometimes, but I still like a full, round bass sound. I remember when the Music Man StingRay came out and everybody had to have one. I went into the store with two grand in my pocket. I tried playing a Music Man and an Alembic, but I didn’t like the way they felt. I walked out with a $300 Peavey T-40; Nick actually turned me onto it. These days he goes for more of a high-register sound that accentuates popping because that’s his thing. Generally speaking, he pops and I play the lines. And he uses more effects.
DANIELS When he plays the bottom, I usually use some kind of phasing effect, often my DOD Envelope Filter, which gives me more of an electronic tone. When I do that and start tickling high up on the neck, it gives the band a different sound.
How do you set the dials, and how do you play to the effect?
DANIELS I set all five dials at 12 o’clock, and I hardly ever change settings when we play live, although I play around with sounds in the studio. I call my pedals “toys.” I mess with a DigiTech Whammy and a Bass Synth Wah onstage when we stretch out, but that’s about it. The Envelope Filter is all over Dirty Word; the very first lick on the first tune, “Dancin’ to the Truth,” is a good example.
That’s a pentatonic lick starting on E, with the harmony following a 4th above starting on A, correct?
DANIELS That’s right. Tony came up with that intro lick in the studio. I added the harmony, and we recorded it just like that.
HALL Once the song kicks in, I play the main bass line and Nick plays the wah part against it. That’s my favorite bass song on Dirty Word.
How did some of the other songs come together?
DANIELS “Water” is an old Larry Graham song we recorded in our own style. I wrote “Blues Wave” 30 years ago; it’s about growing up listening to the blues. Willie Dixon was my biggest blues bass influence by far. Maria Muldaur recorded “Blues Wave” first, in a slower version. She heard me play it with Leo’s band at the Sweetwater in Marin, California. I called it “Blues Wave” because it was a mixture of blues and ska, which was kind of a new wave thing, and that’s the way we play it. Tony wrote the closing track “Raise the House.” We got the Rebirth Brass Band, Trombone Shorty, and Art Neville to play on it.
HALL I felt we needed a classic second-line song, so I worked it out at home playing a horn line on bass and brought it into the studio. When we recorded it, Nick played the lead line along with the horns, and I played the bottom bass line.
How did you lay your parts down?
DANIELS We generally cut tracks live as a group in the studio. There’s not much overdubbing. We often get the music down, and then write the vocal parts. “Dancin’ to the Truth” came together that way.
Do you use the same gear in the studio and onstage?
DANIELS Yes. We miked up our bass amps and used direct signals as well.
HALL One signal was straight bass, and one had the effects, although I can’t remember which one. The general idea was to keep one clean so the level would stay consistent when I kicked on the Mu-Tron.
How did Flea factor in on the funk-rocking version of Bette Davis’ “If I’m in Luck”?
DANIELS The Red Hot Chili Peppers were in town, and Ivan and Ian invited Flea down to the studio. We had already recorded our version in the key of C, and Flea put his part on.
Legendary producer Andy Johns mixed that track. Wasn’t that the last thing he mixed before passing away?
DANIELS It was.
HALL Our manager, Jon Phillips, sent him that track. Andy didn’t realize that there were three bass parts recorded, so when the track came back, the bass fell out on the verse. Originally, I played guitar and Nick played bass. Then I overdubbed a track with some pops in the gaps of the riff. That’s the one he missed. Flea played a bunch of fills against what was already there. His stuff comes and goes in the mix so as not to conflict with other things. Andy and I spoke on the phone about dealing with the three bass parts.
Are all the songs on Dirty Word in 4/4?
DANIELS Yes. You can funk in odd times, but we just haven’t done it yet— next album! [Laughs.] I like Dirty Word a lot, but I believe our next album is going to be the landmark, because this one is taking us to the next level.
HALL We financed this record ourselves, so we recorded around our gig schedule. We’ve already decided that we’re going to take a month off next time even if we have to starve, because staying focused will be worth it.
Are you focused on any new musical trip at the moment?
HALL No; I’m in the same spot because I’m trying to survive. I’ve worked with all kinds of artists, and I never thought it would be this hard. It’s tough to talk to a friend on the road who’s staying in the Ritz-Carlton when you’re, well, not. And when you are preoccupied with the business logistics, it affects your creative focus. You’ve got ten things to deal with just to make it to the show.
Having your own band is very different from being hired on.
HALL It is, especially when no one helps. Famous people love you as long as you’re making them sound good. When you try to do something on your own, they just don’t have time for it.
Do they still try to hire you away?
HALL Sometimes. I’ve done the past two Harry Connick Jr. records, and I’m on some of his older stuff. Check out the song “How Do Y’all Know” that I did with Raymond Weber on drums [Star Turtle, Sony, 1996]. Harry said, “Man, how do you stay in time playing so far behind the beat?” I got a call a couple of weeks ago to go out on the road with him. That was a very hard decision. I passed, because we have to promote this record. I can’t bail on the band even though I need the money. That would be tearing down what I took ten years to build up.
Dumpstaphunk, Dirty Word [Louisiana Red Hot, 2013];
Everybody Wants Sum [DP, 2010]; Listen Here [DP, 2007]
Basses Peavey USA Millennium 5, Spector USA Series Coda-5 Standard
Rig Peavey Tour 700 head, two Peavey TVX 410 EX 4x10 cabinets
Effects Akai Deep Impact SB1 bass synth, MXR M82 Bass Envelope Filter, MXR M288 Bass Octave Deluxe, HAZ Labs Mu-Tron III+
Strings GHS Bass Boomers (.045–.131)
Bass Tobias Classic 5, custom ESP 5-string
Rig Mesa M9 Carbine head, two Mesa Boogie 4x10 cabinets
Effects DOD FX25B Envelope Filter, DigiTech XBW Bass Synth Wah, DigiTech Whammy Pedal
Strings Dunlop Stainless Steels (.040– .120)