Tag Teaming Da Phunk
Dumpstaphunk is such a deep funk band because its dual bassists don’t simply come together “on the one”—they play as one. Listen to the band’s incredibly groovy CDs or shut your eyes at a show, and you’ll have a hard time telling where Tony Hall’s bass ends and Nick Daniels’ begins. Coupled with Raymond Weber’s cannon-shot kick drum, guitarist Ian Neville’s precision rhythms, and keyboardist Ivan Neville’s nifty organ and Clavinet moves—Dumpsta’s phunk is downright profound.
New Orleans’ first family of funk—the Nevilles—continues its reign in the current generation at the expense of the previous one. Although its origins date back to 2003, Dumpstaphunk languished until Ivan and Ian Neville—along with Nick Daniels—broke away from the venerable Neville Brothers band in 2006. Tony Hall, who is also an accomplished guitarist, was in the Dumpsta mix, but he was busy playing with Emmylou Harris, Dave Matthews & Friends, and Phish’s Trey Anastasio. Dumpstaphunk found itself in exile abroad when Hurricane Katrina hit, so the supergroup kept gigging until it became a top priority for all its mighty members, most of whom also sing lead and background vocals.
How did you both wind up playing bass in the same band, and what made you believe having two bass players could work well?
TONY HALL Nick and I have known each other for a long time, and we came to play together in this band organically. I was playing bass on Ivan’s solo dates [a band often billed as Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk], but I had a schedule conflict one night, so Nick stepped in. For the next show, I brought a guitar and a bass. Once we heard what it sounded like when we both played bass together, it was like—“Wow! This is different.”
NICK DANIELS What makes it work is that even though it’s a dual-bass band, there’s no actual bass dueling going on. HALL Right. Some people might roll their eyes and think, “Oh, no—two bass players . . . .”
DANIELS “They’re going to be dueling.” But it’s never been like that.
HALL It’s not a competition.
It’s uncanny how you finish each other’s phrases and play off each other to form a single, intricate bass presence. How do you work it out?
HALL A lot of our tunes are made out of riffs we throw out and jam on at soundcheck. One of us will start playing something, and the others will jump right in—or not. Sometimes the best thing is to lie out for a minute.
DANIELS Sometimes Tony will play guitar, and the rest of the time we do double bass. We’ve done it enough that we have a general sense of how it should go, and we’ve never had a problem working out who should play what when. We just start throwing ideas around. If it’s a new song, we might look at each other and say, “What are you going to do? All right, then I’m going to do this.”
HALL We like the same kind of stuff, and we have the same kind of feel, so it works together naturally.
George Porter Jr. laid the blueprint for New Orleans funk in the Meters. Gearwise, did you consciously stay away from his territory as a Fender Precision fingerstylist?
HALL No. Those are just the instruments we play. A long time ago, I played a Precision Bass, and I had one of George’s Telecaster Basses for a long time. I was looking for a new bass—I’m not even going to tell you the year that was [laughs]—and Nick showed me his Peavey T-40. I liked his, so I bought one like it, and I’ve been playing Peavey ever since. Well, I actually played Spector basses for a while, but I decided not to use my Spector in this band because it sounded too much like Nick’s Tobias bass.
Can you describe the primary differences in your tones?
HALL I have more bottom end.
DANIELS And I have more high-end punch.
What do you like most about your basses?
HALL I like mine because I can hit it as hard as I want and still get a big, round note. When you hit some basses hard, the sound thins out before it gets big. When I play, the sound starts big and stays big and powerful.
DANIELS I like to get the bottom end going too, but in this band my territory is more in the high end. The Tobias feels and sounds good for that kind of thing. Most of the time I’ve got an envelope filter on, which adds even more treble. Lately, I’ve actually been rolling a bit of the treble off my bass in order to keep the sound from being too trebly.
You are both liable to play slap bass at any given time. Is one of you more the slap guy, or do you both do everything equally?
DANIELS We both do everything.
HALL But he is more slap guy and I’m more the fingerstyle guy. Nick can really slap.
DANIELS That’s the first thing I ever did on a bass. When I started playing in 1976, I was listening to Paul Jackson, Stanley Clarke, and Marcus Miller. Everybody was slapping back then. Larry Graham was a huge influence for me, but there are differences in our slap styles. He often uses his thumb and first finger to snap his after he slaps with his thumb—which is so long that the tip curves upward. His hand is so big it looks like a spider plucking the bass! My plucking position is more overhand, and I usually use one finger to pull for the pop. I’ll also slap with my thumb, and then flick my fingers forward for a strummed pop.
How does that compare to the way you slap, Tony?
HALL I usually pull with my 1st finger, whereas Nick pulls with his middle finger. And my fingerstyle lines are kind of muted. I keep my finger on the string after I hit the note to mute it.
Let’s talk about a few songs on Everybody Wants Sum, starting with “Do Ya.”
HALL Raymond wrote that line on a keyboard. We both play bass on that tune. We play the same line, but Nick plays it an octave up with his envelope filter on.
“Neutral Rat” is a particularly funky song with a cool bass part.
HALL Nick plays the only bass guitar part on that song. I play guitar.
Do you apply bass techniques to guitar?
HALL No. I pretty much play the guitar like a guitar. I mostly play a Stratocaster with a pick, although I can get a pick-like sound by playing with my 1st finger using a pick-like motion.
“Gasman Chronicles” features a hyper groove with nifty syncopation and killer call-and-response in the bridge.
HALL That came about in the studio. We finished something like 13 songs in five days. Some had been recorded earlier, some were unfinished, and some were new. I came up with that bass line by playing off Ivan’s keyboard. Ian added those upbeat hits, and then we all did them together. That gave the whole song its syncopated feel.
DANIELS When we were working on the change, Raymond suggested that I answer Tony. We run the passage that comes after that in unison.
You mentioned the studio. How were you set up?
HALL We all set up together in one room. Typically, I listen to the way each song’s sound is shaping up. If there’s too much bass, I grab a guitar. Sometimes you only need one bass.
DANIELS I remember going direct to the board through an Avalon 737 preamp.
HALL I had one signal going through an Avalon as well, and I had my live rig miked up too.
“Everybody Wants Sum” is another bass boomer. Who’s playing what?
DANIELS I’m playing the eighth-note, boom boom line, and he’s answering me.
HALL I’m answering him with those octave stabs and playing that Larry Graham- style walk up in there.
DANIELS That always reminds me of Sly & the Family Stone.
How do you manage to incorporate so much bass and still stay out of Ivan’s way?
[Ivan Neville walks in the room.]
IVAN NEVILLE I stay out of their way!
DANIELS We’ve all known each other for years, and we can read each other like books, so we never get in each other’s way musically. We get in each other’s way after the show.
HEAR THEM ON
Dumpstaphunk, Everybody Wants Sum [DP, 2010]; Listen Here [DP, 2007]
TONY HALL’S PHUNK JUNK
Bass Peavey Millennium 5 AC-BXP
Rig Peavey Tour 450 head, two Peavey VB-410 4x10 cabinets
Effects Akai Deep Impact SB1 bass synth, EBS BassIQ envelope filter, EBS OctaBass
Strings GHS Bass Boomers (.045–.131)
NICK DANIELS’ PHUNK JUNK
Bass Tobias Classic 5
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)