If you think funk is dead, Funk Pterodactyl will prove you wrong.
Let their funk hit your soul with a whopping eight-person band, full of different backgrounds and influences. Straight from Brooklyn, they are resurrecting the forgotten grooves of the 20th century, smoothly integrated with the freedom of jazz, expressiveness of hip-hop, and rhythms of soul.
This band is a kitchen sink of talent and influences, but they manage to make it work. Alejandro Chapa, from Monterrey, Mexico, is the founder of the band and lyricist as well as the bassist. After getting his master’s degree in music in Valencia, Spain and working on some projects back in Mexico, he decided that he wanted to study audio engineering at SAE in Manhattan, and professional music at Berkeley in Boston. It was there that he met Wes Maples, his co-manager and saxophonist. The rapper, Yahzeed Divine, was discovered by Chapa through Facebook, and in the 21st century that’s all you really need to find a partner in crime. The trio makes up the core of the band, and the other five have been around recently for the recording of the group’s new EP “Heights.”
BTRtoday caught up with Chapa, Maples, and one of their vocalists, Jonathan Hoard, to chat about the future of funk, life and what it’s like to manage such a large band.
BTRtoday (BTR): So, how did you come up with Funk Pterodactyl?
Alejandro Chapa (AC): During my OPT when I was living here in Brooklyn, I was trying to learn more about how to use recording software, like Logic, and out of my attempts to do that I started accumulating a bunch of stuff. I started recording songs, funky stuff, but kind of electronic and weird…
The name of the band came to me randomly in the shower; the first name was “pterodáctilo mariachi,” but after thinking about it, it seemed to be confusing because this is funk, so I called it Funk Pterodactyl. Then I started imagining this whole story for the Funk Pterodactyl, like the Gorillaz, they have their own story with its characters.
BTR: And what’s the story?
AC: The story of the pterodactyl is he lives on a planet where he doesn’t fit in with the other pterodactyls. He’s not very compatible. They all play music but he plays funk, and nobody plays funk… they’re all mariachi pterodactyls.
Wes Maples (WM): [Laughs]. They’re square…
AC: He has a calling, his duty. Because his ancestry is from a different planet, where they play funk. And he is supposed to save all these pterodactyls because there is a bunch of chaotic stuff happening and the apocalyptic times hit the planet. The twin ghosts are his ancestors that show up randomly and are supposed to lead him and train him, explain to him his lineage and his mission and what his secret emblem means that he has had since birth.
BTR: That sounds like a lot of responsibility. How did you put so many people together?
WM: We went to a lot of different shows to meet a lot of different people. A lot of it was going to our friends’ shows and seeing the musicians they play with and the other bands and finding the people that were really the right fit for the music. People that are really strong Individuals, that we can feature and add something to the group.
BTR: Is it hard to get along with eight different people?
WM: No, actually we get along, I’m kind of surprised how easy it is. When we are in rehearsal and working on new stuff there is almost no friction, once we come up with the way forward it works itself out pretty naturally. We become alive being around each other; it’s great. We wanted to encourage everyone to be themselves.
Jonathan Hoard (JH): It’s usually good. Sometimes it’s not so good [chuckles], usually for stage purposes.
BTR: Can you tell me about the album “Heights” you recently put out?
AC: It was therapy to start composing, to start enjoying that moment when you create something. I needed the flow to keep going and these songs started to come out naturally, so we had like five songs and I thought, “we have new material, we’re loving the material.” Let’s just make a short EP and get it out there! So we went to the studio and decided to record live: no sequencing, no taking, no months to perfect the beat.
WM: Yeah, we wanted to do something a little old school and how they used to make records. With the members we have now we have the freedom to do something more organic and that is the direction we wanted to go.
BTR: What inspired the EP?
AC: A lot of the live music we were checking out, seeing our favorite artists here in New York. We were checking out Thundercat, Robert Glasper, Derrick Hodge, Kamasi Washington. We were definitely inspired by music happening around us.
WM: In the last few years there’s been a lot of good music released in the jazz and R&B vein and that was exciting for us. We wanted to keep pushing that direction.
JH: Wes and Alejandro’s ideas were the inspiration, they brought me on board to do some writing and work on the vocals, and I was able to see what they wanted and desired and I wanted to bring the outside perspective to that. Maybe do a personal spin on it, but also leave room for the other vocalist to have freedom.
BTR: What do jazz and funk mean to you?
WM: It means improvisation, that is where we injected it into our music, allowing the sensitivity and the spontaneous things to happen and featuring the great personalities that shine through from the different members.
AC: It is also about exploration, improvisation, freedom, and taking risks. It can go great or it can fall apart, while improvising a lot of things can happen and that’s exciting! It’s about pushing the boundaries… I always feel like I have way more to learn, understand, and challenge with my musicality.
JH: Funk is groove. My father said keep it simple. And jazz is expressiveness, liberty, freedom. I think of cobwebs, because it’s old and done.
BTR: What is the future of these genres?
WM: Funk was definitely asleep for a while. But it’s coming back into the mainstream: Bruno Mars and Kendrick Lamar have horn sections on their albums and pure funk tunes. They’re bringing back original funk artists, like Bootsy Collins, and people want to give funk it’s due. It has a lot of room to grow. Funk is more about the feel, and like jazz it’s also freedom to be a little silly (or a lot) to be funky and to do things your own way and not stick with the tradition, to be original.
AC: The future of funk and jazz can get back into mainstream. It’s kind of new, but it proves it can be done and maybe more people will appreciate it, and I hope it keeps growing, but doesn’t become too commercial.
JH: The future of all music is electronicism. Because we’re digital. Loop pedals, effect pedals, the electronic aspect of it helps engage the audience at times, by going from one instrument to the next if you use it all correctly.
BTR: What do you want to channel through your music?
AC: Positivity, love [laughs].
WM: It’s been really exciting playing live now and seeing the emotional reaction from the crowd. You have a feeling you’re trying to capture, but you never know how well that’s going to come across. We were playing Friday night and there’s an epic drum solo at the end of one of our songs. It’s pretty beautiful, and someone in the front row, there was this lady that started crying emotionally. It’s so refreshing because you realize it hits home, this is why I wrote this.