Harvey Funkwalker played at Nowhere Bar for their first time earlier this year in March, bringing with it a rare jazz-funk sound. Now, the band is returning to Nowhere Bar for its first show after a short hiatus this Saturday, with doors opening at 8 p.m.
The Red & Black spoke with guitarist Johan Harvey about redefining the modern jazz band format, improvisation and living up to the description of a ‘fiercely funky foursome.’
You guys have a really interesting, quirky band name. Is there a story behind it?
The band name came about from the original three members: my name’s Johan Harvey, Adam Funk on drums, and Tyler Walker was on base. None of us really liked the idea of putting the music genre in the name of the band, but it never really works out like that. It just became a combination: Harvey, Funk, and Walker. As a result, we just came up with this weird character. Since [the start of the band], it’s gone through some permutations; some members come and go. But it’s really spawned this idea of this sort of guy, this silhouette in all of our posters. If you look back at all of our posters, there’s just this dude. This silhouetted dude with a hat and he’s just this elusive character, almost like Carmen Sandiego.
Can you talk a bit more on the Harvey Funkwalker character?
We found this graphic by Muy Bridge of someone leapfrogging across a guy. We were just like ‘okay, if someone were to get ‘funkwalked,’ that’s probably what that would be.’ So that just kind of started this identity of this dude leapfrogging people across the world. He’s just this strange, sneaky bugger that keeps showing up.
When you’re not performing, what do you guys typically do? Do you have day jobs or any hobbies?
We’re pretty varied. I work pretty much in the music scene as much as possible. Greg [Surratt] is in manufacturing. And Adam Funk will do pretty much anything that makes him a dollar. He’s the furthest thing from a gentleman and one of the best men I know. He’s the odd-job guy, but he’s got to be one of the best drummers in the city and I’m not sure how he does it.
How would you describe your style of music to someone that’s never listened to you before?
I would start with ‘funk.’ In the beginning, there was funk and God saw it was good. First and foremost, it’s about the groove. I would say it’s a groove project and beyond. There’s elements of jazz, rock and blues. It can get quite psychedelic at times. There’s that 70’s sound. We’ve all got different musical backgrounds; Adam [Funk] comes from a background of everything from Tool to Harvey Hancock to Dream Theater; then Greg [Surratt] is a straight up metal-head; then you’ve got me, I came from Metallica and that world before moving into straight jazz. And we suddenly met on this really bouncy, funky in-between middle-ground.
How would you say that Harvey Funkwalker redefines the ‘modern jazz band format,’?
First of all, we’re redefining jazz because we’re not true jazzists. Improvisation is at it’s core, which is what defines jazz. Jazz has never held to an identity, it was only held to pure improvisation; a massive egg-tossing to written music when these orchestral instruments were getting picked up back in the day. It [jazz] has taken on metal, pop and all spectrums of music. Jazz isn’t a music shift, it’s a practice. That’s what we are trying to do in redefining that kind of jazz format and that we’re staying true to the spirit, but not necessarily it’s pallette.
How would you say that you guys live up to the description of being a ‘fiercely funky foursome’? What makes you guys ‘fiercely funky’ and why?
We get really, really pumped up. We get on stage, look at each other, freak out and thank each other for being up there. It’s pure trust. We get weird and just want to make people dance. We’re here to make you come along for the ride. It could bomb at any second. But we take chances. There are no wrong notes, only opportunities.
What is it like having a band in Athens?
I’ve lived in quite a few places up and down the East Coast. Here, a great number of the shows we do are handed to us by other bands. Everyone’s always up to share and collaborate. That’s incredibly rare and makes Athens a really awesome music scene. I think we all feel that way.
This isn’t your first time performing at Nowhere Bar, in fact you performed there earlier this year. Is there anything in particular that you like about that venue?
It’s one of our favorite places to play in Athens. The sound guys are always on point. The crowd is always fantastic. It stresses us out more to play a 45 minute set on a big stage than a 3 hour one where the crowd is really able to see, feel and touch us and we can do the same to them. On giant stages, there can be a disconnect between the crowd and the band. There isn’t that in a room like Nowhere. We also recently took a bit of a hiatus recently, so this is a really special show for us. I think it’s going to be really special, emotional and intimate.
What’s your favorite part about performing?
Truly just being up there. I’m always smiling [while I play]. When you’re on stage you don’t have to stress at all. We’re just riding together and going nuts.
What is the goal of your band, and what impact do you hope your band’s music will have?
Honestly, it’s everything I’ve just said to you: it’s celebrating now. Celebrating agreement, synchronism and saying yes as much as possible. That’s really what you need to do. Let go of control, say yes and react. It doesn’t just make great music, it can make for a really great life.