Ivan Neville knows he’ll never escape the musical heritage of his father, Aaron Neville, the iconic New Orleans’ musician and founding member of the Neville Brothers. But now in his late 40s, Ivan is making a name for himself, having played with the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones before transitioning to funk and focusing on his own career.
It was a serendipitous collaboration at the 2003 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival that moved Ivan firmly to the forefront of the Big Easy music scene. After pulling together a pickup band of funk veterans and offering an electrifying live performance, the New York Times declared them “New Orleans’ finest funk band.” Neville responded by formally forming Dumpstaphunk.
The band—which includes Ivan on vocals and keys, as well as Ian Neville (son of Ivan’s uncle Art) on guitar, bassists Nick Daniels and Tony Hall, and drummer Raymond Webber—evokes the Meters, Sly and the Family Stone and Parliament-Funkadelic. And if their first release, a 2007 EP entitled Listen Hear, is any indication, they’re into mixing biting politics with their raucous sound (After Katrina hit, Dumpstaphunk was forced to move to Austin, Texas, although Ivan maintains a firm connection to his New Orleans roots).
Now on the cusp of his first visit to Montana, Ivan took a moment to talk about his new band, the fate of New Orleans and Keith Richard’s true character.
Indy: You’ve said in other interviews that you’re influenced by your upbringing, but you’re not intimidated by the fame. What has helped you stand on your own?
Neville: I’ve always taken pride in where I come from and who I am. And I’m from a good musical family. I’ve always stood on my own two feet as a person—as a man—but also musically…I mean there were times when people might come to see me perform and have a preconceived idea of how I might sound because they’ve been exposed to my dad or the Neville Brothers. Then when they hear my band they find out that this is a little bit different, it’s funkier, it’s some other shit. It hasn’t been as difficult as one might think to step out of the shadow of my dad and uncles. It’s cool with me.
Indy: The Dumpstaphunk song “Meanwhile” is a great mix of style and substance—a fun song shadowed by serious lines about “bombs over Baghdad.” Really, it’s about having fun while you can in the face of disaster. Do you think it’s an important time to be political?
Neville: To each his own, you know what I’m saying? Obviously we do this because we love playing music and when we write songs we don’t intentionally write stuff that has some social commentary in it. But sometimes we do. And sometimes the time you’re living in, you can’t help but write about stuff that’s going on in the world. We live in such a crazy place right now.
Indy: In Montana we’re so far from the reality of New Orleans, it’s hard to know how things are progressing there. How would you describe the music scene now as the city continues to rebuild?
Neville: The music scene’s pretty strong, and especially if you get down there in the next few weeks there’s French Quarter Festival, and then there’s the Jazz and Heritage Festival, which is a huge time for New Orleans. It’s something that if you haven’t seen it, you’ve got to go...I mean, granted there are a lot of people that got really screwed who didn’t get the proper money, who weren’t able to move back, people who had some shitty insurance that didn’t pay right, property that they lost. A lot of stuff like that that is still not solved. But the music scene, that’s one thing New Orleans can fall back on.
Indy: Tell me about working with Bonnie Raitt.
Neville: I played with Bonnie when I was very young. I lived in L.A. at the time and she was like my California big sister, you know. I mean she helped me out a lot. She’s a great slide guitar player, a great singer-songwriter. She’s an amazing lady. And that was a great experience playing with her. I see her every now and again…If I’m around and she’s playing I’ll go sit in with her.
Indy: And you played with Keith Richards, too.
Neville: I played on a couple of Rolling Stones records and I played in a band with Keith called the X-pensive Winos, and that was an amazing experience. A lot of stories portray him as fucking demented, and, you know, it’s all bullshit. He’s a cool guy, he’s a family-oriented guy, and he’s a great musician who loves to play. That’s the one thing I learned from Keith—his love for music. I absolutely got that point from being around him.
Indy: What’s next for the band and you personally?
Neville: I want to go to Europe and Australia and a few other places, maybe Brazil. I just want to continue trying to kick ass in the United States…I mean, we’ve never been up to Montana, we’ve never played there as a band. I want people to come check this out—I mean if you like good music you’re probably gonna like this.
Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk plays The Other Side Wednesday, April 9, at 9 PM. $12.