The Ill Funk Ensemble are a New York based live R&B and funk band consisting of Jermaine Wells (lead vocals and freestyle), BJ FitzGerald (guitar and vocals), Duane Etienne (bass and backing vocals), Joe Stoner (keyboards and backing vocals) and Dennis Brooks (drums). When we first heard their high-energy finger-tapping music we were impressed and we delighted, despite their hectic schedule, that they agreed to complete an interview with Song Revelation. Read on to find out, amongst other things, what they’ve recently been working on, what they do to relax when not working and what it’s like living in New York!
Q: If you could use a tagline of less than 20 words to describe your music and who you are what would it be?
Mature, thoughtful and fun live hip-hop, soul and R&B straight out of New York.
Q: What is your musical background?
Combined, the five members of the band have over 80 years performance experience in everything from funk to jazz to rock to country to ska- basically, we’ve all cut our chops doing our own separate things and when we formed those different tastes all blended together to create a unique sound.
Q: How have the last 12 months been for you?
Amazing. We’ve performed over 70 times in the last 12 months, performed onstage with Mr. Cheeks from the Lost Boyz, toured all around the Northeast, came in forth in a national battle of the bands to open for Soulive at Royal Family Affair and gotten clearance to use a re-recorded sample of Quincy Jones’ song The Streetbeater (the theme from Sanford and Son) on our upcoming album, The Duality.
Q: Who inspires you musically?
If you asked each of us individually, you’d get five different answers- but as a whole, I’d have to say that The Roots inspire us the most- they proved that hip-hop could be backed by a truly great live band and that you can have an unbelievable career by being true to yourselves. The Roots haven’t compromised their sound for anything and it’s taken them to tremendous heights.
Q: Which modern day artists do you look up to?
Dozens and dozens; The Roots (obviously!), Talib Kweli, Anthony Hamilton, Wale, D’Angelo, Lauren Hill and Lupe Fiasco to name a few. All are lyrically potent and musically innovative.
Q: Is there anyone you would like to collaborate or gig with?
Talib Kweli is a dream, Questo from The Roots, Miguel, and Wale for sure.
Q: What songs are you listening to at the moment?
Sabotage (feat. Lloyd) by Wale, The OtherSide (feat. Bilal Oliver & Greg Porn) by The Roots, Adorn by Miguel, Nature Feels by Frank Ocean.
Q: What is your creative process for creating a track?
The typical Ill Funk process starts when our guitarist, BJ FitzGerald, produces a music track that consists of the bare bones of the music. He sends it off to Jermaine for lyrics and hooks, and when the basic structure of the song is complete, we get together as a band to make it a complete work.
Q: What’s more important, melody or lyrics?
If it was up to BJ, the melody- but you know Jermaine needs his shine, and he doesn’t like the sound of that at all, so I’ll say lyrics to keep the peace.
Q: Where are you based?
We’re out of Albany, New York.
Q: What’s it like being where you’re from?
Albany is a great place to make music, being that it’s equidistant from New York City and Boston. We’re near enough to nearly every place in the northeast to make weekend trips possible and still profitable.
Q: What are you currently working on?
The release of our next album and to branch out across the eastern seaboard of the US, especially in the college circuit.
Q: What’s been the highlight of your career to date?
We opened for Naughty by Nature a little over a year ago and they showed a tremendous amount of respect towards us, their crowd was receptive and we got a lot of love from these guys who are legends in the hip-hop world.
Q: What are you hoping to achieve in over the next 12 months?
What every aspiring on-the-verge band wants: more ears hearing our message!
Q: Do you have any gigs or shows that you’d like to tell us about?
We’re currently booking shows throughout the Northeast, from Philly to NYC to Vermont to Boston and everywhere in between. You can check out our calendar at http://www.illfunk.com/
Q: What do you do to relax?
Relax? What the hell is relaxation?!
Q: Where would your favourite holiday (vacation) be and why?
Cape Cod, MA- we work at night and hit the beach during the day.
Q: If you could give a little piece of advice for new or aspiring musicians what would it be?
HUSTLE. Don’t sit by and wait for gigs to materialize, don’t expect anyone to help you except yourself and treat your band as a business. We live in a world of a whole lot of bands, so set yourself apart by being more professional, more prepared and more driven.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to let our readers know about?
Go to a show and support live, local music!
Editor’s Note: The Ill Funk Ensemble get that groove going with dynamic beats and memorable melodies. If you’re in New York make sure you check them out live.
If you’d like to learn more about or get in touch with the Ill Funk Ensemble just follow the links below: