Interview with The Ill Funk Ensemble
Officially the Hottest
By AKASH SHARMA
OTH: Please introduce yourselves to our readers. Who are The Ill Funk Ensemble ?
ILL: The Ill Funk Ensemble is a live hip-hop/R&B/soul outfit out of New York- Jermaine Wells: lead vocals and freestyle, BJ FitzGerald: guitar and vocals, Duane Etienne: bass and backing vocals, Joe Stoner: keyboards and backing vocals, Dennis Brooks: drums.
OTH: How did you guys come together to form a band? What gave you the name “The Ill Funk Ensemble”?
ILL: 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. As for the name- it came about because 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.
OTH: How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard of you before?
ILL: An uncompromising blend of hip-hop, soul and R&B that bridges genres and generations.
OTH: When writing a song what comes first the lyrics or the melody?
ILL: Generally, the music comes first; a beat, a riff or a chord progression starts the process – sometimes, it’s merely a vibe we’re trying to convey. Somehow, Jermaine always seems to come up with lyrics that fit that vibe and bring out the real meaning behind the track.
OTH: Tell us more about your second album that’s dropping soon.
ILL: The Duality is Ill Funk’s second album, and we feel it’s our best work to date. We bring slick rhymes, lush vocal harmonies, tight beats, and some unique sounds to the table- we’ve even been approved to use a re-recorded sample of Quincy Jones’ The Streetbeater (the theme from Sanford and Son) on our song, Bringin’ the Heat. We introduce a couple of great voices on the album, too- Steven Atkinson, who’s a gospel singer from NY is featured on the chorus of ‘Find a Way’ and a good friend out of LA, Michael Gaydusek, spits on ‘Different Day’. You can listen to the entire album- it’s streaming on Bandcamp and Soundcloud through the links below.
OTH: What are your goals before Summer ends?
ILL: Dropping The Duality is our highest priority- but spreading our word to as many people as possible is huge, too. With a heavy gig schedule throughout the Northeast, so we’ve got our hands full!
OTH: Where do you see yourselves in 2 years?
ILL: Still hustling and grinding- music is one of those endeavors that you can’t truly take breaks from. If you do, you lose that edge- we intentionally perform 70-80 dates per year to keep us tight and focused.
OTH: If you guys can switch places with one another who would it be and why?
ILL: Jermaine: “Dennis ‘Thunder Arms’ Brooks because he’s low-key, cool as hell and lays down the funky beats”.
BJ: “Duane ‘Big Dog’ Etienne because he’s our resident honey badger. No one doesn’t give a shit as hard as Dog”.
Dennis: “Big Dog- because who doesn’t want to play the bass?”
Joe: ” I’d swap with Jermaine because he only needs a microphone- much easier than carrying a couple of keyboards!”
Duane: “I wouldn’t want to be nobody but ME”
OTH: What’s your advice to people who want to be musicians?
ILL: HUSTLE. Don’t sit by and wait for gigs to materialize, don’t expect anyone to help you except yourself and treat your band and your music as a business. We live in a world of a whole lot of bands and musicians, so set yourself apart by being more professional, more prepared and more driven than the person next to you.
OTH: Lastly, how can our readers keep in touch with you?
ILL: There are a ton of ways for people to keep up with us- and we always interact with our fans through Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and our official website.