For as much as dance music in 2014 knows about nu disco, disco and post-disco, what folks may be missing out on may be the most essential element of all dance music, that being "the funk." Of course, as Bootsy Collins says, funk doesn't "move"–it "removes" many of our inhibitions towards making a move to the dance floor. For as much as many four-on-the-floor and slinky, disco-feeling jams may borrow from the funk, what of the funk itself? In having a conversation with Dam-Funk and Funkmosphere crew favored, Pasadena, California-based funk vocalist Moniquea, you find the funk, along with an earnest soul, and an artist passionately defending the thumping heart of not EDM, EMC, or whatever modern comparative you wish to consider. Moniquea's songs–especially those on her forthcoming MoFunk Records/Friends of Friends Music album Yes No Maybe–are deeper than genres and comparatives. In being all about the funk, the whole funk and nothing but the funk, it's a modern take on a classic feel.
Today, alongside this interview, we present a cover tune featuring Moniquea's vocal that's right in line with the rest of her album. Released in 1984, Los Angeles, California's Cherelle takes Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis' jazzy, funky and delightfully pop production on "I Didn't Mean To Turn You On" on an amazing journey that led to the US' R & B top 10 and Billboard Hot 100 charts. Moniquea's version has a feel that's similar, yet different, a refreshed sound and style wholly in line with her "modern funkster" style.
After reading an interview that touches on funk, being a singer/songwriter, thoughts on LA's funk scene and thoughts on EDM-as-pop as well, definitely take a listen to the Cherelle track, and definitely get your hands Yes No Maybe on October 14th.
I, for one, feel that the funk is something that's talked about and passed down in the home. It was like that for me growing up listening to WAR, The Ohio Players and being a fan of Prince as a child. How did you become aware of funk music? Was it a similar story?
It's a sound that I definitely came to know from being under my mother's roof. Rick James, Teena Marie, and Zapp gave me my first taste of funk. I didn't know at the time what genre or music categorization it was in, but I know it made me feel different when I listened to it. It made me feel different than other music made me feel. My whole body snapped and my body language was different when I heard it!
Like, epic body rolls and crazy dancing?
Oh, those happened as a kid! I knew that [this music] was different because of how it made me feel. I didn't even know what those feelings were, until I got a little bit older!
I wanted to ask you about finding fellow funk fanatics in the midst of an era that's trending more '90s and less funky in many ways. Is it difficult? How do you differentiate your sound from the established funk tradition?
Much of what's going on right now in the funk scene is a blueprint of the '80s sound. We're not copying that sound verbatim, but we're on a modernized and progressive tip. The [funk scene] is a bunch of like-minded people who like the same sound, so it's not hard to find people to collaborate with, or people to listen to the sound that we're creating.
You're affiliated with Dam-Funk's "Funkmosphere" crew, which may be the most widely known of many crews keeping funk music alive in the modern age. What's it like working in this collective, and what's the vibe like out there right now?
Dam-Funk is the guy behind it all at Funkmosphere. It's huge, and we're grateful. The Funkmosphere scene is huge. It's the background of our life right now. The DJs and people that are in [the Funkmosphere] crew have really laid it out for artists like myself and my music partner XL Middleton to go and be 100% completely accepted. Those guys are playing stuff that's right up our alley. One of our buddies is Eddie Funkster, who has a big part in what it is that we are doing with Mo Funk Records. He also produced some songs on the [latest] album. Also, listen out for Bryan Ellis out of San Diego. He is fantastic. Also, there's I, CED, who is the only feature on my album, there's actually a lot of us modern funksters out there who have gotten together and are on a move going onward and upward.
In your bio, you're compared to so many female funk-associated artists that are well known, but you covered Cherelle's "I Didn't Mean To Turn You On." Thoughts about those comparisons, and also your thoughts on why you covered this underrated track (that's iconic in some circles)?
Evelyn "Champagne" King is an artist I've been hearkened to a lot. Cherelle, Teena Marie, Chaka Khan, I mean the list, it goes on and on. With these women and this era of time, I don't know if people necessarily called it funk, but it was something! It was a feel. Cherelle was one of [those artists] that I really looked up to. There is a reason why I covered [Cherelle's 1984 classic] "I Didn't Mean To Turn You On." It was one of those songs that touched me, that made me feel something. It was immediate. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, they killed [the production on "I Didn't Mean To Turn You On"]. It was an "it" thing, and they had "it." I guess it's like a secret or something, because if it wasn't, every producer, every singer and every songwriter would have it.
Mentioning Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, I wanted to get a comparison between their "Minneapolis sound" that went worldwide in the '80s as compared to a lot of what you and your collaborators are making?
When I think of [Minneapolis sound godfather] Prince, that era is different than what I'm doing and what we're pursuing right now. However, it is a fabric, a fabric of the funk. Prince, The Time, and all of those guys were heavy, heavy people. The things that they did and the sound that they brought along–although it may not be exactly the same as what we're doing–it's still very important to where we're trying to go. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis are two of my favorite [producers]. They penned some great stuff. The list goes on and on with them. Their sound is just a little bit different than some of these other folks that we're discussing.
"EDM" as a music and culture is seeing a surge in need for actual fully-formed songs in modern dance culture. As a singer/songwriter, I was hoping that you could speak to the importance of great songwriters in dance music, as well a few words on how you create as a songwriter?
Singing and songwriting came naturally to me. Writing is something that is immeasurably important for me. I have to keep that part of myself alive. That's how I get listeners to feel me, is through my writing. There's a lot of producers making careers off of making beats, and that's great, but for me, at some point lyrics have to come into play. Lyrics give folks things to think about, to reminisce on, or look forward to. On my album Yes No Maybe, you'll see that's what I did. I wrote each and every song. My musical partner XL Middleton and I collaborated on three of the songs, but I wrote the other five all by myself. It's something that's dear to me, and [songwriting] is something that I will always want to do.
Yeah, it's like, Rick James is a helluva producer making some very danceable music on "Covergirl" and "Square Biz," but without Teena Marie's vocals and songwriting, those productions can't really reach the level they did.
It's an entirely different level! To me, you don't have a song until you have the lyrics. You don't want to discount that at all. I'm not saying that others do, but I'm looking at the scene, and seeing it becoming prominent for producers to come out with beats and instrumentals. That's great, but being a singer and songwriter, it's not enough for me.
I know you covered Cherelle, so when I think of her, I immediately think of Alexander O'Neal, too, as they collaborated on (1986 hit) "Saturday Love." Who are a few male vocalists that you feel could benefit from diving deeper into funk vibes?
I like Toro y Moi. Actually, he did an interpretation of "Saturday Love" and it was solid to me. He's a wavy artist, and I come from a wavy background, too.
Yeah, I think there's a lot of people who are funky, but people just don't know it as "funk," like what Flying Lotus is doing, along with others, too. Speaking of other folks for people to listen to, who are five other artists you'd want someone just getting exposed to your music to listen to in companion to your album?
Definitely listen to some Cherelle, and I would say listen to some Michel'le to give you some bump, also listen to some Evelyn "Champagne" King, and you might even want to listen to some Stevie Nicks, because that's the kind of girl that I am as well. Listen to some Teena Marie, listen to some Aretha Franklin, listen to some Gladys Knight. Once you listen to them and listen to me, then listen to them again! That's exactly how it should be.