Dam-Funk is one real dude. Real name Damon Riddick, the singer, DJ and producer got his start in high school and is now signed to one of the coolest labels on the planet, Stones Throw. His critically acclaimed album “Toeachizown,” which was released in 2009, is a reintroduction of funk to the new generation, a spacey bouncy ode to a past era whilst celebrating the birth of a new one. Lately, Damon has been rocking shows all around the world, I got to sit down with the talented funkster before his performance at the Eyebeam Gallery in New York last week. Check it out.
Where did this all start for you?
I got my start with music in my high school years a long time ago, and that was in Pasadena, California. And I just started making songs from cassette tapes and just making things for my friends. Fast forward to now and…yeah, it’s been fun.
What are your musical influences?
Old school Prince, definitely Slave, even Barry White or other groups from different genres. Zappa… different things that are challenging but still melodic at the same time. That’s what I’m into.
What do you feel like makes your sound different?
I never shamed away from what I grew up on, so it’s different groups like Rush and Kiss and all types of stuff. Even though the bottom is funk, everything on top is different. Not everything is about an influence. A lot of musicians now are doing a lot of stuff because of influence. I’m trying to get in my head and get originally what’s there, instead of a sample or instead of a group that I’m worshipping. It’s more about the sound I have inside my heart and my mind and that’s what I’m doing.
When did your name become a staple?
It was back in the 90s. I used to go by Dam, and then I was sitting around in my pad and I was just hitting up different designs— I’m sure every musician has tried to map out what album title they’re gonna have and stuff like that. And I was like “Man, this funk is what I represent.” So that’s what I attached to it, and that’s what I stuck with. And then I looked up and I’m like “Damn, it’s been a long time since I’ve been known as Dam-Funk, before funk was respected again.” So I put it out there as a risk almost because a lot of people were only identifying funk with all the crazy images and some of the commercialism that happened in the early 90s and some of the samples that were being jacked. It was just looked at as a bottom-feeder type of music. And just always felt that funk has deserved more respect than it did at that point. So now I’m taking it worldwide, I just really feel honored to be able to represent such a vital music that means a lot to me and others like myself.
Talk to me a little about your track “Mirrors.”
We talk about doing things different- I wanted to do a song that only had one line through the whole song, but the line was so — not powerful, I don’t wanna get into that type of thing, making it seem like I’m doing powerful things, what I’m trying to say is that it meant something so deep—”Don’t you lose control, look inside your soul: Mirrors.” It’s like, done deal. You know what I mean? I wanted that to go through the whole song and break it up a little bit. But that’s why I did that on purpose. The next album might have verses, choruses, all type of stuff. This album, I didn’t wanna go that route. I wanted to do the album that nobody else was doing. When it came to the vocals, I wanted to keep it sparse. But then “I Wanna Thank You For Stepping Into My Life” was a real, actual song. So that was to show that I can do it if I want to. I chose not to go that route.
Have you always sung? I feel like singing can be a real scary thing.
Oh, it could be. Especially when people don’t understand that I’m a funk vocalist. I’m not a Luther Vandross type of cat, rest in peace. I’m not an opera singer, I’m not trying to be a Ne-Yo, I’m trying to be like any of these neo-soul, yawning-effect cats. I’m just a funk vocalist, more in the tradition of George Clinton, Steve Arrington, those type of cats. I don’t want the critics and the musicians and whoever’s out there, and these urban cats that think they know about everything about music because it’s neo-soul or what have you. It’s like, I’m not your vocalist that you want me to be. I am a funk vocalist and I go beyond that, you understand what I’m saying? I do the vocals I want. If I wanna bend the note, if I wanna be off-key, I do it on purpose. I’m not trying to be these other R&B dudes that you guys think I should be. I wanna get this straight: I’m not your R&B singer. I don’t wanna be your R&B singer. I don’t wanna be none of those dudes. I wanna be a funk musician and an artist and I don’t wanna be— I AM one.
Where did your relationship with Stones Throw start?
Stones Throw is a great label. I got started with them just on a remix, but me and [Peanut Butter] Wolf had known each other by spinning by spinning in Los Angeles at different spots. We both like Slave the group, so we bonded over some rare footage I had. He liked Gary Wilson as well— we like obscure artists that don’t sound so polished, so we bonded over that. Plus our digging— we dig for records still, a lot of people don’t like digging for wax, and we built upon that. So therefore, that genuine respect for the music was first, it wasn’t like me throwing a demo and hitting him on his head. But it wasn’t favoritism either, because he would not have signed any artist that you see on the label if he didn’t like it — that’s his mantra. He had just happen to see me leave a comment on myspace on Baron Zynn’s page that I like his stuff. And he didn’t realize I had a Myspace page with my music, so he heard the tracks and it went from there. The remix offer, and we did another track and then the album offer came. I never went to any labels, I never turned in any demos, I never shopped around. The first label I got signed to was the first label that I ever approached— or vice,versa. That I got down with at a business level. I did try to get a publishing deal back in the day, but they didn’t understand me because the songs were so lo-fi and had so much hiss in them. But I didn’t bend for nobody.
Is your recording process just you in a room?
I’m solo, yeah, when I record my stuff. But recently I have been collaborating with people. In New York I came and did a song that’s on the new 12-inch that’s called “How Will It be Between You and Me,” and it’s a collaboration with J.T. Donaldson and Tim K., they co-produced that. And also I’ve done some things with Nite Jewel— we have an album coming out soon, it’s called “Nite Funk.” So it’s just a collaboration.
What are your upcoming plans?
I’m gonna be hitting Australia around the holidays for a festival, doing some things with Steve Arrington— that album is coming out on Stones Throw, I produced that entire album. I hope the funksters really pick that up, and people who are just into good music period— doesn’t have to be genre- based locked down, just good music period. And also that Nite Jewel thing. Doing some things with Jodie Watley for her new album that’s not on Stones Throw, she has her own album. Various other things, different remixes I’ve been approached to do, so I’m just trying to base it out. My main thing is trying to get the scoring together as far as music for a film, because science fiction and horror movies are really what I wanna do as far as scoring. So that’s what’s going on right now. Fun stuff ahead.