Interview with The Ill Funk Ensemble
By Rafael Jóvine
Who’s The Ill Funk Ensemble? How did all this got started?
About seven years ago, the band’s guitarist, BJ FitzGerald, had a dream to put together a band that would reside in a niche that was sorely lacking in the local New York scene: live hip-hop and R&B. It needed to be authentic, so the crew that he put together needed to be legit musicians as well as easy going, professional guys so that the gigs would be easy to come by. The band that came together has over 80 years combined performance experience; Jermaine Wells, a native of the Bronx, handles the lead vocals and freestyle duties, BJ FitzGerald adds a bluesy, funk quality with his guitar and handles some lead vocals as well, Duane Etienne, a monster on the bass with a bass voice to match, Joe Stoner brings it on the keyboards and backing vocals and Dennis Brooks is the solid spine of the band with the tightest beats in the state of New York.
What’s the story behind the band’s name?
We bridge funk and hip-hop in ways most other bands couldn’t dream of, and it just made sense to have a name that would lay it all out.
What are your music influences?
One of the best parts about this band is the wide variety of influences each of us has; from the Roots to Jimi Hendrix to Tupac to Soulive to Sly and the Family Stone to Wale, we listen to and can perform it all.
How was it to share the stage with Mr. Cheeks of the Lost Boyz, Naughty by Nature?
Both couldn’t have been more kind and more down to earth. We caught our performance with Cheeks on film and posted it to YouTube at http://youtu.be/f86uDYJSbOw Check it out! The Duality.
How was the recording and writing process? Any release date yet?
The system this time around was that BJ would write the music and Jermaine would write the lyrics, with the band dropping in it’s own style and flavor. BJ actually teaches music technology at The College of Saint Rose and has a Pro Tools setup at home, so recording, editing, mixing and mastering was all done in-house, a luxury that most bands don’t have. Our release date is a bit flexible at this point. The hold up is actually a problem most people would love to have: THE Quincy Jones is letting us use his song The Streetbeater (the theme from Sanford and Son) as a re-recorded (by the band!) sample for our song Bringin’ The Heat. When the paperwork clears, we release!
So you guys are hitting the road, can you give us some details and insights about what to expect?
Hitting the road is always a challenge- we’ve been doing short tours and weekend trips all over the Northeast for the past couple years and we’ve found that setting up a regular schedule in out of market areas seems to work best at bringing in the fans. Heading south is a test of our will, but one that we relish because we know that southerners respect quality musicians and will love our sound. We’ll be hitting the Baltimore/DC area, Chattanooga, Nashville, Atlanta, and other major cities soon.
Are there any more plans for the future we should be aware of?
Music videos, a ton more dates and bigger tours as we branch out around the country to spread our love! What has been the funniest moment you guys have been or took part while touring? Our time together is always hilarious, but some of our funniest moments have occurred while filming our YouTube series, “Big Dog with Duane Etienne”. Duane has a delivery that is unmatched and we get him to say some hilarious stuff; check it out at our YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/illfunk09
Do you feel you are moving on the right direction?
Absolutely- two albums in the can, 70-80 dates per year, branching out across the Northeast and down the east coast, we’ve been independently successful; since the music speaks for itself, the sky is the limit!